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Lenses of Experience Design

by: Daniel Wee

5 key considerations that influence how well we deliver valuable, human-centric experiences

As an Experience Designer, I view experience holistically from the perspectives of both the end-user and driver of the experience (e.g. employees of the service provider). I then strive to optimise it by understanding how it can be interconnected across physical and digital environments, and how these may, in turn, be weaved together within a service ecosystem.

Early this year, I had the honour of being invited as a guest judge at a local university’s Designathon alongside fellow UX consultants and a tech entrepreneur. The Designathon was a 2-day Design Thinking (DT) workshop that brought together undergraduate students from the faculties of Communication, Design, and Engineering.

While one of our roles was to discuss with participants the applications of DT in our professional practice, it got me thinking about the insights that I would have loved to receive back when I was starting on my own design career. As such, I decided to also share some personal learnings that have shaped how I view my role and impact as a designer. 

These have been summed up into the following 5 lenses of experience design that I hope would inspire younger designers and resonate with more experienced ones:

  • Connection
  • Complexity
  • Collaboration
  • Clarity
  • Consequence

Complexity

Humans are complex beings. We have different preferences, motivations, and beliefs, and each of these can change depending on specific contexts or other external conditions. These then play a part in influencing our behaviours and needs. Consequently, such nuances and dependencies bring not only challenges, but also meaning, to a human-centred design approach.

It is our job as designers to examine these layers through qualitative research, where we get to uncover the reason behind what people do, say or feel. This is also when we test certain assumptions and check for hidden biases. My team and I learned this first-hand working with a government agency that faced challenges in delivering a caring and empathetic service to citizens. By speaking with both staff and citizens, we realised that moments of friction arose due to misaligned expectations and underlying stress factors which were not communicated or addressed.

This is why it is important for any design process to always begin with empathy. We cannot solve for a user’s “what” (need) if we do not take the time to understand their “why” (rationale) and “how” (context).

  1. “Whose problem am I solving for? Why and how is it a problem?” 
  2. “Are there underlying issues that contribute to this problem?”
  3. “Have I made any assumptions? Do I need to check for biases?”

Collaboration

As designers, we benefit from acknowledging that while we may be champions of a design methodology, we may not necessarily be the subject matter experts when it comes to resolving challenges found in complex systems.

This is especially true for public services, and it was evident when my team was tasked to reimagine the overall hospital experience for both patients and staff of a future health campus. To design a more efficient yet caring hospital environment, it required the input of members of the public, healthcare professionals, as well as teams from organisational development and planning. The size of the challenge also demanded the efforts of several design disciplines within our team, ranging from UX and service to communication and spatial.

This example shows how inviting different stakeholders to the discussion table becomes advantageous, as we can rely on their domain expertise to co-frame problems and co-create solutions together. In a similar vein, working within a multi-disciplinary team enables us to be more effective in crafting solutions that deliver more tangible and holistic value, as we can tap into different perspectives, skill sets, and areas of knowledge.

  1. “Where are my knowledge gaps? How do I plan to fill them?” 
  2. “Who do I need to speak with or hear from to make more informed decisions?”
  3. “How should I best leverage on differing perspectives to improve the design outcome?”

Connection

Whether we are designing a mobile app, brick-and-mortar retail store, or hospitality service, the design output is seldom experienced as an isolated entity. In fact, it is often part of a bigger picture. This is because the end-user’s holistic experience encompasses their spatial environment and the various physical or digital touch-points contained within. When we map this out in a user journey, we would see that some even begin before and last beyond the initial point of engagement.

Take a food delivery service for instance: the customer’s need to satisfy their hunger surfaces long before they tap onto the food delivery app. The delivery company can perhaps already anticipate this by recommending food items prior to mealtimes to whet one’s appetite. If it is a rainy day, the app may introduce a soupy dish. If there are similar food orders from the same neighbourhood, the app may offer discounted prices to encourage customers to jump on a bulk order. If a customer has been repeatedly buying food from a popular restaurant, the app may prompt them to share the joy by ordering it for a friend.

When we consider how our solution relates to other aspects of the experience at a systems-level, we can better appreciate both the direct and indirect interactions that users may have with our product, space, or even service. This enables us to be deliberate in providing ways to deliver integrated and seamless experiences that build loyalty and create new value.

  1. “What are the different interactions that users have throughout their journey? What happens during moments of transitions (e.g. handovers between stakeholders)?”
  2. “How are they integrated across digital and physical channels?”
  3. “How does my design relate to other aspects of the broader experience?”

Clarity

This applies to both designers and the people we are designing for. 

Firstly, as designers, we are responsible for ensuring that our solutions address the right problem. In order to achieve that, we have to first be clear on what that problem even is. When we are tasked with resolving a problem, it is crucial to ascertain whether it is actually a symptom of a deeper-lying issue. One useful method would be to ask a series of “why” questions to move past symptoms and identify a problem’s root cause. Once we make the effort to fully make sense of all facets of a problem, we can craft solutions in the most informed and impactful way.

Secondly, what breaks a user’s experience is not necessarily a complex design, but an ambiguous one. When users are unclear as to how they are meant to achieve their goals by using a product, going through a space, or receiving a service, the design has failed. Simplicity does not solve this; clarity does. This often means delivering a coherent end-to-end experience that is comprehensible and effective in addressing the end user’s needs. 

  1. “Am I solving the right problem or addressing the core need?”
  2. “Have I learned enough about the problem I’m trying to solve?”
  3. “How can I best help my users understand the solution that is presented?”

Consequence

This last consideration is arguably the most important one. When we design experiences for others, we have to be deliberate with the decisions we make. Each time we prioritise aesthetics over accessibility and usefulness, convenience over sustainability, or short-term metrics over long-term ones, it produces a particular impact on our users, environment, or business organisation. 

A good way to avoid making an unfavourable impact is to test our ideas using quick and simple prototypes to validate our designs with actual end-users. This allows us to review our hypotheses, identify the remaining gaps and opportunities for improvement, and iterate to achieve the best design outcome — all before we invest significant resources in the wrong direction. In other words, testing our ideas can be an effective form of risk mitigation.

Instead of focusing solely on creating elegant micro-interactions within our digital interfaces, producing an intricate detailing of our space, or increasing our user engagement and conversion numbers, we need to think beyond outputs and truly assess the outcomes we create. The work we do has the ability to influence changes in how people behave within a given context, consume information and resources, or interact with others and their surroundings. Once we recognise this potential, we will realise how critical it is for us to responsibly weigh the consequences of our design efforts.

  1. “What outcome am I designing for? How would my design actually be used?”
  2. “What potential trade-offs could I be making in my design process?”
  3. “Would my design benefit others disproportionately?”

The most important thing is to not stop questioning”.

Albert Einstein

This quote resonates strongly as I look back at how I have learned and grown as a designer. Indeed, how well we perform our role as designers depends very much on our ability to ask questions.

Be bold and question not just the brief or challenge at hand, but your processes, decision-making, and impact too. As we ask the right questions, we get closer to design solutions that are better connected, accountable to inherent complexities, crafted through collaboration, built with clarity, and mindful of the consequences.

Daniel Wee
Daniel Wee

As an Experience Designer in Chemistry, Daniel believes that designing optimised user experiences is at the intersection of spatial environments and the digital products or services contained within them.

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