Exceptional experiences don’t happen by accident, and what makes them happen is often invisible. They are the result of a purposeful, planned and well-thought-out process that begins in advance of any execution. And more often than not, a truly transformative experience lasts only seconds… We’ve all felt it.
You wait in the TSA Precheck line, drop your stuff on the belt, walk-through the detector, and retrieve your items… and in a brief pause, you exhale. “Wow, that was easy.” No shoes off, no laptop out, no quart size bag of tiny toiletries on display. Better experience.
To get to that few seconds of joy, however, took weeks, maybe months, of planning. Think of all the steps involved — online application, application fee, schedule an appointment, complete the appointment, wait for known traveler number, add it to all your existing reservations and airline accounts…
…and that’s just the steps YOU had to go through. Think about all the coordination behind the scenes to create the system to process your application, add lines to the security process, train the agents to support Precheck, etc.
That’s Experience Design at work. It’s all about creating solutions that meet audience needs and ensuring all the systems, communications, and people are working in concert to deliver something seamless. It’s easy to come up with very creative experience ideas, but it’s very hard to get all the players and components to sync up and make them a reality. But it’s SO worth it.
When you work this hard to have an audience engage with you, be mindful of what you are receiving — someone’s attention. What do you do to keep it?
Experience elements, especially communication, must match the brand. Otherwise, you’ll create an experience gap for guests, one that will almost assuredly end in disappointment.
Purposeful experience design allows organizations to create micro-moments that matter, moments that let your audiences know you understand and have anticipated their needs.
Mind the experience gap!
Leaving anything to chance is a recipe for trouble, but these eight principles can help you orchestrate experiences that will transform your audience engagements from ordinary to exceptional.
1. Begin with People
In the culinary world, there is a working philosophy chefs use of putting “everything in its place” (in French, mise en place). The idea is the chef should arrange the ingredients in advance, so when it’s time to cook, he or she can focus on preparing and perfecting the dish.
This same philosophy should apply to experience design. Think through how your experience will look, sound and feel to your audience when every element comes together just right. Put people first, at the heart of your vision for a perfectly coordinated and executed experience. How will you plan for a smooth, easy experience - even if it makes the process difficult for you?
This visioning exercise at the beginning of the planning process, putting people first, gives everyone a destination to work towards, together.
2. Consider Micro Moments
To win share of heart, you have to start with the little things. What are the little moments you need to consider for your experience? Freeform, or structured in categories, write ’em down.
Pay close attention to things that might appear to be insignificant but could be a source of friction for your audience. Also include today’s basic needs, such as Wi-Fi and charging stations.
Dive deep, teasing apart all the threads. Remember that everything communicates, so elements like font and color choices are as important as the placement of directional signage. Start small to build big.
3. Anticipate the What-Ifs
What will your audience be doing within the experience environment you plan to create? How can you help them bridge the experience gap and plan for the transition into your environment?
A very important part of this principle is thinking about context, and how you can make the entire experience process easiest on your guests. You want people to know where to go, what to do, and how to feel, even if making it easier on them will make things harder on you.
This is also when you think through what can go wrong. There’s a crisis planning component to experience design (that’s another blog!) but thinking through the What-Ifs means you aren’t left scrambling when Murphy puts in an appearance.
4. Integrate Sensory Needs
Experiences are different for everyone. Sensory integration can have a significant impact — positive or negative — on guests.
In developing an experience, consider it from multiple angles. It is essential to think about how guests might perceive everything from loud noises to scratchy textures. Environment design details make a huge difference in ways most of us never consider. Also consider how – and if – everyone can participate; do you need to provide an adaptive activity or options?
5. Communicate Everything Clearly
Back to those basic needs…once you’ve planned for everything and are starting to execute, remember the importance of clear communication. Be transparent and concise. And repetitive. Telling people once isn’t enough — just assume they didn’t hear you the first time, or they heard but didn’t understand. While you may feel like you want to “scream,” there’s no need!
Life is just better when we know what to expect, and where to put things. It lessens the cognitive load and the number of decisions we have to make in real-time. So, repeat your message and your audience will eventually understand!
6. Appreciate Audience Attention
Once you’ve engaged your audience, treat their attention with care and gratitude. Don’t overcharge or over-engage captive audiences. If your audience occupies your property or space, digital or physical, treat them like you would your family (or at least your good friends 😊).
It might come as a surprise to them. But, if it does, it’ll be a welcomed one.
Attention is the currency that matters most. Treat it with care if you want more because it’s easy to lose. Do it right, and customers will reward you.
7. Include Relevant Value
Audiences today want value, but determining how to include it requires weighing “garbage versus garnish.”
Consider giveaways as an example. If you are going to give swag, it needs to be relevant. Make it valuable to your audience by considering their needs so they will want to use. Make it something that further supports your story and enhances it so that every time they go to use it, they will think of your brand.
The Latin term cui bono is a principle that loosely means responsibility for an act lies with someone having something to gain. With every element of an experience, ask, “who benefits?” Do not try to mask your agenda. Your audience will always see through it…eventually, if not immediately.
This means avoiding the cheap giveaways with a logo slapped on it and instead thinking about how recipients might use an item. Ask whether it serves you or the person you are giving it to. If it benefits them, consider it. If it doesn’t, skip it.
8. Revise Based on Feedback
An experience is only as good as the audience’s perception of it. To know what your audience thinks requires asking for, listening to, and acting on feedback.
Too often adding a feedback loop is an afterthought. Unfortunately, with this approach, there are many missed opportunities for gathering more authentic and in-the-moment opinions.
Make feedback a part of the experience design in a way that integrates into – and respects – the experience. Your audience should be able to flow right into a conversation with an ambassador or receive a comment card given at just the right moment.
Don’t design feedback based on what makes it easy for you to analyze, design it to be a good experience in itself.
Experience Design is an Iterative Process
Exceptional experiences aren’t unachievable. They just take forethought and deliberate execution. These eight principles are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to planning and implementation. Use them to guide your thinking as you consider every element, every decision, every moment of your audience experience.
Ready to try it? Imagine an experience you are in charge of at your company, or have participated in. Perhaps it’s a client event, a conference you host, or the employee onboarding process. Grab a cup of coffee and sit down with your team. Review each principle against your selected experience and let the✨magic✨happen.
Download the LIVE 8 Experience Design Worksheet at mmr-live.com/experience8