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Designing Experiences: Design's Greater Purpose

When most people think of industrial design, they envision physical objects—phones, cars, computers. Indeed, physical products remain a fundamental outcome of the design process, but they no longer represent its ultimate end goal. That distinction now belongs to experiences.

Today's forward-thinking industrial designers conceive of objects within the context of experiences. Physical products serve as conduits to more expansive, immersive, experience-driven interactions. Take, for instance, how watches have evolved from simple timepieces to tools of connection, health monitoring, and personalized information delivery. Homes, spaces, and the objects within them can now recognize and cater to your needs, from temperature and lighting preferences to calendar reminders. Kitchen tools can even instruct you on becoming a better cook. The list goes on. Design centered solely on physical function has become commoditized, while design that delivers enriching experiences, deepens customer relationships, influence behavior, and shape culture has gained tremendous value.

"The best agencies for start-ups know how to deliver results with a lean and agile approach. They understand the company's need to invest in design incrementally and develop budgets that scale with investment rounds."

Organizing to Deliver Experiences

Since experience design blossomed in the late nineties, it has transcended the confines of design teams. The concept of experiences has transformed how organizations think and operate. The ubiquity of CRM systems underscores how companies place customers, rather than product categories or markets, at the heart of their operations. This shift is because every product interaction or brand touchpoint offers the opportunity to build meaningful connections. Brands that commit to delivering superior experiences can become integrated into people's rituals, personal growth, and professional success, laying the groundwork for lifelong relationships.

By prioritizing customers at the center of everything, companies also fuel innovation in new experiences. When they listen attentively to the ever-evolving needs of their audiences, companies gain insights into how to extend, redefine, or leap into experiences that enhance engagement and give customers more reasons to become loyal enthusiasts. The more robust the feedback loop, the more rapidly and accurately they can evolve their experience model. Even in B2B businesses, successful companies prioritize high-value experiences that drive engagement and relationships because physical products alone don't build brand loyalty—experiences do.

"By pinpointing where to focus the highlights of the experience, designers can strategically amplify the "wow" factor at the most critical junctures."

A New Approach to Design

Expanding the scope of industrial design to consider objects, people, contexts, and emotions that contribute to an experience calls for a fresh approach. Traditionally, the process followed a cascade from business strategy to ethnographic research, design, engineering, and launch. Now, a crucial step has emerged: delving deeply into the customer journey. Drawing on techniques borrowed from the film industry, the customer journey process creates fictional characters (or personas) and constructs narratives that cast people, not products, as the heroes of the story. By storyboarding experiences that factor in the emotional arc of the customer journey and deliberately "book-end the experience" with positive moments, design essentially writes the script for how a product integrates into the world. The "peak-end rule" reminds us that people evaluate an experience based on how they feel at its peak moment and its end, rather than averaging different components of the experience. By pinpointing where to focus the highlights of the experience, designers can strategically amplify the "wow" factor at the most critical junctures. As digital technologies enable personalized experiences tailored to individual users, customer journeys can help designers envision multifaceted stories that account for various trajectories and conclusions.

Experience design finds its roots in the digital medium, where the adaptability of software introduces numerous layers into the design equation. While physical objects have become "smart" and "connected," this often falls short of delivering a meaningful experience. Only by considering the broader context of how people live can we create objects that enhance the inherent meaning of what we design.

We firmly believe that an experience-centric design mindset has become a prerequisite for creating anything of enduring value in today's world. In an increasingly manufactured environment, people are drawn to experiences that elevate their humanity, forge emotional connections, align with their values, and enrich the journeys they undertake as individuals.

Max Burton is an industrial designer known for crafting physical objects (such as OXO kitchen tools), physical-digital experiences (including Nike+, MyMagic+ for Disneyworld, and the Medallion Experiences for Princess Cruises), and life-saving robotics (like the Auris Monarch Endoscopy Platform). Max Burton, alongside Toby Stopper, is a co-founder of Industrial Craft, a product innovation business specializing in designing connected products and experiences, with a significant focus on medical robotics.

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