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Doing business in the age of experience – Part 2

November 20, 2015 by Olivier Blanchard - No Comments

In Part 1, we started talking about the innovation and design continuum, and the evolution of design thinking. More specifically, we started touching on the evolution of design from designing objects to designing experiences. Today, I want to dive a little bit deeper into that, because it’s a lot more important than it might initially seem.

First, this isn’t some silly academic theory. Experience design is not new, and it’s no joke. The most obvious example of a company designing experiences via its products (as opposed to just designing slick products), is Apple. It’s success in the hand-held industry can’t be attributed to slick product design alone. Yes, the phones and tablets look and feel super nice in a minimalist way, but the real magic is in the experiences they drive: They delight. They enchant. They connect. They enable. They empower. Even the app store is easy to work with. Integration with apps and other Apple devices is clean and mostly bug-free. Apple is in essence not just a tech company but an experience company.

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One might say the same about most successful consumer brands today: Nike, Starbucks, BMW, Chanel, Virgin Airlines, GoPro, the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas, and so on. The products themselves are the anchors at the heart of their brand ecosystems, but the experiences they create are where their success – the real magic, if you will – really lives. Once you see and understand it, the importance of looking past product design and evolving into experience design becomes clear.

Consider, for instance, a company that hasn’t yet fully grasped this. This company is focusing on product design but not taking into account experience design: So now we have a perfectly designed passenger jet. Beautiful lines, amazing fuel efficiency, super smooth tarmac to air transitions, gorgeous seats, clever little tablets, HD touchscreens for everyone, bathrooms with 17% more space… in terms of commercial jet design, it doesn’t get much better than that, at least on paper. Now fast-forward 2 years, and 200 aircraft just like it are now part of an airline’s fleet. Let’s call that airline Clutch Airlines. Clutch Airlines is tightening their belt, so their staff is overworked and underpaid, and they often take out their frustrations on passengers. The cleaning of the aircraft between flights isn’t what it could be. The content available to passengers on the HD touchscreens is not very good, and most of it sits behind a paywall. Its flights tend to depart and arrive an hour late on a pretty regular basis. You get the idea: Even the most well designed aircraft can’t make up for lousy experiences (or even just boring ones). Thinking beyond devices, products and services is vital to their success.

Another way to think about it is that he disconnect between product design and experience design has to be bridged, or all that hard design and engineering work won’t ever yield the results they should.

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Now… I used Apple earlier because it is a universal example of what can be done with the right understanding of experience design in today’s consumer tech world, but Apple is far from the only company doing this right. Long time rival Microsoft has been doing some amazing work as well, particularly with its multipurpose Surface product line. Years ago, when I was working with them in the channel, Surface was an interactive table concept. Genius stuff for its time. So much so that a Surface-like device was used by Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. (The scene in their secret train car.) Surface’s size and price point would have made it difficult to scale as a consumer product, so the Surface branding was moved to its more retail-friendly laptop tablet hybrid project we now all know (and are curious about). The concept of a laptop/tablet do-it-all computer isn’t new, but what Microsoft did was clever: they didn’t just set out to solve engineering problems. They didn’t just set out to work on specs and product design. They started looking at ways to create seamless analog-to-digital experiences. For instance, they realized that typical tablet dimensions didn’t match the dimensions of pen and paper notepads that people still enjoy using. They also looked at ways of creating a paper and pen interface that would feel natural to note-takers (something many other tech companies have attempted in the past and not quite managed to get right). These features became part of the new Surface Pro’s design. The detachable keyboard’s improved ergonomics and tactile feedback; the slick docking mechanism; the seamless, fluid, do-what-you-want-and-it-will-work construction, the perfectly integrated OS… every single detail was driven not solely by performance and specs, but by experience design.

The question wasn’t simply “how do we build a better version of the same product, it was how do we we design the best and most delightful possible experiences for the user? If this were a discussion about lovebrands and the need to find ways of making your customers love you, not just like you, I could stop here. In the context of this series though, we also have to look at the simple utility of delighting your customers and users, not just satisfying their needs. Watch this video to gain some insight into what I am talking about:

Customer satisfaction isn’t enough anymore. (Not that it ever really was.) Customer delight, customer enchantment, are the new benchmarks of success. Every company should design for that. It doesn’t matter if you are designing devices, cars, living spaces, furniture, hospitals, trains, medical diagnostic machines, athletic apparel, hotels, cameras, apps, cookware, and even vehicle-sharing grids. Product designers and city planners alike have to start thinking this way, and it was good to be reminded of the many ways that an increasing number of them are at Dassault Systemes’ 3DExperience Forum. Let me share a few examples:

This is how virtualization and experience design are already helping city planners design the smart cities of tomorrow (creating delightful urban dwelling experiences around the clock):

This is how they are being applied to the future of retail (creating enchanting shopping experiences):

This is how they are being applied to transitioning from delivering services to developing customer experiences, even in not super obvious industries (this video is pretty long but worth watching. Lots of case studies in it):

This is how they are being applied to empowered, personalized healthcare management (creating safer and increasingly friction-free quality-of-life improvements to common, sometimes grave, medical problems):

In Part 3, I will dig into the notion of enchanted objects (and enchanted environments), and how, from self-driving cars to intelligent devices, our future is already being shaped by experience design. For now though, give some thought to the difference between product design and experience design in your own organization (or your clients’). Also give some thought to the difference between product management and experience management: Are you focusing on both? Is your operational thinking adapting to these new paradigms yet? Are you able to articulate and implement this in your own work environment?

Food for thought. I hope this is giving you some insight into what you should be thinking about and where to go from there.



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