Experience design

Experience design is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, and environments -- each of which is a human experience -- based on the holistic consideration of an individual's or group's needs, desires, beliefs, knowledge, skills, experiences, and perceptions. An emerging discipline, experience design is the culmination of traditional and avant-garde research and design modalities including cognitive psychology and perceptual psychology, cognitive science, architecture and environmental design, haptics, product design, information design, information architecture, ethnography, brand management, interaction design, service design, storytelling, heuristics, and design thinking. It is the most human-centric approach to design. Another term for experience design is experiential design.

In its commercial context, experience design is driven by consideration of the "moments of engagement" -- touchpoints -- between people and brands, and the ideas,emotions, and memories that these moments create. Commercial experience design is also known as experiential marketing, customer experience design, and brand experience. Today, successful companies are adopting a more holistic and customer-centric relationship model built upon dialogue and interaction between brands and consumers. In doing so, they are considering and designing the "total" experience of their brands, often without knowing that they are (both intuitively and accidentally) practicing experience design. Experience designers are often employed to identify existing touchpoints and create new ones, and then to score the arrangement of these touchpoints so that they produce the desired outcome.

In the broader environmental context, however, relatively little formal attention has been given to the design of the experienced environment, physical and virtual -- but though it's unnoticed, experience design is taking place. Mark Hurst's This Is Broken blog graphically illustrates many problematic and failed experience designs, in non-commercial as well as commercial settings.

In fact, there is a lively debate occurring in the experience design community regarding its focus, provoked in part by design scholar and practitioner Don Norman. Norman claims that when designers describe people only as "customers, consumers, and users" -- instrumentally, as businesses do -- the designers risk diminishing their ability to do good design. Given that experience is so totally an affective, subjective, and personal process -- not an abstract -- it would be ironic, it's been argued, for experience designers, when designing experiences, to approach people merely as objects of commerce or cogs in a machine. Experience design, perhaps more than other forms of design, is transactive and transformative: every experience designer is an experiencer; and every experiencer, via his or her reactions, a designer of experience in turn. While commerical contexts often describe people as "customers, consumers, or users," this and non-commercial contexts might use the words "audience, people, and participants." In either case, for conscientious experience designers, this is merely a semantic difference.

But so far, most explicit experience design has been applied in the commercial sector and relatively little in the design of non-commercial and non-institutional experiences. Of course, people have been designing experiences throughout all of human history (weddings, religion, education, politics, etc. are all examples of this) but the conscious act of creating experiences and the codification of the processes and discipline of experience design.

Experience design is not driven by a single design discipline. Instead, it requires a truly cross-discipline perspective that considers all aspects of the brand/business/environment/experience - from product, packaging and retail environment to the clothing and attitude of employees. Experience design seeks to develop the experience of a product, service, or event along any or all of the following dimensions:

  • Duration (Initiation, Immersion, Conclusion, and Continuation)
  • Intensity (Reflex, Habit, Engagement)
  • Breadth (Products, Services, Brands, Nomenclatures, Channels/Environment/Promotion, and Price)
  • Interaction (Passive < > Active < >Interactive)
  • Triggers (All Human Senses, Concepts, and Symbols)

While it's unnecessary (or even inappropriate) for all experiences to be developed highly across all of these dimensions, the more in-depth and consistently a product or service is developed across them -- the more responsive an offering is to a group's or individual's needs and desires (e.g., a customer) -- the more successful--and more meaningful--it's likely to be. Enhancing the affordance of a product or service, its interface with people, is key to commercial experience design.