How is Experience Design Different?

by Paul D'Alessandro on January 27, 2010

Standing back and thinking about how and why consumers make purchasing decisions is not overly complicated.  They have needs that have to be fulfilled whether they be discretionary or mandatory.  Society provides options in the form of either advertising, marketing or word of mouth that when combined create awareness of an option set.  Finally, consideration is given to a set of options, different choice models are placed upon our option set either intuitively or with intent and a purchase is made.

During my recent efforts to build better models of experience design I stepped back and thought about all those things that effect the choice model or the narrowing of the consideration set.  While much of selection and even the basic construct of demand curve can be attributed to Daniel and Nicholas Bernoulli and advent of the utility function, experience seemed to have time and storage (memory) attributes that just didn’t fit into utility functions precisely.

This “bucket” or memory appears to be something shared by both loyalty programs and customer experience.  I think it is easier to think about in the context loyalty programs first.  In a frequent flyer program for example you build up points that go into my bucket.  Most times you make a purchase you think about the state of your “bucket”.  Is it near a threshold?  Are you reaching for a goal?  Should you add to your bucket?  All of these things help influence the purchase decision at the time of purchase and for the most part only at the time of purchase.

Alternatively, you have another more sophisticated bucket that I call your experience memory.  It is different for many reasons and more complex than your loyalty program bucket but two reasons stand out:

  1. This bucket is in a continual state of flux.  Everything that happens to someone in the context of a product or service will either add or sometimes detract from preference for that product or service.  Good companies are always thinking of ways to add to this bucket and minimize those bad subtractive experiences.  The really good ones even figure out ways to turn lemons into lemonade.
  2. This bucket is influenced all the time, not just during the time of consideration and purchase but during use.  Unlike many of the attributes that drive our utility functions for a product or service that for the most part come into consideration at the time at the time of purchase, “using” or “use” is the dominant force that drives this bucket.  Consider buying a new car.  The sales process, the mileage, the warranty and even the smell all are dominant at the time of purchase.  We use Edmunds or some service to help refine our understanding.  Additionally, though we rely on our Experience Memory to make a choice, a memory that has been built up over time.  Some studies say have shown that this is the biggest challenge for General Motors today in that over 40% of their target consumers have built up a negative memory through use of their products.  For most this is a lasting memory too, one that in the case of General Motors has kept them away from entire generations of potential buyers.  Overcoming a heavily burdened negative bucket is not easily overcome.

I am using some of this insight to build better prediction models using tools like genetic algorithms to better mimic the process of the human brain, evolution in the market place and the eventual market share, margin and longevity of new products and services.  However, the more important result is that simply thinking about experiences as creating either a “heavy” or a “light” bucket all consumers carry around is a powerful image in the process of Experience Design.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

bill abbott February 2, 2010 at 11:36 am

Seems like stuff is always falling out of my memory bucket. In any event, I just had an interesting experience with a company influencing my MB. A few months ago I bought a new car. Last week (two months after the purchase), I received a nicely packaged box from the car company. In the box were some books, one of which went to great lengths explaining company history and philosophy, uniqueness of the product, importance of design, etc. I thought it was odd to see this after the big decision had been made. But in all honesty, the points from the book really were more tangible after having the car for while. Interesting twist on standard practices like welcome kits and such and it definitely made a mark in my memory bucket.

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