10 principles of transformative experience design (Part 1)

Successful campaigns that improve customer centricity, accessibility, metaversal presence, or immersive experiences all depend on powerful experience design (XD). As experience design covers a much wider range of engagements than user experience, it’s important to understand what XD is and what makes it effective. In this two-part series, we’ll define XD and cover the 10 XD principles that can help organizations transform and improve the experiences they offer.

Unlike UX, which addresses how a user engages with a specific interface, experience design addresses the entire holistic, end-to-end set of engagements throughout a brand and its customers. Because each brand and customer cohort is different, experience design must be custom created. There’s simply no off-the-shelf solution. While implementing robust experience designs might seem overwhelming, using a methodical design thinking approach can help brands achieve their XD goals.

Principle 1: Make the experience useful and accessible
The entire customer journey should be a seamless experience that’s intuitive, easy for everyone to use and understand, and designed to require minimal input. Frictionless CX is already the goal for many brands; what sets XD apart is that it’s more customer centric, in a more granular way. For example, experience design not only aims to give users control of their experience with the brand, but it also designs for a range of user types, such as casual customers as well as power users.

Experience design also includes the consideration of the needs of people with disabilities, to provide an equivalent experience to other users, and empower them to make their own brand-related decisions. For example, some leading software solution providers design their products to work with assistive devices like screen readers. Brands that get this principle right can tap an often ignored segment of their market — in fact, Forrester claims people with disabilities command $1.9 trillion in annual disposable income.

The designed experience may not be limited to digital channels. For example, in a brick-and-mortar store, customers may want to apply points from their digital account at checkout. Brands that simplify omnichannel experiences like these can allow customers to feel in control of their journey throughout their experience with the brand, which can strengthen loyalty.

Principle 2: Design with empathy, for human connection
Customers know the difference between being sold to and being connected with, and good experience design supports a sense of connection. People want brands to understand their unique needs, to have authentic engagements with brand employees, and to feel more confident after an engagement than when they started. To that end, brands must design experiences that aren’t simply owned by the UX or CX team; they’re the responsibility of everyone in the organization.

For example, a major furniture retailer released a series of employee-generated videos during pandemic lockdowns with ideas on how to make the most of life at home. The videos revealed the brand’s employees were dealing with the same kinds of challenges as their customers, and had ideas based on their expertise that could help customers cope better. In other words, the brand created experiences showing that it understood its customers’ struggles and guiding them toward solutions.

Principle 3: Trust data insights over gut feelings
Effective design starts with knowing what the customer needs and wants. XD shouldn’t rely on guesswork, which can lead to expensive mistakes. Instead, it uses real time or historical data analysis, to differentiate the brand through timely, highly targeted customer experiences based on what customers’ goals are in each moment of engagement. Data will drive experience design even more strongly in the future: Gartner forecasts that by 2025, context-driven analytics and AI models will replace 60% of existing models built on traditional data.

Principle 4: Use AI and ML to enrich personalization
Brands don’t need to wait to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning to get more value from their customer data. The experience design mindset is human-plus-machine rather than human-versus-machine, with the goal of creating new experiences that address specific user needs. For example, real-time object detection systems for computer vision can also help people with vision impairments to navigate their environment by assigning sounds to specific categories of objects like cars, doorways, and other people. The same technology could provide a richer sensory experience for other users as well.

AI and ML could also help brands meet the expectations and needs of customers from different age cohorts in different ways. For example, digitally native Gen Z users might be served a highly intuitive digital experience with minimal guidance to avoid annoying them with instructions they don’t need, while Gen X and baby boomer customers could have an experience that includes more navigational guidance to make them feel more comfortable with the interface.

Principle 5: Aim for immersive, transformative human experiences
How emotionally engaged do you feel when you’re clicking through a website, and clicking, and clicking? The best-designed experiences will appeal to more senses than sight and touch to create emotional and physical connections to a brand, whether customers are engaging on their phones or walking into a store. Using extended reality, sensor and interface technologies, brands can provide emotional value through multisensory experiences of power, wonder, and a sense of freedom or creativity.

Even on a flat screen, data-driven experiences are already creating more engaging and relevant engagements. For example, the e-commerce sector increasingly uses personalization and recommendation engines to tailor product suggestions to specific segments and even individual customers, based on their behavior and sentiment. Predictive pricing models and dynamic pricing can also meet customers’ needs in the moment while improving the brand’s KPIs. Even when these processes are invisible to the customer, they create a more customized, responsive experience that meets their immediate needs.