Customer Experience by Design

April 19, 2016

“Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
– Steve Jobs

Great customer experience doesn’t just happen. People own it. And not just ‘a’ person, but a collaboration of people. It’s carefully designed – just like a product – because to deliver it extremely well, we have to collaborate across organizations to understand what it looks like, how it happens and then actually deliver it.

We have to design it on purpose.

Designing experiences
People of all walks of life use design thinking to solve complicated problems and come up with ideas that make sense and add value. They call it ‘design thinking’ instead of just ‘design’ because there’s a difference between the two.

Design is the act of designing something – a logo, how a product looks or how software functions.

Designing thinking is different. It takes into account the entire process of how people interact with a situation or use something, and looks at what ideas actually make sense. Because, as the picture below shows, there’s a difference in how something is designed and how people use it…


Design thinking balances left-brain and right-brain thinking and considers problems from the point of the people who have the challenge. It’s a different approach because it steps away from traditional ‘systems’ thinking, which focuses on efficiencies – how can we get as many people as possible to do the same thing – instead of effectiveness. It’s also different because to work, design thinking has to get to know people and how they behave. It then takes that understanding and matches it with technology and what’s feasible to deliver from a business perspective in order to, ultimately, create value.

Design thinking as a strategy for customer experience
This all sounds very ‘un-marketing.’ Or does it?

If we go back to what Robert and I believe – that marketing’s role is to create value that’s separate and distinct from what a company sells – then design thinking becomes a logical point of view for marketers.

Let’s take an industry notoriously known for bad customer experiences – healthcare.

It’s an industry known for crappy experiences. From making people wait for hours for pre-scheduled appointments to an unintelligible and downright scary billing process, the entire experience of trying to stay healthy is likely, in itself, to put people in the hospital.

Kaiser Permanente realized this. They started with a brand story that talked about helping people thrive…going beyond taking care of people when they’re sick…and talking about how they deliver wellness to create a better quality of life.

But no one’s going to believe that from an ad campaign, and Kaiser knew that. So they took the idea of ‘thrive’ to heart and they looked at the entire spectrum of what patients and their families experience and how they, as an organization, could improve it. They looked at how they could design greener, healthier buildings and increase the amount of time nurses spend at bedside with patients. They looked at how they could create a Total Health Environment – a program that applies design thinking to every aspect of Kaiser’s operations, from medical records to patient care to the actual physical environment in which they see and treat patients.

This matters to marketers because we have to step up and put skin in the game to make sure that what we say through content is the experience that’s true for our organizations – always. Kaiser understood that it didn’t matter how much they preached about creating healthier lives, they had to make that a consistent experience for their brand. Are waiting rooms filled with germ-spewing people and ancient magazines? Are there dead plants in the window sill when you visit your doctor? Can you recognize the food at the hospital cafeteria?

How does all of this affect the experience – and the health – of people coming to Kaiser’s locations? They dug deep into that and spent the last few years correcting everything they could along what they call the Total Health Journey. They look at how easy it is for people to find their way around the hospital. They consider first impressions when a patient walks into an exam or hospital room. They think about what kinds of environmentally friendly materials are used during construction.

To create better experiences, we have to better understand the experiences we’re trying to create and then think differently about how we design them. Often, just by better understanding what we’re trying to accomplish, the answers become obvious. And after all, if we’re going to try to create remarkable experiences, why should we settle for efficiency when effective is what really matters?

Photo credit: INPIVIC Family

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author