Experience design: How to design 'experience flows'

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Last week, CX guru Brian Solis explained why customer journey mapping should mature into experience design. In this follow-up article, Brian provides practical tips on delivering experience design. 

Several years ago while I was in Amsterdam, I spent time with Thomas Marzano, head of design for brand, communication and digital at Philips. There, I learned about a process that complements customer journey mapping while allowing strategists across the enterprise to think more holistically and more so, experientially. Beyond journey maps lie many options for experience design. In this case, I want to share with you the practice of what Philips calls “experience flows.”

A customer journey map got us to walk in our customer’s shoes. Experience flows typically outline customer steps before, during and after transactions. At the same time, also consider scenarios, emotions, and actions. They help businesses optimize current experiences and identify opportunities for designing new and improved ones.

An experience flow seamlessly brings together all of the experiences throughout the infinity loop of customer engagement. It distills all of the both qualitative and quantitative information you have collected about the customer experience into a large poster, which is designed to make immediate sense to everyone around the company involved with experience design. This is the device that brings the entire company together to create alignment about the vision and the standard for experiences.

It’s yours to define.

Plato once wrote, “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Experience flows as a process and as a framework guide you to account for all of these as you consider the relationship between brand experience, customer experience and user experience (BX + UX + CX.) Philips describes them as a way of mapping all of the customer’s experiences “from expectation, to first impression, then through discovery, usage and finally to memory.” 

The process of making them incorporates all of the methods we’ve discussed and adds some new tools and steps. Essentially, an experience flow is a mashup of a storyboard, a sophisticated customer journey map and an experience map. 

Click here for examples of the Philips Experience Flow

In many ways, experience flows are a visual interpretation of human-centered design approaches that we see in design thinking or more so in the work of IDEO combined with idealistic customer journey maps that don’t yet exist to their full potential.

Philips Design creative director Remco Timmer described the promise of experience flows to improve experiences and more so, to drive businesses into the experience economy, “Suddenly everyone starts to think from the end-user perspective, thinking beyond our current propositions and identifying solutions that really matter.” I’ve found that they help to give CX a greater purpose that aligns stakeholders in marketing, design, product development, customer care, IT, and strategy around all aspects of experience architecture, from planning to execution.   

One way in which Philips used the flow process was in working with Broward Health Medical Center, helping to identify and clearly illustrate both the clinical and emotional needs of patients, nurses and doctors in a cancer center in Florida over the course of a typical day. The Philips Healthcare Design Consultancy team members were then able to create an environment better suited to those needs.

As Giang Vu, creative director at Philips Design Healthcare, explained: “We found experience issues and bottle-necks in several areas of the center, such as where patients were waiting in corridors for treatment and where staff did not have direct visual observation on key treatment areas. We created numerous experience benefits in the new design including a social infusion café for patients and a new centralised care station for staff to improve communication amongst themselves, to help improve the delivery of care to their patients.”

Chief operating officer of Broward Health Natassia Orr shared her reaction about the end result: “I was blown away by the new design,” she revealed. “Our patients are going to be infinitely happier with the service that they’re provided.”

Philips has learned that creating a successful flow requires a multidisciplinary team, including sales and marketing specialists, data scientists, people researchers and product designers, as well as thought leaders in an area that might inspire the innovation teams. Philips found that the process helps all those on a team to open their minds to possibilities for innovation, preventing them from getting stuck in a “we can’t do that, that’s not how we’ve done it before, this will never work, it’s too expensive, what’s the ROI?” mentality.

How to design experience flows

Frame the project: clearly define who the target group of customers is, and also describe the business objectives, challenges, timing, the core team and the deliverables. 

Pinpoint the purpose of creating the flow.

The scope may range from something as broad as per Philips, “[Exploring] how young professional women in Germany cook at home,” to something about a particular type of product, such as: “To explore how to make a blender easier to clean.”

Step 1: Develop an outline for an experience flow

Create the experience framework: this is a rough initial mapping of the current nature of the experience based upon your existing knowledge, for which you could us one of the customer mapping styles

Gather user insights: research customer psychographics, demographics, preferences, expectations and aspirations.

  • Conduct formal and informal interviews to illuminate more fully people’s true motivations and aspirations, as there is often a difference between what participants in a survey will say and what they actually think and feel.
  • Start homework booklets or diaries to  persuade participants to open up and give a more detailed understanding about their personal history, their perception about themselves and specific topics.
  • Shadow and observe people going about their daily lives to uncover important behaviors and needs you would not think to ask about.
  • Host generative sessions or workshops of groups of people in which the issues being researched are discussed to expose commonalities between people that would never surface during a one-to-one interview.
  • Conduct online community research to foster ongoing dialogue with individuals and communities so teams better understand dynamics that cannot be captured face- to-face.

Step 2: Create the flow

Map the experience: this is where team members review all of the research, identify patterns and insights about customer needs and desire, with the purpose being to identify opportunities for improving experiences and creating whole new ones.

Draft issue cards: here, team members extract all key issues that they’ve made note of and write them down onto issue cards, one issue per card. For example, a card might read “I don’t have enough time to cook,” or “I’m worried that my diet isn’t healthy enough.” These help the team to discuss them individually.

Develop personas: you have different types of people who share common interests, behaviors, aspirations, etc. Capture and define each persona. Bring these characters to life. Teams can use personas to think through solutions, innovations, fixes, et al., specific to humanised customer issues.

Create stakeholder maps: this simple map shows how different types of people involved in an experience interact with one another in the setting of the experience. Philips cites the example of patients, their families, doctors and nurses in a hospital setting. This is placed next to the flow. 

Step 3: Explore solutions

Host an opportunity workshop: gather people from the different departments together to discuss the issues on the cards and search for ways to address them.

Embark on an ideation journey: here, you invite people from outside the company and industry to meet with the team and examine each opportunity to surface even more ideas. The team records all of the ideas from these sessions and then creates scenarios and storyboards to envision how they would work in real life.

Get feedback: the next step is to test ideas with real people. The purpose is to get input fast to allow the team to iterate and improve on the solutions.

Illustrate the experience flow: at this point, the team is able to visualise a full experience around the new solution or solutions. You put the persona at the center and all describe all experiences.

While we are talking about customer journey maps and also exploring experience flows, there are of course deeper details that we cannot overlook. These tools, in their own way, help stakeholders identify ways to understand and improve customer journeys and ultimately experiences. But more so, we are also introduced to a human-centered approach to customer or user touch points, flows and engagement.

In an experience economy, experiences are not to be left to chance. They require intention, thoughtfulness and design. Experience flows open the door to experience architecture and a more granular form of experience mapping that goes further and broader than the more traditional tools that are currently trending. This is why now more than ever, we need experience architects and that begins with you.

About Brian Solis

Brian Solis

Brian Solis is a principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a Prophet company. He is also an award-winning author, prominent blogger/writer, and keynote speaker. His new book X: The Experience When Business Meets Design helps companies build a new generation of experiential brands.

A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. His research and his books help executives, and also everyday people, better understand the relationship between the evolution of technology and its impact on business and society and also the role we each play in it. As a result of his work, Solis also helps leading brands, celebrities, and startups develop new digital transformation, culture 2.0, and innovation strategies and that enable businesses to adapt to new connected markets from the inside out.

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