If you are hearing about them for the first time: Experience Principles are a carefully crafted set of directions describing how it feels to experience a given brand. They are formulated in a way that draws a clear and precise target image of how interactions should feel, look and behave for users.
A great example is the Experience Principles of Deutsche Telekom which we were fortunate to help in creating recently. By combining user needs and brand characteristics, these principles provide orientation for everyone who designs touchpoints and serve as a common reference point for anyone involved in the process. As opposed to brand values (which must first be interpreted and translated into instructions for action), Experience Principles are much more tangible and immediately actionable.
How do you write great Experience Principles?
To help you create robust and compelling principles, I’d like to reflect on the process of developing Experience Principles and share some of what I have learned from recent projects with multiple clients. What makes great Experience Principles? And how can you put them into words?
Half science, half art
Before we get to the actual writing, please consider that strong principles aren’t something that anyone can create right off the bat in a single afternoon. Writing them is a process that is half science and half art.
Doing thorough research is a huge piece of the science part. First, gain a deep understanding of the given brand and its users; then, spend the necessary time and attention to get it right. What are the user needs and behaviors? Where is the industry heading? What implications will technology have in the near future? Answers to these (and many more) questions will inform the act of writing and guide creative momentum in the right direction.
Great Experience Principles…
…are easy to remember
Your words should stick in your audience’s mind. The catchier, the better – without being controversial. It can be helpful to use strong verbal imagery or aim for an acoustic flow with a certain ring to it. Make it easy to say the principle out loud.
…are written as a team
We want everyone who reads a principle to interpret it similarly. To achieve this, don’t have just one or two people write a principle from start to finish. Involve multiple individuals and perspectives – from Strategy to UX, Copywriting, and Design and across different departments and levels. This also creates identification and helps with buy-in later in the process.
…help you say no
Make it as easy as possible to identify appropriate actions based on a principle. Likewise, make it easy to see what not to do. Instead of always just stating what an experience should be like, it can be just as powerful to point out what it should not be like.
This one is my personal favorite. Don’t we all read words like “agile”, “innovative” and “authentic” way too often? Most of the time, these leave us wondering what exactly they are supposed to express. Too many vague interpretations are possible. Be as verbally concise and to the point as you can be. I prefer straightforward, more down-to-earth or uncommon words. Nevertheless, sometimes there is no way around using a buzzword. In that case, at least make sure it isn’t used without further specification or context.
Craft your words to last. Experience Principles are not something you want to have to change year after year. This means not basing them too much on specific hype. Carefully consider if the underlying trends are robust and likely to endure over a certain period of time.
I hope that what I have learned proves helpful to you. Maybe it can provide inspiration in the middle of writing Experience Principles. Boiling down various thoughts to the right words and finding the perfect set of principles can be challenging at times. However, in my experience, it can also just as often be a rewarding and insightful journey. Writing great Experience Principles is as much about the process, open-minded discovery and collaboration as it is about wordsmithing.
Apropos words – even the best words have little value if not transformed into action. This goes for Experience Principles, too. Once we create them, they must be put into effect through design, products, and so on. How we do this, however, is a topic for another article.