Most brands and businesses are not recognising the strategic value of experience design, choosing instead to simply fix problems and meet category norms. Ed Melvin of Publicis Dublin puts forward the case for a reimagined approach to customer experiences: creating new defaults and new delight.
A friend of mine very much admires the movie Moneyball. His admiration runs deep; it inspires much of his thinking. For him, it’s the story of how the accepted default was shifted; through (literally) a game-changing scouting & selection strategy in baseball. But it’s also how the conditions were created for delight; for Scott Hatteberg to hit that record-breaking home run in the final game.
There is a parable here for business. Our ability to firstly design new defaults, and secondly to create delight, in our customer experiences, offers a real opportunity to lead.
The Faults and Defaults
Changing defaults is difficult. Which is why most organisations don’t attempt it. Meeting invites stay defaulted to one hour, because that is what the operating system suggests. Signup forms stay gender binary, because that is what a previously constructed infrastructure demands. User experiences apply colour palettes based on brand identity, because inclusive design for colour-blindness was not a priority.
These are all defaults. Some design defaults are so widespread as to be near-universal. Others are category specific.
Being the business or brand, that can identify what design defaults exist within a category, and which of them are open to resetting, offers an opportunity to create competitive advantage. This is where truly creative approaches, applying strategic design principles, can create category leadership.
Every category shows evidence of the leaders using experience design to create new defaults.
Modernisation in residential sales led firstly to photography of houses on view at night in office windows, when potential homeowners would be wandering past. The modern version is of course listings websites, where market leaders such as Daft.ie and MyHome.ie are being challenged by new bid-based experiences, built for an audience that has betting and ticketing dynamics as its defaults.
Social Messaging has created entirely new defaults in experience design. One example is by repackaging the read receipt, so reviled in email, as a benefit that provides a new layer of value to users. The blue ticks of WhatsApp messages have influenced every social messaging platform in the past decade, from dating apps to money transfer platforms. Someone had the imagination to recognise the value of using something competitors saw only as metadata, in the experience.
New Default Expectations
In consumer financial services, the sector remains dominated by domestic banks. For now. Nobody could seriously dispute the observation that leadership here is being forged by disruptors, such as N26 and Revolut. Again, these platforms are using experience design and the resetting of defaults, to set new benchmarks in users’ expectations. The immediacy and transparency in carefully designed experiences, whether it’s money transfer between friends or simple, effective automations between savings and investments, creates new default expectations for the category, and even outside the category.
Some of these are deeper product design defaults, part of a carefully designed business model. But in almost every case, the design of the experience has been looked at, with true empathy and curiosity, as part of a strategic process that has clearly identified the opportunity to win through experience design. With the willingness and follow-through to reimagine a new way, a new experience for the user, the visitor, the customer, the viewer or the commuter.
If business, marketing and customer experience leaders need a starting point, then a good one is probably to use the growing movement towards inclusive design. A welcome cultural and societal embrace, it can be used to engineer breakthroughs that benefit both that important customer segment, but also the wider universe of existing and potential customers. The strategy should not be to create a new and separate set of design considerations, but to include those in a new and improved pass at experience design that considers all.
This is because designing experiences for those with ‘differences’ typically results in universal benefits. We have seen this in our client work – when we work to produce clarity or simplicity for a neurodivergent customer, the entire customer base benefits from that focus. When a customer journey provides good affordance for those with mobility issues, everyone benefits from the due care and thought into signage, wayfinding and the design of interfaces. When landing pages are optimised for older users by hunting down happy text and laying waste to clutter, performance indices rise for all visitors.
Magical or Mundane
So seeking to set new defaults is clearly a valuable strategic lever. Another lever however is in creating delight. This is less about difficulty and bravery, and more about ingenuity and imagination. But it starts with redefining what delight means.
The delight in these instances can be magical or mundane – but should always be valuable in that moment, to that user. It is about satisfaction, reassurance and clear signals of attention, care and priority. Designing expectations as well as looking for opportunities to create exhilaration.
Creating delight is typically reduced to a “playbook” that we apply at key customer moments. That may be seen as unkind. But it’s not unhelpful to see it this way, because it’s broadly true. Psychologically we remain persuadable and open to seduction; flattery works on us even when we know it’s happening, we feel agency when our beliefs are confirmed, we remember the emotional peaks over the details.
When AirBnB emails those who have made a booking, to invite them to list their own property and thereby pay for their holiday, that’s an example of designing delight into the experience. Your airline proactively messaging weather details for your destination, before you leave. Your energetic parcel delivery service providing you with breathless updates on the delivery status of a longed-for item (replete with emoji).
Reimagining the Moments
In our work across our own client base for service brands, government organisations and retail environments, we use collaborative methods to both identify and reimagine those moments, blending lateral and vertical thinking to produce real ideas. Often, as the saying goes, it’s the little things.
Starting with fixing is fine. Brands and businesses lose through poor experience design. Inadequate experiences drop sales, alienate customers, eliminate brand equity, destroy reputations. Fixing things is usually the starting point for businesses who want to get it right, and match category norms. But it cannot end there. Matching competitors alone is not a strategy that creates sustainable growth.
If we accept that brands and businesses are built through the stories we tell and the experiences we design, then it is our work to ensure that both are seeking to create competitive advantage.
Fixing problems and raising standards in customer experiences are the table stakes. Creating new defaults and seeking out opportunities to delight, are the true opportunities to create real and sustainable growth.
Ed Melvin is the Head of Strategic Design and a director at Publicis Dublin; clients include Vhi Healthcare, Virgin Media, permanent TSB, Heineken Ireland, Iarnród Éireann and SPAR. For more see www.publicis.ie