Why You Should Be Designing Experiences, Not Products


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Product. Designers think they are building it, marketers think they are promoting it, and sales people think they are selling it.  They are all dead wrong.

“The Product”

I shudder when corporate denizens refer to the goods and services of their organization as “the product.” It’s so clinical and distant. It’s as if they are embarrassed by what it is. It’s like referring to “the wife” or “the kids,” a little denigrating but mostly indifferent.

We should be proud and passionate in the value we are delivering to customers. We must believe in it for it to be successful. As fictitious shyster attorney Saul Goodmen once said,“I once told a woman I was Kevin Costner, and it worked because I believed it.”  If you don’t believe in your brand, your customers won’t either.

Are You Experienced?

Putting aside dispassionate terminology, the truth is that people don’t buy products, they buy experiences.

A BMW M3 is just a hunk of metal and plastic, an inanimate object. A well-engineered, beautiful, and expensive hunk of metal and plastic, but one nonetheless. Now when you get in it, hear the confident thunk of the door closing, fire up it up and hear the growl of the Teutonic engine and push it through a twisting road and feel the road as the low profile tires hug the macadam with g-forces pushing you back in your seat. Now that’s what you bought. You bought an experience.

Products are a means to end. Customers are buying the experience, the product delivers or purports to deliver.

I am in awe of the mechanics of children’s toy advertising. It really hasn’t changed much in 40 years since I was a kid yearning for that evasive TCR race track. It’s always a bunch of kids playing with cars or dolls on some sound stage in Southern California with kinetic slapstick onomatopoeic banners and frantic soundtrack that seems inspired by the 1960’s version of Batman.

But boy is it effective. Having two young kids at home myself, I can tell you they instantly want that object. Not because of what it is, but because of what the object promises to deliver as an experience. They think they will be smiling and howling once they get that doll or racetrack. It. Will. Be. So. Awesome.

As designers, product planners, marketers, consumer researchers, sales people, and customer experience professionals it would serve us well to think in these terms. It isn’t about features at all; it is about what those features can deliver asan experience.

What Kind of Experiences?

The features of a product or service drives the experience, hopefully in the anticipated manner. While there are a number of theories about drivers of experience, most typically agree to at least three basic forms.

  • Hygiene Factors – these are things that do not increase one’s happiness or satisfaction if present, but will instantly negate all other experiences if not present. You crank the key on that BMW and you expect to start. Are youhappy it does? Not really, you expect it. Are you unhappy if it doesn’t? You betcha, and even the softest leather seats will not make up for it.
  • Satisfiers – also known as one-dimensional quality or “attracters,” theseare things that the more you have, usually the happier you are. If you get 35 mpg rather than 25 you are happier. If you get 45 mpg happier still.
  • Delighters – these are drivers that do not necessarily let people down if they aren’t there, but go “over and above” in driving delight. For example, back up cameras in modern vehicles are typically delighters—for now. Unfortunately, as people become accustomed to this features it falls into the“hygiene” category over time as people see it as table stakes for the category.

Dr. Noriaki Kano, inventor of the “Kano model” also threw in two more. Those attributes people feel indifferent about and those that as they increase actually decrease satisfaction, so called reverse quality elements. Obviously we want toremove this from the experience design.

It’s All About the Customer Experience

So, don’t get caught up in the weeds of your service attributes or product features. Think backwards from the experience in service and product design and ask yourself; what are table stakes, what would drive an amazing experience, what is detracting from the experience, and what can I remove without any negative impact to the experience? As marketers and sales people we should remember, its about what your products and services do that count not the functional attributes. Paint a picture or better yet; show them what it does. And if you aren’t passionate about it, you probably are in the wrong organization or the wrong job.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Fish, Ph.D.

Dave is the founder of CuriosityCX, an insights and advisory consultancy for Customer Experience. Formerly he was CMO for MaritzCX, now an InMoment company. He has 25+ years of applied experience in understanding consumer behavior consulting with Global 50 companies. Dave has held several executive positions at the Mars Agency, Engine Group, J.D. Power and Associates, Toyota Motor North America, and American Savings Bank. He teaches at the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of "The Customer Experience Field Guide" available on Amazon and BookLogix.com.


  1. Your description of the BMW M3 ‘experience’ was spot on! We do love the theater of things, Great article and excellent insights.

  2. This is very much along the lines of McLuhan’s “The medium is the message.” It’s not the product or service, per se, but the emotion and memory it creates in the experience and how that experience and memory leverages overall perception and downstream customer action. This is true, even in the most tangible and rational elements of product and service experience. And, as you note, Kano also nicely codified this several decades ago.

  3. I agree that customer experience has high importance in some industries. Fine dining, amusement parks, car rentals, hotels come to mind. In the past, customer experience has been overlooked. “Build a better mousetrap and people will beat a path to your door.” That maxim assumes that people will put up with a load of inconvenience to get to the door, and the the experience of buying something ranks secondary to having the product, or doesn’t rank at all. That’s largely untrue.

    But it’s reductive to suggest that companies design experiences, not products. Experiences, products, and the outcomes products produce are related entities, but they are not the same. Vendors need to consider all of them when figuring out what gets delivered to customers and how it’s delivered. At a fine restaurant, wilted lettuce is a bad product, the experience of eating it (or discovering it) is unpleasant, and the outcome – a embarrassed host, a disgruntled client or guest – is not good.

    Apple’s iPhone marketing success has been overused, but deserves mention here. Had Apple created just an elegant product, without integrating an easy – even fun – buying experience and post-purchase experience, the iPhone would not have achieved market dominance. And if the company hadn’t considered the outcome (results) that people needed to achieve, they would not have been successful growing a large ecosystem of software developers and partners.

  4. Hmmm. Andrew, i do wonder if you are missing the point. Viewing products and services as “experience producers” is quiet the opposite of reductionism. I am suggesting that we work backward from “what do we want people to feel” to the gestalt of product and service design. I think in the end that is what you are arguing with your Apple example. Nonetheless, thank you for reading.


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