Innovation with Intention: The Next Evolution for the Experience Designer

By Meg Barbic

Published: January 25, 2016

“Experience designers [are] unafraid of remaining in uncertainty and ambiguity when others around them are rushing to cling to the comfort of a ready solution.”

Recently, I have been noticing experience designers’ unique balance of soft skills such as communication, creativity, and empathy—in addition to the hard skills they’ve attained in an industry that requires a high level of understanding of new and emerging technologies. At the UX STRAT 2015 conference in Athens, Georgia, I attended some insightful talks and workshops and met a crowd full of people who had all of these things in common.

I’ve also noticed that experience designers are inquisitive and have a natural tendency to ask Why?—every time. It is this non-negotiable level of inquisitiveness that gives experience designers a fierceness that makes them unafraid of remaining in uncertainty and ambiguity when others around them are rushing to cling to the comfort of a ready solution. They trust their own design process, which enables them to lead teams to a solution that is driven by the user’s experience. Experience designers are also brave enough to try new things, and they seem to evolve and learn constantly.

But most importantly, experience designers do all of this because they fundamentally care about outcomes and have empathy for those who will experience those outcomes. And it is empathy, not just for the customers for whom they design, but also for the organizations and executives they work for. They design structures, build teams, create processes, and use empathy to meet colleagues where they are, as they lead their teams to successes that they’ve built on the foundation of user experience.

“Experience designers … design structures, build teams, create processes, and use empathy to meet colleagues where they are, as they lead their teams to successes that they’ve built on the foundation of user experience.”

There is a global market shift as consumers demand more value, meaning, and positive experiences in their lives. They want hard things to become easy; sad things to become more hopeful; complicated things to work simply; and frightening things to become playful. There is emerging demand for experience designers—and their qualities—that I believe is being driven by organizations’ looking to designers and the design process in an unprecedented way. Experience designers are helping to lead this change through creative new approaches, by driving innovation to meet and exceed customer expectations, and by placing their experience at the core of product and service development, enabling them to remain viable in a changing market.

Now, as experience strategy is evolving to align with business strategy and, in some cases, even drive business strategy, perhaps it is the experience designer who has the empathy not to judge the current paradigms and the courage to try to shift their organizations’ thinking, working outside current paradigms to design with intention and create something new.

When self-motivation drives design intention, our output is more of the same, and we can never innovate anything revolutionary or truly disruptive to the human experience. Better versions, faster versions, smarter versions, but still heading in the same direction. Organizations that innovate to drive revenue and create more profit won’t necessarily transform the customer experience.

And, as designers, operating in the same paradigm, if our personal motivations are to design for our selves, to compete, to make more money, to get recognition, to be the best in our field, to be the best in our industry, to be better than the competition, or to make new technology for the sake of being better or being first, we’ll only ever produce better versions of much the same things. However, if we operate from a place of inspiration, which goes beyond self-motivation and competition, we can let our intuition and true empathy for human experience guide us to truly connect with humanity. Then, we can tap into potential innovations that would lead to a positive future experience.

“If we operate from a place of inspiration, which goes beyond self-motivation and competition, we can … tap into potential innovations that would lead to a positive future experience.”

With this global demand to up-level to a more positive human experience, with people wanting more meaning and value in their life than in the past, our task as experience designers to turn poor experiences into positive new ones.

With the fundamental desire to understand why, the natural traits of empathy, the courage to question everything, the courage to remain in uncertainty and explore, and the personal responsibility it takes to lead people along with us, experience designers can create a positive future. But what is the next evolution for the experience designer?

Perhaps it is using an authentic and individual design process to unlock the ability we possess to innovate, discarding old paradigms and diagrams. By nurturing our connection to humanity and our desire to innovate ethically and with empathy, we can allow those core values to guide our success and that of our organizations.

How do we, as designers, now up-level our contribution and personal responsibility to meet the growing demand for a positive human experience? Do we need to slow down and question our own intentions to let go of limited thinking and shift beyond outdated paradigms? Would access to unbounded innovation enable us to shift into a new consciousness that would enable us to deliver a better experience to humanity, as well as ourselves and our organizations? Could we solve problems from a place of clear intention and internal alignment with a global human experience.

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”—Albert Einstein.

“I often wonder whether the next evolution might be a conscious experience designer who understands exactly what paradigm he or she is operating from at a fundamental level, consciously designing experiences….”

To me, this feels natural. So I often wonder whether the next evolution might be a conscious experience designer who understands exactly what paradigm he or she is operating from at a fundamental level, consciously designing experiences in a way that is rarely achieved today.

With experience designers’ soft skills, hard skills, influence, and reach, perhaps we are at a point where we are now ready to shift beyond researching, understanding, and documenting existing user stories. Perhaps we are now evolving to a new level of enlightenment and can achieve greater wisdom—building on data and context—and ask the next why—the why that seeks to understand the origin of an existing narrative or user story. By using our wisdom to design a new narrative in a larger context, we can achieve the intention of designing a positive and sustainable human experience. We can design with intention to achieve an intended future experience.

1 Comment

I work in the B2B field, and I find that most projects I work on have a very different set of problems. This puts me in a position that I constantly have to re-evaluate my research methods because the previous tools and processes I’ve used simply do not work for the next assignment. There are many moving parts, and you need to mix and match your tools.

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