Last week I had a great lunch. Sitting at AIGA headquarters in San Francisco, eating a miniature sandwich from Whole Foods, listening (and participating) in a discussion about the nature of Experience Design for San Francisco Design Week. Why was this lunch such a good “experience”? One reason was the moderator, Josh Levine. Josh kept his own opinion out of it (although clearly he’s knowledgable) and facilitated the crap out of this event. He created a space so panelists and audience members alike were heard and learned from each other. My brain thanks you, Josh.

Following are notes from the talk plus my own thoughts.

The panelists:
Matthew Carlson
Principal, Experience Strategy and Design Hot Studio, Inc.

Nicole Chen
Senior Innovation Strategist, Idea Couture

Peter Merholz
Founding partner, board member and CEO Adaptive Path

Moderator, Josh Levine
Director of Internal Branding Liquid Agency

1. What is Experience Design?

Matthew: Design that takes into account the emotional responses when experiencing something

Nicole: Designing the touchpoints a consumer or customer has with a brand or product

Peter: quoted his colleague Jesse James Garrett:
“Experience design is the design of anything, independent of medium, or across media, with human experience as an explicit outcome, and human engagement as an explicit goal.”

Audience: “What is the difference between experience design and brand design?”
Brand design defines a vision for a company, while experience design synthesizes the realization of that vision with real people in real time.

Brand is focused more inside to the outisde while experience design supports and enables the customer first, which works it way back to what the brand can be.

My thoughts:
Experience design acknowledges an individual as having multiple experiences, possibly competing experiences, only some of which might involve the brand, object, or service we have in mind.

Our experiences today fall into an ever growing spectrum of mediation (online interfaces, call centers, facebook/twitter channels, text messages). Because media is an abstraction, and in order to function reduces experience to transmittable units, it will always distort communication. Experience design must be vigilant penetrating the noise. The best communication never forgets its anthropological and psychological roots (do not be fooled by metrics, bits, bytes, or ink).

2. Experience Design Strategies “The whole experience”

Touchpoints and Day in the Life Maps
Matthew: Start at with an “ideal experience” and map out touchpoints.

Nicole: Create a “day in the life” story map of a customer— rich in context, time, and motivations. Explore your customers’ touchpoints in this lifemap.

Peter: “It’s absurd to think your customer will see your link, immediately bring it up on their computer, navigate to the product they know they want, and immediately click Buy” That is not how a human acts.

Nicole mentioned the relationship between online, in store, and call center experience with  some of her retail client. All components of experience design.

Josh reminded us there is a world of experience “beyond the pixel driven palette.” I related to this because I used to design exhibits for museums. I remember one project where our team had almost forgotten to include benches for a large exhibition (on the history of the US Navy, if you’re curious). There are prime physical needs to consider environmental design. (ie. bathrooms will trump design content any day)

Zipcar was mentioned as a perfect example of a company with multiple format touchpoints. I think this type of service design will grow, especially with the emerging market in peer to peer companies and collaborative consumption. AirBnB,Task Rabbit, Zip Car,CityCarShare, Relay Rides, are Bay area companies exploring this space.

Co-creating /Open frameworks
No matter how good the design solution you develop is, if the Client that hired you does not have the company culture to sustain it, it will fall apart. What do you do? Help your client company socialize the process and “own” the solution. Design with open frameworks.

Nicole stressed how you need to help socialize design ideas with the client/company. Involve them in the process, share ownership of the outcomes, and give them supporting materials that they are comfortable with (if they like print, make a guidebook; if they are digital, create a microsite, etc.).

Designers need to help companies own the process by involving them in brainstorm sessions and giving them the tools to realize it’s okay to participate (Jared Spool spoke recently at at SF Sketchcamp where as a group we brainstormed ways for “non-designers” to participate in the sketching process. You can see visual notes from that session, thanks to Kate Rutter).

Thinking about this, it’s almost like “service design to help experience design succeed with companies.”

Peter mentioned, gone are the days of the “sexy, polished deliverable” for an early stage idea. Companies need designers who can iterate lithely and reach viable solutions before going on to epic levels of polish. Enter the age of the Post-It and gamestorming (although I would argue that for some designers, this thinking has been there all along). 

Don’t get caught up in the ego of ownership of ideas. Think “designer as facilitator.”  It is no longer the solo genius designer. Things are too complex these days and it’s only through collaboration that rich ideas emerge and can be developed.

In response, an audience member who identified herself as a former NASA intern offered  that  “championing ideas don’t always win fans, sometimes you need to smuggle them in the back door.” People want room to participate.

Lessons to learn from agile.
Peter mentioned agile engineering methods and startup mentality. “Three folks in a garage in San Mateo can more rapidly iterate..”

This resonated. Although my background is in environmental design, I have been developing product with an agile team for the past year. Attending events at SFDesignWeek made me realize how separate the two fields are, even in San Francisco. I am straddling two different worlds. There is something to be learned in the space between.

3. “The Future of Experience Design”

Lunch was ending, but we did talk briefly about the future of experience design.

“Experence design without empathy is empty.” -someone said this.

The panel mentioned some trends to watch:

Cloud computing.  Netflix: “Whatever screen you have, we are there.”

Data vs. hardware
Aggregation of data is becoming valuable. Right now there is still an emphasis on the object (examples: Fitbit, Nike+) but eventually hardware will be minimized so it will all be about data.

Last questions
Someone in the audience asked, how can I get my “traditional design focused” in-house department to value experience design? The panel suggested establishing “proof points” that she could show to her peers so they could start to see how a shift toward experience design brings value to the group. (Take the initiative, and create a ‘day in the life’ map of your customers, chart out key touchpoints and how they can be improved).

Another person in the audience wondered if this wasn’t all just the ruminations of privileged corporations. Peter mentioned Adaptive Path is working on a pro bono project: Hunchworks, a project to help the United Nations detect and avert disasters related to food, fuel, and financial factors.)

What do you think? Do you work in experience design? Did you attend the talk? What did you get from it?