Experience Design: What Is It and How Can It Benefit You?

By: Melissa Brown

Have you ever left a store or event amazed by the atmosphere?  Have you ever stopped shopping at a store not because of a poor product but because the service you were given left a bad impression?


Experiences matter to people. Customers across the country and around the world are beginning to expect better experiences from the companies they are buying from. Thus, if you are a business owner, creating experiences for your customers should be a top priority. This priority is known as experience design.


Here we will discuss what experience design is and how it works, how your small business can implement touchpoints that make experiences more positive, and why you should create experience-based shopping opportunities and events.


What is Experience Design?


Experience design is defined by professors J. Rossman and Mathew Duerden as “the process of intentionally orchestrating experience elements to provide opportunities for participants to co-create and sustain interactions that lead to results desired by the participant and the designer.”[1] Anyone can have a store. But it takes effort to be intentional about every aspect of the shopping experience you offer and how people feel during it.


The way customers shop today is shifting. They are looking for more involvement with companies and they want a story about the product and company they are choosing. Consumers are also looking for ways to make their lives easier. For example, think about a mother who wants to bake a birthday cake for her child. One option she has is to buy all the ingredients needed and make a cake from scratch. Another option is to buy a cake mix and mix in just a few more ingredients herself before putting it all in the oven. A third option is to go to the store and purchase a premade cake to have at the birthday party. Lastly, there’s another option that is becoming increasingly


popular: to go to a location such as Chuck E. Cheese, which can provide not only a cake but also a fully planned and themed party.


Each of these options is a step in what is called the Progression of Economic Value[ii] (see Figure 1[iii]), a trend which moves from commodities (the ingredients you put together yourself) to goods (a mostly prepared cake), to services (a premade cake), and, finally, to experiences (a birthday party with all of the elements included). This concept, according to The Experience Economy, explains that “commodities are fungible, goods tangible, services intangible, and experiences memorable.”[iv] As a commodity moves through each of these stages, both its serviceable value and its price increase. In the cake example, the all-inclusive party would be part of the experience stage not just because it is the most expensive option, but also because the party has been previously designed by the company to create lasting memories and a positive experience for the child. This pre-created experience is what the mother is paying for.


Experience design is all about incorporating elements that allow customers to engage more fully with your company and including little details that aim to simply surprise or delight typical consumers. This practice leaves customers with positive memories of their experience with your company, a desire to go back again, and motivation to tell their friends about the experience.


How Can I Implement Positive Touchpoints?


Each interaction your customers have with your company is called a touchpoint. Here are some things to consider: What appearance does your store or website have when they first visit? Are there employees who are ready and available to answer customers’ questions? Is your website easy to navigate? Do you have the products customers are looking for? These examples all involve interactions—or touchpoints—that you can influence.


In their book Designing Experiences, authors J. Robert Rossman and Mathew Duerden compare the creation of touchpoints to the composition of a pointillist painting. Up close, each dot seems random and mismatched, but by taking a few steps back one can see the larger masterpiece those points create. The same principle applies to creating a great experience. The experience is a collection of touchpoints, each deliberately designed to elicit specific emotions and reactions. An experience designer must give attention to the details of these touchpoints in the same way pointillist artists give specific care to each of their painted points.[v]


One critical key to touchpoints is the use of emotions. As stated in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, “emotions are a core component of experiences, and emotions make an experience memorable.”[vi] How can you add emotions to interactions? The best way to do this is to surprise people. Find ways you can meet your customers’ needs in a way they might not expect. For example, if you have an online store with customers ordering from nearby areas, find a way to deliver their goods on the same afternoon in which they place their order. This type of added benefit would definitely be unexpected but greatly appreciated, and the customer would be surprised and very happy with the purchase. For a brick-and-mortar store, when your customers are considering purchasing a new product, have a simple system in place that allows them to try out the product beforehand and seek answers to all of their questions before making the purchase. This is a simple form of customer service, but it will greatly improve the happiness and satisfaction of the customer.


Emotions and touchpoints can be created and designed before your customer even steps foot in your store. One way to do this is to inform customers beforehand about what their experience will be like, which can help create anticipation for your business. On the other hand, surprising your customers with a good experience when they arrive is another common strategy that elicits positive emotions. Whichever strategy you choose, the emotions you instill will continue to influence the customers’ perception of their overall experience.[vii]


Why Should Businesses Create These Experiences?


It is not enough to appeal to one set of customers once; you must also keep up with the demands of your general target group. If you just stick to one strategy, there may come a time when your customers no longer relate to your message, and you will begin to lose business. By understanding and implementing experience design, you can stay connected with your target customers and bring new insights and positive changes to what you have already created.


Keeping up with trends to create more positive and involved experiences for customers can drive business success in ways that were not possible just a decade or two ago. Traditional advertising is not as beneficial as it used to be, and a lot of business is now driven by social media and data tracking. On social media, customers can publicly share which companies they are impressed with and which ones they will never go back to. By taking the time to design great experiences, you can be confident that people will be portraying your business in a positive light online


Companies throughout the world are beginning to make experience design a part of their daily decisions. The Wall Street Journal explained that by hiring Chief Experience Officers (CXOs), large companies are “viewing experience as an increasingly powerful driver of business success” (see Figure 2). [viii] The Wall Street Journal also explained that you should focus on experience design “to determine what kinds of promotions to offer and why, while avoiding annoying people with poorly timed or unappealing offers, [and] to spot bad customer experiences like a sluggish website before they become too widespread—or big on Twitter.”[ix]


As a business owner, you have access to so many ways to design experiences for your customers. If you take the time to think about what the members of your target group need and how you want them to feel about and react to your company, you can then design each element of your company to fit that desired outcome. This will result in your business connecting better with your customers, and they will feel understood and be excited to return to you again.


How Can I Begin?


Once you (as a business owner) understand the benefits of experience design and how it can change the way customers perceive your company, it’s time to get started on the actual designing process.


First, decide how you want to be perceived, and how you want your customers to feel in their interactions with you and your company. Think about not only the overall public reaction but also the sorts of reactions and emotions that your touchpoint moments should inspire in your customers. Next, decide what elements you can add (or take away) to elicit your desired reaction. Start small. Make a few changes at a time and see how they work before you redo your entire process only to find out you were on the wrong track. Pay attention to the results you are getting and try to gather some feedback.


Each of these steps can be repeated over and over until you feel like you are consistently designing touchpoints and experiences that your customers not only love but look forward to each time they visit. Experience design is not an end result, but a process. Be on a constant lookout for ways to improve the customer experience, and soon you will be a step ahead of the rest of the market.

[1] J. Robert Rossman and Mathew D. Duerden, Designing Experiences (New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 14.


[ii] B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), 34.


[iii] “Progression of Economic Value,” Neural Impact, accessed February 29, 2020, https://neuralimpact.ca/blog/need-stop-relying-great-services-core-competitive-differentiator/progression-of-economic-value/.


[iv] Pine and Gilmore, The Experience Economy, 98.


[v] Rossman and Duerden, Designing Experiences, 103.


[vi] Marcel Bastiaansen, et al., “Emotions as Core Building Blocks of an Experience,” International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management 32, no. 2 (February 2019): 654, https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCHM-11-2017-0761.


[vii] Michael Dixon et al., “Surprise, Anticipation, and Sequence Effects in the Design of Experiential Services,” Production and Operations Management 26, no. 5 (May 2017): 946, https://doi.org/ 10.1111/poms.12675.


[viii] Nat Ives, “You’re Not Just Binge Watching Netflix. You’re Having an ‘Experience,’” Wall Street Journal, February 21, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/youre-not-just-binge-watching-netflix-youre-having-an-experience-11582297230.


[ix] Ives, “You’re Having an ‘Experience.’”


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