Back in 1998, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore wrote an influential article in the Harvard Business Review: “Welcome To The Experience Economy“. Amongst many useful observations from their research, they stated that “We expect that experience design will become as much a business
art as product design and process design are today.” Twenty three years later, we are still catching up with this thought.
As with any design discipline, good experience design is genuinely difficult, taking time and effort to make it work. Consequently, we are often left wrapping touches of engagement (whatever that may be) around what we are doing anyway. The authors are primarily interested in economic differentiators more than design in their piece, yet they do give us emotional resonance and personal relevance as two requisites for valuable, and therefore sustainable, experiences.
As we now know (yes, we do), none of this is possible without insight and empathy. Knowing our audiences well is one vital foundation. Keeping that knowledge fresh as we work with them keeps those foundations secure.
These prescient authors described the experience economy before we knew what digital would mean, and before the rafts of data we now know are a further foundation stone of successful experience design. As many others have pointed out, a good test of a valuable experience is the extent to which participants share them on social media. These are the ones that count. This sharing behaviour is a critical piece of contemporary evidence not foreseen back in 1998, but it is a litmus test today.
For good or ill, we share what matters to us – those personal and emotional connections – because those are the signals we like to send. As our digital working environments become as performative as the good old office, we need to treat these signals carefully and seriously. In many environments, we simply need to start paying attention to them.
In the workplace learning world of the 2020s, we still have some way to go in grasping these fundamentals. We need to think hard to understand what people care about and less about what we want them to care about. We need to design whole experiences, not just the learning bits. And we need to listen hard for a wide range of signals of personal relevance. Hard yet valuable work.
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