At The Heart Of Experience Design

Experience design is both a complex and creative process. It requires a strong knowledge mix of key design principles, human behavior, and collaboration. Due to the amount of detail and all the moving parts that need to be harmonized, it is easy for designers to lose sight of who the real audience is or the intention of the experience. Designers could end up designing what they would like to see, rather than what the audience wants or demands. Due to the complexity of the whole process, a designer can get wrapped up so deeply in the process that it is easy to get derailed from the goal.

As an Experience guide, I fully understand how easy it is to wander off the path and get hung up in the ‘cool’ ideas. Good ideas trigger more ideas that keep expanding. The danger of idea wandering is that the idea of the experience begins to grow into something completely different or away from the intention. As an experience designer, it is critical to always keep the goal of the experience in focus to avoid confusion or creating a collection of disjointed ideas.

There is a way that can help keep the idea on track. The method is to approach the design process from a different angle or direction. This method go against the traditional design process that has been embedded in designers and helps begin designing from a fresh point of view.

A few years back, while chatting with a group of people at a conference, I decided to perform an impromptu survey about experiences they have had in the past. I ask each of the people in the group to describe to me the last good or great experience they had paid for. What I soon discovered were very similar patterns in the descriptions. There were three key elements to their memories of the experience that each person included in their description. What was surprising was that these three elements of the experience recall fell in almost the same order with each person.

To test my theory further, I needed to make sure that the group were not influencing each other or echoing the same pattern of description. The test needed to be performed on individuals away from any group influence. At various meetings with others, I casually ask the same question about an experience. In almost every inquiry, the pattern remained the same.

The pattern of description started with the place, destination, or locale where the experience occurred. It was as if they storyteller was setting the stage for the experience for the listener. The level of detailed varied from each person, yet always provided enough description and detail of the place for the listener to visualize the place.

Once the place had been established, the storyteller would share the actions during the experience. Many times, the description was focused on a single action or interaction with people at the place, and a few others would attempt to share every action that occurred during the experience. In either case, the story always included the action.

With each memory shared, the third element became more noticeable. This element about the memory of the experience was based upon observation. The third element is emotion. While sharing the story, the lasting emotion they had during the experience returned. I say observed because few expressed their emotion verbally, but all expressed it through body language as if reliving the very emotion as the recalled the experience.

If each person interviewed followed in a similar pattern with almost the exact three elements, then here was a design clue that needed to be addressed. To design an engaging and memorable experience, the clue was to start with the end in mind. Start with the memory of the experience by leveraging the three elements of the memory of the experience as your design objective.

Begin by identifying the emotional outcome the experience could be connected to the memory. This emotional outcome does not have to be consistent throughout the experience but should be the key emotion you hope the person recalls of the experience. If the emotion is one of ‘inspiration’ as an example, then when developing the interactions and engagements, use that emotion as your guide. Define what the customer will be engaged with that could evoke a specific emotion when recalling the experience.

As you develop the engaging aspects of the experience, begin selecting the design elements of the staging that will be required to support the action. What props can you use as positive cues around the action? What areas can be identified as the area of the engagement? Stage the action with elements of theming that support and compliment the actions that the customer will perform.

As with all design processes, the designer has much further to go before a well-crafted experience is complete. There are many details that need to be flushed out. Yet, using the memory of the experience and the key elements connected to memory around the experience as the initial design tool for development, ensures a strong focus on what the experience can be and what the place or stage of the experience needs to become to obtain the emotional outcome created by the actions.

The design tool idea developed for a well-crafted experience is to start at the end with the memory of the experience first. Identify the one emotion outcome as your guiding target, then determine the action or actions that will be used to achieve the target emotional outcome.

Once you have the actions of the experience, identify the details of the place that will support those actions. From this point, a designer can begin the complex procedure of finalizing the design process, environmental elements and align all the cues around a central theme.

By working backwards through the design process, designers are able to keep the target of intent in focus and the emotional outcome in mind, even before the customer enters and engages with the experience.

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