Experience is everything and it’s where everything starts

The term experience design has been used as a catch-all for many things, and as the name suggests, it is a meta-term that can encompass a huge variety of disciplines. Experience can be anything right? It is how we encounter and navigate the world around us. Is a film director an experience designer? An architect? A designer of the humble teapot? A viticulturist? An artist? The answer is all of the above, for what on earth isn’t experience?

Sci-Fi writer and Wired blogger Bruce Sterling suggests the discipline has a radically universalized prospectus and describes the practice as the “most imperial, most gaseous, most spectral form of design yet invented”. So both hopelessly undefined, and incredibly vast.

So how can we focus?

For brands and businesses, the opportunity to connect all of their activities in a meaningful way to the lives of their customers is huge. By adding value to people’s lives and having empathy with the people that use a brands product or service, there are clear measurable benefits — to the brands and businesses themselves, to the audience, and to the world as a whole. The power of regular engagement, of advocacy, and the loyalty that it promotes are invaluable assets that can accelerate business today, and experience design can help you get there. In the words of Kelly Shelly, a masters graduate of the world-class digital experience design degree at Hyper Island puts it eloquently “Experience designers ensure that the multi-media, long-term series of touchpoints encountered by a user, customer or citizen will be at worst, merely pleasant, and at best, utterly delightful”.

Easier said than done.

The task of connecting all of a brands activities into a seamless and “delightful” experience can seem, if not impossible, an extremely challenging task. Especially, as Patrick Newbery of Method suggests “The age of image as brand is closing”. Some brands are doing it incredibly well, others not so much. The first step is to ask your customers. Starting with the humans we’re talking to and working back from there is the only way to begin. This is often called human-centred or customer-centred design — put simply it is talking to people, getting the opinions of the people who will be using your products and services. If you have co-created products with the users or audiences that will be experiencing them, you’ll have made something staggeringly useful, easy to use, entertaining, or even utterly delightful. This audience will become advocates for your brand in authentic ways to their friends, family and colleagues.

Fail fast or die.

Co-creation with customers requires a willingness to test and learn. Be prepared to change your plan, your strategy, your idea, that thing that you were imagining in your head. Drop what isn’t working quickly and move on. Embracing being wrong is often the most rewarding and compelling leap to make when designing problems and solutions in the real world, for real people. When we’re right, awesome. When we’re wrong, even better. Being wrong means we’re pushing it, exploring the potential. It means we’re going beyond first thoughts and gut instincts and using informed intuition to develop a new hypothesis that maybe won’t work. That’s OK because when they do, massive leaps can be made. Traditionally, user experience design is about meeting expectation - but if we are prepared to fail, we can go beyond simply meeting our customer's needs and truly innovate for the future.

More than a moment.

Further, human experience is not just dynamic, but temporal. It’s a series of moments, so plan (and build) for time. How a new product or service integrates along the lifetime of the customer relationship is one of the most important considerations of experience design. As technology continues to accelerate and culture rapidly evolves, people's behaviours and expectations are inevitably going to change. If change is the only constant, our products and services — and the brands that they represent — have to keep up. Fortunately, digital artefacts do not have to be static. We can build for continual feedback that is dynamic and precise. Data analytics allow us to make informed decisions in development, and beyond that, to build real-time responsive (even intelligent) products and services. The recently released Kupu app from Spark is a great example. It allows you to take a picture of anything and hear the Maori word for the object. It’s getting smarter all the time, as people use it. Learning more about customer needs to be combined with an informed process to develop well-designed problems, leads to well-designed solutions. In this way businesses with clearly defined brand purposes can connect what they put into the world with the people that live in the world, to achieve a better bottom line as well as a greater good.

So, how can we leverage the power of data and emerging technologies to add real value to our customer's lives, and truly live our brand purpose?

It starts with experience design.

Matt Barnes is head of digital at Colenso BBDO.

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