Making Experience Design Work

By / April 22, 2013

There has been a lot said recently on the benefits of Experience Design over traditional forms of brand building. Fabio Sergio recently wrote about how Experience Design helps to choreograph interactions so that the overall experience of a brand can generate a coherent set of impressions. Karen McGrane noted that businesses cannot treat their customers as passive “consumers” any longer and that every company is in the user experience business. Meanwhile Google Venture’s lead Braden Kowitz is focusing on user’s journeys as a way of ensuring that designs don’t just look good, but that they actually work. Along with many other prominent thinkers at the front line of the world’s most innovative organizations, the message is clear; the old “spray and pray” approach to getting your brand noticed is being displaced by a new way of understanding and connecting with people.

The biggest challenge for leaders inside today’s corporations is not working harder to spread their brand’s message across more mediums; it is connecting organizational goals with the changing patterns of people’s lives. The increasing diversity of touchpoints available to experience products and services is astounding. Take a simple example like music. The experience of learning about and acquiring new music can happen when an album is recommended over a social network like rdio, streamed-based on your selected mood over Songza, or enjoyed through an app that downloads with an album. All of these experiences occur within different contexts — home, office, in transit, with friends, alone, etc.— and using different devices such as smart TV, tablet, smartphone, laptop, etc.


It is the sum of the experiences generated from each touchpoint that informs the overall impression of a product or service. Catchy advertisements really don’t stand a chance against the reinforcing nature of experiences created through networked products and services.  Now think about the touchpoints a person accesses for complex tasks such as navigating a chronic disease or managing a family’s finances. The interconnected and networked relationships of products and services require a new understanding of how each touchpoint contributes to an overall experience.

The other major challenge for organizations is the shift from a one-way dialogue to brand building that is based on real customer engagement. While brands have traditionally looked to understand people in order to maximize positioning and messaging, this one-way message-focused relationship translates horribly into engagement-based mediums such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Many organizations continue to use a traditional advertising approach by attempting to increase the frequency of their messages on these new channels. Others adopt restrictive policies that limit or eliminate access to these channels completely. The challenge is that these new engagement based channels require new forms of content and active listening to be truly effective. This runs contrary to the paradigm of active-company/passive-customer that has dominated the last century of marketing.


The challenge is that these new engagement-based channels require new forms of content and active listening to be truly effective. 


In our work at Bridgeable, we find that two elements are helping organizations make the critical translation between corporate strategy and evolving need to engage and choreograph across multiple touchpoints. The first is developing an overall strategy that informs all areas of an organization on how to effectively operate across touchpoints. This activity requires the openness and fortitude to connect the intended experience with how an organization structures itself and functions. For example, when recently working with a major retailer researching and redesigning a flagship private label brand, we mapped their customer journey from pre-discovery through to disposal and uncovered eighteen different functional groups involved in delivering the overall customer experience. Of these, typically only two of the functions were involved in the majority of decisions made about the brand and product strategy. In order to deliver a cohesive customer experience, we explored ways that each function could deliver on the overall experience by translating the intended experience to each touchpoint.

The second major element that helps organizations is applying the learning from experience design projects as a means to make organizational change. This process- sometimes called Strategic Design- seeks to use the design of actual products and services as a way to uncover key obstacles and enablers within an organization. For example, when launching a new interactive module that explains a complex healthcare product, you may realize that the internal regulatory review process is not equipped to assess new technologies and as a result is inadvertently stifling new ideas. Or an organization may realize that the resources to manage channels where customers are using an interactive feature that provides feedback may not yet exist and may need to be added in order to ensure success. The lessons learned when designing and implementing new forms of engagement can then provide valuable and competitive strategic insights that position an organization to win over consumers and beat out established competitors.


This process — sometimes called Strategic Design — seeks to use the design of actual products and services as a way to uncover key obstacles and enablers within an organization.

While experience design is beginning to displace traditional means of brand-building, the organizational barriers to successfully implementing this approach are well established. The coming years will provide a huge competitive opportunity to the organizations who actively seek to adapt and diminishing returns for those who cannot switch off the one-way message.