Excerpt from Chapter 3: Behaving and experiencing
Approaches to designing experiences
This example of trying to visualize an experience opens up the challenges facing people designing innovative services. The example of the airport illustrated how organizations can be seen as offering multiple and diverse experiences over time, shaped by – and shaping – people’s behaviours . For users, customers, employees, partners and stakeholders, organizations are the sum of their experiences with organizations over time.
There is no single way to understand experience, and any attempt to describe it carries with it intellectual baggage. There are several specialisms that claim experience as something that organizations can understand and design. Table 2 (not shown here) presents an overview of the fields that have contributed to current understandings of experience that mobilize different concepts and activities. Although there are many overlaps between these fields, the table captures their main features.
The first of these specialisms, customer experience marketing, focuses on behaviour: how users or customers feel, what they think or believe, and the attitudes, motivations, drivers and barriers that impact on their decisions to purchase particular products or services and their usage of call centres and digital channels. The focus of customer experience marketing is to understand what happens in users’ minds, recognizing that previous experiences, current intentions, expectations and associations all shape how people engage with organizations and the choices they make. Developments over the past decade include understanding how social digital media platforms shape people’s relationships with organizations, and which provide near real-time digital data about what customers are doing or are about to do. More recent accounts of customer experience also attend to the unconscious aspects of human experience, things that a customer will not be aware of and may be unable to put into words, but which are also involved in their decision-making . Another development is the hope that using brain imaging technologies will help organizations better understand and predict customer behaviour , although like in other areas prefixed with the tag “neuro”, it’s unclear if the reality can live up to the hopes .
A second field concerned with understanding and designing experience is branding. With its origins in graphic communication design, branding has shifted over the past two decades away from a focus on corporate visual identity, to an expanded notion of the relationship between customers and organizations that considers all the touchpoints through which they interact. Key concepts in branding include creating stories, authenticity, and the mediators and interpreters who play roles in constructing brands. For organizations that have several different kinds of offering, the brand is a useful construct that differentiates them with other providers. Sociological accounts of branding emphasize how the symbolic value of brands results from the interconnections between diverse actors. But brand analysis can be too high-level to understand people’s experiences in their encounters with the organization and its touchpoints and staff.
A third area associated with designing experiences is systems design. This field is concerned with the design of computer-based systems for multiple users. During the 1980s, researchers helping design software systems began to explore the use of ethnographic approaches to help design teams work out what was going on for users of the systems they were designing. For example, Lucy Suchman’s influential study of the use of a photocopying machine showed how human action is constantly constructed and reconstructed through dynamic interplay between the various actors involved. Suchman showed that instead of planning what action to take and then carrying this out, human action in relation to interacting with a machine unfolded through multiple encounters that were situated in everyday life and practical activities. These kinds of studies reframed systems design. Instead of seeing it as the creation of software to enable discrete, intrinsically meaningful tasks, designing computer systems involved the production of new habits and routines. Systems designers began to recognize how people brought their own knowledge, skills and capacities to using software shaped by previous histories of interactions, and in response to local situations.
Fourthly, the relatively new fields of interaction design and service design also focus on designing experiences. Drawing heavily on ideas generated by earlier systems designers, interaction and service designers recognize that they cannot fully design an experience. Rather, recognizing the active participation of users and others in constituting experience, they can design for particular experiences. Interaction and service designers are attentive to the numerous artefacts or touchpoints that are part of an experience, and to the aesthetic qualities of experiences in which participants become immersed. Within interaction design and service design, experiences are often equated with behaviours, as if they mean the same thing. Influenced by ethnography, designers recognize that their work involves the construction of new meanings as people participate in interactions and services. But at the same time, influenced by cognitive science, designers are also concerned with creating mental models that shape people’s interactions with services.
Although this summary has simplified these fields, it highlights that there are important differences in how experience is conceptualized, although there are many overlaps between these areas. Underpinning them are different academic traditions which need exploring in more detail. By so doing, the differences between the concepts of behaviour, experience and practice can be clarified. This will help people designing services to work out what new kinds of value-in-use their innovation ecosystems might bring into being. Or in other words, it will help them understand the “thing” they are designing.