The authors of “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theatre and Every Business a Stage” argued in 1999 that the memory of using a product is as important, if not more so, than the product itself. That memory—the experience—is capital.
More than 20 years later, a cohort of workers now called experience designers has answered the call to make those memories rewarding for customers, and for companies in turn.
But their job keeps getting more complex as digital technology continually yields new interactions to consider, lately including contactless payments and voice-powered virtual assistants.
“The Experience Economy” was a starting point for the field, said Olof Schybergson, chief executive officer at design consultancy Fjord. “The level of abstraction of design is increasing,” he said. “Thinking through the ecosystem of touch points is simply more complicated than in the past.”
Customers today share sensitive information with companies such as banks, for example, and then access it through a multitude of portals.
“Typically, a bank has poor ability to transfer knowledge data about you between the different channels,” Mr. Schybergson said. “Then you have this bizarre experience as a user. You have to keep authenticating yourself, which is different from an interaction with a human friend.”
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A growing group of companies have installed a C-suite position known as the chief experience officer, also known as a CXO, to help them focus on every interaction between customers and employees. Beneath them, and at the advertising and marketing agencies that work for their companies, experience designers oversee the braiding of disciplines such as art direction, user-experience design, software development, product design and social-media strategy.
“When a consumer talks about a brand, what do they talk about?” said Andrew Carlson, chief experience officer at marketing and ad agency Organic Inc. “Was it easy to buy, easy to use? Was it easy to get support when I needed it? All of that is designed.”
That means experience designers have a broad portfolio. Their ranks are filled in large part with design school graduates who have become increasingly versatile, Mr. Carlson said, trained to work across different digital channels.
“I both love and hate the title, because it’s so vague,” said Su Hyun Kim, who joined digital agency Barbarian Group LLC, part of
Cheil Worldwide Inc.,
as its experience creative director last year. “But you do need to understand different methodologies of creating a user journey.”
More than 150 people work on the experience design team at the digital agency R/GA, part of the
. The company was early to recognize that advertising would go digital, and then, later, that advertising would give way to messier, more ambiguous channels for reaching consumers.
Today it sees companies trying to apply experience design to matters much larger than a sign-in screen on an app or communication among back-end systems.
“It’s not just about how interfaces work and screens are designed,” said Richard Ting, chief experience officer at R/GA. “It’s about higher-level solutions, so we might have a retail client say, ‘Help us reimagine what retail means in the year 2020.’ ”
In the coming months, the coronavirus pandemic will force many companies to reimagine their products, their communications strategies and how they sell. Mr. Carlson said that makes experience designers more relevant than ever.
“Right now, understandably, there’s a re-evaluation of marketing as budgets come under strain,” he said. “But if the brand is increasingly the sum of your experiences with it, then this is the most important role.
—Ms. Rhodes is a freelance writer based in New York.
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