Designing for experiences, not products

Published:  April 13, 2011
Designing for experiences, not products

The trend towards products that allow the people using them to do something has created a shift from designing for an audience or consumers to designing for users. It’s a subtle but profound shift that changes the role design and designers play in the creation of products and services. To kick off the year we’ll look at this change, and what it can mean for creative design practice when you start to think about designing for experiences, not products.

Creative design has always been about the communication of ideas, and that’s why it has a strong role to play in the rapidly forming field of user experience design.

User experience design (or UX) is an approach to creating products that focuses on the experience of their use. It is a relatively recent field of design that has its roots in many different disciplines, from psychology, cybernetics and anthropology, to industrial and graphic design. UX practice is multidisciplinary, and usually happens in teams. A UX approach seeks to understand the situations where a product will be used, who will use it and how those users perceive the product in relation to their everyday life. UX designers use this understanding to design better interactions between people and products. Like Tron, UX designers ‘fight for the users’.

A strong understanding of process helps organisations and individuals adopt a UX approach and the scientific side of UX brings tested methods and tools to the practice. With these methods come many opportunities for creative design to play a key role in helping design teams understand a design situation and translate that understanding into innovative products.

Designing with people’s experiences in mind means understanding a little of how they perceive the world. Research is a key part of any UX process, and design plays an important role. Whether it’s the layout of a survey form, communicating complex questions using comics or reframing the research agenda, design can help engage stakeholders and shape the research process.

Research creates data, and data needs synthesis. Designers help teams understand what their research data means by helping them to see it differently. Foundational design techniques like sketching, diagraming and reframing are invaluable for creating and communicating meaning in UX teams.

If you make something more beautiful, it will be easier to use. Aesthetic principles apply across media, from screens to print, and 3D form making, and while different media afford different approaches to elegance and beauty, they share one effect: if something is more aesthetically appealing, I’m going to think it is easier to use. This translates into lower barriers to adoption, and better experiences of use.

The Web 2.0 look and feel is a great example of this principle, demonstrating the role that graphic design plays in UX. It’s no accident that many of the Web 2.0 success stories have a graphic designer in their core team.

These are just three examples of how creative design can play a strong role in an emerging UX practice. In the coming months, we’ll look at some of these examples in more detail, as we begin to unpack what it means to design for experiences.

Thumbnail: Illustration by Carlo Mussett.

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