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What’s in a name? From design to experience design

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Navigating the digital experience

Earlier this year we renamed our team from ‘design’ to ‘experience design’. This may sound like a fairly subtle and relatively insignificant change but we did it quite deliberately to explain where the team sits both within MMT Digital and the wider Be Heard Group, who acquired us in 2016.

Within Be Heard, we are specialists in experience design and build: we think holistically about how a brand is platformed (the back end) and how it interacts with the customer across multiple touchpoints (the front end). The front end is much more than just the ‘skin’ (or look and feel) of a website or app – but how all touchpoints interrelate.

For those unfamiliar with digital-led design, there’s a bunch of phrases agencies use to describe their design activity: UX, UI, UCD, CX, user experience design, service design, experience design, creative design… there are multiple names and indeed multiple definitions. Even (in fact especially) among those that practice it. A cursory glance at the the internet (where the terms are used to refer to most often) certainly suggests it's a misunderstood field.

In fact, human-centred design (the principles of which the above phrases should be based upon) has its own ISO standard – which details it including 'all the users’ emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviours and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use' (all encompassing!).

Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things, defined user experience as ‘encompassing all aspects of the end-user's interaction with a company, its services, and its products’. An excellent definition, and one that resonates with our approach to design at MMT: we are all about the end user. We are, of course, well-practiced in helping clients meet their goals and objectives, and we make this happen by being the champion for the user: ensuring their voice is heard at every stage of whatever product/service we design.

So, why do you need experience design?

It’s about the value design can bring to the business itself. Design-driven businesses have outperformed the stock market by an amazing 228% over a ten year period. It’s no longer enough to just sell a product or service — companies must truly engage with their customers. Experience design does that by focusing on all the touchpoints a potential customer may have, be they online or offline, physical or virtual, visual brand or content related; it’s about a seamless and consistent experience during the entire customer journey.

Isn’t experience design just UX?

UX often focuses on a single channel experience – perhaps just an app – in isolation from the other channels or touchpoints the company/product/service may have with a user. UX thinking is often then ‘handed over’ to UI or visual designers to bring in the company’s visual brand language. Experience design treats the engagement with customers in a more holistic way. And considers the complete business system – not just those customer-facing interfaces. It’s effectively a much broader remit for design.

So, broadly speaking:

The user-interface (UI) should be seen as the ‘front door’ to your brand. In the pre-digital age this may have been the advert, the shop front, the product packaging, the design of the product itself. In the social media and digital age UI has extended to social media posts, emails, websites and apps and we’re now increasingly looking at chatbots, wearables, augmented reality, and myriad other ‘front ends’ with the growth of the internet of things.

The user experience (UX) includes thinking about how the customer moves between those environments, the different UIs. It’s important that marketers think hard about this, because not getting it right, or creating friction between each environment means that you’re less likely to create a positive experience for customers.

So, with that in mind, experience design (XD) is about thinking about the user experience in the round: how you capture your customers’ journeys and better anticipate what they need.

How do we do it at MMT Digital?

Because we think holistically about how experience design relates to platforms, we’re able to think more broadly about how clients can make all the related parts work in concert, rather than simply through the narrow prism of how a single UI should look. As a platform agnostic agency that takes an agile, iterative approach to what we do we can innovate quickly, test and learn and help clients feed this into their broader marketing strategy: whether that’s improving the sales experience, speeding up mobile landing pages, growing a prospect list, or increasing outbound marketing.

We are all involved in experience design at MMT. Everyone, across all our disciplines are ensuring that we are improving the experience for our clients and their customers.

Gareth Sully, head of experience design, MMT Digital