(This is a sponsored article.) As designers working primarily on screen, we often think of user experience design as being primarily a screen-focused activity. In fact, user experience affects the entirety of what we build and that often includes activities that are undertaken off-screen.
To design truly memorable experiences, we need to widen our frame of reference to include all of the brand touchpoints that our users come into contact with along their customer journey. Doing so has the potential to materially impact upon business outcomes, recognizing the role that design — and user experience — can play at the heart of a wider business strategy.
Whether you’re building a website or an application, at heart you are designing for users and, as such, it’s important to consider these users at the center of a customer-focused ecosystem. Great brands are more than just logos or marques, and websites or applications, they’re about the totality of the user experience, wherever a customer comes into contact with the brand.
This expanded design focus — considering touchpoints both on- and off-screen — becomes particularly important as our role as designers widens out to design the entirety of the experience considering multiple points of contact. It’s not uncommon for the websites and apps we build to be a part of a wider, design-focused ecosystem — and that’s where UX strategy comes in.
Over the last few years, we have seen designers move up the chain of command and, thankfully, we are starting to see designers occupy senior roles within organizations. The emergence of designers as part of the C-Suite in companies is a welcome development and, with it, we are seeing the emergence of CDOs, Chief Design Officers.
As James Pallister put it in "The Secrets of the Chief Design Officer," an article exploring the CDO phenomenon written for the UK’s Design Council:
"As Apple’s valuation shot higher and higher in recent years, a flurry of major corporations — Philips, PepsiCo, Hyundai &mdahs; announced the appointments of Chief Design Officers to their boards.
This was no mere coincidence. Seeking to emulate the stellar success of design-led businesses like Apple, global companies are pouring investment into design."
This investment in, and appreciation of, design has been long overdue and is beginning to impact upon our day-to-day role as designers.
Forward-thinking companies are elevating the role of designers within their hierarchies and, equally importantly, stressing the importance of design thinking as a core, strategic business driver. As a result, we are seeing design driving company-wide business innovation, creating better products and more engaged relationships with customers.
As this trend continues, giving designers a seat at the top table, it’s important to widen our scope and consider UX strategy in a holistic manner. In this article, the eighth in my ongoing series exploring user experience design, I’ll open the aperture a little to consider how design impacts beyond the world of screens as part of a wider strategy.
Considering Customer Journeys
Before users come into contact with a website or an app, they will likely have been in contact with a brand in other ways — often off-screen. When considering design in the widest sense, it’s important to focus on the entirety of the customer journey, designing every point of contact between a user and a brand.
Forrester, the market research company, defines the customer journey as follows:
"The customer journey spans a variety of touchpoints by which the customer moves from awareness to engagement and purchase. Successful brands focus on developing a seamless experience that ensures each touchpoint interconnects and contributes to the overall journey."
This idea — of a seamless and well-designed experience and a journey through a brand — should lie at the heart of a considered UX strategy. To design truly memorable experiences, we need to focus not just on websites or apps, but on all of the touchpoints a user might come into contact with.
Consider the Apple Store and its role acting as a beacon for Apple and all of its products. The Apple Store is, of course, an offline destination, but that doesn't mean that the user experience of the store hasn't been designed down to the last detail. The store is just one part of Apple’s wider engagement strategy, driving awareness of the business.
The Apple Store is an entry point into Apple's ecosystem and, as such, it's important that it's considered in a holistic manner: Every aspect of it is designed.
Jesse James Garrett, the founder of Adaptive Path which is an end-to-end experience design company, considers this all-embracing approach in an excellent article, "Six Design Lessons From the Apple Store," identifying a series of lessons we can learn from and apply to our designs. As Garrett notes:
"Apple wants to sell products, but their first priority is to make you want the products. And that desire has to begin with your experience of the products in the store."
Seen through this lens, it becomes clear that the products we design are often just one aspect of a larger system, every aspect of which needs to be designed. As our industry has matured, we’ve started to draw lessons from other disciplines, including service design, considering every point as part of a broader service journey, helping us to situate our products within a wider context.
If service design is new to you, Nielsen Norman Group (helpful as ever), have an excellent primer on the discipline named "Service Design 101" which is well worth reading to gain an understanding of how a focus on service design can map over to other disciplines.
When designing a website or an app, it’s important to consider the totality of the customer journey and focus on all of the touchpoints a user will come into contact with. Do so, and we can deliver better and more memorable user experiences.
As our industry has evolved, we’ve begun to see our products less as standalone experiences, but as part of a wider network of experiences comprised of ‘touchpoints’ — all of which need to be designed.
Touchpoints are all the points at which a user comes into contact with a brand. As designers, our role is expanding to encompass a consideration of these touchpoints, as a part of a broader, connected UX strategy.
With the emergence of smartphones, tablets, wearables and connected products our scope has expanded, widening out to consider multiple points at which users come into contact with the brands we are designing.
When considering a UX strategy, it helps to spend some time listing all of the points at which a user will come into contact with the brand. These include:
- Apps and mobile experiences,
- Support services,
- Social media.
In addition to these digital points of contact, it’s important to consider >non-digital points of contact, too. These off-screen points of contact include everything, from how someone answers the phone to the packaging of physical products.
To aid with this, it helps to develop a ‘touchpoints matrix’ — a visual framework that allows a designer to join the dots of the overall user experience. This matrix helps you to visually map out all of the different devices and contexts in which a user will come into contact with your brand.
The idea of a touchpoints matrix was conceived by Gianluca Brugnoli — a teacher at Politecnico di Milano and designer at Frog Design — as a tool that fuses customer journey mapping with system mapping, which can be used as the basis for considering how different user personas come into contact with and move through a brand.
Roberta Tassi, as part of her excellent website Service Design Tools — "an open collection of communication tools used in design processes that deal with complex systems" — provides an excellent primer on how a touchpoints matrix can be used as part of a holistic design strategy. Tassi provides a helpful overview, and I’d recommend bookmarking and exploring the website — it’s a comprehensive resource.
As she summarises:
"The matrix brings a deeper comprehension of interactions and facilitates further development of the opportunities given by the system — of the possible entry points and paths — shifting the focus of the design activities to connections."
This shift — from stand-alone to connected experiences — is critically important in the development of a ‘joined up’ UX strategy.
When you embark upon developing and mapping a broader UX strategy, a touchpoints matrix helps you to see how the different nodes of a design join up to become part of an integrated and connected experience or an 'ecosystem.'
When we holistically consider our role as designers, we can start to explore the design of the whole experience: from initial contact with a brand offline, through engaging with that brand digitally. Collectively, these amount to designing a brand ecosystem.
Ecosystems aren't just for big brands — like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter — they are increasingly for everything we design. In a world that is ever more connected, what we design doesn’t stand in isolation. As such, we need to consider both context and scope as part of an integrated strategy.
In addition to considering the design of products, we also need to consider the wider ecosystem that these products sit within. For example, when considering the design of applications — whether web-based or native — we also need to consider: the user’s first point of contact and how we drive discovery; the experience while using the application itself; and addressing wider issues (such as offering users support).
All of the aspects of an ecosystem need to be designed so that we deliver great user experiences at every point in the process. This includes:
- The process of discovery, through social and other channels;
- The design of a company or application’s website, so that the story that’s told is consistent and engaging;
- The content of email campaigns to ensure they’re equally considered, especially if there are multiple email campaigns targeted at different audiences;
- The packaging, when we’re designing physical, connected products; and
- The support we offer, ensuring that customers are looked after at every point of the journey, especially when issues arise.
This list is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but it clearly shows that there are multiple points on a customer’s journey that need to be designed. A considered UX strategy helps us to deliver on all of these aspects of an ecosystem and become increasingly important as the ecosystems we design become richer and more complex.
The opportunities ahead are fantastic for designers working in this industry. The landscape we are designing for is evolving rapidly and, if we're to stay ahead of the game, it's important that we turn our attention towards the design of systems in addition to products. This involves an understanding of UX strategy in the broadest sense.
When embarking upon the design of a new website or product, or undertaking a redesign, it’s important to widen the frame of reference. Taking a step back and considering the entirety of the user experience leads to better and more memorable experiences.
By considering the entirety of the customer journey and all the touchpoints along the way we can create more robust, connected experiences. By focusing on the design of holistic experiences, we can delight users, ensuring they’re happy with the entire experience we have crafted.
This article is part of the UX design series sponsored by Adobe. Adobe XD is made for a fast and fluid UX design process, as it lets you go from idea to prototype faster. Design, prototype, and share — all in one app. You can check out more inspiring projects created with Adobe XD on Behance, and also sign up for the Adobe experience design newsletter to stay updated and informed on the latest trends and insights for UX/UI design.