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Designing for Experience

How 'Experience Design' Can Create a More Holistic 'User Experience'

In its first era, design was seen as a problem solver; it has now moved into a second era where it’s seen as a creator of meaningful experiences.

“The design discipline, similar to its industry, has undergone a specialization process.”

From Design to Experience Design

The design discipline, similar to its industry, has undergone a specialization process. Numerous job titles have emerged from ‘Visual Image Developer’, ‘UI Designer’, ‘UX Designer’ through to ‘User Interface Designer’ — each of which demand a very specific skill set.

Amongst these disciplines, we’ve more recently seen the rise of another: ‘Experience Design’. While there seem to be clear definitions, the practice is blurry.

Experience Design “is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, omnichannel journeys, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions.” (wiki)

In spite of the above definition, I’ve often observed that Experience Design is primarily equated with designing user interfaces on digital devices — when it is so much more.

“Experience Design has been primarily equated with designing UIs on digital devices — but it’s so much more.”

Throughout the past 2 years, I’ve developed a special interest in Experience Design in its broader sense. I had the perfect chance to get the true understanding I longed for during a 4 day ‘learn by doing’ course provided by Hyper Island (HI) — listed by CNN as one of the “most interesting schools around the world”, and also known as the “Digital Harvard”.

Hyper Island’s Experience Design Lab provided me “an opportunity to deep dive into the process of creating meaningful experiences both online and offline”. In other words it dovetailed perfectly with my existing understanding of Experience Design: to create a more holistic experience for a user, stretching experience beyond pure interaction with digital interfaces to include the product, service and company.

3 observations on Experience Design

I’ve highlighted 3 key observations on Experience Design that I’ve picked up over my 2 year exploration into the discipline:

1. Experience design is not just digital design

The idea that design has moved from being a problem solver to a creator of meaningful experiences especially holds true in light of the move from broadcast to dialog. That is, the shift from one directional conversations between brand and consumer (traditional advertising), towards a two directional conversation (e.g. engagement through social media). It was around 2004 that people started seeing there was something more than just brand and services; they got tired of passive consumption. It was around this time that Don Norman — the first User Experience Architect at Apple — coined the term ‘User Experience Design’:

“Design has moved from being a problem solver to a creator of meaningful experiences.”

Experience can therefore be many things, not just digital. To paraphrase Hassenzahl (professor of ‘Experience and Interaction’ at the Folkwang University of Arts in Essen), ‘experience’ can be a structure, reflection, or even something shared and subjective. Hassenzahl’s (2010) concept of experience suggests 4 key properties, highlighting its diverse meaning. The 4 key properties are highlighted in the following image:

“Experience can be many things, not just digital – it can be a structure, reflection, or something subjective.”

2. Experience design includes the design of customer experience

The holistic nature of Experience Design also includes the Customer Experience (CX), which itself encompasses a breadth of factors that affect the realm of Experience Design. CX looks at the experience a customer has across every touchpoint of their brand.

Time + Customer Closure Experiences

I believe time can be the most critical factors of CX, especially when considering the concept of Closure Experiences (something I discovered during a presentation by Joe Macleod at Hyper Island).

“A closure experience considers the entire life cycle of a product”

A closure experience considers the entire life cycle of a product, ensuring no negative consequences arise for a customer, and also that all parties involved in the transaction are satisfied. In Joe’s own words, a closure experience “aims to highlight the issues that arise when we fail to close customer relationships in an adequate manner.”

Imbalances in the customer lifecycle

Nowadays, a common scenario exists where a customer’s consumption becomes easier, whilst their waste becomes less actionable over time. This is an example of an imbalance in the customer lifecycle, and therefore a poor closure experience. It creates a negative customer experience, which can be represented with two conflicting selfs of a customer:

This is where we can use design to ensure such imbalances are avoided. It can be done by attentively designing both the starting and closure experiences, as shown in the diagram below:

There is a clear interest gap between on-boarding and off-boarding. While commerce and design are focused on on-boarding and usage experience, they miss a great opportunity to create a meaningful closure experience — something important to experience designers. For a more in-depth exploration into closure experiences, I recommend reading ‘Closure Experience’ by Joe Macleod.

3. Experience design is an iterative process

Similar to UX design, Experience Design encompasses an iterative learning process. At Hyper Island, I encountered 2 key tools for understanding how experience can be crafted: by prototyping, and through the use of an iterative process known as ‘The Learning Spiral”.

“Experience Design encompasses an iterative learning process.”

Prototyping is a powerful tool to test out ideas at an early stage at a low fidelity, align and concretize ideas within the team. It is also useful for including the client at an early stage (and thereby closing the anxiety gap). The advantage of early prototyping is that it can be 10x cheaper to pivot now than at the next stage of the process.

The Learning Spiral is a tool Hyper Island applies in their courses. The spiral starts off with doing something, then reflecting upon it, generalizing the learning, and finally applying it. The sequence is then repeated.

Experience design is still evolving

Overall, this holistic understanding of Experience Design is relatively young and evolving. At the forefront is a group of talented and passionate individuals that I had the pleasure to meet during the Hyper Island Experience Design Lab.

“The holistic understanding of Experience Design is still evolving.”

Additionally, I am constantly seeking conversation with like-minded people to bring this Experience Design mindset into practice. Check out the other articles I wrote and keep this open discussion going!

If you enjoy this article feel free to share it, follow me or get in touch with me.

Book recommendations:


Illustrations created by Rebecca Werres, and writing by Patrick Zimmermann.

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Patrick is an Experience Strategist at SapientRazorfish. Passionate Business Designer. Author of Experience driven Strategy. Follow him on Medium.

Rebecca is a Visual Designer at SapientRazorfish. Follow her on Dribbble.

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