Understanding Experience-Based Design

The traditional definition of a ?GOOD? User Experience is the positive takeaway users have from the interaction with a product, be the product digital or physical, or the blurred combination that?s becoming the world we live in these days. This is all well and fine, and should continue to be a factor in all digital product/interaction design.? When I say experience-based design, I?m referring to something different.

Experience-based design is the need to create an affordance that?s based upon the experience of the user. This affordance could be based on experience history, a cognitive model, or whatever best helps the user develop a meaningful relationship with the product.

Consider the process of a user going online with the goal of purchasing a new air conditioner. Legacy practice is to design the digital interface based on the point of view of the artifact, i.e. the air conditioner itself. That is, to view a list of product options sortable by price, warranty, dimensions, BTU, etc. If the design were to be re-thought as an experience-based solution, the digital interface would glean information in a meaningful way from the user in order to offer very different air conditioner options for say, a family of four on a tight budget living in a cramped New York City apartment, vs. an environmentally conscious couple living in a split level home in rural Arizona.

In order to see experience-based design in the digital market place today, consider the travel aggregator Hipmunk?s ?Agony? & ?Ecstasy? algorithms for flight and hotel searches that take the heavy lifting of sorting search results by multiple criteria out of the hands of the user. For flights, the algorithm takes into account not only price, but number of stops and flight duration in order to rank the results. In other words, it takes into account the experience-based aspects of air travel that most users factor into making an informed decision.

Conceptualizing an experience-based design begins by understanding our client?s true value proposition, or the function that their product serves i.e., ?Goodyear makes tires that go on cars. People need the tires to drive their cars around.? – Got it.

As digital consultants, we help our clients define, design and build their business proposition, which is the means by which they should deliver their value proposition. Our job is to differentiate the business prop, not change the value prop. Execution of an experience-based design is one way to deliver a truly differentiating business proposition.

In order to achieve this, additional cognitive brainstorming is required during the conceptual phase.? In the past, when we designed from the point of view of the artifact, debates during the conceptual design phase of a project tended to most-often be about the interaction model.? Do we use a drawer interaction pattern or a modal window for that messaging?? Do we use tabs or a menu system for the main navigation? These concerns are still valid of course, but before we get to them we need to consider and debate what the best affordance model is for how the user is going to make meaningful cognitive contact with the form of the product.? Selecting the most appropriate affordance model for a given product interaction is the key to differentiating the business proposition via experience design. For example: Do we let the user pick a Spotify or Pandora radio station based on something they already know, and then slowly let them custom tailor the algorithm over time by liking certain songs and disliking others? Thus starting off with a meaningful experience, and evolving it into a new one within the confines of the brand, generating loyalty.

Or do we ask the user questions about their preferences first, and offer up options upon which to take action like financial planning tools tend to do, or pretty much every online dating website out there. Thus, relying entirely on a pre-existing experience model to drive the algorithm and delighting the user by showing him/her that your product can deliver meaningful options based on it?s ability to learn about them. When a loyal customer is booking a rental car via a mobile app, do we bubble up rental options based on past rental choices we know they?ve made? The list goes on.

The point is, affordance model conceptualization and selection on its own is not something that is new for us, but it?s an area of domain expertise that is becoming more mainstream as experience-based approaches becomes a more integral part of holistic product and service design.

Going back to what we?ve done traditionally, I?ve stressed in the past, the importance of ?knowing your users? to my clients because doing so is critical to designing a baseline business proposition. For the first time in 2012, I augmented that statement to the following: ?The more users interact with your digital products, the more they expect your products to know them.?? Now I find, that statement feels dated already.

Looking ahead, I think it?s fair to say that our ever-impatient users will expect a digital, data-driven ecosystem that more seamlessly and passively defines product relationships for them. As user experience practitioners we will be called upon to determine the best means for doing so. This means evolving our domain expertise toolkits beyond best practices of interaction patterns based on user behavior, to include the definition and application of the best affordance models that can tap into a user?s frame of mind as well as a broad understanding of the algorithmic logic needed to communicate the system?s understanding of that frame of mind back to the user in a relevant way.? From this foundation, the meaningful relationship between the user and the product can be built.

?Additional input for this article provided by Lee Hillman and Wiley Bowen.