Curious about the ways experience design is evolving modern society? Wondering how it can help your company thrive in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace? Walk with me a few and discuss what it is, why it’s important, and where it’s taking us.

Note: If you’re actually here looking to inquire about Virtus Ventures business strategy, experience design and IT services, our What We Do page is a great place to start.

That said…

Experience Design 101

What’s Experience Design?

Listen, I’ve personally been developing software for over a decade and been heavily involved in experience design for the last 6’ish…so my definition tends to get either over-simplified or insanely abstract in a hurry. Let’s kick this off with the open-source version via Wikipedia:

“Experience design (XD) is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, omnichannel journeys, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions.“

Hold on a sec. Before you start picturing a cave of interns wearing thick glasses coding into the wee hours, or that XD is all computer nerd-stuff…

An emerging discipline, XD draws from many other disciplines including cognitive psychology and perceptual psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, architecture and environmental design, haptics, hazard analysis, product design, theater, information design, information architecture, ethnography, brand strategy, interaction design, service design, storytelling, heuristics, technical communication, and design thinking.

In short, XD is about using technology and breakthrough performance tools to improve our day-to-day lives and shopping experiences. Not just make them better or more affordable, but more enjoyable! Just look at the ways tech positively embeds itself in people’s lives when it comes to say, fitness.

Sure you’ve likely heard of the FitBit or other kinds of fitness trackers/wearables and their accompanying apps/websites. But, be sure to check out smart shoes like the Under Amour Gemini models with a built-in fitness tracker, accelerometer, and Bluetooth connectivity.

How about travel thanks to AirBnB?

By using their technology (primarily the app/software integration), you can get the exact view/accommodations you want without having to deal with any of the tasks involved in staying at hotels/motels.


An Example of Emerging XD

The major brands leading our culture work incredibly hard, expending tons of resources combing through digital mountains of customer data to optimize the shopping experience, under unflinching pressure from consumers.

Amazon is arguably a leader in XD in the realms of reading (Kindle) and ecommerce, and soon may completely redefine grocery.

The question is, when Amazon acquired Whole Foods, was the real value in all those impressive stores, the company culture, or loyal deep-pocket customers? Sure, partially, but the real bounty could be the mountain of customer data whichAmazon may attempt to combine with all the other customer data they have on the average shopper.

  • Online Purchases (Occasional for most)
  • Grocery Purchases (Habitual)

So, sometime down the road picture walking into a grocery store with AmazonGo-style XD:

“We created the world’s most advanced shopping technology so you never have to wait in line. With our Just Walk Out Shopping experience, simply use the Amazon Go app to enter the store, take the products you want, and go! No lines, no checkout. (No, seriously.)”

You don’t have to be there, everything could be delivered effortlessly right on schedule to your home, but you like the environment and social interaction. The store already knows what you’re going to buy, tracks you via your body and phone/mobile device/bracelet, and has a long track record of the types of things you tend to stop and inspect while getting the necessities (chocolate bars, local beers, new organic skin care products, etc.).

As you put items into your basket, or abandon them on a random shelf, the store keeps a running tally. When you’re ready you can simply walk right out of the store with your goods and your phone will notify you of how much you spent and provide a digital receipt.

All the ways in which grocery shopping will evolve over the next decade is thanks to…XD. So clean. So personalized. So easy. A harmonious blend of the physical and digital.

And don’t be bothered by those sleek robots stocking shelves around you!

Just wait until augmented reality (AR) starts being broadly implemented. Open your mind to the possibilities in terms of using all sorts of emerging tech to compliment things like:

  • Your individual product selection hierarchy.
  • Your interactions based on the store’s location.
  • The in-store product displays you see vs. what others see based on their unique preferences, tendencies, and interactions using AR glasses of some kind.
  • The differences between what you buy online and in-store.
  • Where you tend to dwell and for how long.

Thanks to XD, navigating the grocery environment is going in amazing directions and this is the world in which myself, Virtus Ventures, and those like us exist. We’re the ones weaving innovative tech into omnichannel shopping opportunities, all-in-one database tools, cross-brand membership/loyalty programs, and more for our clients.


A Small Note on Augmented Reality

To be prudent, AR is defined as, “A technology that superimposes a computer-generated image [also incorporates other graphics, sounds, and touch feedback] on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view.”

You’re probably like, “Huh? So, what the hell does that even mean?”

Have you ever used SnapChat filters where you can make yourself look bucked-tooth or like a young wagging pooch? That’s AR. You’re ‘augmenting’ (adding) content or graphics to/over real objects. Probably not as familiar would be placing a target in a room then holding your phone up and having an object appear there.

It’s nifty if you want to be able to see what a piece of furniture would look like.

AR is great and one of the most unrecognized purposes (for now) is it’s laying the foundation for Mixed Reality. Thanks to Google Glass, we were able to get a glimpse of what life using Mixed Reality would be like. Their look, or the initial physical shape wasn’t very stylish or appealing but imagine that same type of experience with a pair of Warby Parkers on… as you look at various physical elements, graphics and further information appear in your glasses ‘Iron Man style’.

The applications are endless. Recently, Glass-tech is being used by “Hands-on Workers” to work smarter:

“Access training videos, images annotated with instructions, or quality assurance checklists that help you get the job done, safely, quickly and to a higher standard. And Glass stays out of your way when you don’t need it.”

AR-enhanced safety glasses. Brilliant!

Picture the possibilities when it comes to human education, navigation, trail-running and hiking, and on and on. Simply put: we’re using technology to augment, or add to our experience in the physical universe.

Last thing I’ll say about AR in this article is that we’re seeing major brands pour billions into the space. Take for instance MagicLeap, a company still in stealth mode that’s raised more then a $1 billion with valuations north of $5 billion.. all without releasing a product!

They’re working on a “Head-mounted virtual retinal display which superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects.

Will they succeed? Who knows, with this much money and emphasis on the topic someone’s going to make it work though. That’s a fact. And it’s going to transform almost everything we do.

The Difference Between User Experience (UX) & XD

Perhaps the best explanatory web content covering this topic is the intense breakdown by Marc Hassenzahl, User Experience and Experience Design, published by the Interaction Design Foundation. I won’t delve as deeply or get as philosophical as Mark in this article, but we’ll draw on it.

“This is the challenge designers and vendors of interactive products face: Experience or User Experience is not about good industrial design, multi-touch, or fancy interfaces. It’s about transcending the material. It’s about creating an experience through a device.”

Meaning, it’s folly to dump tons of money and resources into designing something flashy. Modern consumers now (more so with each passing day) have the luxury of choosing an experience over material.

All the astounding tech in the universe isn’t going to improve grocery shopping unless it improves the experience of it. Studies have proven beyond the shadow of doubt that “experiential purchases” are preferable and make people happier than buying stuff. (Boven and Gilovich 2003; Carter and Gilovich 2010).

It’s true, we’re quickly transitioning into an Experience Economy (Pine & Gilmore, 1999), or a post-materialistic experience society. While many will argue these two terms are interchangeable, here’s the big difference from my perspective:

  • User-Experience (UX): Improving customer satisfaction through optimizing the interaction, or touch-points, between a user and primarily a digital product or environment.
  • Experience Design (XD): Creating a pleasant and psychologically fulfilling experience that typically incorporates digital products or systems into the physical world – Event Design, Exhibit Design are common examples.

One means improving a customer experience, the other is about creating one. Both are evolving and adapting and unveiling new interesting problems design firms like Virtus are tackling. As Donald A. Norman put it in his commentary on Marc’s Hassenzahl’s article,

“Design has moved from its origins of making things look attractive (styling), to making things that fulfill true needs in an effective understandable way (design studies and interactive design) to the enabling of experiences (experience design). Each step is more difficult than the one before each requires and builds upon what was learned before.”


The ROI of Experience Design

Is it worthwhile to invest in XD? How much of a gamble is it to hire a company like Virtus to design a stellar new app, retail display, or software solution to improve your offering?

While it’s impossible to make a blanket statement on ROI, or prove positive ROI without knowing your individual needs and situation,

“Research from the UK Design Council (1995–2004) and the Design Management Institute (DMI) (2005–2015) proves companies that differentiate on the experience outperform the S&P 500 by 211% or more.”

What does that mean? It’s a smidgen confusing, but over the last century the S&P delivers on average a 10% return on your investment. Meanwhile, modern companies investing in XD are seeing double, at roughly a 21% return.

Honestly, provided the solution is quality, well-received by users and there are favorable circumstances, the usual reasons for negative ROI have more to do with your company and who you work with. outlines the common mistakes brilliantly:

  • Unrealistic or inadequately articulated goals.
  • Horrid estimates on the resources and system requirements it’ll take to get the job done right.
  • Poor communication between your company, XD designers/developers, and your customers.
  • Messy development and/or amateur project management.
  • Good old fashioned internal politics and general commercial pressures.

The only two I’d like to add, which I touched on in my article, Smart Business Decisions Start With Customer Needs, Always!, is neglecting to build a customer-centric culture.

“When you get everyone in the company involved in your quest to deliver awesome service, you give them an opportunity to understand better how your customers think and what issues they’re struggling with. This helps you connect the dots faster and come up with solutions more likely to improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.”

If you have a company culture that’s dominated by the bottom line then one of your first steps should be building a customer-centric organization. This can have a dramatically positive impact on any XD optimization you attempt to integrate.

Then, secondly, failing to truly understand the difference between Customer Service and Customer Experience. It doesn’t really matter how super-friendly your sales staff are if the overall experience of interfacing with your company takes too long, is too complex, or doesn’t provide adequate branding.



The #1 Way to Improve Potential Profit

We rely on time-tested product validation practices that allow us to pinpoint the current experience and generate ideas on how to change or improve it. Once we have workable ideas on the table, we methodically validate, identify our market segments, and reasonably estimate market size. This, in turn, is rolled into potential profit.

Creating Your Control

Another critical method that’s needed before deployment is creating a control you can compare to the newly-designed experience. For example, if we build an interactive in-store display for a hiking brand with a presence in some ROI stores,

  • We compare a screened-store to a similar store with similar traffic/demographics without one.
  • We then calculate the lift (or non-lift) of the screened-store.

A really common question we get with retail displays is, “How long does the unit need to be in the store to pay for itself?” Thing is, before we can answer that we need to know how many products you’d sell without the screen and how many more the screen’s helping to sell.

Another thing, you have to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.

We’re not going to compare purchases made in a screened-store in Detroit with a non-screened-store in Beverly Hills. Demographics need to match up. There’s plenty of other metrics to judge like impressions and brand interaction as well. But hey, maybe you’d like to talk cash? Sure, let’s look at a real world example of how we’ve produced astounding ROI through XD. Ohio State Waterproofing, a 40 year old company, approached us to help them communicate to potential customers what it is they do.

An Example of +ROI in XD: Ohio State Waterproofing

Uh oh, that trickle of water seeping into your home’s basement when it rains has suddenly become an inbound disaster of epic financial proportions – wet electronics, moldy walls, a big mess! You decide to start Googling around and setup a “free inspection” ASAP.

Before working with us the Ohio State Waterproofing’s inspector would’ve shown up with a big heaping box of folders, binders, graphs, and all else to explain to you what’s happening, the bigger picture, costs, services, etc. It was outdated and frankly, often unpleasant…especially if they’re showing up AFTER the basement’s been flooded.

After Working with Virtus

Now the inspector greets you at the door with nothing but a small tool bag and an iPad Pro they use to show any of the over 20 different animated videos we created based on their hardcopy branded presentations. They move quickly, get you up to speed in minutes, and you think to yourself, “These guys know what they’re doing!” Obviously, it’s an entirely new and improved experience for both you and the inspector.

  • The company’s inspectors loved it so much because they could quickly and effectively show homeowners everything they needed to know in a fraction of the time and effort. And, it helped them differentiate themselves and be taken far more seriously by potential customers.
  • The system we designed was immediately rolled out to 13 of their franchises (EverDry).
  • I’d say a nice safe, round number in terms of ROI is about $100 million.


Wrapping Up

Okay okay, I know, that was a ton to chew on but if you made it this far that must mean you dig this kind of stuff as much as we do around here. Hopefully this basic information has gotten your mental lips wet and you’re plenty ready for more. If so, check out the related article below and see what kinds of returns business owners are seeing.

Happy trails!


Other Interesting Articles