Creative Customer Experience Design

Why design for experience? Because designing isn’t the only thing that designers do

October 20, 2017 | 6 min read

Experience Design has become one of those annoying business terms that is grossly overused and widely misunderstood.


As luck would have it, I won the buzzword bingo jackpot with my job title. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked what Experience Design is, I’d crack the Forbes list faster than Conor McGregor. And I’ll be the first to admit it’s difficult to explain what it is and why it’s valuable. So, let’s break it down.

What is Experience?

Experience is at the core of human existence. Our individual opinions and views of the world are shaped by events, incidents, occurrences and interactions we share with people, things, places, services, rules, work and anything else we encounter in the world around us. Without diving too deeply into existentialism, if we are not here to experience, why are we here at all?

And what a time it is to be here! We’ve never had so much access to knowledge, time and resources. Our world is changing at a cracking pace, accelerated by the digitisation of everything. Our interactions shape us, and we shape them. As a result, our expectations shift, and we look for new ways to satisfy our needs and desires. Intentionally or unintentionally, the outcome is our experience.

Experience is the new black when it comes to how we define ourselves. A quick scan of Instagram or Facebook is more likely to highlight trips to Bali or Barbados over the latest Louis Vuitton bag. We have become more engaged in doing stuff than having stuff, and when it comes to stuff, we demand more than the fancified features and basic benefits we’re handed - we want it our way, or we won’t buy it.

What is Design?

Design is a word used in so many ways it almost lost its value - and yet, it’s more powerful than ever. Making, crafting and aesthetics (like fashion, products and graphics) are all valid forms, but the same process applies to intentional problem solving. Everything man-made is designed on some level, and as our world becomes more complex, new applications and variations of the design process emerge.

Thanks to mainstream media hype around design thinking and UX (the world’s most popular design discipline), big businesses has given design a seat at the table. Corporates are realising what (some) designers have known for a long time: used strategically as a way of thinking rather than focusing entirely on aesthetics and artefacts, design has the potential to change lives, create the future and make a huge impact on revenue.

But don’t just take my word for it. There’s plenty of evidence to support the economic benefits of a design-led approach. Customer experience is the number one business investment across Asia Pacific in 2017, according to Adobe. Oh, and did I mention that the world’s most successful organisations, Apple, Facebook, Google and IBM, are all design-led?

Experience + Design = Opportunity

When you put experience and design together, you get a very big opportunity. Some experts predict that over the next three years, Experience will take over from Price and Product as the key differentiator. If we know experience shapes expectations, and everything we make has an experience attached whether we design for it or not, why would we leave something so valuable to chance?

Smart, businesses understand the value of Experience Design, and are already investing in deliberately designing for human-centred, impact-driven interactions and innovation at the points where people come into contact with their brand. That doesn’t mean everyone gets the title of ‘designer’ or needs to use Photoshop. It means designing for experience isn’t a fad differentiator - it’s a competitive imperative.

Whilst there’s no question of the opportunity, measuring the value and impact is difficult. The Design Management Institute (DMI) is looking at the value provided by design-led approaches to develop a market index that can be used to track how design-led organisations perform relative to the S&P 500. Fifteen publicly-traded US companies met the criteria for inclusion, and the results so far support growing findings that good design drives shareholder value.

Experience Design in Action

If you’ve ever bought an Apple product, you’ll know what I mean when I say that experience design is fundamental to Apple’s success. From the in-store service to the Apple-pay transaction to the smell when you open the packaging to the unmistakable product design to the classic system and interface - Apple is a holistic experience designed for humans.

According to former Apple designer Mark Kawano, the secret behind Apple’s design excellence is simple: design isn’t a thing that only designers do. The key to making cohesive experiences like Apple is the awareness that everyone who is part of the design process - strategy, account management, marketers, creatives, designers, technologists, project managers, stakeholders, employees and users - all contribute to the overall experience and everything that that entails, not only individual components.

At Isobar, we believe in the unlimited potential of designing for human-centred experiences, and put people at the centre of everything we do. From physical to digital, we apply this mindset to invent and make things that build meaningful connections between people and brands. By designing for unforgettable experiences and positive impact, we have the potential to change lives and create the future we want it to be.

Chirryl-Lee Ryan is head of experience design at Isobar Hong Kong. She can be fournd tweeting @chirrylleeryan

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