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What Is Experience Design?

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I specialize in developing digital content for B2B, IT, and law firms that enables them in generating more leads and driving revenue forward

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Experience design (XD) is a relatively new term and concept in the web industry. It's also one of those terms that people feel they understand but when you start to scratch beneath the surface, it can be hard to pin down and define concisely.

So what is experience design? how does it differ from interaction design? And how does it fit into a startup or product development process?

In this article, I'll attempt to answer all of these questions and more. Enjoy!

At its simplest level, the goal of an experience designer is to create experiences that engage, inform and/or entertain users. This can be done through any number of channels such as visual design, interactions, copywriting and even sound design.

But it's important to remember that the goal isn't merely to create something aesthetically pleasing or entertaining. The end goal is always centered around improving the overall user experience in some way.

For example, a beautifully designed landing page with a compelling CTA to sign up for your product will no doubt grab attention and look stunning. However, if the CTA isn't effective (and this can be measured through things like click-through rates), then it doesn't matter how good that page looks; it's not doing its job which is to drive conversions.

It's also important to remember that experience design isn't just about the user interface (UI) itself, but rather that it's an umbrella term used to describe all of the touchpoints involved in creating a holistic user experience.

I often use this analogy when explaining the concept of experience design: If web/digital experiences were restaurants, then interface design would be the menu. It describes what you can order and how it's prepared (i.e. font size, page layout etc.) And while the menu might describe some of the ingredients used in preparing that food, it doesn't really tell you anything about the overall experience; which is made up of far more than just the food.

Interaction design is equivalent to table service. It's about how you actually interact with and experience that food once it's served (i.e. eating, paying etc.) And while it helps construct the overall experience, it doesn't really tell you anything about what happens before you order or after you finish your meal.

XD is equivalent to the entire restaurant experience; from researching and choosing the right venue (i.e. landing on that perfect webpage), booking your table (i.e. interacting with that CTA), getting there and feeling welcomed upon arrival (i.e. creating clear calls-to-action etc.), eating and paying for your meal (i.e. signing up, engaging etc.), leaving feedback on your experience and maybe even returning again in the future (i.e. becoming a loyal customer).

In short, experience design is about considering all of the touchpoints involved in creating a holistic user experience, especially those that occur pre and post-click/engagement with the website itself.

What is interaction design?

Well, if experience design is about considering all of the touchpoints involved in creating a holistic user experience, then interaction design falls squarely within that umbrella. Put simply, ID is about making things on the screen work . It's the language of moving parts, clicks, taps and swipes that help users accomplish their goals on a website/app.

Of course there's slightly more to it than that when you're talking about the nitty-gritty of wireframes etc., but in its most basic form that's what interaction design is all about. And if you think about it, this is essentially what UI design used to be about; i.e. making things on the screen work, except that now we've made it a whole lot more complicated by adding all sorts of other stuff into the mix (i.e. animations, transitions etc.).

What is visual design?

When we talk about digital/web experiences, we don't actually use the term 'visual design' very often; we simply talk about designing the user interface (UI). But what is UI design?

Well, it's essentially about making things on the screen look good. It's creating an aesthetically pleasing and well-polished interface through which users can accomplish their goals. Of course this isn't just about how things look either, but also about how they react when interacted with. UI design is essentially all of the 'moving parts' that exist on a web page created through an assortment of different elements (i.e. colors, buttons etc.) and while what you see may only account for around 10% of your overall user experience, it's what 90% of people notice right away.

So then, if experience design is about the entire user journey, and interaction design falls squarely within that umbrella, then visual design essentially falls outside of it (or at least on the fringes). While users may not necessarily think about it in these terms or make this distinction explicitly, they will subconsciously (or consciously) notice and appreciate the visual design of your website/app almost immediately; and while their opinion of your product may not be set in stone at that point, what they do inevitably think about it will largely be determined by how visually appealing it was.

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Where does interaction design fit into all this?

Now that we understand what experience design and interaction design is, the next thing we need to understand is where it fits into our digital product development process.

According to Google Ventures (who incidentally coined the term 'design sprint'), ID should essentially be considered up front as part of your UX design process . It's not just about making things work anymore; but also about how they work, why they work and how they ultimately look.

It's the language of moving parts, clicks, taps and swipes that help users accomplish their goals on a website/app.

This means keeping ID at the heart of your product development team from the very beginning of the process (i.e. right after you've determined what your product actually is), all the way through to when the finished product goes live.

Now that you know what ID is, where it fits into your overall UX design process and why it's so important; let's take a look at how exactly you can go about creating an experience design strategy for your digital products, which uses well-defined tools and techniques.

How to build a solid experience design strategy?

By now you'll know what experience design is, where it fits into your overall UX design process and why it's important; the next thing you need to do is figure out how exactly you can go about creating an effective user experience for your product.

Well, there are a few different ways you can do this, but if your needs are relatively straight forward then I'd recommend the following approach:

1. Define your product's boundaries and capabilities

In other words, what exactly is it that you're trying to build? Is it a website or an app for instance? How big is it going to be in terms of file size? Will it be responsive or mobile-only? What sort of content are you going to be using (i.e. images, video etc.)? How much will it cost to develop and maintain?

Answering these sorts of questions is essential because they'll ultimately determine how you should go about designing your product; what platforms/languages you should be using and what skills/resources you need to have on hand.

2. Put together a wireframe for your product

An effective wire frame is essentially the framework upon which your overall UX design will rest and as such it's generally more detailed than a standard mock-up (i.e. how something looks rather than what it does).

This is more than just a static drawing however, as wireframes also need to include information on how the product actually works, what the UX flow looks like and where users will be clicking. That way you can then cover all the bases with your design (i.e. so that everything works together seamlessly) and guarantee that your product works and looks the way it should.

3. Prototype your product

"A prototyping tool is a must-have for any experience design strategy."

Now that you've got your wireframe you'll also need to create a prototype so that you can test how well it works in real life, before committing to actually building the finished product.

This is where prototyping tools come into it, which allow you to experiment with your wireframe and test out different designs quickly and easily until you find the one that works best.

4. Polish your product design

While you're still in the process of testing out different prototypes, you'll also need to spend some time polishing up your design so that it not only looks great but also performs well in real life.

This means adding the finishing touches to the layout/structure of your product (including things like typography, whitespace and color), tweaking important elements such as navigation menus and buttons, ensuring everything works correctly with each prototype, making any last minute changes you can and generally ironing out any bugs/glitches.

5. Test your product

As you'll see, this is where prototyping tools come in again: as the final step before committing to actually building the finished product.

The idea here is to test each and every one of your prototypes on target users (i.e. those within your target market) to make sure that it not only works as intended but also delights those who will be using it.

6. Build the final version of your product

Now that you know exactly what you're going to be building, how long it's going to take and more importantly that it actually does what you want it to do, all that's left to do is build the final version.

This is where you'll need to put your wireframes into practice by developing or coding whatever it is that they represent (i.e. turning them into a working website or app). Fortunately, you can use prototyping tools to streamline this process too, which will save you a lot of time and effort.


© 2021 Aditya

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