The difference between experience design and user experience design is far greater than a simple letter. 

While UX has traditionally focused on the design of a UI experience with a digital interface, today’s UX designer is increasingly having to consider and weave together multiple channels, contexts and formats. This will only continue as augmented and virtual realities, artificially intelligent assistants and remote working expand the spaces where humans interact with each other and businesses. 

3 Traits of a Top-Notch Experience Designer

  1. Asks questions and digs deep to discover the job to be done.
  2. Maps and blueprints to align product design with business goals.
  3. Tests and tests again throughout the project. 

By looking beyond the digital experience and merging it with the physical, XD is a natural evolution of UX design. And with the digital space now the primary point of contact between a brand and its customer, it’s no surprise that XD has become even more critical to a product’s success. As the significance of experience design has expanded, especially over the last decade, so has the role of experience designer.

Although meaningful digital experiences tend to feel magical, being an effective experience designer doesn’t require a crystal ball or ESP. Instead, think of experience design as the glue that bonds users with technology. 

The magic that fuels great experience design can be found in three product development tactics: discovery, mapping and testing. Here’s how to optimize all three.

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Discover the Job to Be Done

Experience design is rooted in classic industrial design philosophy and cognitive psychology, which at its core has always been about solving the Job to be Done. Clayton Christensen brilliantly identified that transformative innovation comes through building products and services for the job to be done. He offers an excellent framework and approach to this process. Once you’re familiar with the basics, you can use this repeatedly to help focus your discovery. 

The key is to identify day-to-day tasks that are being done poorly and design better, frictionless experiences and processes that expand expectations. Putting yourself in a JTBD mindset requires digging deep into questions like: Who is the user? What’s their problem? And how does this product solve that problem? 

The three most useful and basic techniques to get the answers to these questions are interviews, competitive research and persona building. Having a solid educational background (formal or informal) that includes human-computer interaction, ethnography, industrial design or psychology becomes extremely helpful for getting into the mindset of the user. 

For more advanced projects, explore JTBD frameworks to categorize, define and organize the inputs required, as well as low-fidelity concepts to translate high-level design concepts into tangible and testable artifacts. If you’d like to explore the ideas of user-centric design further, read Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things.


Map the Experience

Mapping and blueprinting help experience designers build the story by aligning the product design and user research with business goals. Various mapping methods can help align teams as well as reflect any data captured from interviews and testing. 

Journey mapping provides a flow for visualizing the user’s product or service experience from their point of view. This helps to create a shared understanding and intentional planning of what the user will see and where you may want to add a push to help them get to the next step. 

When exploring how complex technology and physical interactions occur (such as a live support phone call within an application), service blueprinting can expose the intentional behind-the-scenes work that makes a great customer-facing experience possible. Bringing collaboration and discussion to the inhouse and backend processes that make a smooth “front of stage” user flow possible.

As experience designers collaborate with engineers, service blueprinting can be an invaluable tool to jointly solve how the product will work and what it needs technically, while inviting engineers to participate in the experience strategy to help reduce rework and over-building. 

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Test, Test and Test Again

Experience designers don’t relegate testing to the end of a process. Instead, testing is ongoing throughout the project to ensure the end product always maintains a user-centered approach. 

A user-centered approach to product development elevates user satisfaction, exposes new opportunities to build value, and differentiates a brand. This is best accomplished through ongoing testing with potential and existing users.

Remember the general rule: Testing more often is better than testing a lot. Worry less about the amount of features or ideas you’re testing and just try to get feedback as often as possible.

There are many ways to test a product for users. The three most common are concept testing, also called wireframes or prototypes testing; A/B testing, where two versions of a concept are tested to see which performs better; and alpha or beta trials, where a market-ready product is tested before release

Experience design is at its best when it identifies the causal driver behind a purchase and applies a laser focus to understanding the job needed to be done.

Testing also reduces your risk of failure once released to market by validating assumptions throughout your product’s development.

Product development is too often focused on looking for correlations in data to identify demand when progress can often be found more easily and cheaply by taking less intensive and more heuristic approaches, as described above. 

Real disruption, the goal of most innovation efforts, comes from a deep understanding of customer choice in a way that no amount of data can consistently reveal. Experience design is at its best when it identifies the causal driver behind a purchase and applies a laser focus to understanding the job needed to be done. 

That means that being an effective experience designer means always having the user in focus at all stages of product development. Focusing on understanding users, solving their problems with product design and taking feedback into account inspires an extraordinary experience that will build loyalty and trust, form a positive emotional connection to the brand and drive revenue, too.

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