Physical vs Digital vs Engagement – 4D UX Design –

Physical vs Digital vs Engagement – 4D UX Design

Balancing digital and physical experiences is key to the overall customer experience
Balancing digital and physical experiences is key to the overall customer experience.

I guest lecture at Kingston University Business School a few times a year.

One of these lectures is a workshop that kick starts the new academic year with a “Design Challenge” similar to the hack-a-thons, Design Jams and other workshops I have run in the past at UK and other international conferences. Keys to success include speed and the ability to put together a business case, often supported by  a very tangible prototype.

Usually  the challenge is framed round creating the experience and interface for a smartphone device (iPhone or Android handset). Doing this at the start of an academic year gives students an important overview of business project considerations as well as a framework solve problems they can revisit when preparing their final year businesses projects.

Students attending my workshop include MBA, MS, MA, PHD students and teachers in film, project management, business studies, creative economy, sculpture, art history, user experience, media design and design management. This year I was asked to open up the challenge and make it a service design one instead, where the solution isn’t just a mobile app (but where mobile can play one part of the solution) and where levels of digital engagement and physical experience both need to be entertained.

I have always considered emotion (feelings), space (in a physical place or culture) and time (at a specific moment) to be part of the user’s experience but attending CHI this year in Paris made me realise that there are still gaps and disconnections between hard core academics in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) design, business strategy, behavioural psychology and more traditional experimental/startup and tactical UX practices in the real world.

This is especially true with companies who want to incorporate lean startup into their organisations but don’t fully understand the mindset shifts, under appreciate the value to strategic UX and how important having clear roles and responsibilities together with an shared approach to improving existing and new processes needed for success.

The challenge I issued this year was to tackle the decline in museum visits to the Tate Modern by ‘reinventing’ the museum experience. I asked students to factor in real needs (business and customer), real spaces, real technology and real trends and deliver a solution that covers the full spectrum of non-digital and digital experiences. The added challenge being that they had less than 11 hours over the course of 2 days to do it.

In order to remember that not all user experiences are in front of a digital only interface, I asked students to think about previous and future museum experiences where digital may play a smaller part or no part at all: How can this help them to gain truly more useful context to better design the digital parts of the experience and vice versa. The value of design in this case is finding the correct balance of physical and digital needs and making them work together. This workshop; touched upon the varying degrees of digital and real world interactions necessary to ensure success; highlighting the power of applying a holistic UX Design approach that encompasses digital and non-digital experiences.

It was a fun experience where I had to adapt strategies and mentoring approaches on the fly. In the end, it proved to be a very interesting and successful experiment; one that has equipped me and the students who took part to better challenge, adapt and back up design solutions to a far greater depth than if purely considering a digital experience on its own.

The success of any new idea, therefore, starts when all relevant factors are considered (including culture, intent and expectation) before rapidly creating that MVP experiment  to validate assumptions; the value of which can be clearly seen across the entire customer journey.


  1 comment for “Physical vs Digital vs Engagement – 4D UX Design

  1. Elliot Felix
    November 30, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Nice to see you building on our LeanUX session – a great design challenge! In case people are interested, here’s the deck from that session with the source of the opportunity map and other resources: Enjoy!

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