Your customer experience defines your brand. This adage is so powerful that entire bodies of research have arisen at publishers such Forrester and Gartner to examine the inter-relationship between branding and customer experience. Experience design is getting more complicated and exciting. These are challenging and rewarding times for designers who can adapt to designing for post-digital experiences.

We’ve evolved rapidly from an era of designing in-store analog experiences and integrating digital interfaces. Now designers are tackling a thornier challenge: how to embed smart technologies such as artificial intelligence into the experience. For instance, with AI, designers are being asked to create virtual experiences such as rooms that talk to you when you walk into them. Consequently, experience designers need to become stronger cognitive designers. As Daryl Pereira, Creative Lead for IBM Watson & Cloud Platform, wrote in a Medium post,

Another way of looking at cognitive is that the invisible now becomes visible. If you walk into a room and that room now knows more about you, and may even start conversing with you, this opens up new potential for human/computer interaction. This brings up a question of agency that did not exist previously. For instance one of the SoftBank Pepper robots you see around the World of Watson can start interacting with you before you start talking. Do you find this freaky? Is it magical? If anything, it evokes some form of emotional response. Daryl goes on to say, “We’re moving from a technology era that was dictated by compute and storage to one where the tools are getting smarter and increasing their potential to encapsulate human expertise.”

Cognitive design means designing experiences based on an interaction, not on the information that appears onscreen. Cognitive design requires designers to become more evolved as they tackle ambient and intelligent experiences. For designers in this new world, the goal is to get technology to work well with people. By understanding human beings and human cognition, the new designer can make technology and services better for people are involved. AI-based experiences, chatbots, and immersive technologies such as augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality demand that designers understand the relationship between the brain, the body, and content. Cognitive designers also need to be that bridge between technology and human capabilities.

Put another way: chatbots require a designer to ask, How do I design for a conversation instead of designing for a screen interface? The answer requires designers to deeply understand the nature of a conversation between two people and the cognitive nature of each interaction in that conversation.

CoverGirl Example

A recently launched CoverGirl augmented reality experience illustrates both the challenge and excitement of cognitive design.

CoverGirl has collaborated with Walmart to make it possible for consumers to virtually try on different products from CoverGirl’s Spring 2018 collection. Using their mobile or desktop web browsers with a live camera, consumers can use “try on” different CoverGirl makeup products – ranging from Smoky Eye to Doe-Eyed – with an augmented reality experience that overlays how each product looks on a person.

What makes the experience lovable is that CoverGirl taps into a natural behavior of its customers – they like to play with different products and see themselves wearing them.

As noted in this article, the AR experience “is designed to close the gap between inspiration and purchase.” To close that gap, CoverGirl needed to apply cognitive design. An augmented reality experience such as CoverGirl’s requires a designer to think about the most fluid way of gaining inspiration. The experience is not just about collecting a bunch of pretty pictures (ala Pinterest or Instagram). Rather, “Try It” inspires consumers by making it possible for them to see the products applied to themselves. In doing so, they can visually see how they will look versus how they might look. Cognitive designers need to activate the human senses. For CoverGirl, they are activating sight.

Tango Teacher

At Moonshot, we recently applied cognitive design when we developed our own Tango Teacher app, which uses augmented reality to teach you how to do the Tango. We designed the app using Apple’s ARKit augmented reality development framework.

The challenge to creating Tango was designing an experience for a phone’s small screen with augmented reality content. The heavy lifting came from designing a user experience in which someone holds their phone in front of them and learns how to tango by watching the instructions appear on the floor via augmented reality. Designing the experience meant understanding the mind-body interaction:

  • Appreciating a person’s limited range of vision as they hold a phone and navigate a dance step
  • Considering how long it takes for the user to look at a screen, look at the ground, and mentally react to the experience occurring onscreen
  • Displaying a 3D object on a 2D screen, which meant positioning a virtual object on to the real world so that the object appeared on the screen as if it were part of the real world in the exact position of where it is intended to be
  • Designing for learning a new motor skill requires balancing sight, sound, and touch interactions both digitally and physically.

We believe businesses can make significant gains with augmented reality, especially with the understanding that people have all the technology they need to use an augmented experience right in their pockets. But those experiences need to be lovable to take hold. Tango is one of many experiments we at Moonshot do for applying cognition for the benefits for people.

What You Should Do

To design the post-digital brand experience, I recommend that businesses:

  • Re-examine and define the emotional essence of their brand. Is the brand about utility? Luxury? Creating happiness? What does your experience stand for?
  • Examine the wants and needs of your customers. Do you see a need or want that your brand experience is not meeting, or an opportunity to create a new one?
  • Take stock of how to design for the 5 senses. This is the first step in understanding how to apply cognition for the benefit of your target users.
  • Use a test-and-learn approach to prototype different experiences that are true to your brand essence and meet a customer want or need. Here is where the real fun begins – where you ask, “How would a voice-based product meet that need” or “Would immersive reality play a role, and how?” You might find that no post-digital experience works – and that’s OK. With a process such as a five-day design sprint, you can test the viability of post-digital experiences, reject them if they don’t work, and develop the ideas that show promise, with minimal cost and risk.
  • Post-Digital designers need to think like psychologists to design for wayfinding, language, decision making, emotion, memory, and vision/attention when it comes to creating ambient and intelligent experiences; humanizing interactions along the way.

At Moonshot, our capabilities are centered around designing for cognition to meet this new world of ambient and intelligent systems. Our approach combines design thinking and lean innovation to help businesses achieve tangible outcomes in product development, experience design, and engineering.  Contact us to learn more.

Amish Desai

Amish Desai

Head of Experiences