Factoring Authenticity into Experience

In the age of storytelling, we strive to build beloved brands. We do this by designing experiences that influence the stories our clients and customers tell about us. At last week’s CHIFOO meetup, the final in this year’s series on “Quantifying Kick-ass”, three speakers shared their insights of what it takes to build a kickass brand story.

Though we’ve heard over and over again that humanity and authenticity are key to delivering experiences people love in the Age of the Customer, it can be difficult to uncover exactly what “authentic” means in experience design.

Experiences with Integrity

Rob Lacosse, Treasurer of CHIFOO and User Experience Designer at Intel, kicked off the event by discussing the evolving nature of authenticity in our increasingly social environment and its effect on us as experience designers.

The deluge of selfies and “humble brags” inundating the socialsphere makes it hard not to question the sincerity of the stories people portray about themselves. As visibility goes up, authenticity goes down – at least when it comes to personal authenticity. Rob explained that product authenticity tends to work in the opposite way, however.

Our goal as makers – creators of brand and product experiences – is to deliver something authentic to impart onto users.

According to Rob, if we want to create authentic experiences, we must ensure the input (our data) is authentic. We can gauge the integrity of our data by the quality of experiences we’re creating, and the stories our users are telling. If we aren’t hearing the kinds of stories we want to hear, then we probably aren’t designing experiences based on the right (read: accurate) data.

Authenticity in = Authenticity out

Firsthand, un-filtered observation is the key to gaining the data we really need to ensure the truest form of user empathy. This way, we know our experiences will resonate. As Rob put it, “Authenticity in equals authenticity out”.

Nechama Katan, the second speaker of the evening, reminded us that we shouldn’t take this need for authentic data as a challenge to boil the ocean, though. It’s easy to become over-zealous when faced with the wealth of data we can obtain about our users. What’s important, she emphasized, is measuring meaningful and actionable ways to effectively design for user needs.

Biting off only what you can chew is the first step; once you’ve tested and improved in one area, you can begin to expand into other areas of the user experience. As we’ve said before, your website isn’t a project – you must start small and make incremental changes as you come to understand users.

Leveraging Tools to Tell Stories

Bringing the evening full circle, Corey Pressman of Exprima discussed how we can use what we know about our users and the technologies at our disposal to build authentic stories. The age of digital forced together the naturally social human nature (the “Age of Orality”) with the age of print, affording us new ways to craft richer and more dynamic experiences.

Experience design today is about striking a balance between modes of interaction to enable the stories our users want to tell, Corey explains. “The promise of digital,” he said, “is in leveraging benefits of orality and print in fluid physical and experiential modes.”

Amazon is famous for the way they utilize their range of technologies to build better experiences across touchpoints – enabling exceptional stories of customer delight on a grand scale. We need to find a way to merge technologies with real user behaviors to create authentic experiences to inspire stories like this from our own customers.