by: Idris Mootee

I must say I am quite impressed with Agnes b Cafe in Hong Kong. I am not sure how many of them are out  there but I've seen quite a few, it makes Starbucks look down-market. This is an excellent example of how a fashion brand applies that creativity in "Experience Design".

Agnes b. has opened her first cafe, le pain grille, in Hong Kong since 2006. I think it is the first in the world. They even sell tablewear and their own wine and coffee. All carefully chosen and well presented. You better dress well or you will look a little out of place. Think Paris when you are there. What is more French than Agnes b. Suggest you try the absinthe cockles/mussels, they will make you feel pretty feel as they are quite strong in absinthe. The onion soup is truly French style. Both their coffee and tea are good.

Tout Est Si Francais! Yes, that's how you feel like when you are there even if you are in the middle of a crazy city like Hong Kong. That brings us to the topic of "Experience Design".

The word “Experience Design” is often used by advertising and CRM people as design of touch points. They see the "Experience Design" focus is around moments of engagement between people and brands, and the memories these moments create. They seem to use the word “brand” loosely covering products, people, services and other intangibles. Experience design should not be solely brand focused; it should not be too branded focused, either. It is about designing delivery of customer needs, so naturally it should start with the customers. It should form the core of a go-to-market strategy of any products/services. It is the experience first, then the messages.

In fact, an experience model is where what we want to communicate and what we (brand) truly believe in meets. The brand will always be about the personality we want to be perceived and its associated values, and it is by nature an ‘inside-out’ proposition — a company figures out its brand and what it means, and does what it can to communicate or otherwise impart that message to people. Brand always starts with the company. Experience design needs to be about the user. What do they want to get done? What are their concerns? What are their motivations? For any experience design to succeed, it must begin with the user, so “Experience Design” is in fact an outside-in undertaking. It is part of a business strategy that involves multi-disciplinary thinking and cross-department collaboration. It is not a designer’s job. It is not an ad agency’s job. It is not simply part of a brand communications strategy.

“Experience Design” is not a pure top down exercise, the best design often involve users to co-design or improvise some of the experience. The process begins when you design and build or buy a product or service that you think you want. When you begin to use that product or service, you quickly learn that it is not quite right, and learn more about what you do really want. Even the users may not know what they want until they see it is not what they want. User needs and the user environment are very complex, and full of sticky, costly-to-transfer information. Details and subtle interactions cannot be fully captured in requirements. These information simply do not exist.

Companies must rethink the way how their experience (products and services) design and development tasks need to be divided up. Often this rethinking can involve fundamental changes to the underlying architecture of a product service and that’s why it simply cannot be the mission of marketing communication professionals. "Experience Design" requires “active unlearning”. The ability to unlearn is proportional to the capability for imaginative pursuits. The goal is to make customer-inspired products/services, not customer-defined products/services. And to do this we must exploit both the customer mind and the marketer mind and unlearn deep-seated beliefs. We do not want our focus on the customer to suffocate our own creativity. But we also don't want our creativity to go crazy. By embedding a sincere understanding of the customer mind into the marketer mind, we are more likely to design great customer experiences which will excite and entice customers. 

Have a great weekend!

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