By Peter Eckert
Today, more organisations are recognising experience design as a competitive advantage.
In an increasingly multifaceted business landscape made even more complex by the pandemic, companies now face greater responsibilities, challenges and dilemmas.
But bringing experience design into an organisation is no trivial challenge and it is foolish to expect that such an endeavor will reap success overnight.
This is especially true in the Southeast Asian region, where the incorporation of experience design is seen to be, at best, cosmetic at this point. It’s not because businesses don’t want to, but rather the very foundations have not been properly laid out.
At a very fundamental level, the lack of education and technical know-how have left much to be desired. For instance, there are few, if any, design schools that have experience design as part of its curriculum. What we have is a business ecosystem which is not equipped with the necessary skills and techniques to effectively use design to build a better business.
Many companies are aware of this and understand that customer experience is important. They just don’t know how to effectively utilise it and make it work for their business.
So, they execute things like User experience (UX) at the wrong time and at the wrong place, while using marketing to predominantly drive their product. It’s not as simple as sprinkling a little UX fairy dust, without addressing underlying systemic issues.
At its simplest form, UX is a mixture of techniques that can potentially fix something that may be broken. Without looking at the underlying core problem, UX may actually misfire.
Often, organisations roll out new and expensive UX solutions which are abandoned almost immediately because it doesn’t address an underlying need.
It can be beautifully designed, look sexy and behave elegantly. But if it doesn’t connect to core human needs, or make life simpler, or provide for a more delightful and meaningful experience, even the best UX can fail.
Before organisations can implement this, they need to go into the root cause of underlying business problems and issues.
“Top-down” vs. “Bottom-up”
There needs to be a mindset switch within the business ecosystem to effectively utilise design experience as part of their business function – but this will take time.
Organisations need a “top-down” approach to make design effectively work for them. But very few businesses have C-suite executives familiar with the design domain. It is a hard sell for companies to invest time and resources to appoint a CXO (Chief Experience Officer) within their organisation to spur innovation.
What we are seeing instead is a “bottom-up” approach. For example, if a business has a consumer mobile app which isn’t performing as it should, the product manager responsible for that app seeks to understand the problem and make necessary adjustments before the said app’s performance starts improving.
Following its eventual success, the product manager, now equipped with better technical knowledge, rises up within the organisation’s hierarchy before deciding to push out more similar products. This approach, however, is a very time-consuming and agonising process. A top-down approach in the first place, would have been a much easier way to go about it.
That said, it will be a matter of time before younger CEOs emerge, who are more familiar and well-versed with effective experience design concepts and execution. Even now, we are increasingly seeing emerging startups, that recognise the need for an experienced design team that makes executive decisions at a top level.
Curating Experiences Across Business Units
More than using a top-down approach, organisations must also transcend the disconnect across its various business units, which have different needs. Procurement, for instance, may need solutions completely different than talent managers, who in turn require solutions completely different than the supply chain manager in the warehouse.
But today, we often see all these business units being treated homogenously across the board by overarching solutions that don’t identify needs of individual units. At best, they’re just a quick fix to treat the symptoms. They don’t delve into the core issues. Simply “reshuffling the bundle” doesn’t work either. This is very common in sales where a company may have a package that isn’t selling. So, they repackage, instead of looking at what’s inside the package.
Organisations simply need that capability to slice across its business units to effectively incorporate experience design. Most organisations now do not have this – one business unit doesn’t like the other telling it what to do.
Take the analogy of a typical bank, for instance, with typical business units – savings, loans, investments, etc. A customer would more than likely encounter a different experience at each unit – though he is the same customer! His identity doesn’t change, just because he needs a car loan today, and checking account tomorrow. Despite the need to curate experiences across business units, most are not set up that way.
While it may take some time before organisations effectively incorporate experience design, we are seeing encouraging breakthroughs, especially fueled by the pandemic. One area in which this is particularly exciting is in the F&B space. We are witnessing some radically new concepts and ideas, with the emergence of cloud kitchens and other unique innovations and the experiences and efficiencies that come with that.
Even within the last 12 months, we have developed several cloud and kitchen technology for a few US startups. We are seeing huge movements to develop new concepts born out of the pandemic. What is more exciting is that we are starting to see systemic gains in efficiency across the board.
The industry is going to be positively impacted coming out of the pandemic. Once it does, these new concepts will be incredibly powerful and more efficient than previous restaurant concepts, spurring further innovation.
So, while the road towards efficiency in experience design in the region remains long, we are nonetheless seeing steady growth.
As emerging technology continues to challenge the young conventions of experience design, I believe Asia is more than capable to not only take on the challenge, but also define and shape what comes next.