Why experience design is key in digital transformation

Digital transformation is talked about in different forms. In this instance, I am going to reference it in the context of digital transformation that is supporting any type of customer experience or interaction improvement, through any channel or device. Similarly, experience design is often misunderstood, so I will clarify what experience design covers and how it is key in digital transformation.

Managing tensions and perspectives

Experience design has many facets, but I often describe part of the role of experience design as managing the tension that can exist between the ideal customer experience an organization wants to deliver and the realities of being able to deliver it technically and operationally.

Experience design blends several complementary design disciplines to focus on the customer, and design relevant solutions to solve meaningful problems. However, when conducted correctly, it can also be invaluable to informing business decisions, technology choices, delivery approaches and operational improvements that enable digital transformation.

The harsh reality is that the very notion of digital transformation may be immediately constrained by immovable parameters such as legacy systems, budgets, data challenges, a chosen approach or where initial delivery is based on an ‘out of the box’ solution or a minimum viable product. At the same time, the stated ambition is often to focus on the customer, delivering the best customer experiences possible. Tensions can then arise in making choices that satisfy all objectives, with different stakeholder groups championing different perspectives, and compromises having to be found.

Over the years I have seen companies take different approaches, but a common frailty with digital transformation is that the emphasis and attention can firmly shift to the technical delivery and the intended customer focus and experience design is diluted and compromised to align with the prescribed technical solution and approach being delivered.

So how do organisations optimise customer experiences and deliver meaningful solutions, whilst still working within the financial, operational and technical parameters that exist? How do organisations ensure that the outcomes and intended value of a digital transformation are realized in the best way for all?

What is Experience Design?

Customer experiences can either be designed intentionally, or they can be left to chance.

Experience design is an approach that brings together different but complementary design and research disciplines to focus on the customer, help identify and really understand the problem(s) to be solved, and then design products and services to transform customer experiences and deliver solutions in a relevant way.

Experience design spans all channels (not just digital) and the points of interaction that a customer has with your organization or brand.  As such it considers all aspects of the customer journey in a given context and develops a robust understanding of user behaviours, user needs and the pain points and challenges to be solved.  We use insight and research to aid the understanding of the challenges and define what it is really like to be a customer in the current context. This enables us to design future state experiences, define the journeys we need to support and ideate to find solutions and develop rapid prototypes to quickly test, learn and improve.

As customer experiences are often cross channel (even digital customers can have cross channel implications) looking beyond digital user flows and wireframes is important, and experience design provides an approach for not only informing design but also the technical and operational dependencies that are required to underpin its delivery. Experience design therefore can be applied not only to digital products but also to services and operational capabilities that support the customer experience being delivered.

Experience design as you can see is more than just UX. It can be applied in different ways, to different scenarios, and ultimately contributes to a better outcome through a deeper understanding of the problems we are trying to solve, and how we fulfil customer needs in the best way. These days a frictionless user experience is no longer a differentiator, it is a basic requirement for customers who expect an optimized user experience across all platforms and devices. Experience design provides the differentiation and innovation, and this is what organisations are increasingly seeking to address. As the business landscape and customer expectations rapidly change, the need to innovate has never been stronger.

A key role in digital transformation

Most companies understand their technical capabilities, business requirements and overt customer needs. How they approach and blend these assets to innovate products and services is where companies fall short.

As outlined earlier, making informed choices is critical both to meeting stakeholder needs and achieving a good experience for the customer. If the emphasis is put on one aspect over another, disconnects can occur which, if not caught early, can result in diluted solutions being delivered that do not realise the intended objectives or value sought.

Experience design grounds decisions around a solid definition and understanding of the customer context and how technical and operational enablers deliver this. The future state design can highlight changes required and show dependencies and key requirements, but perhaps most importantly it can show the impact of choices on the customer and the business, so that informed decisions can be made.

Technology choices must be considered in the context of the customer and the experience an organisation is intending to create. If experience design is not embraced in some way, the emphasis can shift onto the technology or the delivery approach, and the customer is often reduced to a set of notional stories, features and function, crafted by internal views. As a result, solutions do get delivered, but do they really transform? What are they transforming? What value is being provided? How does this improve things for customers?

Experience design is key to keeping transformations honest and aligning the customer context and experience requirements with the technical and operational choices being made. Managing the tension that can exist between these perspectives is essential in digital transformation if improvement, differentiation, and value are to be achieved.

How experience design can help you get started

In my experience, one of the most difficult aspects of digital transformation is knowing where to start. We always start with the customer, as without understanding and defining the problem(s) we are trying to solve it is hard to understand how technology can be scoped and business requirements defined in a meaningful way.

We help organisations get started in a pragmatic way with our discovery engagement approach which can be applied in a variety of scenarios, whether the focus is on a new digital product or service design, whatever the parameters or starting point.

But ultimately it always starts with a conversation, so feel free to reach out.

We help digital teams design great experiences, make smart technology choices, and deliver successful digital transformations.

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