TOTAL experience design

I am often asked what is a UX or Experience Designer? my answer has varied over the years from explaining how we make things easier to use, to enhancing user satisfaction with a product. This has mostly resulted in a puzzled look followed by a change of subject. I have come to realize that perhaps the best explanation is; "I use design as a way to solve problems". This often results in quite detailed conversations exploring a wide range of problems (some of which design is definitely not the best answer). The reason this works is that everyone can relate to having experienced a problem, especially where technology is concerned, and the fact that someone with the job title of UX or Experience Designer is working on resolving these problems is very appealing to people.


This is preferable than talking just in terms of needs, which are essentially necessities arising from problems, someone once said that "necessity is the mother of invention", or wants which Steve Jobs described as “It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want".


  • Identifying user problems by applying empathy and user research, then decide which problems you should solve by considering the jobs the user is hiring the product for to achieve their goals. Finally, defining the problems not just in isolation of the jobs to be done but with the interconnectedness of system elements and the overall purpose they serve is the Total Experience Design approach


This approach is based around the synthesis of 3 methodologies; Design Thinking, Product Thinking, and Systems Thinking.


Design Thinking is methodology devised by David Kelley at IDEO that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems by understanding the problems & human needs involved, by re-framing the problem in human-centric ways, by creating many ideas in brainstorming sessions, and by adopting a hands-on approach in prototyping and testing. There are typically five stages:

1. gain an empathic understanding of the problem you are trying to solve.

2. analyze your observations and synthesize them in order to define the core problems. These should be defined as a problem statement in a human-centred manner.

3. start generating ideas, 'think outside the box' to identify new solutions to the problem statement, and you can start to look for alternative ways of viewing the problem.

4. produce a Prototype and share/test within the team, or on a small group of people outside the design team. This is an experimental phase, and the aim is to identify the best possible solution for each of the problems identified during the first three stages.

5. test the product using the best solutions identified during the prototyping phase. This is an iterative process, the results generated during the testing phase are often used to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of the users.


Product Thinking adds the lens of looking at specific user’s problems, in jobs to be done, in goals, and in revenues, defining the Job the product is supposed to be doing. Combining the way a Product Manager looks for a problem worth solving, not just a solution, with the way a UX Desinger focuses on the user experience (user centered design). The core user experience is not a set of features; in fact, it is the job users hire the product for and is tied to the value proposition of the product or service. Uber is a good example of a Product Thinking approach where the core user experience is to get a taxi easily at any time. The countdown, displaying when exactly the taxi will arrive, is a suitable feature that expands this experience. But Uber’s product works regardless of this feature. The countdown, on the other hand, cannot live without the product (the certainty to get a taxi easily at any time). Uber fulfills a need and solves a problem people have. By that, it becomes meaningful and provides a certain value. If the problem was non-existent, or the solution did not fit the problem, then Uber would become meaningless and people would not use the service. Thinking in products helps design successful features. By including this as part of the problems definition, it helps to answer the question “why do we build this product?” Product Thinking gives designers the advantage of building the right features for the right people. It helps understanding the user experience of a product as a whole; not purely as Interaction and Visual Design of features.


Systems Thinking recognizes that we live in a massively complex, intricately interconnected global system. And it’s increasingly impossible to be designers (or human beings) without taking into account how we affect and are, in turn, affected by all the moving pieces of this interconnected experience. System Thinking is a mode of analysis that’s been used by System Engineers for sometime, and is more of a mindset than a methodology, as a way of seeing and talking about reality that recognizes the interrelatedness of things, and defines an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something. By understanding how the elements connected? what are the relationships? and what are their inputs and outputs? we can uncover new possibilities by considering all states in the system and emergent properties that arise only in the system as a totality, and not in its disparate components. UX design often just considers problems and events at the surface. The incidents that we most directly encounter and patterns that are accumulated as result from repeated, unconsidered reaction to events. Systemic structures are how the components of the system are organized. These structures generate the patterns and events that confront us, consideration of these elements provide leverage points where an incremental change will lead to significant improvement in the system. The smallest nudge for the biggest effect.


The iPod is a story of systems thinking; Apple was the first company to license music for downloading. It provides a simple, easy to understand pricing scheme. It has a website that is not only easy to use but fun as well. The purchase, downloading the song to the computer and to the iPod are all handled as part of a system.


The total experience design begins with a common vision and strategy, but then utilizes the capabilities of each design methodology to provide an holistic approach to solving the problem. Design Thinking becomes the foundation employing empathy and research to understanding the problems & human needs, recognizing that needs can be both functional and emotional. Product thinking at this stage provides a lens to understand the target audience/market and the value proposition as well as factoring in behaviors, context, preferences, and customer goals/aspirations.


A key advantage to the approach is when framing the problem, by considering not only the surface level problems but looking below the surface at the interconnected system elements, and considering the problem not just as a set of needs, but in terms of the jobs the user needs to get done and their goal in using the product.


Further advantages are observed when ideating concepts by considering the emergent properties in the system  and finding areas where an incremental changes to the system will lead to significant improvement to the experience as a whole. Including system thinking and product thinking allow the designer to identify new solutions to the problem statement and alternative ways of viewing the problem.


Acknowledging that designers are not unique in solving problems, and that learning/adapting methodologies and strengths from adjacent fields of study such as Product Management and System Engineering, can greatly enhance the chances of creating the best possible experience design outcome in meeting user needs and solving complex problems in a more sustainable way.









I am passionate about innovative design and creating user experiences at the intersection of art, science and technology.



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