Experience Design on a Budget: Approaches to Delivering a Future State Proposal on Limited Time

Recently, working with a team of designers to re-imagine the car loan experience for a client pitch, I came upon a feeling I'm no stranger to:  Unease.  I believe feeling uncomfortable is necessary for personal and professional growth, and putting yourself "out there" in unfamiliar situations is conducive to feeling this way.  But this time was a bit different.  I couldn't help but think that there was something more to my unease - I had doubts on the legitimacy of our process.  To be more specific, my discomfort was rooted in our approach for creating personas and journey maps, key experience design elements that are the starting point and foundation for all future state innovation proposals.  At times I was overtaken with doubt and I found myself second guessing our narratives.

Now before this starts to sound negative or hyper critical, let me elaborate further on the team's rationale which is rooted in a strategic approach based on handling limitations and meeting a key objective: Inspiring action.

As I had mentioned, we were delivering a re-imagined experience to be used in a pitch..and not uncommon in these scenarios, our timeline to pull together a compelling and inspirational experience was extremely short (~5 days).  

Our process...

Began with a quick brief on the client and need... 

...Followed by a productive team "brainstorm" where we ultimately identified 3 personas to become the base of our journey mapping...

...To tell believable current state narratives along the car buying/loan acquiring journey identifying critical pain points across the experience...

...So that we could ideate future state responses to these frustrations - The core deliverable for the pitch.

Ok, cool...sounds good...but why the discomfort?

  We did not leverage research to base our core thinking.  As the process goes, our deliverable is rooted in personas that help us extract pain points and open up the opportunities we want to capitalize on: An integral part of the pitch.  But our personas, these conduits of insight, were created using best guesses and assumptions culled from the team's collective real world experiences and vetted with high doses of "gut."  On top of this, we wrote subjective journey narratives based on our gut-checked personas.  You get the point: Lot's of assumptions on top of assumptions.

Invest in the Appropriate Exploration + Validate

I found the approach unnerving but when we look at the goals behind the pitch process, some of my discomfort comes into a new light.  Working with an extreme time constraint, it is strategic to invest in the right amount of research to deliver a compelling story the team believes in. (See: Ensure we minimize the "fluff" factor while maximizing inspiration.)

To ensure we validate at an appropriate level, it's important to design a regimen of checks tailored to the needs of the scenario.  In our case, for a 5 day timeframe, 'appropriate' can be:

  • "Gorilla" research (friends and family who may have experienced the to be re-designed process) to flesh out and validate personas and journeys AFTER the team has begun to formulate a story.  
  • Iterating with the core design team/peers to talk through narratives so as to expose to a wider range of personal experiences and perspectives.
  •  Leveraging SME's in the field. (In our case, these folks are stakeholders and a powerful check point.) 

Delivering the re-imagined experience, I suggested that the team note an important and transparent footnote to the client:  The pitched experience is an iteration and the first of many to come after the work is won.  Set the expectation that due to the iterative and research based nature of experience design work, further insights WILL become available after more customer research takes place, which undoubtably will re-shape the team's thinking and certainly open up more opportunities to innovate - A VERY GOOD THING.

Discomfort and unease may occur in the early phases of an experience design pitch where constraints prevail...Be sure to  inject the appropriate amount of research given the timeframe and iterate quickly based on feedback from available resources.  Deliver something the team believes in!