Are You, Your Teams or Leadership Treating Experience and Engagement as Buzzwords?

There is so much hype around Experience and Engagement today – Customer Experience, User Experience, Employee Experience, Customer Engagement…the list goes on. While seeing the focus on this is absolutely wonderful, it is important to realize also that at its heart, this way of thinking is not new to many Design Thinking individuals.


What are these things? 

There is a wealth of definitions out there for each of these terms. Based on our own industry experiences, this is how we see each one:

Experience Design (XD):

A deliberately applied discipline for design that is driven by considering the interactions between people, brands, emotions, tasks and entities, in which entities can be a company, products, services, tools, processes etc.

As a side note, in our work we tend to think of the Customers as the people paying/buying and the Users as the people actually interacting with the product itself, although these roles can certainly be one and the same. For example, I could purchase a new phone, as well as be the person using it. Or, a CIO could purchase support services and the employees of the company would then use them.

Customer Experience (CX):

In short, Customer Experience is the perception that customers have of all their interactions with an organization. For example, this could be how they feel about their sales and purchasing experience, or the customer service experience etc.

Customer Engagement:

Customer Engagement is looking at all of the interactions a customer has with a company (before, during and after using the product/service, including both digital and non-digital) and the effects of those interactions. This could be for example, via product demonstrations, participating in voice of the customer sessions, feedback sessions, having a service call, via online social engagement, interacting with the website etc.

User Experience (UX):

Is everything the person using your solution sees, hears, feels or touches through every interaction they have with you. This includes how you onboard them, the experience they receive while using the product/service and everything that happens afterwards.

User Interface (UI):

Very simply, this is concerned with the way your product looks, feels and the design of the interactions between the user and the interface. You can take this concept far beyond digital UI, such as Apps and websites. For example, think of workplace and the furnishings, materials, colors and placement.

The key to remember is that the UI exposes the underlying UX across the physical world, the digital world and a mix of the two. Take for an example a smart watch, that has both physical and digital design elements.

There are many examples where something looks great but doesn’t feel right, intuitive or work as expected. The key is in delivering function and beauty that is optimized and balanced as needed for the intended audience. It will depend on who your users are and what they are using the product/service for to get the balance right between both function and beauty, given your constraints such as time, effort and resources.


This can be defined as the ease in which a person can complete their desired task.  For example, on a photo application can you easily upload multiple photos? Can you easily share the photos with a group or individual? Can you easily change permissions etc.?

The concept of “usability” can also cross from the digital into the physical world.  For example, in a store, can you easily find the product you were looking for? Taking that into design could mean the need to provide physical “way-finding” that is “usable” e.g. signs that are correct and easy to see and digest, as well as ensuring employees are well versed in where products are located in case a customer asks them, or offering an application that maps the product’s locations.

What Evolutions have we seen in this Industry

The industry of “Experience” has certainly been seeing some buzz, with new roles being created to lead organizational focusses. The truth is Design Thinking has been around for ages (that’s right, it is not a new shiny thing), regardless of when terms were coined and processes started.  It all comes down to piecing together the parts and flow to create the best solution for people and usage, which just happens to have been a recipe for success in design for a long time.

With advances in technology, it is safe to say that there has indeed been an evolution along the years. The world did change with the introduction of the web and ever since has been on a fast path to technological advancement. With the web, soon came web design principles and the concept of User Centric Design, as well as Usability and the testing concepts surrounding it. Websites moved on and evolved to allow more complex interactions, moving on to commerce and social from its initial information sharing origins. Well, so did Experience and the process and principles around such designs.  We moved through various eras of design and digital evolution and as such, Experience Design has been gaining more and more traction as social, mobile and cloud all entered the stage, took the world by storm, and became normal.

While Design Thinking may have been around for some time, many of the concepts you hear these days are treated as “new”. But it could be said that what we are really seeing is the need to apply this thinking to more and more complex landscapes, such as customer experience, customer engagement and whole experience ecosystems.  You could say that it is more the application of the thought-process and the approach that is growing popular.

We have seen a lot change in industry as we have watched this discipline grow and become more “popular”. Some of these core themes we have seen throughout the years are:

Changing Skill Sets –

As this technological evolution happened, so did the skills required.  Broadly stated, interface design (mock ups etc.) and user research (including psychology, cognitive sciences etc.) were the bread and butter of skillsets for a while (and don’t get me wrong, that was a lot of disciplines all together as it stands).  However, now, you see Experience Designers who understand and design the experience for a never ending list of experiences, far beyond apps and websites.  To do this, they need to understand the whole lifecycle. Experience Design Teams today hold a myriad of skillsets that go far beyond Interface Design and User Research – they have to understand every phase of the product lifecycle, from concept to design through testing and delivery, and, perhaps most importantly, how carefully designing the connection points, while keeping the end user in mind throughout, will impact the user experience.

Critical today, is also the understanding of business as well as how to lead their Experience Agenda, by creating tangible business cases and understanding the impact to other business operations.

The Introduction of New Experience Focused Roles and Job Titles…

Every day it seems we are seeing new roles and titles pop up, granted, (all from a valid foundation, I am sure) in the hope of giving accountability for various Experiences. Examples include – Customer Success Officer, Chief Happiness Officer, and Chief Awesomeness Officer, as well as Ambassador of Buzz.

While there are certainly pros and cons to such non-traditional titles, we focus on the importance of having a supported focus and accountability within this space, while remembering, that regardless of the role or title, just about everyone involved in providing products and services is responsible for the end experience they collectively deliver. This is because almost always everyone plays a direct or indirect role that will impact the overall experience – from the sales representative, to the developer creating an application, to the support agent. All are providing some part that will affect how the customer and/or user feels about the brand and its products or services.

Access and Use of Data

Big Data: another term whose story starts long before the buzz of recent times.

It is key here to ensure you look at what data you have access to and how you might use it effectively. Nowadays it is possible to obtain tons of data about your customers, your users, their interactions, sentiments and behaviors. It is imperative, however, that you look at both the system data and the human data when you are designing an experience.

Data enables you to be predictive, proactive and personalized. The purposeful use of context allows you to connect the world for your intended audience, making for a faster, smarter and better result. But remember, just because you have all this data, it doesn’t mean you need to use it all. Data can also be dangerous – it is important that you use the right data for the right purpose and, that you only use the required data.  It is also important that your data is valid e.g. captured in a valid manner and interpreted in the intended way, as making decisions based on “bad data” leads to “bad decisions” … duh.  Nuances of data, would indeed be a whole book more, let alone an article. However, we should say that as you collect more data, remember that you need to design from the beginning with security in mind.  No, don’t laden cumbersome security processes onto the experience, but design in security, hand in hand with your great experience.

The Digital and Physical Collide…and Mix –

It has happened (in fact, it did some time ago) – the physical and digital worlds have collided. This has spawned all sorts of exciting experiences that now need to be designed in both forms as well as between them.

These days, designing an experience means understanding all the channels along with how a person moves between them to achieve what they need to.  It means understanding how the interactions affect emotions that will impact on the experience a person will have.

Experience Design in Other Industries, including Already “Design” Orientated Industries –

We are seeing an expansion in the industries that are hiring and focusing on Experience Design. Even industries that are already design-orientated at heart and operate with the user in mind, are realizing that Experience Design can play a valuable role in orchestrating the ecosystem from start to finish, with a deep focus on the interactions throughout the whole journey. In fact, many teams and companies that have wonderful domain designers are also hiring Experience Designers for this purpose.

What to Look for in Experience Designers Today –

In summary it seems that the common themes to look for in the abilities of the successful experience designer are;

1) Ability to design a whole ecosystem of process, people, tools and interactions

2) Have a core understanding of humans, their behaviors and emotions

3) Understand the application of Experience to business and how to measure it.

Final Thoughts – 

The truth is – everyone can say they are “customer centric”, or providing an “end-to-end solution” but what does that mean exactly?  Today, buzzwords may get their moment of attention, but unless you can back it up very quickly with content, true value and actual proof of the experience, a fleeting moment will be all it is.

It can be pretty apparent when a company (if you are buying) or person (if you are hiring) is just using these terms as buzzwords – or if they actually know what they are talking about.

So ask yourself – are you, your team, your organization or company using these powerful concepts as buzzwords and playing some Business Bingo? Or, are you enabling your employees to truly practice these concepts by having the right tools, leaders and skills in place?

To get true value and results such as increased sales, satisfaction, loyalty and retention, you need to have a true understanding and application of Experience Design. And no, that is not just the UI or the way something looks!