To understand what an experience architect does, you need to understand what is going on right now.
There is a significant shift going on. You might not be able to tell what it is, although you experience it every day. I am talking about the behaviour of consumers concerning their education, consumption of products, health & well-being and decisions for expenditures, and almost every other aspect of their daily life. The new mantra for product designers is “build experiences around it or or go home”.
A bold statement?
Not at all. This is possible because nowadays it is easy to interweave reality with the digital realm. You can observe that at its best on social media platforms like Youtube, Instagram, or TikTok. Show me one physical store that sells physical products and doesn´t have a digital representation on any of those platforms. It is all about engagement. And engagement dictates what the product looks like and how it´s perceived. Who does not fear the Great Shitstorm? The customer´s brain remembers best when it has to interact with and think about something and following instant gratification in the form of a “Like” manifests that behaviour. Services gradually become interactive experiences, where a story engages the customer (=consumer of a product) and enables them to make their own decisions about it. And based on those decisions, products (deliverables) or services are then individually adapted to the user’s liking or emotional states. If product designers don´t adapt, the product is out, immediately. You have a product configurator, so one can choose pink as the main color? Good for you, you will stay a little longer!
Still not convinced? Think about your own workout. You are wearing those digital bracelets that count your steps and measure your heart rate. Every workout becomes an event, challenging your former self or some of your friends, that shared that same workout on Facebook. This makes my emoji avatar go up!! It is not about the watch. It is about how it helps you to keep track of your progress. Even listening to music is becoming a digital group experience, as you can create listening groups on Spotify, and create and share your playlists. In 2022 brands are pumping millions into the so-called “Metaverse” because they think, this is the next era of consumer engagement. Why? Just show me one advertising agency that isn´t blabbering about “social media engagement”, “storytelling” or “gamification”. Ultimately, what they see in it, is only just that: games crafted in a virtual environment that foster instant gratification and brand addiction. But the “Metaverse” is a topic for another article.
Anyways, science is right. This is how our brains work. Say goodbye to a school, where the teacher holds his lecture in the form of a 45min monologue. Say hello to a world with digital overlays and shared gamified experiences, where the teacher guides the classmates through rich and visual experiences that trigger learning by doing, by failing, by magic, by wondering, by following your idols, by dancing the numbers…
An Experience Architect is a creative person and a visionary who sees a challenge in all this. He accompanies the product designer from the beginning of an idea to shipping and creates an engaging story around the product, which then is delivered through several channels as experiences, or even within the product itself. Some might call this marketing, and it is, but in a much more immersive approach. The old form of marketing is over. Today, the customer has power over the product, from very early on in its life-cycle.
Is it all good?
Certainly not. Especially with the dawn of completely immersive VR and AR experiences, that are surely dominated by major brands. Thos will trigger the most addictive experinces to make you buy Coke. But as an Experience Architect, I have the opportunity to craft such experiences from the beginning to end and I can decide how much of the user’s addiction is ethical and tolerable. Making someone addicted to learning history is certainly better than making him buy Paris Hilton’s new fragrance. One approach might be to not think “user-centric”, but “people-centric”: Wiping out the word “user”. Always having a person`s general needs in mind and not only his/her needs regarding a single product. (Also see “Who´s got the best product”)
Will AI be the end of Experience Architects?
In the digital domain, there will certainly be a lot of change through the use of Generative AI in content generation. But like everywhere, I see this as a chance to gain power. AI will give me tools to visualize and itereate through ideas, get inspired or more productive and therefore persue my goals much faster. It may be possible to prompt your way to a complete concept of a customer journy, but AI will not be able to getting its hands dirty, fail on the hard reality of the market, slapped by real customers in the face, learn from it, stand up more experienced than before. At least not for quite some time.
And what makes me personally an Experience Architect (for XR)?
With my primarily pursued project Blickwinkel Tour I was (and still am) challenged with all of these aspects. At first we created a historical tour in the form of an immersive VR experience. Those who know VR also know how much sense it could make to visualize information that is hard to convey without any visual or 3-dimensional media. But, what we didn´t know was, that most of the people out there only have a vague perception of immersive media and its usefulness, plus wearing headsets and feasibility are not in a healthy relationship. So I was confronted with how you promote such a project, how you sell it, how you onboard your participants, how you scale it, how you create a convincing user experience and how you balance the concerns of all stakeholders so on. Of course, as software engineer I am mainly focused on the UX-design of our software products, but this follows the functionality and demand of our Virtual Tours platform, which in the end, serves the customer, in our case providers of historic tours and their participants. And most of them are non-tech-savvy people, used to the somooth experience of using an iPhone. Getting things done by the push of a button. Not reading orl listening to any advices. Pivoting my own vision of an experience to real-world demands based on user feedback is always hard, but inevitable and an integral part of an XA´s job.
Let´s see what Wikipedia says:
Experience architecture (XA) is the art of articulating a clear user story/journey through an information architecture, interaction design and experience design that an end user navigates across products and services offered by the client or as intended by the designer. This visual representation is intended not only to highlight the systems that the end user will touch and interact with, but also the key interactions that the user will have with interacting the internal systems or back end structure of an application. It provides a holistic view of the experience, vertical knowledge of industry, the systems, documenting, analysing and the points that should be focused on when developing a series of interactions that are intended to enhance end user’s emotions. The Experience architecture provides an overall direction for user experience actions across the projects.
An experience architect (also known as an XA) is a designer authoring, planning and designing the experience architecture deliverables. An XA will encompass variety of interaction and digital design skills of human behaviour, user-centered design (UCD) and interaction design. This person is also responsible for connecting human emotions with the end product thus creating co-relations by ensuring that the experience meets or exceeds needs and objectives of the intended or wide users. The XA integrates the results into an actionable requirements. They are responsible for conceptualising and delivering the design deliverables that meets business and usability objectives by identifying the modules, templates, structure and evaluating the end product integration.
Source: Wikipedia, Experience Architect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_architecture)