As an experience designer, a common term I encounter everyday is the word “experience” (surprise!).  I find it overly abused and often used in vague, unclear and sometimes disturbing connotations – “lets design a wow experience for our clients” as in impress them with jazz and razzmatazz or “we should improve the experience of the interface” as if its some sort of a standalone component of the overall system. This makes me think, ponder and wonder – how does one clearly “define” an experience? I have reproduced below some definitions of experience as well as other significant words that go with it.

  • “User experience (UX) [is] the perception left in someone’s mind following a series of interactions between people, devices, and events – or any combination thereof. ‘Series’ is the operative word.”
  • “An experience is the function of value the users perceive and the fluidity of its presentation”
  • “Experience [is] “an episode, a chunk of time that one went through […] sights and sounds, feelings and thoughts, motives and actions […] closely knitted together, stored in memory, labelled, relived and communicated to others. An experience is a story, emerging from the dialogue of a person with her or his world through action” (Hassenzahl 2010, pp. 8).”
  • “Attention is like water. Its about creating channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way.”
  • “Flow or Immersion is a distorted sense of time, a lack of self-consciousness, and complete engagement in the task at hand.(Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)”

Now, I am a designer. I am less interested in creating definitions and more interested in making it happen. But before trying to make something happen, lets understand a few whys – why is it really important today than ever before to create compelling experiences.

  • In today’s world, the experience is the brand. There is no better way to communicate a brand message than through consumer’s series of interactions with the brand touch points.
  • Attention span is at an all time low. As we see it everyday, our children are getting impatient by the day, we want information faster than ever before and some thinkers have put it as “change will never be this SLOW again”. This also has caused people to be unduly distracted, has reduced attention span and has practically rewired our brains (http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/05/ff_nicholas_carr/).
  • Flow states are thought to be universal in nature, particularly when studied with athletes across sports. Similarly, positive experiences can be seen as largely universal in nature i.e. experiences considered pleasant in one geography is most likely to work in other geographies too. Because essentially, pleasantness of an experience links to the fulfilment of universal psychological needs in that experience, such as the need for autonomy or stimulation (Sheldon & others, 2001).
  • Experiences grow over time. One always tends to ignore the small little annoyances and attribute a greater degree of satisfaction than one originally went through when recollecting a past positive experience.

With the whys firmly established and not going away anytime soon (at least the next century if not more), lets look at some ways in which compelling experiences can be brought to life.

  • Make things Fun
  • Make people socially engaged
    • Nissan’s Leaf gamifies being eco-conscious in the activity of one’s car usage. A driver sees a constant feedback on the efficiency of his driving skills to save energy, collects “trees” to indicate how much of energy he has saved and can compete with other Nissan Leaf users to see who has the most trees. –(http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=bzFkn5X6_5M#!
  • Inform through Transitions
    • Transitions are powerful ways of enhancing pleasure in applications. In the Mac, the fact that an open window folds itself into the application icon in the dock makes it a beautiful device. Who hasn’t fallen for the oh-so-smooth screen ripple in the Mac Dashboard when you add an application on it? Or when an icon from the dock is deleted, the transition intuitively informs the action. More about transitions here – (http://boxesandarrows.com/view/storyboarding-ipad).
  • Engage people with interactive infographics
    • Infographics are a great way to tell a story. Infographics simplify data, yet preserve its richness for users. infosthetics.com and informationisbeautiful.net have superior examples of information graphics. And on digital systems, when you make the infographics interactive, it brings the data to life. Not only does it make data universally understandable, it also converts boring numbers and statistics into a beautiful game. The New York Times has been doing this for sometime now (http://www.smallmeans.com/new-york- times-infographics/) and especially well.
  • Create meaningful microcopy
    • Microcopy helps in throwing in essential and just- in-time information. WordPress employs microcopy extensively and brilliantly on their registration forms. You don’t have to wait till you submit the form to know that “the username has to be 4 or more characters and should be lowercase and numbers only”. Even the way the microcopy is written makes the effort of filling the form playful and makes it that much more pleasant.

  • Amazon uses excellent microcopy throughout the site such as “You can review this order before its final” when users encounter the “Continue” button during the shopping process.

  • Gmail’s microcopy appears at hand but never intrusive (“Hooray, there is no spam here”).

  • Provide immediate feedback
    • Its important users feel an immediate sense of response from the system. Part of Flip Video’s success was that you could instantly upload your videos to the computer. The Apple app store across all devices instantly downloads and installs the app on the device. The 1-click Amazon shopping compacts the entire check out into almost a single click.
  • And, simplicity still rules

Cleartrip.com, the travel booking site keeps simple things really simple – like booking tickets on their site. Their design philosophy speaks of simplicity and efficiency. Just like the mother of all simple designs – Google’s Search Box.

Designs that aim to create compelling experiences help drive perceptive value as well as fulfill the twin tenets of an effective design – Usability and Desirability.