Do you ever see a website, social media post, or billboard, and you just don’t get it? You shrug and think “maybe this wasn’t for me.” Maybe it was designed for you, but the creator’s strategy failed because they didn’t practice good XD.
Whether you hear it called User Experience (UX), Experience Design (XD), or Service Design, it’s all the same concept, and it could be the most important methodology for marketing professionals to understand. XD prioritizes embracing the audience, discovering what they need, and designing materials with a customer-centric approach. This strategy works for design as well as communication and PR. Approaching communications as a “user interaction experience,” rather than audience reception, leads to a message being better received. In XD, designers follow a Design Thinking process to create material for users. Whether you are writing an article, modifying a website, or designing business cards, you can use Design Thinking to enhance your product and better tell your story.
Understanding Your Audience (Empathize)
You probably think that you know who your audience is, but you may not, and you definitely can not afford to assume. You can best discover your audience by meeting them; only then will you know when and why they are interacting with your material and how you can enhance their experience. Are they reading an article while using public transportation? Are they viewing an advertisement before clicking “skip ad” on a video? If you are writing or designing content for a website, ask site users why they visit this site. What are they trying to accomplish? Ask yourself questions such as “how do users want to feel? What information do they need to make a decision? What is not clear?” The goal is to listen to the audience and create specifically for them —not for your brand— as the best brands are driven by their customers.
Defining the Problem
There is always a problem to be solved and you must identify what it is. Don’t forget that you are solving for a real person’s problem, not your company’s. Say you are creating an announcement to explain your company’s new sustainability initiatives. Your initial problem statement might sound like this: “Our company needs to build trust with existing customers and attract a new customer base by announcing the new green campaign.” While that is a true problem, prioritizing your audience will help you better solve it. Revise your statement to be more customer-centric: “Consumers have concerns about climate change and want to know how companies are practicing sustainability.” Your original company-driven goal will be met with this revised audience-focused problem statement, as you will be creating materials that serve your audience.
At this stage, your problem statement turns into a question. “How might we make our community aware of our green initiatives and reach a broader customer base?” Brainstorm and look for inspiration to plan ways to tell your story. Your first idea might be to post your announcement on your company’s social media platforms. Ideation allows you to think beyond basic ideas and dream of new and innovative ways to solve for your audience. A bold idea might be to air a commercial on TV explaining why your company is advocating for the earth. This method could be costly and out of reach, so think of ways to simplify the concept. You may decide that writing and sending a press release to reporters in your area could be more effective, and still allows for the possibility of your company being discussed on the air.
When you prototype, you are preparing for your final step: the usability test. These tests should be done with simple prototypes and not necessarily fully complete materials. By creating a minimum viable product (MVP) with your established layout and featured key messages, your sample group will be able to easily navigate and interpret your materials. You will be able to use the feedback that you received to complete your material(s).
Testing Your Materials
Conducting a usability test can be the most useful step in your design process. As the creator, you have a deep understanding of your content and believe that your material is straightforward and suitable for your audience. However, know that your perspective is not at all equal to your audience’s.
Usability tests can be heartbreaking. You might present your material(s) to a sample from your audience and find that they just don’t get it. Instinctually, you want to explain how they should interpret the material, but don’t intervene. When your material gets published, you won’t be present to explain it to every viewer. Let your audience discuss the material and tell you what they don’t understand. If a significant portion of your audience does not understand a point that you made, you need to revisit that part of the material.
While typical business thinking asks you to solve a problem, Design Thinking asks you to spend time understanding your purpose and creating a strategy that you know will be a success. The process is getting more and more popular because it really works. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? A customer-centric approach will better serve your audience, in turn, meeting your company’s goals.