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Very random thoughts on a variety of interactive media topics. Broadly looking at experience design, brand, digital consumer strategies, innovation and a fair dollop of user-facing technology. I'm Experience Director at EMC Consulting and you can also find me masquerading as @poleydee on Twitter.

A definition: Total Experience Design

If you follow this link you’ll see how much we talk about Total Experience Design here at EMC Consulting (formerly Conchango) and I recently gave a talk at the Forrester Marketing Forum Europe where we also talked about it as an approach to orchestrating experiences, even marketing ones. However, after finding a few references to Total Experience Design around the web this evening, realised I’ve never really expounded the basic premise in simple, easy to digest terms. So here goes:

In summary: Total Experience Design is design without boundaries. A consideration of an overall potential customer experience, regardless of medium, or other boundaries, with the aim of drawing out what elements of experience have to coordinate or orchestrate to create a memorable, delightful, valuable experience that people want to talk about.

Which starts with:

Good experiences stimulate a number of senses. They hit a number of emotional triggers and leave people feeling great about it, and wanting to tell people about it. The best experiences are actually a large number of individual components in a variety of media that beautifully orchestrate to create a good, great or even delightful experience.

Designing experiences like this doesn’t happen accidentally. Often the individual components are surprising in themselves and cross a number of organisational or skills boundaries. Things that are not normally considered a part of an experience, but become so through creative thinking and orchestrating them beautifully with other elements.

Should a web designer be concerned with the packaging a product arrives in, or only the eCommerce site that sells it? Both have to be taken care of and orchestrated as part of the same experience.

Total Experience philosophy would expose that designer and the wider team to insight and research that looks at a big chunk of a customer’s life where it might _potentially_ touch the company we’re working with. We’d look at what motivates them to want to buy something, how they select where to buy from, the decision-making criteria they use, and what happens to that something after it’s been purchased.

What do I mean by experience?

I often talk about Virgin Atlantic as a company that thinks about experience as a multi-sensory, multi-channel thing, where many small things have to come together to make an experience memorable, delightful and something that turns people from being merely loyal to out and out advocates. Most importantly, at the heart of a designed experience is one central question “How does this make the customer feel?”. In other words, the design process is user-centred in classic UCD terms.

At MIX08 I also talked about Virgin America, whose experience is comprised of everything from lighting, to an inflight entertainment system, to their aircraft signage, their promotion and marketing and the way their staff talk to you. You can only do that if you orchestrate all aspects of an experience and design them with a very specific user in mind and have a remit to think beyond the traditional remit of someone inside a specific organisational department or discipline within that organisation.

“When you start to think wider, interesting things start to happen”

Total Experience Design is where you consider an entire customer experience regardless of organisational or disciplinary boundaries. As digital designers, we tend to think about “How can I design this website?” whereas in Total Experience Design, we look at the lives of the customers we are trying to affect, and identify a much wider bunch of opportunities to help achieve the goals we have of the overall experience.

In retail this means, the website, the marketing, the packaging your product arrives in, the service you receive, the follow-up email you get, how the company deals with issues, and on and on ad infinitum. Total Experience Design says that you have to start from a point where you consider this entire experience, before you drill down into the details of any given medium. As a company we may not execute in all these areas, but we have to think them through, and drive them out in order to create the right experience.

You can’t come up with a Virgin America experience unless you have the remit to explore everything from aircraft lighting to websites to the way the cabin crew address their passengers. Only a Total Experience Design philosophy allows for that.

When we talk Total Experience Design we also postulate the theory that as ‘digital designers’ we are perfectly placed to be at the heart of this process. Not only is digital going to be a critical part of any experience, but being a relatively new discipline, we come from a variety of backgrounds from retail to finance, from the arts to ergonomics and between us when combined with client domain expertise and insightful ethnographic research, we have many of the skills in design and engineering we need to design an entire experience.

A brief history of how we got here:

All of this builds on the work of a few key people and some experiences of our own that have influenced me and the company I work for, in the last few years. Roughly in chronological order they are:

Alan Cooper – interaction designer, CEO of Cooper Interaction Design, and author of The Inmates are Running the Asylum  This taught me about user-centred design and how it can apply to a variety of ‘products’ from PC applications to Sat-Nav systems.

Working with Virgin Atlantic for 10 years, and seeing how their ground and air ‘product’ teams work, the backing they have for this approach from the very top of the organisation, and the effect their work has on the people who experience it. Just search Twitter for Virgin + Clubhouse to see what I mean.

A moment when designing a self-service check-in kiosk for the airline BMI, where we suggested that as the designers of the interface, we needed to look at the overall customer flow in the airport and the physical environment in which that interface was to exist, and consider that as part of the design process.

When Matt Bagwell joined what was then Conchango, now EMC Consulting, and introduced the discipline of Experience Planning, building not only on the planning discipline as exercised at many an ad agency, but integrating experience and measurement as part of that to formalise a previously adhoc set of skills we had.

Lou Carbone, author of Clued In and CEO of Experience Engineering. I’ve seen Lou talk in person three times now, and he’s imprinted on me a number of things about experience. Experience clues, rational versus emotional thought, and how ‘experience’ manifests itself in a huge variety of ways are the main ones. Recently, Lou has started talking about how as designers and organisations we think a lot about the medium, but that’s not how people experience companies and brands. This bumped neatly into what we used to call ‘multi-channel’ thinking or the ‘channel of choice’ observation we made about how people actually consume. i.e. behaviours of researching in stores, online and then purchasing in either, dependent on what their motivators were. This was something that for us migrated into Total Experience Design as our thinking matured, so it was good to hear Lou talking about that.

Some Experience Planning pieces of work we ran for clients like Barclays Bank, Virgin Atlantic and others, where we considered the breadth of customer’s lives. What we sought out were the bits of it that could work smoother when it related to our customer’s service and product, regardless of what medium the potential solution ended up in. This influenced in turn their strategies for digital channels and a variety of products that could help things run better for consumers, which in turn bonds customers to them. This clearly showed the benefits of Total Experience Design.

Bill Buxton – Principal Researcher at Microsoft and author of Sketching User Experiences. I’ve seen Bill present in person about 4 times now (sorry Lou), and each time he has shown how product design thinking can apply to almost anything, and again how ‘experience’ can apply, and must apply to almost anything from advertising, to service, to product. His team might be at Microsoft, a software and increasingly, hardware business, but they have the remit to follow almost any train of thought or research based on curiosity rather than to solve a specific perceived ‘problem’. When they explore a wide variety of situations and technologies, they sometimes come up in surprising places, but with products that serve users’ needs and goals well.

A couple of months ago at one of Matt’s The Fantastic Tavern events, he ran it on the topic of Total Experience Design, and we had some real leaders from a variety of digital brands and other digital designers, who spent several hours in a room above a pub in London debating and discussing exactly what this meant, but all of them unanimously offering the point of view that life and the work they produced, would generally be better with Total Experience Design. This absolutely reinforced that this philosophy was the right one and that we should operate it, evangelise it and talk about it as often as we could.

Two years in a row we’ve talked about it at MIX (and other events, but these guys have the videos!) and it’s had a great reception. This year, fingers crossed, we’ll extend the theme further to get into some of the more gritty details of how to bring a Total Experience philosophy to almost any project or organisation.

So this is also the call to action to let us know how you’d like us to expound on some of this stuff for this year’s MIX or other places we’ll talk about it this year. Get in touch on email or comments and let us know.

By the way… we’ve always referred to it as Total Experience Design, in full. We tinkered with shortening it to TED, but have too much respect for TED to do it often. I read a blog on bigthink.com where Lou Susi arrived at a similar conclusion, but dubbed it TxD (Total eXperience Design). What do you think to that abbreviation? Something we should all adopt?? What do you think?

The only downside I can see is that it’s pretty much the universal youth abbreviation for ‘texted’ just search Twitter to see

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George said:

Very nice. I look forward to future blogs about this.

December 1, 2009 4:30 PM

justin said:

call it TEX

January 5, 2010 4:56 PM

Ian Blackburn said:

Sounds great Paul - looking forward to the session at Mix.

If you need an abbreviation then I like TxD - but do you really need one?  Seems to just obfuscate the meaning?  Not sure how you would pronounce TxD either ;-)



January 20, 2010 10:44 PM

Roxanne Ready said:

TxD isn't bad; I don't think there will be any confusion in context. I've just been calling it TED. :)

Like I said on Twitter, I really enjoyed your talk today. Thanks for expanding my design horizons beyond the usual and obvious.

March 16, 2010 5:07 AM

oasis said:

This was a very informative blog I have one question though.

Im doing research on Concept stores, What is your opinion on What Concept stores are and are they linked to total experience and brand experience in any way?

May 27, 2010 2:34 PM

Ergo said:

I’m truly lucky to have now lived with a Windows Phone for nearly two weeks, so it’s time to write about

December 15, 2010 8:38 AM

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About Paul.Dawson

I started working in 'new media' when it was new... around 1996, doing websites for people like DHL and Cellnet (remember them?) as well as CD-Roms for people like Dorling Kindersley. I joined Conchango in 1999 because I was fed up with the conflicts and overlaps between the companies that we tended to partner with to deliver these things. Usually it was a tech company and a marketing agency. Neither had the user's needs in mind, and both were trying hard to take business away from each other. So at Conchango I saw the opportunity to create an integrated team, who as a result of all being on the same side, and following good user centred design process, delivered better stuff for both our clients and their customers. Bizarrely, now that we have teams who truly understand all these aspects of projects, we now partner very well with both tech and creative companies! So we built an interactive media team who do design, branding and user experience, and since 2006 have consistently been rated best in Europe at this by Forrester Research. Which was nice! Since then I've worked on digital strategy and innovation for companies like Virgin Atlantic, Barclays, Tesco and other great clients as part of EMC Consulting. Now I spend a lot of time evangelising to customers and at conferences, about what EMC Consulting do in the field of Customer and Brand Experience, as well as still working for real clients on real projects. The final thing I do is look out for what new user-facing technologies will be relevant to us, our customers and consumesrs. I help shape how we adopt them, and how we apply them, and how we build the skills we need to be the best at them.

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