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A product is an experience

As the design world is moving forward, I ask myself a philosophical question: is Product Design the same as Customer Experience Design? As a product designer, I also wonder if I’m actually not an experience designer. And my answer is pretty clear: designing products is the same as designing experiences, but designing experiences is different than designing products. Confused? Let me explain.

A product is an experience

A product wouldn’t be a product if it wasn’t used. It’s functional and it's manufactured by people. Because the product only exists when an interaction is created between its user and itself, the product can be seen as an experience as well.

As a product designer, you have to think about the context of the product when designing it: the purpose, the environment, the materials and - more over - the customer. The relation between the customer and the product is maybe even more important the product itself. You design for someone. How will he/she use the product? When and why? This human-centered design makes a product relevant and legitimate. And we all know:

People ignore design that ignores people.

(Frank Chimero)

But can we really talk about an experience instead of a product? I do think this is something the design world is going towards. It’s thinking a step ahead. Nowadays, almost everything is online, interactive, intuitive and responsive. A product should be as well - and most products already are. In my opinion it’s inevitable: a product is an experience.

An experience is not a product

Let’s look the other way. What is an experience? It’s the feeling someone gets from a situation. We can’t really make it more specific. An experience is build around a person or for a person. Creating a feeling - an experience - is difficult to achieve. Can you really know what experience someone will get if he sees A, hears B or uses C?

At least it’s clear an experience is not necessary something physical that has a simple function. It’s about the combination of factors. An experience can be a product but is not always a product. For example an amusement park or a dinner on an island.

The context of the experience has a huge impact here. Everything around moment X is leading to the experience. The question is, can we design an experience or does the experience create itself?

As a designer, I would say we can design an experience but we need to have a broader knowledge to achieve our goal. To design an experience is about multidisciplinary skills such as industrial design, marketing and even psychology. It’s about focussing on the feeling instead of the function.

It is often the little things that your customers remember -

especially how you made them feel. (Smith+co)

So what am I?

I still consider myself as a product designer but I also call myself an experience designer. It’s just part of the job and thinking forward.

Besides, thinking in experiences instead of products makes you create better stuff. When working on products, you can think inside or outside the box. But in experience design, there isn’t any box anyway. You can think as crazy as you want and it’s still realistic. You design products that people really appreciate because their experience with the product is optimal. And the feeling they get while using it is unique. Being an experience designer is fun.

Remember the donut sprinkles from my last blog? Well, as a product designer you would design the donut itself - just as simple as it is. As an experience designer, you more likely would design the sprinkles and the plate it’s served on, the way you should eat the donut, the way it should taste, and the way you should feel while eating it. It’s more exciting, isn’t it?

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