Designing for experiences. Not designing experiences.

September 6, 2018

Services are increasingly commodified.

Economic value is progressing from services to experiences. Services are co-created interactions between the user, the company and technology. Experiences are the feelings and creation of meaning involving the stakeholders, during and after the production and consumption of the service. Everything in this process affects people’s experience, and therefore the process of designing should be based on the planned experiential outcome. In short, it is no longer enough to provide just the best products with the highest quality of service. Businesses have to create meaningful and memorable customer experiences.

“Customers always get an experience along with a product or service” (Carbone and Haeckel, 1994)

But we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that people’s experiences can actually be designed. Experiences are not pliable and mouldable products. Rather they are reactions inside people, which manifest in response to an experienced phenomenon. Furthermore, experiences fuse the tangible and intangible attributes, taking into consideration people’s personal behavioural and psychological backgrounds and cannot happen without the active participation of the experiencer. Therefore, designers and businesses alike need to have a mindset of designing for experiences. Not trying to design experiences. Putting the question “how would people feel?” at the heart of the design process – decision making, iterations, medium selection and execution – we can truly influence the experience people will have while interacting with our product or service.

Experiences have three distinguishable but interconnected dimensions. First is the instrumental dimension, which describes how people get to their desired result. These are the tangible features: buttons we need to push, switches to switch, environments we to walk through that build the physical context for usage.

Second is the usage dimension: what people can do with the product. This dimension illustrates the servicification of products, where the products come with DIY experiences that the service provider is enabling. These are the arranged sequences of different touch-points that the service design focuses.

Third is the profound dimension, or why people actually use your product or service: the meaning behind the product or service. In other words, peoples’ motivation to use the product and the final emotional outcome of the service. This manifests itself when people forget all about the product or service process and just enjoy the moment. For example, enjoying the painting on the wall without thinking about the process of getting a nail and hammer to hang it there. Designing for the profound dimension requires that the instrumental and usage dimensions were designed smoothly and in a natural sequence.

There are three key properties to keep in mind when designing for experiences. Firstly, while designing consider the totality of the experience – have a holistic view on the dimensions of the experience and its facilitation. Experiences don’t happen in a void. The context, including physical environment and temporality, play an important role in real and perceived experiential outcome. Thus, phenomenology is at the centre of experience design.

Secondly, research and design with the experiencers. People experience things in their own reality and the meaning is created by the experiencers themselves. Learn about the people you are designing for and co-creating with, to facilitate the desired experiential outcome. Combine qualitative and ethnographic research methods with quantitative and secondary research outcomes, in order to get insights about customers. Find out both the obvious and latent needs and motivations of people, in order to define the requirements needed to provide better products and services. Use analytical thinking to convert the findings into design decisions that facilitate the intended outcome.

Thirdly, remain open to any type of medium. The intended experience is more important than the medium used to get there. Choose the medium that most effectively facilitates the fabrication of the desired outcome, not vice-versa. Take a step out of your comfort zone and explore alternative avenues that can help you help your customers to their desired outcome.

When designing for experiences, have a holistic view on all three dimensions of the experience. Think why and how people interact with your products and services, and what they are trying to achieve. Co-create the best possible solutions independent of the medium to deliver the desired customer experience that they will remember and talk to their friends about.

“The endgame of experience design is memorability—each design is crafted to be memorable where every pixel, point, millimetre, second, lumen and decibel is crafted because experiences and the people who have them matter.” (Cheatham, 2017)