A not so new definition: Total Experience Design

Now that I’ve landed in my next incarnation, I thought it was worth recapping on what I mean by Total Experience Design, and why it matters.

If you follow this link you’ll see how much I have talked about Total Experience Design whilst at my former role (formerly Conchango before that) and I gave a few talks about it in 2010, including at the Forrester Marketing Forum Europe. There I also talked about it as an approach to orchestrating experiences, even marketing ones. So it’s something that pervades my particular approach to customer experience, and will not leave me, so I thought it worth that recap…

In summary: Total Experience Design is design without boundaries. A consideration of an overall potential customer experience, regardless of medium, or other boundaries, with the aim of drawing out the elements of experience that have to coordinate or orchestrate to create a memorable, delightful, valuable experience that people want to talk about.

All this starts with:

Good experiences stimulate a number of senses. They hit a number of emotional triggers and leave people feeling great about it, and wanting to tell people about it. The best experiences are actually a large number of individual components in a variety of media that beautifully orchestrate to create a good, great or even delightful experience; in summary, their power is in their emotional impact.

Designing experiences like this doesn’t happen accidentally. Often the individual components are surprising in themselves and cross a number of organisational or skills boundaries. Things that are not normally considered a part of an experience, but become so through creative thinking and orchestrating them beautifully with other elements.

A total experience designer will start with the question: “How do I want my user/customer to feel at the end of this experience?” and will then use whatever means they need in order to achieve this.

Should a web designer be concerned with the packaging a product arrives in, or only the eCommerce site that sells it? Both have to be taken care of and orchestrated as part of the same experience.

Total Experience philosophy would expose that designer and the wider team to insight and research that looks at a big chunk of a customer’s life where it might _potentially_ touch the company we’re working with. We’d look at what motivates them to want to buy something, how they select where to buy from, the decision-making criteria they use, and what happens to that something after it’s been purchased.

What do I mean by experience?

I often talk about Virgin Atlantic as a company that thinks about experience as a multi-sensory, multi-channel thing, where many small things have to come together to make an experience memorable, delightful and something that turns people from being merely loyal to out and out advocates. Most importantly, at the heart of a designed experience is one central question “How does this make the customer feel?”. In other words, the design process is user-centred in classic UCD terms.

At MIX08 I also talked about Virgin America, whose experience is comprised of everything from lighting, to an inflight entertainment system, to their aircraft signage, their promotion and marketing and the way their staff talk to you. You can only do that if you orchestrate all aspects of an experience and design them with a very specific user in mind and have a remit to think beyond the traditional remit of someone inside a specific organisational department or discipline within that organisation.

When I have engaged with any organisation in the last few years that is bigger than a ‘small business’, their biggest challenge has been how to cross organisational boundaries. It is the single biggest thing that prevents companies from achieving the great things they aspire to.

“When you start to think wider, interesting things start to happen”

Total Experience Design is where you consider an entire customer experience regardless of organisational or disciplinary boundaries. As digital designers, we tend to think about “How can I design this website?” whereas in Total Experience Design, we look at the lives of the customers we are trying to affect, and identify a much wider bunch of opportunities to help achieve the goals we have of the overall experience.

In retail this means, the website, the marketing, the packaging your product arrives in, the service you receive, the follow-up email you get, how the company deals with issues, and on and on ad infinitum. Total Experience Design says that you have to start from a point where you consider this entire experience, before you drill down into the details of any given medium. As a company we may not execute in all these areas, but we have to think them through, and drive them out in order to create the right experience.

You can’t come up with a Virgin America experience unless you have the remit to explore everything from aircraft lighting to websites to the way the cabin crew address their passengers. Only a Total Experience Design philosophy allows for that.

When we talk Total Experience Design we also postulate the theory that as ‘digital designers’ we are perfectly placed to be at the heart of this process. Not only is digital going to be a critical part of any experience, but being a relatively new discipline, we come from a variety of backgrounds from retail to finance, from the arts to ergonomics and between us when combined with client domain expertise and insightful ethnographic research, we have many of the skills in design and engineering we need to design an entire experience.

And this is why it matters:

Put simply, what the words above said are that Total Experience Desgin results in a positive emotional impact on customers; and as Lou Carbone would say “Emotion overwhelms logic every time”. All you have to do is see Tweets like this: “My lovely iPhone broke again; fortunately those lovely people at the Apple store will be able to fix it.” that show this very clearly. A product that breaks several times, usually invokes a reaction of “This is a terrible product”, but in this case the strength of emotion for the brand and the product hugely overwhelms this.

If you are an airline like Virgin Atlantic, you cannot control what the weather is doing, and so the best you can hope for in a snowed-in situation is “I’m snowed in at Heathrow, but at least I’m with Virgin”, as opposed to “F&%k!}$ British Airways can’t even get their planes through a bit of snow!”. The love for a brand long outlasts any particular dominance in product or service, and allows a brand far more leeway when trying to get experiences and products right.

A brief history of how we got here:

All of this builds on the work of a few key people and some experiences of our own that have influenced me and the company I work for, in the last few years. Roughly in chronological order they are:

Alan Cooper – interaction designer, CEO of Cooper Interaction Design, and author of The Inmates are Running the Asylum This taught me about user-centred design and how it can apply to a variety of ‘products’ from PC applications to Sat-Nav systems.

Working with Virgin Atlantic for 10 years, and seeing how their ground and air ‘product’ teams work, the backing they have for this approach from the very top of the organisation, and the effect their work has on the people who experience it. Just search Twitter for Virgin + Clubhouse to see what I mean.

A moment when designing a self-service check-in kiosk for the airline BMI, where we suggested that as the designers of the interface, we needed to look at the overall customer flow in the airport and the physical environment in which that interface was to exist, and consider that as part of the design process.

When Matt Bagwell joined what was then Conchango, now EMC Consulting, and introduced the discipline of Experience Planning, building not only on the planning discipline as exercised at many an ad agency, but integrating experience and measurement as part of that to formalise a previously adhoc set of skills we had.

Lou Carbone, author of Clued In and CEO of Experience Engineering. I’ve seen Lou talk in person three times now, and he’s imprinted on me a number of things about experience. Experience clues, rational versus emotional thought, and how ‘experience’ manifests itself in a huge variety of ways are the main ones. Recently, Lou has started talking about how as designers and organisations we think a lot about the medium, but that’s not how people experience companies and brands. This bumped neatly into what we used to call ‘multi-channel’ thinking or the ‘channel of choice’ observation we made about how people actually consume. i.e. behaviours of researching in stores, online and then purchasing in either, dependent on what their motivators were. This was something that for us migrated into Total Experience Design as our thinking matured, so it was good to hear Lou talking about that.

Some Experience Planning pieces of work we ran for clients like Barclays Bank, Virgin Atlantic and others, where we considered the breadth of customer’s lives. What we sought out were the bits of it that could work smoother when it related to our customer’s service and product, regardless of what medium the potential solution ended up in. This influenced in turn their strategies for digital channels and a variety of products that could help things run better for consumers, which in turn bonds customers to them. This clearly showed the benefits of Total Experience Design.

Bill Buxton – Principal Researcher at Microsoft and author of Sketching User Experiences. I’ve seen Bill present in person about 4 times now (sorry Lou), and each time he has shown how product design thinking can apply to almost anything, and again how ‘experience’ can apply, and must apply to almost anything from advertising, to service, to product. His team might be at Microsoft, a software and increasingly, hardware business, but they have the remit to follow almost any train of thought or research based on curiosity rather than to solve a specific perceived ‘problem’. When they explore a wide variety of situations and technologies, they sometimes come up in surprising places, but with products that serve users’ needs and goals well.

I’ve also been lucky enough to chat with Bill on a few occassions, where he talked me through some of his amazing gadget collection which is now online here.

Two years in a row I talked about it at MIX (and other events, but these guys have the videos!) and it’s had a great reception. This year, fingers crossed, we’ll extend the theme further to get into some of the more gritty details of how to bring a Total Experience philosophy to almost any project or organisation.

So this is also the call to action to let us know how you’d like us to expound on some of this stuff for this year’s MIX or other places we’ll talk about it this year. Get in touch on email or comments and let us know.

By the way… we’ve always referred to it as Total Experience Design, in full. We tinkered with shortening it to TED, but have too much respect for TED to do it often. I read a blog on bigthink.com where Lou Susi arrived at a similar conclusion, but dubbed it TxD (Total eXperience Design). What do you think to that abbreviation? Something we should all adopt?? What do you think?

The only downside I can see is that it’s pretty much the universal youth abbreviation for ‘texted’ just search Twitter to see