Experience design is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, and environments where the focus is on the quality of the user experience, delivered with sensitivity to the context.
Experience design draws from many other disciplines including 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.
The reason that it is so broad is because people are complex. You can start from the simplest starting point, such as ‘What are the touch-points between this customer and this brand?’ and you quickly begin to build a web of interactions, contexts, motivations and behaviours that all impact on one another.
Traditionally, businesses have created ways of breaking this down into small little chunks, with individuals or teams dedicated to servicing each chunk. Specialisms develop and we get website teams, social media gurus, press departments, all of them trying to reach the same person. Getting consistency across these channels is hard enough but try making a step change, respond to disruption or capitalise on an opportunity and it will feel like this.
With experience design, you start with the user, not with what department you work in, and we look at the full customer journey and how we might be able to positively influence it.
There is another key aspect that is subtle but crucial; time. As experience designers we are concerned with how a user passes through time: how we might be able to ask for more of it? Where else they might be spending it? How can we reward the giving of someone’s time? When is the right time? When is wrong?
Just to put a bit of flesh on the bones of this, lets explore City Mapper. It is in fact a single touchpoint brand. You (almost) only ever use it on your phone in their app. It is brilliant for lots of reasons. The main one however is that it stops thinking of the job of getting from A to B as being a distance problem, or a map problem. Instead, it treats it as a time problem. It asks ‘What’s the quickest and/or easiest way to get to B?’ Quickest *and* easiest are both about time.
To explain, let me quote Rory Sutherland’s Ted talk, ‘Life lessons from an ad man‘:
“This is a train which goes from London to Paris. The question was given to a bunch of engineers, about 15 years ago, “How do we make the journey to Paris better?” And they came up with a very good engineering solution, which was to spend six billion pounds building completely new tracks from London to the coast, and knocking about 40 minutes off a three-and-half-hour journey time. Now, call me Mister Picky. I’m just an ad man … … but it strikes me as a slightly unimaginative way of improving a train journey merely to make it shorter… What you should in fact do is employ all of the world’s top male and female supermodels, pay them to walk the length of the train, handing out free Chateau Petrus for the entire duration of the journey. Now, you’ll still have about three billion pounds left in change, and people will ask for the trains to be slowed down.”
In an article I recently read about the toxicity of meetings there was a line that reads:
“’I’m adding a meeting’ should really be ‘I’m subtracting an hour from your life'”.
This could be said for any brand, advertiser, business or service looking for the attention of a customer.
That doesn’t mean every experience has to be profound, it just needs to be a better option than the alternative(s) at that particular time. And that’s the key: understanding all the things that led that customer to that point and rewarding them for their attention.