Experience Shouldn’t Be A Surprise Benefit

N8 Beside Coffee #2 - Share on OviI was on Twitter recently talking to a friend about Border’s booksellers and how they are closing 200+ superstores due to bankruptcy. She mentioned that she will miss the experience of going into the store, rummaging through pages of books, and having a nice coffee drink. That experience was something she valued as much, if not more than the product. Unfortunately, for Borders’s, the experience that she and many others (including myself) had wasn’t the primary aim of their stores, but it was a surprise benefit. When economics dictated that they had to change course, they stayed towards their primary goals (being a book seller) and not towards the experience that – while good – was something that they more or less stumbled upon.

The same thing can be said in some context towards Nokia’s CEO declaring that they needed to move into a competitive ecosystem. As has been detailed by enough people, it wasn’t so much that Nokia couldn’t build a device (or hundred million devices) to compete with the Apple and Android mobile companies of the world – but that their culture of how they went about building a device spoke more towards market share than it did towards the experience of owning, using, and being enabled by mobile. And so while there were (are) great efforts such as Nokia Life Tools, Nokia Money, and even some of the BetaLabs projects that speak towards experience, these are items that aren’t core to the culture of how Nokia builds and markets their devices. That culture is intimately tied to people and motivations, and hence the move to another “culture” that better speaks towards the experiences they want to provide in order to make the most of their investments.

This should not be surprising. Starbucks and Apple are probably two of the better companies that highlight this simple statement, “experience shouldn’t be a surprise benefit, it should be the intended product.” When you enter a Starbucks, the experience of having another place to think, read, drink, live, etc. is what they are selling to you. The coffee (burnt and not Dunkin), music, and even the ability to pay by mobile aren’t the focus – the “product” they are selling to you is the experience of having another place to live that’s worth your investment in the rest of the stuff.

In the same wise, Apple has a focus towards their products that is just not seen elsewhere. They start with the goal of defining what it is that the user should “be” or “feel” when they put the device or service down. From there, everything is analyzed and designed so that there is a best experience given, and the products and services speak directly to that. Are they surprised when someone finds another benefit from using their devices? Sure, but that’s because they’ve already done the work in covering making the intended experience positive.

I share a lot of the same feelings that Starbucks and Apple (as I’ve talked about them here) have. And I also share the sentiment that people should be empowered to make the best decisions for themselves as possible. I don’t know that Border’s enabled that, and I’m not even sure that Nokia’s open source efforts spoke well into that. Yes, they both answered needed questions and opportunities for both markets But, they also tied experience into something that was a surprise benefit, not the intended product.

One of my early forays into the open source world was contributing a wireframe to a Maemo developer who created a functional, but not-so-nicely designed blogging application. Seeing all of the features, I understood well that he answered the question of “what do I want when I am blogging.” He didn’t have the eyes to ask “how should blogging from my Maemo tablet device feel.” The wireframe sought to answer that – and with his skill, he translated it into one of the most popular applications for that platform. The experience being answered (how long should one go from thinking about a post to having it online), opened the door for the reach, advancement, etc. to shine through.

Said in an IM Conversation

…if they can’t design a product that converts their own workers, then they don’t believe in their product… they need to sell it rather than make something worth using… frankly speaking, in this day and age, you can’t go long with a company that does that… you have to design/develop for a purpose that’s more than making money or keeping an audience, you’ve got to have captured the literal experience so that selling is just a matter of perfecting yourself, not making something work.

If companies are going to succeed in the worlds that are being created today, then experience will have to be the product, not a surprise. It really is about culture just as much as it is about features and functionality.

2 thoughts on “Experience Shouldn’t Be A Surprise Benefit

  1. Antoine,

    Many designers have argues that the experience is the product. One of the most influential is Perter Merholz of Adaptive Path (see http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/jun2007/id20070622_697183.htm and http://www.slideshare.net/peterme/experience-is-the-product ).

    In this stage of my career, I am strongly encouraging colleagues to look beyond the little piece of the pie they are working on and instead focus on how the sum of all product and service touchpoints define the experience for customers. In fact, I would encourage you to explore ideas around “service design.”

  2. hey Rob, I’ve been seeing the term ‘service design’ lately and your comment further pokes me into that direction. I agree also that we should do our best to look beyond what we are working on and see the sum product and its experience; I know from experience that such a perspective is a learned skill for some, while others do it naturally. I wonder if in that concept of ‘service design’ that speaking to both of those are met.

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