Book Image

Exploring Experience Design

By : Ezra Schwartz
Book Image

Exploring Experience Design

By: Ezra Schwartz

Overview of this book

We live in an experience economy in which interaction with products is valued more than owning them. Products are expected to engage and delight in order to form the emotional bonds that forge long-term customer loyalty: Products need to anticipate our needs and perform tasks for us: refrigerators order food, homes monitor energy, and cars drive autonomously; they track our vitals, sleep, location, finances, interactions, and content use; recognize our biometric signatures, chat with us, understand and motivate us. Beautiful and easy to use, products have to be fully customizable to match our personal preferences. Accomplishing these feats is easier said than done, but a solution has emerged in the form of Experience design (XD), the unifying approach to fusing business, technology and design around a user-centered philosophy. This book explores key dimensions of XD: Close collaboration among interdisciplinary teams, rapid iteration and ongoing user validation. We cover the processes, methodologies, tools, techniques and best-practices practitioners use throughout the entire product development life-cycle, as ideas are transformed to into positive experiences which lead to perpetual customer engagement and brand loyalty.
Table of Contents (20 chapters)
Title Page
About the Author
About the Reviewers
Customer Feedback

Chapter 1. Experience Design - Overview

"The only source of knowledge is experience."

- Albert Einstein

What is experience design, and why does it matter?

To find something about anything, many begin by Googling it, as over a trillion Google searches in 2016 alone suggest. The results for "experience design", for example, appear almost instantly, and a discreet grey line at the top of the results list indicates "about 1,270,000,000 results (1.03 seconds)". So many results, in so little time, with so little effort on my part--what an awesome user experience!

On second thought, spending just one minute to evaluate each result would take anyone interested in doing this over 200 years, working 24 hours a day. So, perhaps, so many results are useless and the experience is not that awesome?

On the first results page, the fifth listing is a link to Wikipedia, which many consider to be a trusted source of information. Google's algorithm not only finds an enormous set of results, it also ranks them, placing results it considers to be most relevant higher on the results list. This saves the user a lot of time. So, perhaps the experience is pretty good after all!

Except that occupying the most valuable real-estate on the page are the four results above Wikipedia. These are paid ads with links to commercial products. The highest bidders for the keywords that make up the search term win the top-most ranking. That's how Google makes money off the free search service it offers, and the user experience it provides prioritizes Google's needs above user needs. This situation is very different from the company's original approach.

In the late 1990s, Google, a small, new, and unknown company, entered the highly competitive internet-search market. Within a few short years, the company took over decisively as the global leader in search. In the process, Google eliminated or greatly diminished most of its rivals because its search experience was second to none. To find out how this happened, we need to step back in time. 

It may be hard to believe today that back in the 1990s, search was generally the domain of experts such as reference librarians and professional researchers. It was nothing like the almost trivial activity performed by the general public worldwide billions of times each day. Back then, the search experience was technical and frustrating--one had to create a "query" by typing keywords into specialized search fields and use logic terms to expand or restrict the search. Even when done well, one often ended up with no results, or with the task of sifting through irrelevant results in search of a relevant one.

Internet search companies' approach to solving this experience problem was to reduce the need for user-run search altogether. Instead they offered curated links to popular categories, such as travel, sports, health, and many others. The assumption was that, since people were not used to search, clicking through ready-made links to useful search result pages would shield users from having to perform searches and provide instead an easy, satisfying browsing experience.

Consequently, home pages featured a plethora of links while obscuring the search field. Users often clicked through a sequence of links that ended in a dead-end. Links that worked well were usually limited to those curated by the search companies, but user-initiated searches were often a mixed bag of irrelevant results.


From the get-go, Google's search user experience offered a dramatic departure from prevailing conventions. Instead of a busy screen saturated with links, the user was presented with an almost empty, pristine white screen that featured a single search field and two buttons: Google Search and I'm Feeling Lucky.

User-initiated search was the only option Google offered. Moreover, astonished users quickly found out that typing in what they were looking for, immediately yielded relevant links on the first page of the results, often close to its top. Soon after, Google introduced features such as Did you mean, which resolved major search frustrations caused by misspellings of the search term, and "type ahead", which suggested possible search terms while the user typed in the search field.

Google revolutionized the search experience by placing the user in charge of search and demonstrating that search can be easy, fast, and productive. Fast forward to the present. The growing unease about how Google uses the personal information it collects from search activity has shifted the context of the search experience and created an opening for alternatives to Google. For example, DuckDuckGo, maker of a search engine of the same name, assures its users that it does not collect or share any personal information, does not store search history, and therefore has nothing to sell to advertisers that track users activity on the internet.

DuckDuckGo and other contemporary search engines have access to fewer resources than Google and lack its advantages in search technology. Yet, as previously suggested, millions of links to a search are useless. Ultimately, informed users assess a search engine's user experience by considering both the quality of its first results page and the extent of lost privacy.

As illustrated in preceding screenshot, searching experience design with DuckDuckGo places the link to Wikipedia at the top of the search results page. Isn't this experience better than Google's?

The brief journey through the maturation of internet search illustrates the evolution of product experience in the context of competition and the intersection of personal and commercial interests. The main thrust of this book, is the attempt to piece together the intricate puzzle of motivations and perspectives that shape product design, either physical or virtual. What makes this an exciting and perhaps futile effort, is the fact that the number and shape of the puzzle pieces constantly changes, and the number of possible images tor the assembled puzzle is infinite.

Nowadays, many people are getting increasingly cozy about holding a conversation with their devices-- talking to Siri, Alexa, Assistant, or Cortana. Such conversational interfaces represent an emerging experience that, until very recently, has been confined to the realm of science fiction. In fact, as more products are becoming "smart" thanks to embedded processors, artificial intelligence, and ubiquitous hi-speed network connectivity, the sun seems to be setting on the beige box and monitor known as a personal computer and the experiences that gave raise to existing technology giants such as Google.

This is a perfects segue to the Wikipedia entry for "Experience design". The Wikipedia page, as viewed in early August 2017, is curiously short. The definition is reproduced here verbatim:

Experience design (XD) 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. An emerging discipline, experience design draws from many other disciplines including cognitive psychology and perceptual psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, architecture and environmental, haptics, hazard analysis, product design, theatre, information design, information architecture, ethnography, brand strategy, interaction design, service design, storytelling, heuristics, technical communication, and design thinking.

- Wikipedia

A few additional paragraphs discuss various aspects of experience design. Overall, though, this is what we learn about XD:

  • A highly interdisciplinary, collaborative and iterative approach to product design
  • What is being designed is defined very broadly, ranging from physical to digital, from material objects such as buildings and devices to non-material entities such as processes and journeys
  • Understanding, predicting, anticipating, nudging, influencing and ultimately changing user behavior through engaging product experiences is what binds business, technology and design.

As of August 2017, the search for more specific and authoritative definitions of experience design has not yielded reliable results. There are scores of personal opinions, musings, and debates. Many of the results point to related terms, such as "user experience design". Perhaps this limited range of findings reflects the fact that currently, only a handful of academic settings offer programs in experience design. It is worth noting, though, that programs that teach the key components of XD exist under various other titles.

For example, the Illinois Institute of Design in Chicago (IIT) is a graduate design school. One of its programs, a Masters of Design, lists the wide-ranging backgrounds of the 2015/16 student body on the program's overview page for 2017/18 prospectives:

  • Architecture
  • Business consulting
  • Chemical engineering
  • Communication design
  • Computer science
  • English literature
  • Economics and finance
  • Education
  • Fine arts
  • Humanities
  • Industrial design
  • Interaction design
  • Marketing
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Non-for-profit management
  • Philosophy

The page then lists a sample of the careers and professional directions pursued by program alumni:

  • Brand strategist
  • Planner/strategist
  • Innovation methods
  • Interaction design
  • Product development
  • Strategy and new business development
  • User research
  • Information architect
  • Innovation strategist
  • UX designer

Similar programs across the country and the world share comparable interdisciplinary characteristics. Of course, people enter the field of experience design in a wide variety of ways, and many deliberately skip formal academic training, preferring instead to gain hands-on experience in any of the diverse opportunities offered by this emerging domain.