This is part 1 in a 2-part series on experience design.

“Experience design is a methodology to make people’s interactions with complex systems more pleasant.”

When it comes to a solution, customers don’t care about your intentions. They care whether or not their problem has been solved. Experience design is a process for discovering what is important to your customers before designing the most usable experience to solve their problem. When executed correctly, experience design does much more than solve a problem with a single solution. Experience design first pinpoints the right problem, and then tests numerous prototypes to find the best solution.

At its most basic, a user experience is any interaction with an interface to receive an output. This structure applies to everything, from synthesizing ground well data into a 3D image to sending a text message. To complete a task, the user must interact with an interface through an input (ex. tapping a letter when sending a text). The system must then provide an output to the users input (ex. the tapped letter appearing). An experience is designed well when the user knows what their options are and what will result from each option.

Systems must be designed with users in mind. Just because an app has a capability, does not mean a user will know the capability exists or how to access it. A well-designed application will make its capability clear. Users rely on designers to reveal what something can do through visuals. For example, think about changing the volume on a website; visually, how do you know if you are making it louder or quieter? Some use a slider with increasing or decreasing numbers, others use a bar that fills in color when you mouse over it, and there are many other options. Each of these options lets you know what actions you can take and the results of those actions. When you interact with the control the volume becoming louder or softer serves as feedback from your actions. Completing the feedback loop reinforces the purpose and significance of the volume controller. This example shows how a user knows a website’s capability, how they can affect it, and the feedback they receive. When experience design is done well, the user needs minimal to no training to know what they can do.

Why Experience Design Matters

Experience design is important because it forces you to cast your assumptions aside. You avoid mistakes of solving the wrong problem or developing a solution that doesn’t address the user’s needs. Rather than relying on preconceived notions of what customers want, through empathy, you learn what really matters. Time spent developing features that won’t make a difference to customers is a waste, and adoption of a new solution will be meager if you addressed what you thought was important, rather than what matters to the customer.

Imagine a power company has decided to update its app. The designers choose to invest heavily in innovative visualizations to show consumers their electricity use each hour of every day. After the update is rolled out, customers complain that the bill pay function doesn’t let them store their credit card number for future payments, an extremely desired feature. Because the designers were caught up in what they thought was important, they didn’t address the correct missing feature that would have improved the customer experience.

When Experience Design is Done Well

As an example, a major airline has put a great deal of thought into how a customer looks for a flight. When you arrive at the home page of their website, flight search is right there with the word ‘Book’ in big, bold letters. You can alter your search options with a single click and no loading time. If you are looking for inspiration for your next trip, they have an option to instantly bring up a map of available destinations. The flight selection page is full of features to assist you with your choice.  With a single click, users can change the travel day; when the ‘Change Planes’ icon is selected, both trip legs are displayed on the same page. Each of these features was designed with empathy and with the customer experience in mind. This airline anticipated customer’s questions and desired actions and designed a webpage that effectively addressed them.

It is easy to believe you know everything about your customer when, in reality, it is difficult to go beyond your own frame of reference. This is why experience design is important. By starting with the assumption that you may not know what’s best, you are free to pursue any solution without bias.

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