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Experience Design vs. Experiential Design


We keep hearing the word. It’s all around us. Its talked about when referring to our mobile phones & laptops, apps & websites, streaming devices, and smart home technology. It’s felt in our retail stores, airports, museums, restaurants, and residential & office buildings. As a consumer, you know how a good experience feels when you come in contact with it. As a business, you know your business will suffer if you don’t do a good job at it. Today’s businesses are all about design-centricity and experiences to win.

Businesses and product owners are constantly looking for new and creative ways to make their properties or products inviting, exciting, and interactive. That’s where they look to collaborate with designers to create the newest, hottest, habit forming product or place.

But how do you know what type of design practice is right for your goals and what outcomes you can expect?

Do you know when you are encountering experience design vs. experiential graphic design? It could be one or the other as there certainly is overlap. Let’s discuss these design practices and what you can expect from each.

What is experience design?

Experience design (XD) is the practice of designing touchpoints including products, processes, services, and omni-channel journeys. XD focuses on maximizing how people feel, use, and learn from these touchpoints. Experience design is usually associated with digital product, consumer electronics, wearables, and other technology devices.

Ayannah sketching a product concept on the whiteboard

Examples of XD include:

  • The look, feel, and navigation layout of that new mobile app you just downloaded

  • How Apple or Samsung designed their devices/products to always be in-sync, in the “cloud”, or to communicate with one another

  • That retail store you love going into because they have what you want, the people are friendly and knowledgeable, and they know how to surprise and delight you

XD can involve different design processes to meet your experience goals. A few of the most well-known processes are:

  • Customer experience design (CXD) involves creating a cohesive and coordinated user experience design and service design across all touchpoints (or omni-channel journey) that consumers interact with. The goal is to align the businesses brand, meeting the consumer’s needs, and achieving business goals. These touchpoints include (but are not limited to) website, mobile app, social media, brick and mortar store, kiosk, help desk, etc.

  • User experience design (UXD) involves the design of each digital product and touchpoint (i.e. website, mobile app, and other end user online services) to engage and delight the user. UXD uses user research, usability, visual design, information architecture, and interaction design to create habit-forming products that feel natural to use. Any of these digital technologies and systems should be used to streamline the customer experience and follow the rulebook of service design, not overwhelm or complicate it. Hardware product design also plays heavily with user experience design but that is a bigger topic for another article.

  • Service design (SD) involves the design of the processes and services that make doing business with you online or in person thoughtful, simple, and valuable to people. Even when technology is available and useful, poor service design can kill your overall business. The goal of service design is to tie all touchpoints together with the processes, people, and services that ensure everything is based on the same business processes and procedures.

What is experiential graphic design?

Experiential graphic design (EGD or ED) involves an orchestration of typography, color, imagery, form, video, technology, and content to create environments and connect people to places. Experiential design tends to focus on building a temporary or permanent environment specifically for conveying a message, establishing a brand, or arousing feelings & engaging the senses.

Examples of ED include:

  • Exhibition design is needed for designated spaces to demonstrate or convey messages with architecture, graphic design, audio, video, digital media, lighting, and interior design. This work can be found in museums, exhibitions, or conferences.

  • Wayfinding systems are needed to help people navigate large and complex buildings including airports, hospitals, or large commercial office buildings.

  • Signage and digital signage is needed on buildings to display a company’s brand, contextual information, or relevant messages.

  • Retail design is needed when a business wants to express the culture of its brand with interior decoration, industrial design, graphic design, ergonomics, and advertising. Stores known for their immersive retail design can be seen at stores like Apple or Bass Pro Shop.

  • Architectural graphics are needed when a business wants a custom shaped or logo shaped sign that represents their business on the front of a building or entryway

  • Themed and branded spaces are fabricated touchpoints that can be designed and built for any given location to engage people and customers

Inside the Giorgio Armani experiential exhibition house at 2017 SXSW

One of the key goals of experience design is to create an ecosystem or improve the touchpoints within an ecosystem. Whether it’s an app or a brick and mortar store, a lot of thoughtful strategy, planning, processes, and services need to operate smoothly and seamlessly in an often complex and interconnected system. The people interacting with these touchpoints don’t need to know the details of the complex system. They really don’t want to know. They just want whatever and whoever they are interacting with at that time to work for them.

As a business, your job is to figure out how best to delivery that experience. And if you want to be a leader in your category, create a better experience than your competition.

One of the key goals of experiential design is to create an environment, or a touchpoint. When creating an experiential design, it can be used to enhance your properties and buildings or designed and built as needed in any given location. Therefore, experiential designs do not always require being connected to the complex system to operate smoothly and seamlessly. These environments are representative of a larger brand and can be purposely designed and built to stand alone. Experiential design can be temporary or permanent installation and is created to enhance the overall experience design goals of a business.

Experience design and experiential design are both fascinating and can do wonders for your business. Especially if your product serves large and diverse groups of people. It allows a brand to express how it feels about themselves, who they represent and how they feel about people (customers and staff), and how they want people to feel about their products and services.

So if you are looking to design the overall ecosystem of a business, the products you are offering, and how you offer them, look to experience design.

But if you are looking to create an environment that is representative of your business and culture, look to experiential design.

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