The Importance of Being Experience First

By: Lauren Tan
design first

We’re in the middle of a digital renaissance that has software eating the world. Like the industrial revolution, the digital revolution might see us eventually becoming obsolete, but that’s okay because that’s what progress looks like. To stay relevant, we need to place the Experience First.

The architects of the digital world

The modern architect has her roots in ancient and medieval history. They originated as artisans; master craftsmen such as stone masons and carpenters. In ancient times, there was no clear separation between the role of the architect and the engineer – they were seen as one and the same.

In some ways, the architects of the digital world are similar to those of the physical. There are many parallels between the two, although it’s important to be aware of leaky abstractions, and that they are only similar, not exactly the same.

The craftsmens’ renaissance

We’re currently living in an age of digital renaissance. Software is eating the world, and some of us believe that we’re right in the middle of a great technological revolution – the software revolution.

It’s no longer enough to build a good product or service. The world demands excellence, because good is the new average.

I believe it’s partly a symptom of how efficient manufacturing has become, that we’re experiencing wide scale commoditization of goods and services that were historically considered luxuries. Because of this, we’re also at the start of a new renaissance – one in which there is a resurgence of an appreciation for well designed experiences.

In my EmberConf talk, I defined design to mean more than aesthetics; design is how things work, and encompasses the entire experience across different mediums. Airbnb calls this being Experience First, as opposed to Design First, which suggests that anyone who isn’t a designer has their contributions take a backseat.

“That experience is essentially a story, a narrative which ultimately enjoins us to a brand.” Om Malik, Gigaom

In other words, it’s obvious that we place value on things that fulfill both form and function. The popularity of beautiful user experiences, both online and offline, are the expression of a digital renaissance that is only going to continue growing.

The rise of website builders and what it means for us

Unlike classical portrait painters, bowling alley pinsetters and other jobs that have become redundant, the digital creator seems to be relatively safe.

With the rise of website builders like Wix, Squarespace, The Grid and portfolio/shop builders like Shopify, BigCommerce and Virb though, it’s easier than ever for an individual or business to get a beautiful looking website created at a fraction of the cost.

The beauty of the web is that once an asset has been made, it effectively costs nothing to clone. A designer with a copy of Sketch or Photoshop can very quickly design a ‘theme’, have it converted into HTML/CSS by a “PSD to HTML” service (as they’re commonly known), and then sell it on one of these site builders. You could very easily get a beautiful looking website setup and live on the web on Squarespace for less than $10 a month.

Why you need to place the Experience First

One thing I’ve learned from my time in Business School, is that humans suck at predicting things. Maybe we’re all going to be made redundant, but the ones that design the best experiences will continue to be more relevant than ever.

If creating a website or app is commoditized, so be it. After all, who’s going to design and build the website builder? The fact is, designing a beautiful experience across different mediums will never be automated, not until we have the technology to build incredibly intelligent Sentient AIs. But by then, we’d all be in trouble, so I wouldn’t worry about it just yet.

Because it’s easier than ever to build a website or app, the experience matters more than ever as the way to differentiate your product or service from the average. When you look to hire a developer or consultancy today, I think it’s important that you seek out the ones that have honed the balance between design and engineering, and have spent time thinking about designing truly delightful online (and offline) experiences.

Lauren is a DockYarder

I’ve had a very diverse and varied experience with the web – I went to design school, did a finance degree, and started a company. Recently, I made the exhausting move from halfway across the world in Australia to join DockYard, because we truly care about the entire experience. I’m very proud to be able to call DY my new home.

This is my first post on Reefpoints – I hope you’ve enjoyed reading! If you’d like to read more of my writing, you can find more on my Medium.

Special mention to @nfFrenchie and everyone else who helped review this post.