Experience Design, Beyond Online
Deciphering the UX vs HXD
The term experience design has become a hype over the last decade. In particular, it mainly refers to user experience (UX) - summarized as the discipline where programming and behavioural science meet to enhance user satisfaction. By understanding and narrowing down role openings in this profession, people’s awareness and respect of this field have grown.
I am no UX specialist, however, I want to talk about experience designers whose role often needs to be clarified as human experience designers instead. Defined by Emilie Aarts and Stefano Marano in their The New Everyday: Views on Ambient Intelligence book - "Experience design is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, omnichannel journeys, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions." I have learned the hard way that by introducing myself as an experience designer, my proximity to web design work is quickly assumed.
I would like to question: why so often physical experiences are not seen with the same attention to detail, same scientific approach? The prestige and understanding around the user experience profession is one that human experience designers need to thrive to achieve.
Learning from Sporadic Growth
Since the tech boom kick-started the growth of UX & UI design, attention to offline experiences has taken a toll. With the rapid expansion of the web, many new professions have gained popularity over the last decade - SEO specialist, social media expert, usability professionals, etc. Through the push for better, more effective and user-friendly design online, the industry has grown to re-define and expand in various niches - creating new roles. Throughout this evolution, these roles, which seemed to be minor initially as bare bone websites were created, are now areas of specialization. With engineers and programmers working side-by-side with designers, it is no surprise that UX entered a realm of theorized science.
I believe that today, with our experience-centred economy, physical and virtual journeys are both just as important. We must give human experience design the value and attention needed.
The Balancing Act
Perhaps physical experiences are so complex that tracking them is difficult, unlike the multitude of precise ways user tests are done. A simulated environment allows for a more accurate way to monitor progress and growth. To track a human experience, formed in the real three-dimensional, inconsistent world, one must do qualitative research - surveys, focus groups, marketing analysis, participant observation, and various other methods to study and understand reaction based responses. It becomes a social science study. Through a holistic approach, we can truly critique well and find areas for improvement. In this process, we better understand people’s preference and how they formulate opinions. There is a flip side to the story - following Nassim Taleb’s writings, we should avoid treating the real world in the same way as the simulated one - by oversimplifying it. There is beauty in unpredictability and we need to learn to build on that.
The Complex Interplay
What is the Human Experience? It is easiest to examine it for a company with a physical location through every element which comes in contact with your user/client/visitor from the moment they start their interaction. The way in which they are attracted to come in and enter: branding (wordmark, logo, vibe), website, reviews, marketing materials, signage, etc. They way they are greeted: the ambiance, the space, the service staff, the flow, the leave-behind product. It is the tone of the company’s social media, the email/phone interactions. All these elements add up to that fire star Yelp review or a golden recommendation to a friend.
This complex interplay is crafted with a beautiful blend of creative direction, graphic design, interior design, decor, marketing and sales work strategically hand-in-hand.
Opportunity to Influence
Human Experience Design is where art form, strategic placement and details interplay. It is a space where perception, image and belief are formed and also where a very unique opportunity to influence arises. I believe that careful craft and attention to detail inevitably lead to memorable stories and moments. An elements as small as the artwork on the wall should not be overlooked, it is a an opportunity to reach out subconsciously and form a desired image of the company, it is a theme being set, a detail of a well-crafted story being revealed. These well-expressed stories are the strongest - the most influential and the most memorable. In the experience centric world we live in today, a company cannot just impress generations of people without a strong, consistent presence. To truly achieve a well-rounded touch, a holistic approach needs to be taken for the entire ecosystem.
Human experiences are even more complex and subtle then online ones. It is time that they received the appreciation and value in our growing economy. Do not underestimate the influence of a story that can be felt, touched and seen on and off the screen.
Above illustration created by me, Iliana Sergeev.