Let’s jump right in. The core meaning of experience design can be found in the name itself: 

Experience design is an approach in which you draw on a holistic view of your users to design your products, processes, and strategies. To design their experience with your organization. 

Right now, we’re in what many call the “Experience Era” — users expect a well-crafted digital experience every time (thanks, Apple). In order to compete, you need to design an experience that not only makes it easy for them to use your product but also connects them with your company.

All of your customers have an experience with your service, product, or brand. Every web page, every social media interaction, every single piece of software that takes them from point A to point Z will elicit an emotion. What that emotion is, is (mostly) up to you. 

A person using a digital checkout experience at a retail counter.

These experiences happen everywhere — transactional purchases, customer support calls, new products, or interactive displays at your store — and smart companies include them in their business strategy, as well. Think about Airbnb and Lyft, which burst onto the market and found strong footing because they focused on user experience when developing their businesses. Lyft recognized that users didn’t want to wait for the driver to swipe their credit card (or gamble if they’d accept it at all) and didn’t want to call to arrange a pick-up. So they focused on what customers did want — convenience and speed — and created a new approach. And a very successful one at that.

Designing your customer’s experience means more than making their life easy or delightful. It means shaping the way the customer feels. Easy isn’t great if it leaves the customer feeling insecure — like, maybe it was too easy to buy that app; what’s the catch? And delightful isn’t great if the customer can’t find the one button they’re looking for — oh, it’s hidden behind that ultra-cool graphic popup?!

With an experience design focus, you’re no longer looking at just the product, but at the experience as a whole. You’re selling an interaction as much as a product.

Get started

You don’t need to go out and recruit an entire design department to get started. There are easy ways to begin, and agency partners can help you fill in the rest.

1. Practice centering users in your decision-making.

Good experiences require every detail and moment to be centered on the person. That means shifting your thinking from “what can we build?” to “what do people want and need?” 

To get started, take a small customer touchpoint and analyze it from the position of the customer: What are they looking for from this interaction? What would make it easier/faster/better for them? Always coming back to this line of questioning when making decisions will help build more meaningful interactions with your customers.

Ready to take it one step further? Turn it into a feedback loop. Make a change and solicit feedback from actual customers — hold yourself accountable to validate your decision-making.

BENEFIT: Well-designed experiences are known to increase customer engagement and brand loyalty. If your customers have a positive experience, they’ll come back more frequently, integrate your service into their daily lives, and tell their friends.

2. Ensure that your digital platforms are up for the job.

To make sure your technology can support the experience you’re designing, ask yourself:

  • Will it be fast and efficient? If your technology is cumbersome, users will go somewhere else.
  • Will it allow you the flexibility to design and build the features you need when you need them? Your customers’ needs and wants can change quickly.
  • Will you be able to gather the right data to make user-centered decisions? Understanding your users is an ongoing project that requires tools.

BENEFIT: Designing a great experience is about more than what’s obvious. It might be easy to see how navigation menus and search filters can impact your users’ experiences, but the underlying foundation is just as important. The technology that powers those menus and features is crucial; the absence of a modern technology platform can be one of the biggest roadblocks to a well-designed user experience.


IN PRACTICE: With people working from home and doing more online, some industries have seen a 10-30% increase in traffic. Increased traffic puts more load on your web host, which may impact performance or even cause sites to become unavailable.  A CDN is a great option to enable your site to load more quickly, thus improving user experience (find more info on CDNs here).


3. Make listening to users a regular activity

And pair it with your research and data. Why is this important? Because without direct input, you’re just guessing at what users want. Plus, with more (or all) of your customers going online, knowing what your site visitors are looking for, if they’re finding it, and why they’re leaving (especially before completing key tasks) is more important and more of a competitive advantage than ever.

Start by asking yourself where feedback might have the most impact. Think about one of the many ways your customers interact with you online — like downloading resources from your site, registering for a new service, or sharing your page on social media. How might you get feedback from your users about why this interaction meets the goal of providing a positive experience? Or increasing engagement? Or increasing sales?

There are a lot of ways to hear from your users. Standard approaches like research surveys are good when they work, but all too often they can get lost in the noise of all the other companies out there trying to get input, too.

Treat this like a mini-human-centered-design problem and identify moments when your users might be the most able and willing to give you feedback. Can you add a question to the script that your customer support uses when answering phone calls from customers? Or add a feedback widget to your order form? 

BENEFIT: To be truly effective, every experience must be user-centered and get your business what it needs. This is where listening to your users through testing and iterating can pay off. And the results — aka feedback — allow you to validate your thinking and make improvements. By building the concepts of testing and iterating into your processes going forward, you save time and effort and improve your chances of success. And while it won’t tell you everything you need to know, the right data can help you make decisions that create amazing experiences.

4. Create experiences for everyone.

A team of designers reviewing work on a screen.

Whether you call it accessibility or inclusivity, one thing is certain — you should be designing for all customers. 

Approximately 20% of the population has some kind of cognitive, physical, visual or auditory disability. They will have experiences with your products and business, too. Why provide them with a difficult experience? It’s likely to just turn them off and turn away from that engagement. 

There are a few ways to understand how accessible your digital experience is. If you want a gut-check before reaching out to an agency for help, try using Google’s Lighthouse — it’s an open-source tool that runs in Chrome and will give your site a rating against measurements like performance, accessibility, and SEO. This type of measurement can help you and a partner put together a plan to improve accessibility on your site.  

BENEFIT: By designing accessible experiences, you’re immediately increasing your audience base and potentially growing your bottom line — not to mention saving yourself from the legal or moral implications of ignoring it.

5. Make experience design everyone’s job.

(This is the long-term step.)

When you design experiences, not features, it affects your whole business. A Harvard Business Review article states, “the most common, and perhaps the greatest, barrier to customer centricity is the lack of a customer-centric organizational culture.”

Decisions that were once siloed will now require a more holistic approach. What was once a marketing problem is reframed as a staff-wide problem because your customer’s experiences are department-agnostic.


IN PRACTICE: A firm enabled their marketing department to move from an annual goal of “increase orders” to “shorten time between an online order and the moment it arrives on a customer’s front porch,” because they learned that lengthy ship time was the biggest customer pain point.

The new goal required a much different organizational approach: The marketing team (in charge of increasing cart orders) had to work collaboratively with fulfillment and operations (in charge of shipping time) to improve the customer experience. None of those departments could work wholly independently from each other to truly address customer needs and meet department goals.


BENEFIT: Your internal culture is reflected in customers’ external experiences with your company. The thing to remember is that customers don’t know (or care about) your organizational structure or culture. They care about themselves. So if you’re going to care about them, too, you will likely need to change how everyone works.

 

Quality experience design means every single interaction is well-considered and all of it is coordinated and implemented to bring a consistent experience to the user. That investment can improve your business. McKinsey & Company found a positive correlation between the McKinsey Design Index rankings and business performance. From the packaging to the mobile app, every touchpoint is an opportunity to give your customer the experience you want them to have.

How are you going to get started? Let us help you develop a competitive advantage by building memorable experiences. Get in touch.

 

Photos by Clay Banks, You X Ventures on Unsplash