How do you responsibly design a transformational experience?

By: Maria Matveeva

Design is firmly established as a valuable thing for business. As a designer, that’s something I know and teach. The yearly Design in Tech report by John Maeda is a welcome reminder. I share it with colleagues, and use Maeda’s concise way to word things just right, as well as his research, to support my arguments.

Like in previous years, Maeda emphasized computational design as the type of design skill entrepreneurs need to hire for, in order to succeed. To me, computational design includes not just an awareness of how to code for the web, but also systems thinking, the ability to quickly understand states and use cases. It means taking responsibility not just for the beauty of an individual screen — but the ability to evaluate one interaction’s importance within a larger workflow for one or more users. (Though screens designed in isolation can often look glorious in a visual design portfolio, and gather likes on Dribbble.) In short, user experience design is what a business needs to succeed these days.

Effective UX design will have a transforming effect on users

When you design something, and it works well, that’s powerful. Good designers take responsibility, and ask questions, about how the products we make affect users long-term. But after reading "The Experience Economy", I realized that as designed experiences and businesses based on those experiences become more sophisticated, our responsibility for the outcome grows accordingly.

“The experiences we have affect who we are, what we can accomplish, and where we are going, and we will increasingly ask companies to stage experiences that change us.” source

How we’re working with transforming experiences

In our current work with CollegeVine, we’re privileged to be a part of creating just such a transformational experience for aspiring college students. All their services are aimed at helping students put their best selves forward, to become better while staying true to their unique identity. Whether it’s editing a college admissions essay, preparing a list of schools to apply to, or staying on top of many separate tasks that need to happen before sending in the applications—CollegeVine takes responsibility for making their clients a better version of themselves.

Because college admissions can determine the trajectory of a high schooler's life in probably the most significant way compared to other activities, this responsibility is something the company (or we as a design collaborator) can not take lightly. Designers can no longer only consider whether a business objective has been met. We must consider how an interface, within a larger workflow, within a product offering, and together with a company’s philosophy, ultimately affects a human’s life going many years into the future.

This stuff can be scary at times, but it also gives me confidence and makes me enthusiastic for the future. This transformational experience design collaboration has been an easy choice for me. Of course, this needs to exist. Doing market research before and during this project, I am finding more and more confirmation that CollegeVine’s near-peer mentoring approach truly works, and is better (and more responsible) than anything comparable on the market. I am confident that it does, and will continue to change many people’s lives for the better.

What to expect in the future

As transformational experiences increasingly become what customers want, and what businesses offer, consultants like DockYard will increasingly need to decide whether they agree with the goal and methods of a transformational experience before they take up the professional responsibility of a project.

Any experience can turn transformational for our users, and many already are. The responsibility of creating these experiences can feel like a heavy weight to carry. But it doesn’t have to be. In the future, “do you agree that this should exist?” will become a standard question when interviewing all collaborators and vendors, not just prospective employees. And everyone, not just clients or employers, will ask some form of this question.

And, when we work on something we believe in, people will be transformed by things we offer them, whether we consider this fact, or not. So if we take responsibility for the transformation we’re helping create, and think through long-term implications, we’ll have a hand in improving and de-risking future outcomes. When we’ve asked all the right questions and done due diligence for a designed system to serve its audience, we can rest assured that we’ve done it right.

Curious about thoughtful, experienced design that supports your business in a transformation? Let’s chat.