Carla chats to Calum Forsyth about experience strategy.
What is experience strategy? How does it differ to UX Design? How do you set KPIs for experience?
Why are there so many trains and who is texting?
The Design Untangled Podcast Episode: DU024 – Experience Strategy
Host: Carla Lindarte
Guest: Calum Forsyth
(00:17) Carla: Hello?
(00:17) Chris: Hey Carla.
(00:18) Carla: I am here with a Calum Forsyth. Is that how you pronounce your surname?
(00:22) Calum: Forsyth.
(00:22) Carla: Forsyth. What is that surname from? (00:25) Calum: It is a Scottish, I believe.
(00:27) Carla: Yes, but you are not Scottish.
(00:29) Calum: Well, my dad was born in Scotland, so I guess technically, it is Scothish in some respect. It is a bit of a tenuous connection, but it works for me. Up until Brexit came along.
(00:38) Carla: Right. So we are here with Calum because he is part of the Experience Strategy Team of Saving Razorfish. And the purpose of today’s interview is to try and to explain to our listeners the differences between experience strategy, design strategy, business design, service design. There is a lot of like new terminology, outside for disciplines that are related to design, but also related to the business, and what the strategy is for the business. I think we start a little bit with your background, what you actually do here, and of course, and basically, where did you come from?
(01:24) Calum: Okay. So where did I come from? Weird question. It is very deep. So in terms of a professional standpoint, I actually came from the dark world of advertising, after deciding not to become a lawyer. So that is a longer story. But I started off working, first of all as kind of what is called a planner, in the industry. So I am more from a kind of deep hidden truths and insights in the world of both digital advertising, and also above the line advertising. And I found that really exciting, because at that stage, mid to late 2000, so I guess it was sort of a fun place to play.
(02:02) Carla: A lot of partying?
(02:03) Calum: A lot of partying, good times. But also I think, creative was still very strong, advertising was still considered to be a really strong leader for achieving what businesses wanted to achieve. But as I sort of spent more time in that industry, I got to the point where I felt it is kind of a myopic way of looking at how you actually achieve business goals or actually drive behavior change, because advertising is only just one lever in terms of influencing people. And I guess also at that time, agencies were starting to fall a bit out of favor, in terms of, their place at the table in terms of business decisions. So I kind of moved sideways out of that world, and I kind of dabbled a bit in the innovation world pretty well. So I was freelancing for an innovation agency. And then after that time, I actually started working for Razorfish, which then kind of got semi- acquired, I guess, by my current employer. So Sapient now Sapient Publicis or Publicis Sapient, I always get quite confused with the names.
(03:02) Carla: I know, it is not Sapient Razorfish anymore?
(03:04) Calum: No, I think it is Publicis Sapient. It is part of the evil empire of Publicis Sapient. So, anyways, I think for me, my career has kind of been defined by kind of constantly moving sideways. And the reason I think I have been doing that is, that I am incredibly curious, but also, always wanted to sort of get to what is really driving change, what is really driving influence. So I got to a point where I thought advertising was fun, but, also got to the point where I was like, it is quite limited in what it can achieve. And that is when I started becoming more interested in service design, UX, innovation and I guess more recently, proposition design. So, re-thinking about how people create growth. So growth strategies in terms of bringing out, new revenue streams, understanding how you move into a space which is ambiguous, and identify areas which could be a new business, or a new service, or even just a better experience, on a very simple level. So, how can you look at a problem space effectively and come up with a new way of sort of tackling that problem? And there is obviously lots of different ways of doing that, which I guess is what today is about.
(04:15) Carla: Yes. As you know, I come from a UX background, even though it was UX with more like less into the design side, more into research side, and also into the strategy. Sometimes I see that in some companies and especially in some projects, you see tasks or responsibilities of experience strategy, sometimes being very similar to a UX lead or especially talking about more like more senior UX people within agencies.
(04:49) Calum: Absolutely.
(04:50) Carla: So what do you think are the key differences between what you would
call experience strategy, or design strategy, and what a UX person does?
(05:00) Calum: So my response to this might be a bit dated, but I guess the classic way of trying to pull these apart and I think it is blurring today is, that UX was traditionally more about the trenches of the UX, the actual stuff surface of the product, whether that is a website, or an app, or what have you, an interface. So it is very much, for me about understanding interaction, behaviors, kind of on that platform or in that space. Whereas I think experience design or design strategy, which is kind of the name of my department, is much more trying to, I think connect to the higher kind of context of the market landscape, or like the business drivers, and trying to find a good role for what that UX strategist or that experience strategist is doing. So trying to kind of bring in, I guess the high level context to sort of define a bit of brief, for how you go about solving that problem. But I think today it is a real, it is kind of a bit of a conundrum because I feel like those two disciplines blur a lot, especially at the senior level. So I think, it is almost if I sort of cast my mind back to the battle days of advertising, you would have the strategist and you would have the creative team, would be copywriter and art director. And I think as people get more similar, as more senior in their roles, I think they would be almost, not equally equipped, but they should have that kind of peripheral vision to kind of take on that other person’s role and run with it. And I think you are seeing that more and more these days. There is a real blurring of the boundaries. But, to summarize, as a business designer or as a design strategist, you are tasked with taking that high level view, with really trying to understand what the high level context is from really digging into the business and really understanding, why is this business behaving in the way it is? What are the things that are going on, either from a customer level or a business drivers level that mean that this is the right space to plan as a problem, and how do you go about solving that by sort of looking across the horizon at the competitor world and going, okay, something really interesting going over there. How could we leverage this in this unique problem space that we have got? So I think that there are both types of problem solving, they just operate at different levels.
(07:07) Carla: Okay. So the thing you started mentioning as you were given maybe an answer of my previous question, but what are the key things or activities that when you start a project, a lot of our listeners, not all of them, but let us say they are quite junior, but they are starting in the UX world. If they start a new project and they have not experienced strategies, or designing strategies in their teams, what kind of activities or deliverables do you expect from a person with your skillset?
(07:42) Calum: I would expect that person to come to the table, in terms of kicking off a project, and hopefully put a frame wrap around the challenge that you are solving. I think that is the best thing that someone can do, is establish what is the right level of ambition for this project, in terms of what level should be carrying it out? In terms of deliverables that person should delivering, an experience brief, is quite key, depending on the scope and scale of the project. What I mean by that is, basically it is a brief which sets the scene in terms of where the brief is coming from. Gives you some real context around what the business challenge is and tries to really get under the skin as to why is that a problem.
(07:42) Calum: So going beyond the symptoms of what the problem is, in terms of what we are observing. So not just saying, I have observed this behavior, but why that behavior is happening. So really getting under the skin of the problem and also trying to do the same thing, not only from a business perspective, but also from a customer perspective. So really trying to get into the psychology of the customers, really trying to explain why this behavior is going on. And then also gets, from a competitive positioning point of view, really understanding why that sort of experience, or that journey, or that proposition, is or is not working in the market and how that can sort of change, or improved. So if you take that experience brief as sort of a backbone, I think different things fall out of that, in terms of key deliverables. I am probably going to repeat myself here, but a good sort of view of the landscape from a competitive context, in terms of, what the sort of the special sources of that brand that you have, vis a vi other brands in market. How they are sort of communicating and attracting customers. What sort of from a more like UX point of view, what the key sort of experienced design patterns are that you are seeing. So whether it is an app, or whether it is a website, or whether it is a particular type of journey. Again, providing some real rich context about the customer that really makes you think, okay, because I know this now, it is changing the way that I am looking at the product, or it is changing the way I am looking about the category, or it is changing the way that person looks at the business.
(09:52) Calum: So trying to find, I guess, nuggets that can really energize the team, to help them or to get them to the head space of what that problem is. And then, yeah, I guess if this kind of braces, being further defined, getting a bit more critical in terms of like what are the specific areas that UX strategist can then sort of focus on and dig into in terms of here is some discreet problem areas, within that product service website at whatever, that we need to attack. And perhaps, this is kind of sometimes shared between UX strategist and the design strategist, or the experience strategist, some design principles in terms of like bringing things together, providing kind of a nice kind of principle summary of what the behaviors you want people to exhibit as a consequence of interacting with a thing you are building.
(10:42) Carla: So is there I think that makes a lot of sense. Lime you said, it all depends on the type of skill sets that you have in a team. Sometimes a UX lead would share some of those responsibilities with experienced designers, as well as maybe feed into it as well, as a collaboration between the two. Is it, who do you think is responsibility of defining the KPIs for that particular experience strategy that you are putting together? Because I think, if you think about experience, it is still very hard to measure what success looks like, when you are doing the project. So you think the experience strategist, or design strategist should be defining those KPIs. And how do you, and if so, how do you make sure that, a team who are working potentially different places and with different team leads, et cetera will deliver on those?
(11:44) Calum: So you are saying who should define the KPIs?
(11:46) Carla: I think that my first question is would an experience strategist define the KPIs? It hink that was my question.
(11:52) Calum: Yes. So I think it probably depends on the context of the challenge. So I think yes, the experience strategists should definitely have a point of view on those KPIs. So for example, if we are looking at, say like I am working on a product proposition at the moment, it is something that I will probably put out, in terms of these are the, you know, it is an emerging product that we are building. These are what I think are the key behaviors we are looking for the customer,, to sort of do as a consequence of using this product or service. And then these are the things I think we should be measuring against. And then we will talk about it as a team, and kind of go, is that right? Does it feel right or is it wrong? But yeah, I think if it is kind of a more simple kind of task, like this optimizing say a website, or if it is optimizing say, a journey, or an action, on an app, I think that is going to be more mechanical. And maybe that person is maybe looking at sort of benchmarks either from industry sources or trying to find out some historic sources to say, okay, is this a realistic amount of uplift and if we test this, do we think we can get to that? So I think in the simplest sense, yeah, I think that experience strategists have a definitely a strong point of view, and to bringing to the table like here is some guardrails that we should be measuring ourselves against. But I think when it comes to something which is more ambiguous, when you as a product, you should be socializing that and kind of, you know, bringing other people on the team since they are building it too. And sort of drawing out from them whether they feel the stuff you are building is actually going to deliver the right sort of actions.
(13:20) Carla: Yes. Because the only reason, I think the second part of my question is related to the first one. And the reason I am asking is because I have been on a lot of projects in my experience, where, when you go through the discovery phase or the initial phases of a project, you have a clear view of what this experience is trying to deliver and what are the KPIs, or at least the way you are going to measure, whether or not you are delivering on that experience? But throughout the delivery of that particular project, sometimes you just lose that completely. So there was an app that I helped design and build for a retailer client, I cannot mention names, but one of the key things about these apps is about personalization, it was about this, it was about quick search, and intelligent dashboards, and all that stuff. Now, in the delivery, all of this kind of got lost, to the point that they launched an app then was not really that great. It did not even have a search, which you know, is quite a big problem in retail. So I think the question I am trying to ask here, is how do you make sure that those KPIs and those experience principle that you set up from the beginning, stay throughout the delivery and launch of a product?
(14:43) Calum: That is a good challenge. Good question. Well, I think, so again, depending on the type of challenge you are doing, if you are working at [inaudible 00:14:51] heavily or in sprints or what have you, I think you need to articulate, and again this is a key sort of role for the experience strategist, but again should be done. I think with the wider team, what those hypotheses are, those assumptions that you have. And to keep yourself honest, you should kind of already be tracking them, as you go through the design process, and just making sure that you have validation, whether that is through lab testing or through remote testing, whatever, that you are getting those results. And I guess probably even refining them as you go along, if your hypotheses change or if the benchmarks that you think you are measuring against are changing, you need to sort of keep an eye on that. But ultimately getting stuff out to market, you should have some kind of tracking strategy as well, in terms of a way of collecting that data and ultimately saying, is it working or not working and why not? I mean we are, for instance, we are about to launch a proof of concept, for a a new product, which is changing the whole idea of what a current account is. So it is basically, not going into too much detail, creating, instead of having your overdraft, which is kind of hidden away from the user’s view, you are overdraft, you can never really see it, until it is smacked down to zero, and then appears, kind of breaking it out as a sort of a separate critical up, which would sort of appear alongside your current account and they would connect to one another.
(16:10) Calum: But the idea in terms of behind the project is, we are going to, we have a proof of concept which will go live to a couple hundred customers, but just sort of have an effective kind of way of measuring success. Not only do we have to attract kind of what is going on in terms of the behaviors, but we also need to do qualitative testing before we actually do that testing with proof of concept, both pre and post. So we can kind of dig behind what those behaviors are and try and really understand, has there already been a shift in terms of, how people feel about credit, how people feel about the way they manage their money, and really understand what was going on in terms of those behaviors. So if you have got like a sort of, you know, we can triangulate a view as to why that is happening, I guess. So part of that will be sort of saying like, okay, now that we have moved through our design process, and we have our hypotheses, what do we think is going to happen as a consequence, now that we have got this product in market, in terms of how people are going to behaving and can we sort of put some kind of high level numbers against that.
(17:11) Calum: Oh that is good. So it would be like before, because I think proposition development is something that is very unique I would say. And it is very rare as well, especially in my experience. So rare that you get a brief of creating a brand new product or service. When you are doing that kind of work, how do you make sure, like how do you, what does a experienced strategist do, during the definition of that product or service, to have a view of how commercial is going to work? So how do you tell client or your business, or even if you are within a startup or something like that, what tools do you use or how do you actually come up with some view of what is the best and how are you going to make money with it?
(18:03) Calum: Well, also a very good question. So I mean there is simpler and more complex ways of doing this. So very simple way of doing it, which is not particularly accurate, but a lot of clients still do it is, basically doing market sizing and looking for proxies. So effectively what that means is, sort of like almost taking like a top down view of the market and saying, okay we have a target audience here, we believe is x size based on x characteristics that we have. And if this market audiences is x size, based on whatever the business model is that sits behind this product or service, we can basically make some assumptions about what kinds of behaviors are going to happen. And so, a very sort of simple example, this might be something like, a while ago I worked on a proposition for a subscription model. And it was trying to work out, if we have 70 people that fit into our customer profile who are convenience seeking, urban young, hipsters who are looking for a good time and whatever at home.
(19:09) Calum: It sounds really bizarre. Then this, market audience, based on using some proxy databases, is so large. But on top of that we need to look at what are the specific behaviors that sit behind our product, a product subscriptions or additional add- ons or sort of things that you buy, and how with what kind of frequency do we expect that to happen? So it is basically like an exercise of layering on top of your kind of market audience size, estimates of behaviors based on proxies that you see perhaps in other market. So you would go through and look at other kinds of market proxies. So like other kinds of subscription behaviors that have been successful, are they kind of similar to ours? Are they different? How different? And trying to build like a set of kind of proxies to kind of estimate if you had this much type take up, in a kind of a ramp up, over a sequence of years, what might that sort of business look like? And this can get quite complex because you can start to get into the license stuff like discounted cash flow models and all that kind of stuff. But I think depending on the client, I think it is a case of basically establishing, is the market big enough and frequent enough. On a very basic level. And then there is other ways. I guess it is sort of looking into it more depth, but that would be sort of like a basic way of tackling it.
(20:28) Carla: I think that makes sense. So, perhaps some of our listeners will be interested in moving into the experience strategy space. What kind of recommendations in terms of training, or books, or like people to follow, or any kind of resources that you think are valuable, for someone to develop as skills more in the business design, or design strategy, or experienced science space?
(20:56) Calum: So I think and maybe a bit biased in my view of UX, and maybe I have kind of belittled its scape a bit, but I think sometimes I feel like when I am dealing with some UXs they are incredibly good at what they do. Their attention to craft is immaculate. Sometimes they are almost too pixel perfect, but it is kind of everything for them is the surface, or the immediate product they are working with. And I think it is really trying to sort of extrapolate yourself from being that deep into the product, and kind of almost having someone described it once, as a helicopter view. So being able to float from that is an interaction layer of whatever, even if it is the button, or the choice of copy you are using, or whatever that flow is, all the way up to the top, to going, why are we doing that thing from a business point of view?
(21:42) Calum: So the way that I would go about trying to build that out, is just try and explain your horizons in terms of how you understand problems. And I think a really good book that I benefited from was, This Model Canvas, which I think is something that was on your mind as well, before this chat. And I think what is really good about it is, it is kind of become this simplified way of understanding businesses, instead of breaking them into modular components. So it has created a common language for people to deconstruct businesses and use them almost a bit like Lego blocks. In terms of thinking about what are the different things that make a business tick. So very simply, as a business, how do you sort of create value? How do you capture value? And how do you connect it to the customer and deliver it?
(22:28) Calum: And what I really like about that book, is it is kind of actually written from almost a design thinking kind of point of view. So it takes you through the exact life cycle that you would have with add value proposition design. So starting from trying to establish what your value proposition is, trying to establish where your product market fit is, and then using that, as kind of a way of actually prototyping. So I have got a hunch about, who my customer is, I have got a hunch about what the kind of the offer is that might appeal to them. And using that, in a really assertive way to sort of go about testing different ideas and, then over time, as those hypotheses get sort of negated or improved, building out more layers. So it is a really good way, I think, of just joining the dots and recognizing that beyond the thing that you are actually working on, there is so many other different parts that needs to come together to make something whole, to make a business work. So yeah, I think that is a really solid book that I would recommend everyone worth reading. Because I think it just gives you the vocabulary and the language and that wider awareness of what goes into making something a real offer. Because I think sometimes we get infatuated with the craft of what we do, but we do not necessarily think about what sits behind the curtain.
(23:39) Calum: Yes, and what is actually important for the business. I think just to wrap up now. I think I started with this intro but never asked you the question. So I think it would be good to explain to listeners, what do you think are the differences between this is design, service design, design strategy, and experience strategy?
(24:06) Calum: Jesus. You are going to have to go one by one and reminded each of them. Okay. So I would start off by saying I think there is a huge amount of blur between them all. But I would say that business design these days I think there is kind of a big crossover between business design and experience design, but I think where it is kind of becoming now, is using the term, using the tools of design thinking to help basically effect change on a wholistic scale within a business. So, one of the things I have noticed in my career, small sort of detour, is that on a very simple level, you started off where I started working in advertising and advertising used to be about or media, it used to be like opportunity to seeing, and repetition, and persuasion.
(24:52) Calum: So kind of went from let us hit people as many times as we possibly can, with as much creative as possible where it is very sort of 50s kind of advertising P&G too. Okay. Now it is all about affinity. We are going create a brand persona, and we are going to create a brand image that people can connect with and it is going to be really persuasive. And then after that it became about, oh, like sot, that it is about creating really smart, tactical, digital advertising. It is all like intercept people just before they go to the bathroom or just before they go to McDonald’s, catch them at a time of need. And then after that, it became about, okay, now it is really actually about communications products. So we will like create these really rich communications products that actually help the consumer achieve what they want to do and it is sell a price at the same time.
(25:31) Calum: Then people said it is not about coms anymore, it is about the real products that people actually need, let us design the best product for the job. And then it was, actually, you know what? Fuck that. The business we are in these days is not about making the right product. We need to build that product in the company. So the unit of change now, is actually the company, we need to design the business. And so I think that is where a lot of companies have landed on this pretty nebulous idea of digital business transformation, which we were checking about before. So this idea that we can try and wholistically effect change across the business. So that means, not only sort of fixing the products, or service, or fix the interface, but also fix the tech stack that supports and fix the culture of the people that actually have to adopt these products and make them work and, and work around, so it is a gargantuan task.
(26:15) Calum: Coming back to your question, I think business design is trying to use the tools, design thinking, use the tools of design to try and help position all those different components, all the business technology people, process whatever, into the all singing, all dancing, kind of happy path of trying to bring those things together.
(26:38) Carla: The ideal world.
(26:38) Calum: Yes, the ideal world of like basically creating a great business environment that and sort of ideally be agile. And what I mean by that is, being in a position where it is a company that is not only great at doing what it does, so it can still churn out the widgets if that is its core business, but it is also in a position whereby it can be fleet of foot so it can discover, new products, and services, and revenue opportunities as they come up, as the competitive landscape shifts, or the customer landscape, or needs change. So that is, I think for me, how I understand businesseses. I do not know if that is 100% by the book.
(27:13) Carla: Is it that the value is related to surface design as well as well?
(27:17) Calum: So service design for me, is a component of that, so this is only for me as a tool. I do not think service design, well I guess it is kind of a discipline in its own right. It is a very fat methodology, right? So service design as I understand it is, basically there is two halves to it. There is your front stage and your backstage. And your front stage for me, is understanding that kind of customer journey and those customer touch points. But it is really joining the dots between how the customer experiences the product or the product arrives to them. And joining the dots between what are the backend enablers from the business, whether that is again, your people, your process, your tail energy that can made that stuff come to life. And it is kind of like…
(27:57) Carla: It is more into the delivery of the service or product, right? Whereas business would have looked into the business.
(28:03) Calum: Yeah. I think there are different levels of kind of a fidelity, for example, in business design, service design is a key tool to achieve whatever you need to achieve.
(28:20) Carla: Okay, what about then experience strategy, experience design?
(28:25) Calum: Experience design or experience strategy. So I think again, the way we talking about this, I think you could almost layer them, because I know they are different layers almost like the cake. So I would probably say that experience design, I think was born out of a world in which we were really concentrating on a proposition that was led through a particular medium, like an app, or a website, or whatever. Maybe if it was a bit more evolved, perhaps as a service. So the classic example would be, if it was Netflix, or if it was Spotify, or if it was Nike+. So I think the experience design there is trying to look at that kind of that product in the context of like setting a higher business aim or solving a bigger prisms problem.
(29:13) Calum: But still very much being, because I have a good handle on this, I am going to define exactly how this product needs to behave, and I am going to take care and attention to detail in terms of how that translates into the experience. Whereas, UX and maybe I am rolling this, but I feel really bad [inaudible 29:33].
(29:35) Carla: Very controversial.
(29:35 Calum: Very controversial. UX for me would kind of live alongside or below that. In terms of making that real. But as I said before, I think all great UXer’s have that kind of vision. Have that wide kind of…
(29:47) Carla: Yes, because even if you are delivering on the touch points and you are delivering all the experience of that particular thing, you still need to, as you said, go up a level and think about why you are doing it, and how. Because sometimes we get really a stubborn nayak, including myself, when you say no, we cannot really not have that feature, because that is fundamental to the experience. But if that feature is costing the business, three times more, you have to really consider that. But when you are just too into the detail, you do not really care too much about the business problem is, but I think you would add more value, if you actually pay attention to it and try to consider it when you are delivering. At the same time, businesses need to realize it to have good experiences, sometimes you have to invest a little bit more. But that is a different discussion.
(30:37) Calum: It is a different discussion. So to summarize, if you were to think of it as a hierarchy, in terms of the level of ambition, or the, the level of change, I would say at the top you have got business design, in terms of trying to wholistically fix the business, and try and stitch all the different parts of the puzzle together so that they make sense and they work as a good system. So say business is on the top. I would then probably say as a subset of that, you might say service designers is not a perfect hierarchy, but I think that is a key tool in achieving business design. And then underneath that service design thing you have got experienced design, which is more focused on bringing to life a value proposition which comes to life through a particular touch point, or through a particular channel. Or it might be a series of channels that bring to life a service. And then underneath that I would see UX sense, kind of more smaller sense I guess. Bringing to life those particular critical elements of interaction and sort of making it sing.
(31:38) Carla: Yeah, that is great. I think that you are the best person I have heard, making those, creating those definitions. So thank you very much.
(31:46) Calum: I am still working it out. I find our industry is just full of bullshit bingo and buzz words. It is so bad.
(31:49) Carla: Maybe it is a little jargon as well though. I recently met someone who called themselves, I am an interaction service designer. I am, what does that actually mean? I add the interaction [inaudible 00:31:57]. I think we all evolve and the wheel changing. And I guess you are also looking for jobs as well, out there so you could just change your titles and then [inaudible 32:13] allows everything.
(32:16) Calum: It does. I can endorse you for knife throwing or something after this. (32:20) Carla: All right. Thank you so much for being with us. Anything else you
wanted to add?
(32:24) Calum: No, I think I am good for now. Let us go to the pub. (32:29) Carla: Thank you for being with us. Thanks. Bye everyone.
Narrator: Search and subscribe to Design Untangled using your favorite podcast app and leave us a review. Follow us on the web at designuntangled.co.uk or on Twitter @designuntangled. Become a better designer with online mentoring at uxmentor.me.