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Eight Principles of Experience Design

Updated: Feb 11

By Patricia (Tricia) Houston, Founder/COO of MMR LIVE

Exceptional experiences don’t happen by accident, and what makes them happen is often invisible. They are the result of a planned and well-thought-out process that begins in advance of any execution. And more often than not, they last only a few 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.

And to get to that few seconds of joy, think of all the steps involved — online application, application fee, schedule an appointment, complete the appointment, wait for known traveler numbers, add them to all your existing reservations and airline accounts. But it’s SO worth it.

…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 agent 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. 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.

Purposeful experience design allows organizations to create micro-moments that matter, moments that let your audiences know you understand and have anticipated their needs.

You’ve worked so hard to have an audience engage with you, internal or external, so act like a host and be mindful of what you are receiving — someone’s attention.

What do you do to keep it? Mind the experience gap!

Communication must match the product. Otherwise, you’ll create an experience gap for guests, one that will almost assuredly end in disappointment.

Achieving success requires communication at every step of the process to ensure everyone involved is on the same page. Leaving anything to chance is a recipe for trouble, but these eight principles can help transform your audience engagements from ordinary to exceptional.

1. Everything in its place

In the culinary world, there is an idea 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 idea applies to more than just cooking. The same philosophy should apply to experiences, putting each element in place before guests arrive, so they know where to go, what to do, and even how to feel. This pre-planning results in an improved experience.

Life is just better when we know where to put things. It lessens the cognitive load and the number of decisions we have to make in real-time.

2. Communicate About Access to Basic Needs

Once you’ve figured out where to put everything… you need to make sure people know where to find it.

Communicate where and how to access all basic needs, including food, drinks, Wi-Fi, charging stations, and restrooms. Every one of these needs doesn’t have to be free. But, be clear about the details of their availability.

And remember that your basic needs may not be representative of your audience’s basic needs.

For example, someone not currently nursing might not think to have a mother’s room available. Or, if you don’t have a family member who is autistic or sensory sensitive, you might not think about having a stimulation free zone.

Telling people once isn’t enough — just assume they didn’t hear you the first time. While you may feel like you want to “scream,” there’s no need! Just repeat your message, and your audience will eventually hear you!

3. Anticipate Context & Problems

What will your audience be doing surrounding your engagement? How can you help them bridge the gap and plan for the transition into your environment and onto their next one?

As part of the planning process, think through what can go wrong. There’s a crisis planning component to this (that’s another blog!), but thinking through the what-ifs means you aren’t left scrambling on the fly.

4. Consider all senses

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. And also how – and if – everyone can participate; do you need to provide an adaptive activity or options?

For example, my kids and my autistic sister cover their ears in public restrooms because of loud noises such as hand dryers. Environment design details — particularly the smallest of details — make a huge difference in ways most of us never consider.

5. Always provide value

Audiences today want value, but evaluating how to add it requires weighing “garbage versus garnish.”

Consider giveaways as an example. If you are going to give swag, make it valuable to your audience and an item they 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.

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.

Think of the Latin term cui bono, which is a principle that 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.

6. Take feedback seriously

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 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.

7. Treat 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.

8. Make it easy for them, not you

When designing experiences, especially the internal processes that support them, there is a natural inclination to make it easier on you, the facilitator. While that might make the process more manageable in the immediate term, the danger is it may not result in an ideal experience for the end-user.

This principle can often be the hardest one to live by because organizations are often at the mercy of systems or processes that were put in place only to meet internal needs. For example, you can typically tell if an e-commerce website was built from a place of leading with customer need or from a place of wrapping e-commerce capabilities around a back-end inventory system.

Instead of accepting your current constraints as reality, work to “Shift the Burden.” When in doubt, pick or build the option that “shifts the burden” to you and removes it from your guests.

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, but use them to guide your thinking as you consider every action.

Ready to try for yourself? Download our Experience Design 8 worksheet at mmr-live.com/experience8.