Experience design is not a diet pill, it’s a lifestyle change

“You’ve got to start with the experience and work back towards the technology.”

That’s what Steve Jobs said in a company meeting upon his return to Apple in 1997, marking a shift in business thinking. We’ve been seeing a renaissance in customer centricity ever since. Companies are realizing the imperative of creating good experiences: it’s no longer a nice-to-have, but mission critical.

As a result, it’s a good time to be in design, customer experience, and related fields. Our skills are in high demand. But with this boom come growing pains – misunderstandings, false expectations and confusion.

Part of the problem is that “design” connotes “aesthetics” for many people. (BTW, qualifying it with “thinking” doesn’t necessarily help). Then, there’s an alphabet soup of abbreviations with significant overlap: UX, CX, XD and IxD. But worse, experience design is seen — and sometimes sold — as a quick fix, a sliver bullet.

So it’s not surprising to hear stakeholders say, “Give me an order of design thinking with a side of fries, please!”

We’ll, no one actually ever said that. But sometimes it feels that way (doesn’t it?). The assumption is that all you have to do is set up a few lunch-and-learns, and everything will be good.

But in reality, becoming a customer-centric business requires a deep-rooted mindset shift. And it’s up to design professionals to make this point clear: experience design isn’t a diet pill, it’s a lifestyle change.

However daunting it may seem, organizational change is needed. But where do you begin?

In addition to crafting and delivering great experiences, there are three things designers can do to start a fitness regime for the entire organization:

  1. Demonstrate shared responsibility. Show that everyone in the organization impacts customers’ experience. Experience design is not separate from the business, it IS the business (particularly in software). 
  2. Strategize your transformation. Assess your maturity and current position, and create a path for growth. Transformation doesn’t happen overnight. 
  3. Measure impact. Good experience design requires some leap of faith. But you also have to be able to show business value. Prove the value back to the organization with measurable impact. 

Sure, there are many other factors involved. The point is that recognizing that there may be misaligned expectations is an important step to making Design (with a capital “D”) successful in your organization.

Design is not superficial, it’s about changing the organizational metabolism. Like it or not, designers are also agents of change.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


  1. So true. Interestingly enough, I have been asked to give a “lunch and learn” next month to a solution team because they believe me “teaching” them UI guidelines will be the panacea for all the UI woes.

    I have a slightly different UX role, where I’m not the UX designer, but the UX specialist that ensures the UX and visual design, along with common design patters, and especially, UI guidelines, are implemented across our enterprise software solutions.

    This particular development team has SOOOO many other problems that following UI guidelines will only help one facet of their issues. But throughout my collaboration, AKA struggles, with them, I consistently heard “if only you would let us know this earlier in the process”, “if only our UX designers would have communicated with you earlier in the process”, “are these guidelines hidden?”, and the common “we just don’t have time right now; this will be so much better next release, when you can work with us earlier in the process”. And BTW, I started very early in the process: LAST YEAR.

    I could go on (some UI guidelines should be UI development knowledge 101: “Ok” button is “OK”; why do I have to point this out?).

    But this: Part of the problem is that “design” connotes “aesthetics” for many people.

    is definitely the problem because this has been the root cause of so many issues I see doing my job. It’s not that your software looks bad, it looks bad because I can’t figure out how to use it. And that, I can’t solve by trying to make it look good.

  2. Mindset change – you nailed it. And because it is a mindset change – and not just a matter of adopting a handful of best practices – it so difficult for most companies to truly embrace. I think many UX designers don’t think of themselves as change agents, even when fulfilling that role internally is the most powerful thing they could do to improve their external customers’ experiences in the long run. Thanks for the pointing the way.

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