I've been asked to present to the senior management of one of our clients the fundamentals of Experience Design, as well as some thoughts about how they could benefit from employing the tools and techniques of an XD methodology. As I put my XD hat back on and collect my thoughts, I thought I'd capture those thoughts here.
I usually define XD this way:
Experience Design is bringing architectural rigor to engineering the user experience.
This is a particularly dense sentence, so let's examine the parts. First up, architectural rigor. A rigorous architecture exhibits a couple of defining characteristics; It establishes traceability and exhibits discipline.
A good Experience Design will descend logically from a set of goals and objectives. Both the user and the the sourcing organization will have goals for an interaction. In some cases, the user may want to buy a book from a retailer. In others, the user may be trying to become better informed about dietary choices by seeking out an expert. In still others, the user may be attempting to better the lives of others by donating or contributing to a cause. In all cases, both the user and the sourcing organization have explicit goals. An effectively designed experience will do its best to satisfy the goals of both parties.
This facet is a descendant of the previous one. An effectively designed experience will satisfy the goals of both parties in an interaction with a minimum of effort. In other words, there is nothing built into the experience without a reason why. In Hollywood, editors will review a film and remove anything that is not essential to forwarding the plot. The great architects will be able to articulate the reason for each piece of ornamentation in a structure. In other words, don't show the user the weather just "because you can." Make sure that every process and function are there to satisfy the needs of both interacting parties.
Now, let's look at the back end of the definition. What does it mean to "engineer" an experience? Engineers are problem solvers. The biggest problem is that the goals of the user and the goals of the sourcing organization may run counter to each other. The biggest challenge to engineering a successful experience is bridging that gap.
In each interaction, users are trying to achieve a goal to their benefit, as is the sourcing organization. In the case of the book purchase, the user is generally trying to find the best price while the seller is trying to realize the most profit. The solution is not to charge the highest possible price (which benefits the seller) because that may alienate the user. The goal is also not to give the book away (which benefits the user), because that would bankrupt the seller. The goal is to find the optimal point in which profit at expense are the most beneficial to both parties. The goals of an effective experience are to raise the level of benefit for all parties involved. If one party benefits at the others' expense, then the experience as a whole suffers.
All things being equal, the simplest solution is the best. There are many levers in play during a technology-mediated interaction. As we've seen from Amazon and Google, the best answers are often the most Spartan. Whether or not you can compete on price, it is the solutions that make it easiest for the users to affect the state desired by the sourcing organization the usually win. Make it easy for the users to attain the goals that benefit your organization, and you win. Err on the side of doing too little instead of too much.
All in all, the solution that achieves mutual benefit with a minimum of effort and can be shown to forward an organization's goals is the optimal solution.