Why Strategic Design Firms should take note

Chris Aitken


As the customer is increasingly moved to centre stage, it is not uncommon for an initial intention to improve customer experience to translate to an increased effort in digital UX and web design. I recall a recent engagement for a large Australian bank where the discussion started out as a desire to align their business model and customer goals and ultimately became a constrained discussion about digital platforms and services. Undoubtedly, digital services are a core component of customer experience. However, the scope of moving parts that must come together to deliver a service offering that exceeds customer expectations reaches all the way to the darkest corner of the back office.

Consistently delivering a service offering that not only matches your competitors, but delights customers and exceeds their expectation - is a company-wide undertaking, and certainly not something left to Customer Service, Marketing or IT alone to deliver.  Experience Architecture provides a means to understand the customer centric, cross-functional, ‘joined up’ view of all necessary contributors to achieve outstanding customer experience.


What are the elements of Experience Architecture?

Figure 1: The FromHereOn Business Design Method

In terms of our Business Design Method – Experience Architecture refers to the first three design activities.  Each of these design activities is a diverge/converge design process pattern applied to each component of Experience Architecture.  The Business Design Method itself is a highly iterative pattern of individual design activities that craft everything from purpose and motivation to realisation and execution.

The first component of a credible Experience Architecture determines who you are as an organisation and what you stand for.  When it comes to designing either customer or employee experience - pretending to be something you’re not as a business, or making promises you can’t keep are obvious mistakes to make – but are surprisingly common.

Figure 2: Components of Purpose Design

Deliberately setting out to design your purpose might sound like trying to ‘manufacture’ a purpose.  And to an extent you are – however this doesn’t mean the outcome is artificial or contrived – in fact as the philosopher Michel Foucault observed “…in our society, art has become something related only to objects and not to individuals or to life”.  That is to say, maybe designing your purpose at an individual or group level could be as much a creative activity as say – creating a sculpture.

At FromHereOn we call this first design activity - Purpose Design. This is indeed a design process that can applied at the personal and group level.  During this process, we explore the traditional vertical strategic alignment from Drivers and Influencers through to Goals and Strategies through to measurable Objectives. However, we also explore the ‘horizontal’ alignment between your internal core Values and outwardly facing Brand Promise. 

Above all else Purpose Design must be authentic. We encourage our clients to courageously, transparently and honestly state who you are, who you want to be (i.e., your Vision) and your intent (i.e., Mission).  This is a crucial first step in crafting an authentic customer or employee experience.

Figure 3: Components of Value Design

The second component of Experience Architecture is that of Value Design. This design activity aims to describe the ‘sweet spot’ between generating value for the customer, while capturing value for the business.  This process deeply investigates value to customer and the nature of the benefits the customer is ultimately seeking to achieve through leveraging your stated Brand Promise. The process also aims to identify how the company derives value through the application of Values, Brand Characteristics and Brand Promise (i.e., its Brand Identity).

Value to company is principally achieved by identifying a set of Value Levers that are consistent with core Values and Brand Characteristics. These are then applied across the existing or planned Business Model.  Value Levers are essentially ‘tactics’ that can be deployed to improve profitability, as well as, improve benefit to the environment and wider social context in which the company operates [1].

The third component of Experience Architecture is Service Model Design. Typically, this is where most customer or employee experience initiatives start out. However, although it is true that the ‘customer experience’ will always occur in the context of the delivery of a service offering, we have found that the design of this experience is utterly dependent on clarity of purpose, and thorough understanding of value to customer and value to company.  This is why the Service Model Design component is the third Experience Architecture design activity and not the first.

Service Model Design is concerned with identifying services that align with intended experience across the dimensions of the senses, emotions, intellect and behaviour.  A central premise of an Experience Architecture is that while it is not possible to design the actual experience a customer has, it is possible to design for a particular intended experience. The term ‘Experience’ is used to describe a set of intended sensations, feelings, thoughts and behaviours. The concept draws on Cognitive Psychology and what it has to say about the interrelatedness of thoughts, emotions and behaviour. 

Figure 4: A Service Concept Storyboard

A key insight is that changes to any one of these dimensions of experience, is likely to be associated with a change in the others.  So, if I think positive thoughts, I am more likely to behave in a positive way and to feel positive emotions.  This suggests for example, that if we can design a set of sensory inputs that promote positive thoughts about an item or topic we are likely to engender positive affect and positive behaviour – things customers might say and do. We use a simple Experience Storyboard tool to imagine, iterate, prototype and refine the intended customer experience.

Within the Service Model Design component each service concept is further elaborated into the constituent Capabilities needed to deliver the service.  Service Concepts are then assessed and tested with customers to determine Desirability, Feasibility and Viability.  Services and Capabilities are brought together and considered as portfolio - so that trade-offs between revenue vs cost, technical feasibility, gains in market profile and customer desirability can be evaluated.  Each Service Concept developed is then further elaborated using a Service Blueprinting process which identifies the various technology and other components needed and how these are organised to deliver the service and intended experience.

Why is this important?

Experience Architecture is important because it provides a way to solve the age-old conundrum of how to deliver a unique and compelling customer experience from a finite set of resources. Rather than having to invent unique services for each customer in order to deliver a unique experience, careful design enables a company to faultlessly mix and match a defined portfolio of services to provide a service offering that delivers great customer experience which uniquely addresses customer need.

While there are many many firms that will offer experience design and strategy solutions the challenge as always is building a meaningful dialog between the imagined possibilities unrestrained by organizational realities, while simultaneously contemplating the constraints and realities of organizational capability and readiness to implement.

Experience Architecture as described above provides a mechanism to manage the strategy and execution conversation to both imagine what's possible and to ensure it's aligned with purpose and values, as well as being executable, realizable and sustainable – financially, environmentally and socially. This is why we feel this approach is important to every design firm. Our mindset is of abundance and sharing with industry. We invite fellow designers to investigate this further and take up our tools and ideas for their own projects to make their bold visions a reality too.

If you are interested in what Experience Architecture looks like in practice – you are invited to check out our website case studies.