My definition of Experience Design

….or should I rather call it Experience Strategy?

In todays world there is a plethora of Experience Design definitions. Anybody with a willingness to express his thoughts is adding to that long list. I won’t make an exception to that, as I believe that a better understanding of consumer experience and how to design for that will be key in the future.

While some people write from the perspective of a consultancy selling Experience Design as an offering to their clients, others from a research point of view analysing the development of this field. I, for my part am coming from a theoretical point of view, idealizing a world where Experience Design would affect the mindset of an entire company towards delivering more valuable experiences to the consumer (if you wan’t to know more about that, please read the concept of Experience driven Strategy I developed). I am currently in the process of translating my theoretical knowledge in more actionable bit sized pieces.

As mentioned in a previous article I believe that Experience Design is currently getting equated to designing digital interfaces. Yet, I believe Experience Design can do and is much greater than that. This discipline is currently evolving so quickly that I think we should differentiate between the practice of Experience Design and a mindset, both perspective undergoing a transformation process.

As far as I am concerned I think Experience Design should happen at the intersection of two realms: Business and Design. These two disciplines have to ultimately join forces to ensure that customers are receiving and recognizing the maximum value in a way that also keeps them engaged with the business.

Part of the transformation this practice is going through is connected to a greater understanding of the scope of “experience”, extending from the interaction with an interface towards a more holistic, omnichannel consumer experience and designing an ecosystem of touchpoints that all tell a coherent story (Check out the StoryScaping approach by SapientNitro). Connected to that is understanding how the notion of time is woven into consumer experience.

My believe is that Design is traditionally aiming at perfectioning one key moment, a specific interaction with an object. Similarly to the specialization in the industry, the design field also undergoes a specialization process. Job titles such as Visual Image Developer, UI Designer, UX Designer, User Interface Designer … are titles requiring a very specific skill set. While I believe that most of these designers are not limited to these skills, they either limit themself out of passion and interest and/or get limited by the company that employ them. Although there are advantages to specialization, I consider it a detriment witnessing how the consumer behaviour and especially the consumer expectations have changed in the past years. Technology has created a multitude of interaction points between a consumer and a companies products and/or the company itself. Consumers instinctively expect a consitent experience across a multitude of channels/touchpoints. Suddently this key moment of interaction - the experience - can not be restricted to a moment in time but rather is concerning a continuous flow and a continuous amount of things taken in by a consumer.

Therefore I deem it relevant to rethink the meaning of Experience Design as a practice. As the mission of a designer should ultimately be to create meaningful encounters between a consumer and a product/company, they should picture the consumer as living in a sea of influencial touchpoints of all kinds, experiencing them with no limitation of time. Contrary to what I stated earlier about the specialized skills of designer, I believe this can be a valuable characterstic if aligned towards the same target. Thereby I think Experience Design should rather be seen as an umbrella under which specific design skills act together towards creating a valuable holistic experience for the consumer. It therefore becomes rather a mission towards everybody is working, than the practice itself

Within this conviction Experience Design is Human-centered Design 2.0.

While Human-centered Design has successfully moved the focus from the aesthetics and function of the product to catering to the needs of a consumer, Experience Design is now aiming at catering to the subjective & continuous experiences of the product and beyond that within the modern world of technology and a multitude of possible interaction points.

Building on this, our attention shouldn’t be limited to the product but rather extend to the company.

Already back in 1956 Goffman referred to performance in a theatrical context. What he described as performance can be equated to a company’s offer. Goffman defined it by “all the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on the observers“ (Goffman 1956, p. 13). In this same context, he defines front stage as “part of the individual’s performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance” (Ibid, p. 13). Subsequently back is everything that the audience can not perceive, in other words that happens behind the curtain. In 2008 Sundbo and Darmer similarly framed their experience production, by having back stage, stage and front stage.

The organization as performance

With increased interest in experience I believe there needs to be a mental shift for the set up of performance. Currently the most predominant representation of the dividing line between back-stage and front-stage is the brand. It is the delineation of what the company is willing to show from the company and also the background upon which a performance (product and/or service) is being carried out.

Yet as we have now entered the Age of Transparency due to once again the rise of technology and especially the Internet, the customer behaviour has strongly changed. Through the access to an abundance of information, consumer’s are more aware and critical about their decisions. In the interaction with companies, they “are gaining unprecedented access to all sorts of information about corporate behavior, operations, and performance” (Tapscott and Ticoll 2012, p. Xi).

Consumers are no longer limiting themself to the product a company is putting out on the market, but rather are curious to know more about it, the company and the brand. If as a company you are not providing the information needed, consumers will find a way to access them. In other words a new generation of inquisitory consumers are actively pushing back the dividing line between front and backstage, thus looking behind the curtain and therefore behind the brand into the company.

This increased consumer interest in the product and the company marks a great opportunity for businesses to build strong customer relationships.

It becomes therefore clear that the pure focus on the customer-product interaction as the framework for which to design seems outdated. It is rather time to think beyond the product and also use the company as a added value to the product. By actively making the company part of the business offering, there is a necessity to not only design the product but also “design” the company. However by designing the company I don’t mean making it look prettier but rather making sure that there is a shared understanding of what the company stands for. The goal is to create an authentic environment from which it can actively push back the dividing line and/or even remove the curtain and allowing interested consumer a glance behind the scenes.

By doing so, companies don’t only create added value to their offering (product/service), but also make it more unique and create more meaningful customer relationships.

As “design” is the wrong term to describe the activity of making sure that the company is enternally aligned in order to face the customer externally with one voice and also because Experience Design is having an abundance of meanings, I believe that the right term to describe my approach is rather Experience Strategy

I would love to hear what you think?

Where, what and/or who inspired me:
• Experience Design by Patrick Newbery
• Nathan Shedroff Design Strategy
Experience Driven Strategy Concept
• Goffman, Erving (1956) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life
• Tapscott, Don; Ticoll, David (2012) The Naked Corporation: How the Age of Transparency Will Revolutionize Business