Lies, damned lies and experience design...

Truth, authenticity and show business

Right, there are two things I have to set straight. Here goes.

1. Experience design is not about pretending to be something you are not.

When I talk to people about experience design, they often get a funny look in their eyes. "Hmm," they seem to say, "that sounds awfully fake".

Experience design (or service design) is indeed about creating memorable experiences that our customers will appreciate. To do this, we engage our customers' senses to move their emotions. That makes it a whole lot like show business - so... we can brazenly steal a lot of tools and techniques from theatre and film. Lighting, costume, staging, scripts and even character work can all play a part.

This does not mean pretending to be something you are not. It means getting better at showing what you are.

This is true in "real" showbiz too. A brilliant actor like Sir Anthony Hopkins is not a dissembler. He does not pretend, he reveals, showing parts of himself that we would not usually see. Shakespeare understood this, and all his characters - even the baddest of the bad - speak the truth to the audience. And for good reason: we care about what people really are, not what they pretend to be. In experience design, we look for ways to throw the spotlight on our best work, to reveal values that the customer might otherwise have missed. But we must remain authentic. If we fake anything, the customer will know. And he will not forgive.

2. Experience design is not about making people laugh.

Let's get back to our sceptical prospective customer. Giving me a steely look, he says (probably with a Cherman accent), "Customer emotion? Ve are a serious business! Laughter vould be out of place."

I admit it, I'm a comedian. I will do pretty much anything for a cheap laugh - in fact, I just did. And I draw a lot of my experience design tools from the world of comedy. So sue me.

What this means is that many of the service design success stories that appeal to me are ones that speak to my sense of fun. I love the Geek Squad, for example. I think turning a car factory into a theme park is a scream. But I do not think that laughter or even "fun" is an essential part of experience design. No, the essential bit is emotion.

Let's take an extreme example - an undertaker. Gags would usually be out of place in that trade, but sharing emotion - stories, reminiscences, sadness, love - is very much part of the business. A good funeral director (director! Hah!) will create an experience where people are able to see their grief as part of a more complex set of feelings, and share in celebrating a life.

No, the emotions we need in experience design can be of every hue - pleasure, serenity, shock, exhilaration, awe, contentment, Gemütlichkeit, pathos... you name it. Fun is one option, but the big picture is about gut feelings, not belly laughs.

1 comment:

Rattlesnake Jake said...

Great Post - I need to come learn and work with you...