Total Experience Design: A Manifesto

A powerful approach to business design by intention

Experiences Define Life

Whether it is a service-based experience such as a vacation at a fancy hotel or a product-based experience such as riding a bike, using a computer, or snapping a picture with a digital camera, the experience delivered is the essence of living.  If the experience is at the core of meaning, it leaves to reason that improving the experience improves life.  Societal progression is about improving experiences.  The experience gives the science, the technology, or the musical composition purpose.

The process of exploring an improved experience is Total Experience Design (TXD).  Businesses and organizations that focus primarily on proper TXD will secondarily see improvements in processes, innovations, and profits.  Advancements will occur in an efficient and effective manner, often at an accelerated pace.  

Revolutionary ideas are typically accompanied by a powerful, even profound, experience for all involved.  Take many examples, whether it is revolutionary products such as the iphone or entertainment such as Disneyland, the experiences delivered makes the difference and gives the concepts enough momentum to become unstoppable successes.

Many great ideas do not become unstoppable until the proper experience is delivered. The personal computer and the internet did not take off until the experience they gave was notably “good.” Nearly all ideas and businesses stagnate eventually, no matter how good, until some aspects of the experience are improved.

The problem is that true and complete experience design is an after-thought, even an accident.  Many may look at aspects of the total experience but that is not enough.  To bring about revolutionary ideas and transform businesses, even entire industries, they must be accompanied by a laser focus on Total Experience Design (TXD). This isn’t a “software” thing or industry specific.  TXD is end-to-end and reaches all the dark corners of an organization or team.  Everyone is delivering some experience, usually by accident.

Anyone exploring TXD, for the first time or to re-engage it, should follow and keep in mind the following 10 principles. These principles assist in developing clarity around and consistency in proper TXD implementation.

The 10 principles of Total experience design

  1. Every business delivers an experience, whether they know it or not
  2. Focusing on delivered experience will have more impact on a business than virtually any other possible focus
  3. The most powerful experiences spring forth from the core purpose of the organization and the level of dedication to that purpose
  4. Internal culture is the caretaker of the External Experience
  5. Experience Design affects all aspects of an organization from finance through philanthropy
  6. Transformation is the ultimate goal of experience design, not simply memorable experiences.
  7. Experience design elevates humanity, improving life, one experience at a time
  8. The Experience you deliver defines your identity, no other branding can overcome that.
  9. Experience Design communicates “meaning” to all stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders, vendors, etc.)
  10. Lack of proper leadership kills experience development

To understand clearly what each point references, helps to minimize the growing pains and maximize the results of Total Experience Design.

1. Every business delivers an experience whether they know it or not -

Many businesses don't think they are in the business of delivering experiences, often times we think "I will get to it later" but the reality is an experience is formed the instant you open up a shop, hire someone, or attend to your first customer. 

The question is - how intentional was the experience generated?  For most businesses and organizations, the experience is created by accident, simply the result of doing business.  

Of course certain actions influence the experience for the better such as a strong employee, good marketing, and ultimately a decent product. Other actions, however, can be very damaging to an experience even when the individual action is not damaging or negative in itself. A simple example would be accidental differences between what is said about a product in marketing and sales versus how the product actually performs when received.  These little inconsistencies define the experience and influence the brand.  It doesn’t matter how much PR, marketing or spin is applied, the experience is in part defined by such an inconsistency and not for the better.

2. Focusing on delivered experience will have more impact on a business than virtually any other possible focus -

There are various focuses that are undertaken by an organization, whether it be the bottom line, customer service, employee culture, etc.  Each has valid purpose and important implications.  So how does a company choose a focus? Without focus, organizations often become fragmented and disjointed.  With a focus, they may neglect problematic areas or other crucial factors to long term success.  

The fact is, an organization needs a unified focus that can reach across these different areas without fragmentation.  Proper focus on delivered experience through TXD yields results in all of these areas as they become secondary focuses, almost automatically.  

In order to properly deliver the experience, the culture must be strong, customer service paramount, and profitability is developed as a result of the experience connecting with the long term mission and the correct audience.  Ultimately, nearly all important focuses can be connected and encompassed by delivered experience.  

3. The most powerful experiences spring forth from the core purpose of the organization and the level of dedication to that mission -

Does that mean every business should have a mission? absolutely... does it mean your mission should never change? Nope, it can and will change more than likely over time.  As an organization grows, especially in the early stages, that mission is unclear and untested.  Implementing the mission will reveal holes, adjustments, and the proper course to follow.  Over time, that mission will change less and less. Most mature organizations should be able to maintain a virtually unchanging mission.  As a result of dedication to a mission, an organization can find unity and common ground to develop the right teams, all with the mission in common, improve the marketing to match the mission and connect more appropriately with the teams, and ultimately connect with the right customers.  

A customer should read your mission and say “that makes total sense, for this organization, I should have known.”  

When the delivered experience and the mission are disconnected, it creates confusion in the organization and especially with the customer. This, of course, deteriorates the interpretation of the experience. As an example, if you choose to visit a hotel with a mission to cater to families but find it supplies amenities for the business traveler only, there is an experience issue.  Even if the hotel goes over the top for the business traveler, providing unheard of amenities and conveniences, the delivered experience is still confusing since the apparent mission is for the family and a percentage of guests will visit with that assumption and expectation.  It doesn’t mean you do nothing for the business traveler, only that you ensure your mission and experience remain connected.

4. Internal Culture is the caretaker of the external experience - This is a critical disconnect that many businesses ignore.

If your teams do not live and breath your mission, the external experience will never connect with your mission.  The level of inconsistency in your organization will dramatically affect overall performance, including bottom line results. 

A team culture that properly knows, believes in, and connects with your mission and values will be more able to assist with and compliment the experience design process.  A culture that does not will do the direct opposite, hold the design back, often indefinitely.  Your culture is the caretaker of the experience. You could develop the ultimate TXD only to watch it deteriorate, languish, and fail due to improper care.  Brands that live and breath their mission and values provide the perfect opportunity for proper experience design.  Brands that demonstrate this include: Zappos, TRX, Patagonia and many others.  The key operational factors within this strong internal culture are alignment & focus on key goals and objectives. When properly understood and combined with the morale and loyalty levels of the powerful culture, the external experience is delivered and delivered right.     

5. Experience Design affects all aspects of an organization from finance through philanthropy -

It is important to understand and recognize that everything delivers an experience, albeit very different experiences.

Each area of business has an audience & a delivered experience.  

Many times, these audiences are internal departments and the goal of the experience is not shock-and-awe but other concepts such as efficiency and simplicity.  This is where TXD separates and builds upon typical experience management.  In traditional customer experience management (CEM), it is the customers front-line experience that is focused on almost exclusively with minimal exploration of the deeper facets of a true experience organization.  The goal is typically the customer experience but by exhaustively building an experience organization, this goal is achieved automatically and with a much greater degree of success. Each business and department or function will have a different desired experience. As these experiences come together under Total Experience Design, the results are obvious.  This does not mean, however, that perfection in TXD is achieved or even achievable, only that the TXD framework and concept improves on the organizational vision and enhances the ability to find the weak links in the organizational structure to continually approach perfection. Identifying and improving the experience of each function only enhances that function and the overall success of the organization.

6. Transformation is the ultimate goal of experience design, not simply memorable experiences -

Often, when we talk about “experience” in business, the only thought is how to make customer experiences better and memorable.  That is an extremely limiting mindset.  Organizations that truly understand TXD are not only looking to improve upon what they already do but they also aim to re-define how it is done. TXD is about innovation, change, and creative destruction (out with the old, in with the better).  This is where TXD looks to the future, to what could be and should be, not just to what is. Innovating on a delivered experience includes innovating on the experience of using your product or service.  The “experience” part of the equation is your gauge, a dipstick to measure progress and development. If you are not improving life, delivering the appropriate experience, your “progress” may not be so beneficial.  

The best innovations tend to be revolutionary in their experience delivery, transforming society and how we do things.

Think iTunes or Google, revolutionary products and ideas that deliver revolutionary experiences, a new way to shop for and manage music or a better simpler search.  These companies continue to deliver transformation.

7. Experience design elevates humanity, improving life, one experience at a time -

In connection with transformation, which is often a collective effort, each experience adds to that collective transformation. 

Companies should seek to continually improve their experience in such a way that they improve living, lifting humanity to greater heights.  

As each experience reaches a little further, we culturally evolve and transform for the good.  Each company’s contribution is important, regardless if this improved experience is simplifying the delivery and communication of business analytics or digging wells in African tribal lands with more rapidly.  The better experiences around the world weave a web of transformation for humanity, each contributing its own thread in the web.    

8. The Experience you deliver defines your identity, no other branding can
overcome that -

Branding is an interesting concept that is often misunderstood.  In TXD, brand is distilled down to the raw experiences delivered.  The traditional idea of branding includes many superficial components such as graphic design, logos, slogans, and enough advertising to get it all known.  In the end, if your experience is poor, this “branding” will only temporarily mask it. Eventually the brand will be known for poor experiences.  This does not mean your logos and slogans don’t matter. They absolutely do, but as contributors to the experience and hence the brand. They do not make up the entirety of branding

 If your experience is right and these activities properly compliment the core experience, they will accelerate the impact of the experience and the overall brand.  

TXD takes a much more holistic approach to branding with the desired experience at the center as a guide.  Many in branding understand the impact of the delivered experience on the brand equity. The key difference is the obsessive focus on this experience as the core of the brand from the beginning.  

9. Experience Design communicates meaning to all stakeholders (customers, employees, shareholders, vendors, etc.) -

When done right, TXD should communicate a level of meaning to everyone involved in the business, something all can connect with far beyond simply earning a living.  This includes not only customers or clients but employees and even suppliers. When meaning exists, alignment is made considerably easier.  When an organization aligns, focus improves and progress accelerates.  Objectives are made clear in relation to the meaning or purpose delivered by the organization.  Meaning drives passion and evangelism within and without the organization, improving retention, customer loyalty, longevity, and achievement of the organizational purpose.  This is a defining point in TXD and a key difference from typical customer experience management.

If the experience cannot deliver some meaning, it is much more difficult to create adequate connections throughout the organization that lead to success.

10. Lack of proper leadership will kill experience development -

This point was made as a negative for a reason.  Obviously, the active, positive principle is how proper leadership is key for experience development to thrive.  Unfortunately, negative reinforcement tends to be effective and this is a principle that you can’t very easily say “its better if you have strong leadership but we can do it without it.” You can’t.  Leadership that is free of heavy bureaucracy and politics is essential for TXD survival.  

Allow the purpose and meaning of the organization to govern and focus on helping your team thrive, explore ideas, and create connections that will lead to revolutionary experience design.

When organizations begin worrying about protecting and maintaining their past is when experience really begins to suffer.  New bureaucracy is introduced and creativity is squelched. Let your past teach you, but not govern your future. This does not mean you don’t have guidelines, even strict ones, within many of your systems. It means that you allow teams to really connect with and add to the purpose and mission of the organization.  You are open to ideas and thoughts and can lead, not simply dictate.  Celebrity leaders and idea dictators tend to BE part of the experience themselves which often means when they leave, the organization and its experience will inevitably suffer.  Becoming a TXD leader ensures the continuity of the experience throughout the organization.  

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