Just this morning I was reminded of something I’d used in past talks and I wanted to revisit the concept. The conversation I had was around our Experience Thinking process that we apply at Akendi. We talked about things like why you do certain phases like Strategy and Innovation and when. We then turned to discuss, in general, why would you do this kind of experience design approach, what makes it valuable and needed in many projects with a piece of technology on one side and users/customers on the other end? In short, what is the Business Case for Experience Thinking?
The justification for applying the above design approach comes in part from the tangible benefits it provides in the end. When you design and code it results in a brilliant design and – largely – bug free code. The product or service will be increasingly useful, usable and engaging. This is why we spend considerable effort and time in those phases and rightfully so.
But often, doing design and code becomes the main or even only benefit of the process. We skip the Innovation and Strategy phases and pretty much start in the Design phase from the get go. Because we’re eager to figure out How this thing is going to work and What will it be in the end. We’re concrete thinkers, or so the story goes.
The piece we’re paying less attention to is the Why we need it or even If we should bother to start the product/service design to begin with. Putting some decent effort into identifying, researching even, the justification of why the customer/user needs this function/content seems less of a focus for some teams. And with the increased adoption of Agile methods we seem to drift away from answering these questions even more. And all this erodes the If of a project: was the design a good idea to begin with? At some point it seemed to be otherwise we wouldn’t have started this initiative. There must have been, even informally, a Business Case to justify the project and some sort of articulation of its benefit to the organization (either commercially or in meeting its mandate).
As the name indicates, most Business Cases have an emphasis on the Business side of the product/service. They go into more details around business drivers, costs, competitive landscape, risks, but also things like opportunity, scope and more detailed finances, also you see often a technical component with software and hardware needs. All in all a business case would answer questions around ‘will anyone care to buy it?’, ‘how do we make money or meet our mandate with it?’ and ‘how high is the investment and risk for the organization to create it?’. All very legit questions for a business case and they need a full answer, yes. I’d say the world could benefit from more well documented business cases for initiatives, it would kill bad ideas more often.
While business cases are great in themselves, I’d like to see another type of ‘case’ that I believe needs equal attention and scrutiny when deciding to move forward with an initiative. Because of the relatively narrow focus of a business case it doesn’t put enough attention to answering the question: ‘what will the experience be like?’. The argument here is that the experience or look & feel of a product/experience greatly feeds the success of many of the other factors in a business case: whether customers need the solution, are effective with it or want to pay money for it are right in the heart of the experience design realm. I believe there needs to be an increased focus towards the experiential side of the business case. Specifically, the Experience Case of a product or service initiative.
So, what would this be, this Experience Case? Well, it would encompass all things experience for that product/service. And in a business case manner: just enough background research, slightly conceptual and fit for purpose. In this instance, the purpose is to answer first and foremost IF we should proceed with this initiative.
From a user experience and customer experience perspective, this means to design just enough of the experience to allow for an informed decision. Nothing new here, prototyping, mock-ups, proof of concept, MVP thinking, they all fit well. Next is to do enough people research to make sure our customers and users are involved and learned from to keep our thinking grounded and validated. Many techniques work here including focus groups, interviews, contextual inquiry, surveys. Nothing overly fancy, enough to answer the experience questions around look & feel, usefulness, usability (to a degree) and potential engagement (this last one does overlap slightly with a regular business case though).
The Experience Case (XC) would include at least these sections:
And then the usual document elements like Executive summary, revision history, distribution list, etc.
The results of an Experience Case will match up well with any Business Case. They tackle different aspects of the case and together give a very complete inventory and analysis of the challenge. This expanding of business case thinking is needed more so nowadays as the key differentiator of a product or service offering often lies in the customer or user experience!
So, let’s include and capture this kind of Experience Thinking from the get go and not wait until we have some tech or content ready to receive their experience design; by then you’re probably too late.
Tedde van Gelderen is President at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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