As the user-experience field has been maturing, certain unique disciplines have emerged, like user research, usability testing, content strategy, information architecture, and experience design.

While different organizations may have UX departments named after any one of these disciplines, this article focuses not on taxonomy or the UX/XD service offering as a whole. Rather, it will examine the distinct “experience design” discipline itself and how this discipline can add value within the agency setting.

What Makes Experience Design Distinct from Usability, Information Architecture, or User Research?

  • The experience design (XD) focus is on the overall brand experience a user has across time and multiple channels.
  • XD is more concerned with ‘why’ a tactic exists and what purpose it is fulfilling in the larger experience a user has with a brand than ‘how’ that tactic works.
  • XD takes the 10,000-foot view of a program—including all experience paths and user touch points.
  • Whereas usability and information architecture are limited mainly to interactive channels, experience design takes offline channel tactics into account with as much concern as online and mobile channels.

How Does Experience Design Add Value for Mad Men?

In an old-school agency setting, an art and copy team may concept a ‘big idea’ to generate brand awareness. Experience design adds modern value to this equation by making sure that campaigns include clear calls to action and that when users act and answer the call, they are met with an engaging experience that captures their imagination and propels them forward. While the standard art and copy team may now leave conversion to store merchants and e-commerce teams, the experience designer must ensure the user’s purchase and post-purchase experience continue to be rewarding to convert the user into a loyal customer and brand advocate.

Experience design is where insight and strategy meet creative. This is where analysis and strategy are synthesized into a brand experience and brand goals are integrated with user insights into holistic cross-channel programs.

The experience designer begins with audience insights. These may be supplied by a strategy and planning group or it may be left to the XD practitioner to elicit them through composited personas. These personas or audience segmentation insights are then used to architect experience paths that drive users through the marketing continuum of awareness, engagement, conversion, loyalty, and advocacy. Program elements then are not just a set of standard tactics that allow teams to check boxes for online and offline channels but are instead meaningful touch-points that form an integrated and holistic brand experience.

Tools of the Trade

Scenarios, program architectures, experience maps, and other diagrams are tools used to define programs that incentivize and reward users along the way to brand advocacy

  • Program Architecture Diagrams: These diagrams give a 10,000-foot view of an entire marketing program, including online and offline tactics overlaid atop the traditional marketing continuum mentioned above. This diagram positions the user at the start of the awareness phase and shows how that user traverses the continuum, being driven from tactic to tactic.
  • Experience Maps: These take many forms and are typically similar to program architecture but may focus on a smaller subset of a program and do not include the marketing continuum. They show a user’s path through a set of experiences and/or tactics.
  • Ecosystem Diagrams: These are less concerned with showing the full breath of a program than they are with showing a program or element’s place within a larger landscape—typically that of a user’s experience sphere related to a brand or the larger competitive landscape.
  • Infographics: These are growing in popularity as an effective way to present information sets in easily digestible and retainable forms.
  • Scenarios: Stories crafted to show how audiences engage with a brand and move through the marketing continuum, these user journeys brought to life in narrative form.

Defining Offline as Interactive

Any customer exposure to—or interaction with—a brand contributes to defining an overall brand experience. It’s becoming increasingly important to have XD involvement to review offline projects as they drive cross-channel experiences. Even non-interactive offline pieces should be reviewed in regard to their involvement with the larger brand experience. More often than not, offline pieces are including URLs, QR codes, and other digital artifacts that afford entrance into a unique mobile brand experiences.

It is the responsibility of experience design to maintain perspective of the entire brand experience when architecting a program or reviewing individual tactics within a campaign or program. While many roles within a creative department demand exclusive involvement with a single touch point or channel, experience design should be considered throughout the complete lifecycle of a user’s relationship with a brand.

XD Makes it Stick!

Experience design provides a bridge between strategies and optimized cross-channel offerings that fulfill user needs and brand goals. User insights help identify meaningful triggers for distinct audiences and experience designers craft holistic programs that utilize cross-channel touch-points to deliver the right message to the right user, at the right time. Without the aid of experience design professionals, agencies risk diluting the impact a big idea may have by following it with a series of lazy tactics that seem thrown against the wall in hope of achieving some illusive stickiness.

Agencies have been moving in the right direction, adding members to the typical art and copy teams from the Mad Men era. The tendency is to supplement the traditional team with technologists equipped to help move big ideas into the digital era. While this is a welcome and necessary improvement it is less recognized how the role of XD can ad value to the creative mix. After all, while technology defines the digital era, it is the experience designer who defines the overall experience a customer has with a brand.


Diagram image courtesy of Shutterstock