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Tedde van Gelderen

Tedde van Gelderen

Founder & President

The Importance of Experience Thinking

As an advocate of Experience Thinking, a framework that among other elements introduces the human as a stakeholder throughout the development of a product or service, I am often engaged in conversation around what is exactly Experience Thinking and why is it important that teams adopt an experience-centric approach.

As this is a conversation I’ve had over time, I thought I’d share the most frequently asked questions in a logical flow – with my responses. Perhaps this will start the discussion in your own organization or team about the reasons why you wouldn’t do this?

  • What is an experience?
  • What do we mean by Experience Thinking?
  • Why should companies think about experience when creating their product or service?
  • What are the key aspects that you take into consideration when creating an experience?
  • Can you give me an example of what you mean by having emotion form part of an experience?
  • Why is an experience-centric approach to design so important – and what can it do for companies who adopt this approach?
  • What’s the importance of taking an intentional approach to experience creation?
  • What process do you follow when creating experiences?
  • What do you mean by the total experience lifecycle and why should companies follow this approach?
  • What advice would you give to companies who are looking to create more effective user & customer experiences?

What is an Experience?

An experience is a situation that we encounter, sometimes daily, sometimes once. It could be a trip on the subway, bus or to the airport. It could also be something you use like a cell phone or website. It involves some to all of the human senses which makes it most of the time go beyond only interacting with a screen. 

Experiences themselves “live” in a space which could be a physical environment. They involve humans that can be users, customers, and/or clients. Whether you’re using hardware, software, content and/or a service, these elements become part of your experience.

What do we Mean by Experience Thinking?

By taking the Experience Thinking framework, it’s possible to create experiences that provide the most satisfying outcome possible for participants of that experience. The best experiences are created by taking a holistic view of how people react / interact with a set of events over time. Experience Thinking takes the Brand, Content, Product and Service Experiences to created a set of connected experiences (i.e. Experience Points) that designed together form the End-to-end Lifecycle of an offering.

For example, if you’re sitting in a restaurant, you go through a certain set of events in a certain order – in a certain amount of time and with a certain result. Thinking about that experience, from walking into the restaurant to going home after a good meal, they are all part of that experience with the restaurant. Designing for all aspects of that experience is what the Experience Thinking framework is all about.

Why Should Companies Think about Experiences when Creating their Product, Brand, Content or Service?

The experience is important because, in the end, it’s what the user/customer/client sees and interacts with. The experience is essentially what you deliver, and what your audience lives through in the end. It’s not just about technology or business models alone, there are many interconnecting elements.

If the overall experience is not a good one, chances are that your audience will never come back to experience your product or service again and you may lose them to a competitor. Excelling in one aspect of the experience (e.g. deliver expected functionality) does not guarantee an overall positive experience. The end-to-end experience is connected by many experience points that together will deliver success or failure.

What are the Key Aspects that you Take into Consideration when Creating an Experience?

There are many aspects related to experience, but some of the key ones are more intangible and include timing, flow, interaction, and emotion.

I talked about the relevance of time, but let’s consider the other aspects. Flow and timing are important, as events occurring during an experience tend to happen in a certain order. Interaction is also key as there is a participatory aspect gained through interaction with a product, service or person.

One interesting aspect relating to experiences is that they are often funneled through the human senses. What we see, hear and feel are important to how we experience something. Emotions also come into play. For example, if you’re watching a movie you’re going to feel something whether it’s happiness or sorrow. You might also feel a certain way while walking through a certain physical space, yet another example.

Can you Give me an Example of What you Mean by Having Emotion Form Part of an Experience?

While in London on a business trip, I was looking to rent a car and walked up to one counter expecting the “usual” treatment. What happened next took me by surprise and affected my whole view of the car rental experience. The person across the counter smiled, held out his hand…and said: “Hi – my name is Matt!

Before any attempts at my business were made, he made an effort to make a human connection and that made a lot of difference to how I viewed the rest of the transaction and the company in general. This emotional experience is part of the 4 qualities of each experience: useful, usable, conversational and emotional. 

Why is a Human-Centric Approach to Experience Thinking so Important – and What Can it do for Teams who Adopt this Approach?

When a remarkable experiences can empower people, deliver good business and in short, make the world a better place, why wouldn’t you do this? Teams that adopt this framework to experience design and research will create memorable experiences that are more meaningful to their customers, citizens and users.

If your audience feels that you understand them, truly design for them, they will feel valued and this will go a long way towards establishing and maintaining loyalty and positive perceptions towards that company or organisation.

What’s the Importance of Taking an Intentional Approach to Experience Creation?

Teams that take an intentional experience creation approach to design will de-risk their investments by making sure that all the elements in the mix are known and well-researched with a user and customer view on the experience. The framework takes the guesswork out of the creation process and ensures the team has a clear picture before any ideas reach the solutions funnel.

In today’s economy, expectations are on the rise and our ability to analyse and create the experience from all angles helps increase organizational efficiencies and audience satisfaction with the products and service experiences.

What Process Do you Follow when Creating Experiences?

We take the following approach to end-to-end experience design:

  • Identify each element of the experience to uncover characteristics and the relative importance of each one
  • Follow a repeatable process to understand and create the actual experience
  • Apply appropriate business and user metrics to measure, govern and track performance

It’s interesting in that the strategy we use involves both divergent and convergent thinking. We start by trying to understand out what’s going on, what is the context of the user, product, content and service. Then design a set of elements by applying techniques like personas, user profiles, task analysis and usage scenarios to capture experience requirements in a meaningful way. The flow can almost be compared to swimming. You’re moving in and out trying to identify what you’re dealing with, then find ways to improve it. Teams don’t always see the need to do this, but it’s critical that you do both when creating an experience.

What do you Mean by the End-to-End Experience Lifecycle and why Should Companies Follow this Approach?

The end-to-end experience lifecycle is the complete journey of a typical product or service experience. It incorporates both an organizational structure and audience perspective to the experience and examines elements incurred during the process such as awareness, comparison, on boarding, purchase, set-up, support and cancel.

It’s important to take a lifecycle approach so teams don’t end much of the experience thinking after the purchase phase. At this point, users will start to ask the question “what’s my relationship with you?” and feel that it’s important to have their loyalty rewarded. Teams need to continue the conversation after the purchase phase to find out what’s really meaningful to them, extending the wow so to speak.

In many cases, companies don’t see the experience from a human-centric point of view and can spend a large portion of their budget fixing things that aren’t meaningful to their audience. We like to go in and provide a customer-based perspective to show how different things impact the experience at each phase in the end-to-end lifecycle.

What Advice Would you Give to Companies who are Looking to Create a Remarkable User and Customer Experiences?

I would suggest that the team thinks of the experience as being a red thread. For the customer and users; every experience with the company is connected, and it’s important for companies to “think connected.” For example, if you’re buying a new cellphone, the process will touch on many different phases including the store, unpacking the product, the service and support component, upgrading the service and use of the product in different contexts of use.

Don’t follow a narrow approach to business and design strategy, and encourage departments within your company to collaborate with each other to create these connected experiences. It’s just as important to look at your external users/customers, and determine how they use your product, content or service and what they find most meaningful about their experience with the company brand.

Perhaps the most important question that companies should be asking themselves is “How are people experiencing us?”

Tedde van Gelderen

Tedde van Gelderen

Founder & President

Tedde infuses Akendi, its services and methodology with his strong belief that customer and user experience design must go beyond a singular product interface, service or content. It should become deeply rooted in an organization’s research and design processes, culture,and ultimately be reflected in their products and services. A graduate of Radboud University, the Netherlands in Cognitive Ergonomics, Tedde has more than two decades of experience in experience research, usability testing and experience design in both public and private sectors. Prior to founding Akendi, Tedde was a founding partner of Maskery & Associates in 2001. He has worked for companies including Nortel Networks, KPMG Management Consulting and Philips Design.


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