Experience Thinking: the Customer Experience Comes First

Nowadays we no longer buy goods and services, we purchase experiences instead. The customer experience can really make or break a company. But how do you design a product or service that concisely elucidates the experience? Experience Thinking makes the difference.

What is Experience Thinking?

Experience Thinking is a design and development method in which the user and his or her needs are the starting point, instead of the underlying technology. The experience and user experience are paramount. And with good reason, as the method assumes that the main added value lies in the experience.

Designers can undergo this experience during the development process, thanks to technologies such as simulation and virtual reality. This is how they maximise value for the user. Similar to a chef cook who doesn’t merely follow a recipe whilst cooking, but also has a taste now and then, adding even more flavour to the dish.

What’s the difference with Design Thinking?
Design Thinking is a design and development process that underscores the functionality and role of a product or service in everyday life. It focuses on how a product or service can solve a problem, or fulfil a user’s needs.

Both the user and the solution to the problem are central touchstones in Design Thinking too, rather than the applied technology. Though Experience Thinking actually goes one step further, as the focus lies not only on the usefulness to, and function for the user in practice, but mainly on how the user experiences the product.

Why is Experience Thinking so valuable?
According to research by Gartner, customer experience is the most significant distinguishing factor for a company. This is not really surprising, as people are sentient beings. We attach great value to experience. An example of this is that we prefer drinking wine from a beautiful glass intended for wine, than from a plastic cup. And not just because a special glass enhances the aroma and taste, but also because it does something to how we experience the wine. It takes the entire experience to a higher level.

As Experience Thinking focuses mainly on this experience, it can genuinely be of great added value to daily life, as we aren’t cold robots that merely look at functionality. Our eyes, feelings, and experience determine the value that we derive from a product or service.

Experience Thinking ultimately enables designers to already adjust the experience during the design phase. Your organisation can already make the customer and his or her experience the main focal points at the very beginning of a design phase, so these can maximise the end product’s added value.

What’s the role of virtual reality in Experience Thinking?
Virtual reality is one of the most valuable tools in the Experience Thinking process, as it enables all stakeholders to literally experience an innovation. The three dimensions of virtual reality provide a good indication of how the end customer experiences a product. Designers can hereby maximise a product’s personal and emotional impact. They see how design choices work out in practice, and how these effect the ultimate customer experience.

What’s the role of the Internet of Things in Experience Thinking?

Thanks to the Internet of Things, designers have at their disposal a real-time feedback loop. Sensors can measure how, where, and how often a product is used. By analysing this data and drawing conclusions from this, designers can take a product’s user experience to an even higher level. Experience Thinking in this way also plays an important role after the launch of a product or service (or during a pilot phase).

How do organisations apply Experience Thinking in practice?
Philips applies a form of Experience Thinking in the development of many of their applications. They design so-called ‘Experience Flows’, with flowchart posters consisting of post-its that map out the user’s interaction with other people and objects in their surroundings. Using this method, designers put themselves in the position of the user, and the final product is more in line with the user’s experience.

Can you provide a daily example of Experience Thinking?

Experience Thinking is a frequently applied method in marketing, especially for the automotive sector. Cars in commercials are often seen driving through idyllic landscapes. These dry deserts and rugged mountains are usually not real; they have been generated by high-quality 3D/CAD software. Whatever it takes to create a sense of freedom and independence for the viewer.

Does the medical world also use this method?

Certainly. A group of TU Delft students is currently developing an exoskeleton for patients with paraplegia. The exoskeleton should make them mobile again. The students use our design and simulation software for this development, so that they will know in advance how a certain design change will affect the final user experience. They will also include the experiences of a fellow student that suffered paraplegia after a motorcycle crash. Thanks to Experience Thinking, they’ll always stay close to the end user.

Another illustrative example is our Living Heart Project, in which the heart has been fitted into a fully interactive 3D simulation model. With this model, doctors can research the functioning of the heart and test new treatment methods. Physicians can enlarge the heart to such an extent, that they can wander through it in virtual reality. They can actually walk through a ventricle, and gain more insight into the effects of certain treatment methods. So Experience Thinking may even ultimately save lives.

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