What is experience design and why do you need some?

Customer experience problems require an active and dynamic approach. The solution? Effective experience design.

‘Customer experience’ is a thing. ‘Experience design’ is an approach.

In our new book, Customer First: A guide to improving your omni-channel customer experience, we ask the question: “so, what is customer experience anyway?” The following is an excerpt:

The term ‘customer experience’ has become increasingly commonplace and is now beginning to appear alongside heavy hitting confusers like ‘big data’ and ‘gamification’. Even though the term is now as likely to come from the mouth of a CIO as a CMO, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what customer experience actually is, and – crucially – how this emerging discipline can produce real positive value for a company. Forrester Research – a trailblazer in the research of customer experience practices and strategy – defines customer experience as simply:

“How customers perceive their interactions with your company.”

While this definition cuts through much of the clutter, we’ve observed that, in practice, the term ‘customer experience’ is used in three different ways:

  1. To represent an ideal or aspiration of how products and services should be offered to customers, to give them consistently positive experiences and encourage loyalty. For example, “we want to offer a great customer experience”.
  2. To describe a set of problems or obstacles that a company suffers that impede reaching this ideal. For example, “we struggle with our customer experience”.
  3. To describe a set of (often quite ambiguous) skills, approaches and tools that a company can use to tackle the problems and obstacles. For example, “we are working on a customer experience program”.

‘Experience design’ combines customer insight with pragmatic design

We think that complex customer experience transformation and strategy problems are design problems. Design problems that require a customer-centric design thinking approach.

One famous example of this approach comes from the world of digital user experience. When asked by a journalist to provide an example of positive business results achieved from a simple customer insight, Jared Spool replied: “You mean like $300 million of new revenue?”

While working on behalf of a $25 billion US retailer, Spool discovered a curious customer behavior. Most customers didn’t want to register for an account on the site – they just wanted to make a single purchase without forming a long-term relationship or having to remember another username and password. His recommendation? Change the button from “register” to “continue” (without requiring the creation of an account). After the change, the analysis concluded that the number of customers making a purchase increased by 45% and the retailer would earn $300 million of additional revenue from that one simple change.

Not all stories produce such extraordinary results. But the key to this story is the combination of a structured investigative approach, a surprising customer insight, a pragmatic design change and the foresight to analyse the results. The most effective customer experience programs combine pragmatic strategy, holistic thinking across the entire business, and a disciplined approach to research and design that focuses on real customer needs and wants.

Wikipedia offers up an interesting definition of experience design.

“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.”

But the Brilliant Noise take on experience design is much simpler. It is:

“A set of interrogative approaches and techniques used to deeply understand the real needs of customers, and an intentional design process for creating experiences that meet needs and exceed expectations.”

So while customer experience is the thing being described or a set of problems to be fixed, experience design is an approach to solve those problems and create new, improved experiences.

Want to learn more? The full book is available to read and download below.

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We hope you find the book useful. We’d love to find out more about your customer experience challenges and explore ways to help you make an impact – get in touch: hello@brilliantnoise.com