TL;DR —A process on how to envision something entirely new.

Over the holiday break, I re-listened to one of my favourite podcasts from the folks at Master of Scale by Reid Hoffman. I highly recommend checking this dude out. He has the most engaging ads I’ve ever come across. I learn something new each episode. Anyway, in this particular episode, Reid interviews the CEO of Airbnb, Brian Chesky, about building a hand crafted experience from day one — Looking at every single interaction touchpoint of your product or service that your customer touches, and finding opportunities to experiment with. You can find a link to the episode here.

As you listen a little further into the episode, there’s a wonderful section in the podcast where Brian goes into detail on one of the activities that helped him and his team to plan out the future of Airbnb. It’s an imaginative to craft what he calls an ‘11-star experience’.

What the hell is an 11-star experience?

It’s an exercise to force you and your team to imagine the end result in it’s optimum form of your product or service. It forces you to deliberately think at each stage about how you can build an experience that people fucking love, and how to use these ideas to convince people to recommend your product or service to their friends or family. It’s like a rating system. You’re hypothetically rating your experience, and then imagining how you could outdo yourself. At each star the product or service will improve by obsessing over the type of interaction the customer will face.

In Brian’s example, he and his team took a part of their product and envisioned 11 different types of experiences a person could face when they arrive at a new house. In his first star-experience, the person would rock-up and no one would be home to let them in. Not something you would want to tell your friends about. In his second-star experience, the person would show up, but they would be waiting around for 30 minutes or so. Still not better than a hotel. The third star, you show up and the person lets you in.

His story gets a little more interesting when he talks about the sixth star. Just imagine, you knock on the door, the host opens the door and takes your bag. Meanwhile, they show you around their place and on the table there’s a gift of a bottle of wine. The entire experience is great. Way better than a hotel. Hold on. How can you beat that? Just imagine, you arrive at the airport and there’s a surprise limo waiting for you, and inside, it’s completely up to know all your preferences, and has your favourite song playing in the background. It can’t get any better than that? Right?

Fast forward a bit, how about his ten star-experience — You arrive at your destination and there’s 5000 yelling fans waiting for you, just like the Beatles 1964 world tour. That would be a mind blowing experience. How can you top that? This is where the magic happens. I believe by pushing yourself past 10 you get to an interesting place. The 11 star experience that Chesky envisions involves him and Elon Musk waiting for you at the airport, and they greet you and say: “You’re going to space.”

The point of the process is that 9, 10 and 11 are probably not that feasible in today’s world, but if you go through the exercise, there might be some sweet spot from five to seven. This is the kind of stuff that guides the narrative for you and your team to gather around to push on forward.

What’s the process?

It begins with thinking about the end result that you’re aiming for. As I mention above, the end result Brian wanted to explore was the type of interactions a person may face when they are arriving at their new destination. He deemed this touchpoint critical in the entire Airbnb experience and needed to deliberately design something amazing. This is really important to understand before you begin. Once you have an understanding of what this touchpoint looks like, you can begin building out a rough story of your first-star experience. I would suggest to keep it short and snappy. It doesn’t have to be more than a sentence or two. Something small that can be easily communicated within your team.

The first few stars should cover off the functional aspects of the experience before you move further into the exercise.

Next step: Think of what type of experience would get you your next star?

The more you move further into the exercise, the more you are inclined to go off track, which does not meet the needs of the end result.

Once you get past your seven and eight star, things will start to get tricky. You need to explore different types of pleasurable moments. Things that are only personable to your customers.

Lastly, the magical 11 star moment should be the holy grail. Something so out of control, people will not stop talking about it. It needs to be designed as a meaningful experience, that they would never forget.

Shaping our future

We must never forget that our job as designers is fundamentally about shaping and creating the future we want to live in. From a website redesign to a large scale enterprise product. The current state will not be the last iteration, and it’s our responsibility to setup the if you want to have a say on where the product is going. This exercise shifts your thinking to explore a range of ideas that you might not even think of before. By going through this exercise, you have the opportunity to create a long-term product story, not just focusing on the problems of ‘today’, but thinking about where the result could head in the future.

Happy future visioning. Thanks for reading. ✌️

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