So just who does this UX guy think he is..

Whilst the debate around the role of User Experience (UX) keeps rolling on (and on and on and on….), we look at the opportunity the ‘new’ era of experience design offers to today’s professional marketer

For many the first encounter with a UX professional was during a web design project.  (They were the slightly difficult ones, that ask lots of questions and seem to challenge everything). In this context UX is often used a catch all to cover a number of disciplines such as user research, information architecture, usability, content planning, interaction and interface design. This makes any useful distinction on the role difficult. More often than not it is defined as a stage in the process or worse still by the deliverables, devaluing the perception of the UX professional to a ‘wireframe machine.’

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s largely our own fault. Our tendency to codify, a general air of mystery and endless musings about process, methodologies and our general importance in the mix has probably turned many off.

The worry is that this prevents marketers engaging in the ‘new’ experience design – just when it has the most to offer.

The ‘new’ Experience Design

UX is a digital construct, and as digital continues to dominate the communication landscape the argument is that UX thinking becomes more and more valuable. But is this true?

Digital is no longer just comms –  it’s the way we do business, period. The digital experience is a source of competitive advantage, the path to new products and services and the means of building lasting and valued relationships with the market. Against this backdrop a focus on delivering the optimal user experience delivers real and tangible business benefits.

Digital is not the web, or mobile, or social.  It’s ALL of them, all at the same time. Increasingly the UX job is in designing and adapting the experience between and across multiple channels.

Which brings us to Experience Design. This is NOT a digital construct, but in our digital obsessed world, it relies on the skills, knowledge and experience of the UX professional. Experience Design takes us beyond the digital domain to help shape the experience a user (read customer) has with the brand, product or service at all touch points. Yes, even those in the real-world! And as such it isn’t really anything new.

10 Observations

I’d like to side swerve the semantic definition debate and offer up some of my observations and thoughts about UX and Experience Design and let you make up your own mind.

  1. You can’t design the user experience
    It’s well quoted but true. There is no such thing as THE user experience; every one and every context is different. But we can design for user experience.
  2. The experience is defined by the user, not the designer
    Enough said.
  3. User Experience is not an optional extra
    Your product, service or interface will have one whether you like it or not. The choice is whether it’s good or not.
  4. Experience is not defined by the deliverables…
    Just because the site map, flow and wireframes are done, doesn’t mean the experience design is done.
  5. …or the process
    Waterfall, agile, lean…each have their merits – and pitfalls. Some projects will suit one, others another.
  6. Experience design isn’t just about designing things
    Like a website, an app or social platform but the experiences that join them up.
  7. Can’t do it in isolation
    Experience design cannot simply be a stage in the process. We (agencies) can’t optimise the experience without detailed input and collaboration from the client. There’s also little to be gained from throwing designs and documents over the metaphorical wall to be built or implemented. Collaboration with product, tech and customer service teams is vital to realising the vision.
  8. It is about the type of person
    Stephen P Anderson makes a potent argument that User Experience is best described by the types and behaviours of people that are good at it.
  9. It is all about the end-results
    It’s a passion for creating the right product – no matter what. The right experience for the user. People like and interact with things that work – not just look beautiful.
  10. Experience Design starts and stops with people.
    Our job is to understand people; their attitudes and motivations towards a category, brand or product in context. Building an understanding of what influences our behaviour and decision making means we can apply all the disciplines to design experiences that work.

So, the ‘new’ Experience Design is all about mapping and shaping the experience consumers, customers and influencers have with a brand or product. We are just as likely to be designing a new purchase model,  sign-up process, customer service channel, or integrated content campaign as a website or app or social interface.  As such experience design really does deliver real and tangible business benefits, and extends its influence beyond marketing and tech to be at the heart of modern businesses.

In turn, whether in an agency or client-side, the ‘new’ experience design professional is part planner, part UX designer, part product marketer, part entrepreneur.