The Art and Science of Experience Design

Adobe’s Steven Webster, Senior Director, Technology and Experience Innovation, wrote a new blog on user-led approach to design can create optimum customer experiences. You can follow his entries here.

Below is his latest blog entry.

We believe that the problem we are fundamentally solving with Customer Experience Management, is to “create software that works the way people work, not the way systems work”.

Core to achieving this, is that we change the way we think about tackling the underlying problem – whether it be online banking, a call center application, a campaign management application for marketing, or a multi-platform online commerce application or a system for sending out interactive bills at the end of a billing period – from a technology-led approach, to a user-led approach.

As Einstein is often quoted, “…a problem cannot be solved with the same thinking that created it…” and so I strongly believe and fiercely advocate, that we must approach each change initiative we are responsible for in the digital enterprise not with the blinkers of technology thinking, or “what the business wants”, but through the microscope of design-thinking or “what the users want”.  I use the metaphor of a microscope, because the biggest results may come from the smallest of observations, and I can assure you that the observations have been under our noses all this time … we just weren’t looking properly at them.

What do I mean by Design thinking ?

It’s near impossible to not come across an article whereby Design thinking is positioned as the approach to changing the frame of reference for a problem, in order that we open up the solution space of opportunities for solving the problem.

But let me elaborate what Design thinking isn’t.  We’re not talking about “design with a small d”, about brand, aesthetics, style guides and look and feel.  We’re not talking about making something pretty, or about arranging pixels on a screen.  I’m not downplaying the importance of this kind of design – it’s a critical element to delivering an experience that engages users with a brand, not to mention bringing elements of usability to a solution through affordances, implications of how the system behaves, by how it is presented to the end user.  As much as an “imprint of a hand” on a door plate might look like “a nice touch, it looks great”, the imprint affords placing your hand on pushing it, and that nice touch removes the frustration that so many of us have experienced when we grab the handle on a door and pull it, only to realise the door is a push, not a pull.  Taking this kind of design away from designers is the difference between users wanting to use a solution, or having to use a solution.

For a more whimsical example of how bad design with small d can drive your customers away, go and see why there isn’t a huge queue of people at my local Kentucky Fried Chicken…

When we talk about Design thinking, we’re talking about Design with a Big D.  Design that is more fundamental, Design that walks in people’s shoes, understands their needs and their goals, experiences and observes the frustrations in completing tasks, the other things that they must “go outside of the system” to do in order to complete on their task.

Design is much more fundamental.  And so I strongly believe that Experience Design should be on the agenda of everyone embarking upon an initiative related to Customer Experience Management.

The Art and Science of Experience Design

Since around 2002, I have been on an enterprise campaign, imploring enterprise organizations to recognize that “Experience Matters”, and that it is unacceptable for the “last mile” of a digital experience to be an anaemic, frustrating and non-intuitive user-experience.  This was the period of “Rich Internet Applications”.

As the idea of “Rich Internet Applications” gained broad acceptance (who now asks for a non-rich application delivered on the Internet ?), around 2005, I up-levelled my conversation with our enterprise customers towards  a period of advocating for “Design-led Innovation”.  It was my position (and it still is), that if we truly want to deliver simpler, easier and more effective solutions to end-users, software that is useful, usable and desirable, we must bring Design consulting alongside Technology consulting.  In doing so, I believe that Adobe and our services organization had the opportunity to solve some incredible challenges, on blending the creative and holstic approach to user-centered design, to the methodical and iterative approach of agile software development.

These lessons service us well in how we think about bringing these kind of solutions to the mass market.  And with so much popular press around Design-thinking, this is also (thankfully !) beginning to feel less of a crusade about why, and more about a partnership in how.

And so I find myself at another point of inflection, a step-change in thinking about how to truly deliver the most effective solutions to end-users.  Over the past few years, as we brought Omniture technology into our fold at Adobe, I’ve found myself thinking about how the incredible wealth of information and insights that instrumentation, measuring and monitoring towards conversion events brings, can be used to optimize the delivery of all experiences, not just digital commerce experiences.

The Art of Experience Design remains the same; we engage experience designers, who are able to break free of trying to “…solve the problem with the same thinking that created it…” by looking at the problem through the lens, in the shoes, of the people using the software that we are delivering.

The Art of Experience Design is about acting on Intuition and Instinct.

The Science of Experience Design however, allows us to think differently about how we can instrument the experience that has been informed by intuition and instinct, and then collect insights about the success of our intuition.  Any digital experience is in service of solving for a key business requirement – helping a customer serve themselves online, right-pathing a customer towards the most effective online or offline help channel, personal finance management that increases the average amount of assets under management for a particular customer over time, migrating customers towards eBills rather than paper bills, or reducing call handle time in a call center.

If it can be measured, it can be instrumented, and if it can be instrumented, it can be optimized.

And so for me, the Science of Experience Design is an opportunity to apply everything we know about measuring the performance of a digital experience, and baking that right into the fabrication of the digital experiences that have been informed through the Art of Design -thinking.

No-one wants to be a half-brain when entrusted with a bet-the-business digital intiative.  And so I encourage you to engage both sides of your organizational brain, to recognize that not only is technology necessary but not sufficient, but that there is both an Art and a Science to great user-experience design.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on how this thinking could transform your digital experience.  And I look forward to sharing more of mine.

Steven Webster, Senior Director, Technology + Experience Innovation


About rgddesignthinkers

The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD) is the professional body for graphic designers in Ontario. RGD grants graphic designers who qualify the right to use the designations Registered Graphic Designer and R.G.D., a quality signal of standards of professional practice. RGD has approximately 2800 members. Attracting over 1,000 participants and a full line-up of fascinating speakers, DesignThinkers is Canada’s largest, most important graphic design event. It’s an occasion to listen, learn and interact with peers from across the country.
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