Experience Design – Gear up to think beyond interfaces

January 13, 2016

“What do you do for a living?” Arguably, the most intriguing question of all. Answering it always had been a soul-searching experience. It is a very exhilarating ride from the time I begin my response to the point the questioner, and I, call it enough. Often, these conversations end up making me question myself about my real association with design while, on other occasions, it leaves me with a tired yet amusing look.

I prefer to call myself a designer. And when I said this to a lady, she instantly asked me the next question with a gleam in her eyes – “Do you design interiors?”; She was eagerly looking for someone to do up her house. I said no and began to explain it further, but stopped when the look on her face turned forlorn. She was disappointed and showed no interest in my explanation. But on a different day, the discussion could go to any depths with me trying to adapt my answer to the world of the questioner. Sometimes we connect instantly and during others, it could take multiple attempts. One of the best experiences was my effort to explain a cab driver about my profession. I tried to leverage my answer saying that I design mobile apps pointing at the cab service app he was using. That was just a symbolic gesture, but he took it literally. And, to my horror, I realised that he hates the experience of conversing with that company’s customer support to the core. He ended up just short of hurling abuses at me for designing such a bad experience. I had to work very hard to get him out of that mood. I must admit; it had been one conversation that began a journey of introspection. A journey that enabled me to improve our company’s design thinking to build better customer experience. A journey that helped me convince a few of my clients in enforcing experience level changes to all their departments that interface with their users.

Here is a summary of my observations from that journey.

Should we be confined?

The cab driver taught me something precious. A bad spare part can leave an entire system irrelevant, even if all other parts are working just fine. In other words, the emotion of discomfiture caused by a bad experience permeates all over. The conversation with him helped me re-realise what experience design is.

Experience Design involves designing all the interrelated and interdependent tools, products, environments, interfaces, etc. to create a seamless and cohesive experience for the end User.

Experience Design has no boundaries. Based on the need and the value, it induces itself into any department to provide relevance to an action. For example, designing a banking website’s experience doesn’t end with just a responsive interface or a mobile app. You need to knit other aspects of the ecosystem as well. Like, designing the in-person experience at the bank’s premises. Or bringing in the element of gamification to increase customer engagement. Or re-creating the brand positioning to set the personality.

Today, users know what they want. On the interface and off of it. This situation makes it challenging for a designer. In fact, I would say that this is the most crucial period for the world of design. We need to gear up.

Pedigree is the key

To start with, educate the young designers not to confine themselves to the finite limits of a screen. Introduce them to the concept of interdependent sub-systems of a larger ecosystem. Real-life and interesting examples are the best means of introducing this concept. This way they would realise the impact each customer-interfaced department would have on the overall experience.

By encouraging young designers to think beyond an interface, we are helping them appreciate the value of experience design in the real sense. Furthermore, encourage them to ask questions regarding everything and anything.

Broadening the horizon of thought is a need, not a luxury. It might not be easy to teach how to think broad. But it is not tough either.

Inclusive Mentoring helps

“Tell me and I forget, teach me, and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin

The pedagogy of our schools and colleges doesn’t seem to be leaving us even in corporate atmospheres. There is nothing wrong in the theory, but it is the practice that adds more value. Design learning should be hands-on. Forget about training classes that involve more of a monologue. You must start building environments where the new designers can perform and debate.

Workshops are the best way to encourage thinking out of the box. If you are a design company, then make one of your projects as a subject and conduct a workshop. Or throw practical design challenges at them. Let them delve into the situation and wade themselves out. Every user is a designer, so stop hand-holding. Let them fail fearlessly and learn the value of failure.

Let them not ignore the users

The most important one. If you don’t experience their problems, you cannot fix those for them. A majority of the design experiences fail because they fail to understand the users and the environments in which they live. If you can, consciously, encourage the designers to work with the users and empathise with them, they would begin looking at the big picture.

As said earlier, broadening the horizon of thought should be the mantra.


Oh, by the way – On a lighter note; all this might still not help you convincingly answer the question “what do you do for a living?”. But it would give you a perspective and heart to respond sensibly.


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