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June 27, 2017 /UX/UI Design /

Ask An UXpert: What Does Holistic UX Design Mean To You?

User experiences begin far before anyone ever interacts with your design. Just as the user has a journey path, so too does the design of a user’s experience. It begins with an idea and culminates in an interaction, but it is the thinking that happens in between where the real magic happens.

Interfaces and interactions are evolving, making it increasingly crucial to approach design challenges from a holistic perspective. With this being a relatively contemporary concept, we reached out to five user experience experts to find out how they define holistic UX design and what this looks like in the context of their work. Here’s what they had to say.

Taking a Full System Approach to Understanding Customer Impact

Holistic design means the freedom to investigate a problem space and uncover points of leverage where proposed solutions can have the greatest impact on people. My work tends to live outside of the visual layer of design, to the underlying system that supports the product. I frequently see that external user pains are most often caused by internal breakdowns.

In addition to getting input from users, it is important to review the internal system of technology, mindsets, people, and process that support the experience. Are the people involved at all level of the design process set up to succeed in creating experiences that delight users? Is there alignment across the organization? What silos or barriers are resulting in decisions that negatively impact end-users?

In many cases the use of technology, structure, and processes within an organization have been established in a way that serves the system itself, not the people. My best work is when I get the opportunity to provide input to how teams can better function for their own health and the good of the users. A key benefit of a robust discovery phase is making connections that recombine existing components of the system in new ways that reduce barriers and better support great customer experiences.

~ Karen Whistler, User Experience Strategist, Modern Craft

Recognizing the Micro-Moments That Happen Throughout the Entire User Experience Journey

When trying to solve design problems, designers are primarily concerned with the functionalities and aesthetics of a product. Holistic design goes beyond that; it considers human moments in context and incorporates all aspects of the ecosystem in which a product is employed. It is about designing an experience holistically where ‘the whole is considered more than the sum of its parts,’ and maintaining this bias throughout the consumer lifecycle, along with all the touch-points where a user will be interacting with a product.

Increasingly, our lives are filled with digital interactions parsed into ‘micro-moments’—microinteractions—involving several devices in a variety of situations and environments. Typically these days, it’s pretty common for us to move from tablet to laptop to mobile device (to an interactive mirror or TV). Even our ‘fridges talk back to us.

Holistic design takes into account the person, the device, the moment, the ethnographic environment, the physical space as well as human behavior and psychology, i.e. thinking, attitudes, emotions, motivations, abilities, triggers etc., and aims to deliver an optimal experience. At times the entire experience (with a product or brand) is not limited to digital devices but is a mix of digital, real-world brick-and-mortar, and human-to-human interactions.

New modes of interaction are emerging that will function beyond the screen—voice and mid-air gestures, interactions with IoT devices, wearables, and robots. Holistic design will become increasingly important as more of our daily interactions will be interconnected via these microinteractions—and when this condition comes into full effect, the right things at the right time will need to work in the right way.

~ Miklos Philips, Principal User Experience Designer, Toptal Freelancer

Rendering Intent Across the Entire User Experience

To us at Center Centre, “holistic UX design” means intentionally designing all aspects across the entire experience. We start with the definition we use for design: the rendering of intent. Designers have an intention they’d like to see in the world, and they use the tools of design to render that intention.

Holistic design is when we render intent across the entire experience, whether it’s on a computer, in a workplace, or out in the open. It’s thinking about all the parties involved, such as customers, employees, and people up and down the supply chain. As designers, we make the world better by improving all of those people’s experiences through our design.

At Center Centre, we take a very holistic approach to design. We go beyond just the online skills of interaction design and visual design. Our students learn how to see the bigger picture, and they learn what steps to take to improve it. We believe holistic design is the future of design and we want to ensure every student in our program is prepared for that future.

 ~ Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, Co-CEO, Center Centre

Holistic Design is Interconnected and Evolutionary

We need to define both holistic and design first. To design is to think. Design is the ability to be able to broaden our perception of the world around, to see the unseen, and make it appear as a new purposeful addition to the real world.

Holistic design is to see and think of the world in two broad dimensions – as interconnected and evolving systems. Holistic design is formed by and leads to interconnected systems. Evolving nature of holistic design is when the design leads to the evolution of the interconnected systems.

A good example of holistic design is the design of fire for it’s one of the oldest designs we can trace back to. Designed over 2 million years ago, fire was supposedly discovered by rubbing two stones over a heap of dry leaves. Never did the world perceive a connection between dried leaves and stones before the design of fire.

The design of fire led to the evolution of the human race from Homo Erectus to Homo Sapiens as it led to the design of cooking and much more.

Holistic Design in UX

UX is User Experience, where experience is something that evolves over time. Holistic UX Design, in my view, is designing an end-user’s journey with a product or service and the systems it’s interconnected with.

~ Karthik Vijayakumar, Founder and Principal, DYT Studios & Host of The Design Your Thinking Podcast


To Embody the Whole of the Experience While Paying Attention to the Critical Details That Make it Tick

I always start with what is the broadest context of the question asked by the client and then bring it back to the original question or context. Zooming out and zooming in brings a different perspective to the question and can reveal a much simpler solution or a solution in another area than originally thought. It also often highlights which details really matter and need the attention in the final moments of the project.

Lately, I am more concept design and project lead than a pure UX designer, but bringing the user perspective from a zoom in/out perspective is often a powerful and unique tool to simplify and rationalize the solution.

~ Jeroen Hermkens, Founder, Het is Simpel

Some responses have been edited for grammar and length.

How do you define holistic ux design? Do you think it is going to become an increasingly important part of a designer’s role? Tell us in the comments below.

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