What is Experience Design?

by Paul D'Alessandro on December 4, 2009

HealthStation Installation v1
Creative Commons License photo credit: juhansonin

The discipline of design has arguably been around since the early days of human kind. As long as there was a problem to solve with elements of aesthetics and configuration there was this notion of a designer present to solve the problem. In the past century there has been rapid evolution of the practice and application to more and more areas right down to simple consumer products and services. There has also been great debate in the past century of the balance in design between form and function. The quintessential manifestation of this debate is elegantly captured in the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s response to Edgar Kaufmann’s frustration when he arrived to take the keys of his new home built by the architect, Falling Water, which to his befudlement was riddled with buckets to capture leaks from the new roof.

“When you put a work of art in the rain it is destined to get wet.”

While many still think of architects when they think of a “designer” the discipline has worked its way into many aspects of our lives today far beyond that of what goes into a building or a home.  As consumers we have come to expect products and services that deliver on at least three dimensions.

Aesthetics; products and services today must in some way appeal to our senses.  This goes far beyond sound industrial design that results in a product that feels and looks good.  It also applies to things like the music you hear when you are waiting for an agent at a call center or in the queue at a bank.  Delighting our senses has become the first round of table stakes for experience design.

Context; the product or service cannot stand alone.  It has to be supported by sound sales and service elements to name a few.  The best companies today think of what they deliver as the center of an entire ecosystem.  Think of the iPod, would it really be as highly regarded as it is today if it was not for the iTunes platform?  On the other side of the coin, think of the iPhone.  How much better would it be if it was on Verizon’s network?

Emotion; this is the intangible element that draws us.  Some brands are simply cult like.  People put their stickers on their bumpers, use their logos on their Facebook page, some even tattoo them to their bodies!  What this really says though is that these products and services evoke such a high level of emotion that they help define who we identify with, or even who we are.

Unfortunately describing these three attributes that I call the ACE of Experience Design is not something that you can do in 20 seconds in an elevator.  Put more simply, Experience Design or xD is a cross-disciplinary practice that considers how best to deliver all the touch points of a product or service across a customer’s life cycle.

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