In today’s business world everyone should be focused on experience. That’s not to say technology isn’t important, but the experience is really the differentiator. Successful firms like Apple and Amazon demonstrate this day in and day out. In this post we’ll offer our definition of experience design, why it matters and the key considerations in creating top-notch experiences.
What is experience design?
I borrowed this passage from Wikipedia, so take it for what's worth:
Experience design (XD) is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions. An emerging discipline, experience design draws from many other disciplines including cognitive psychology and perceptual psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, architecture and environmental design, haptics, hazard analysis, product design, theatre, information design, information architecture, ethnography, brand strategy, interaction design, service design, storytelling, heuristics, technical communication, and design thinking.
It's easy to see that attempting to define experience design in today's world is pretty difficult. As designers and builders in the digital space we define it with slightly less lofty goals. At Cantina experience design is the practice of uniting interaction design, visual design, information architecture, human factors and business goals to create the environment for that experience to flourish and influence the goals for which it was intended.
Well that's still a mouthful but does this definition really differ from what we've been doing in this space for the last 15 or so years? We'll get there, but first, does experience matter?
The value of experience
In August of this year, Peter Kriss of HBR published a piece that presented something often contemplated but rarely done: a quantification of the impact of customer experience. Or more specifically, does a good customer experience matter and can it be measured. Don't worry, I have no intention of regurgitating the entire article, The Value of Customer Experience; you can go read it yourself for the details. As you may have guessed the study found that a good customer experience can have a real and positive impact on a business and that impact does not deviate much across different business models. The article concludes by debunking the notion that investing in a great experience is too expensive, but rather demonstrates that not investing in a great customer experience is where the real cost lies for businesses.
Study found that a good customer experience can have a real and positive impact on a business"
This is pretty intuitive, no? Don't most of us gravitate towards experiences that we deem to be "good" or even "great?” In today's world of disruptive business models, ever increasing technology advances and endless choices why put up with a bad experience?
The answer is complex. While a full explanation is outside of the scope of this post, it’s important to recognize that experience matters, in all contexts and mediums. If the HBR study does not make that clear consider the recent launch of the hopeful (but doubtful) alternative to Facebook - ello.com. While the concept is certainly worthwhile, much of the initial feedback was negative and focused on poor, or just questionable, design choices and confusing interactions. In other words, despite the best intentions, the overall experience was lacking and that became the focus of discussion.
Consider the world that your company or organization operates in. Disruption is the theme for most of us, and the level of uncertainty has never been higher for many business models. In the mobile world alone we have hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from and the day when technological prowess alone guarantees success is gone. The experience has to be top notch in order to have a chance to succeed.
Three Key Considerations for Good Experience Design
Who, what where, or rather: people, activities and context
It's not good enough to just understand who you are building for, we also need to understand the key activities or jobs those users need to do to accomplish their goals. With the rise of mobile and ubiquitous computing, understanding the context of that user is more important than ever. Contextual modeling comes in a few flavors but essentially it comes down to knowing how the user's device context (what device they may be using), environmental context (where they are) and user context (how they feel) might affect the user's jobs and activities. At Cantina we have started to use the Jobs to be Done framework as a method to uncover these aspects.
Goals and measures
It is critical to create quantifiable goals for your experience, even though this isn't always associated with experience design. While subjective goals will always play into the design process, hard measurable goals are essential. Why? Because if you can tie aspects of your design to hard business metrics (as noted in the HBR article) the value of your practice goes up, and the investment likely does as well. The challenge comes in creating those metrics. Cantina has started to use the lean canvas model to help us to work with clients in short, manageable discussions and sketch out target user segments, value propositions, solution ideas and revenue goals from which quantifiable goals can be created. The purpose of the canvas is not to "nail it" first time out but to create testable hypotheses that can be used in the creation of the experience.
Concept, test, measure, repeat.
The best thing you can do towards achieving a great experience is to concept early and test often. Early stage companies and established corporations understand the value of creating rough early stage concepts for review with stakeholders and users and then iterating towards more complete experiences by learning from the validation. This is the philosophy behind Lean UX, which can be a powerful tool going through the design process. This represents a change from the old way of doing things; understanding that user testing is not always about a fully fleshed design but rather being able to test to what you are trying to prove and adjusting the fidelity accordingly.
A last thought.
While it might be implied, it's critical when you are building digital experiences to understand how that experience and the underlying processes fit into a great customer experience, digital or otherwise. If you find time to read the HBR article you will notice the study looked at the entire customer experience, not just the digital aspect of it.