80 years ago, the bar for a retail experience was low. A simple shelf in a gas station was enough to display our company’s initial product line. Today, that won’t cut it. Today’s designers have to incorporate scores of inputs, from how our customers encounter our products online and in the real world, to multiple departmental budgets and timelines converging around a campaign. In this environment, it’s easy for customer perspective to get lost.
And yet customer experience is more important than ever. “Experience” is the secret sauce that will save physical stores from Internet giants. For designers, experience can be an overwhelmingly broad and loosely defined concept that is dependent on context and requires a rich understanding of the people for whom we are designing.
As leaders within our company’s design and research teams, we’ll walk through our experience research and design approach via a case study of REI’s recently redesigned camping department. We’ll share this process in detail: understanding customers in their authentic context; comparing information behavior in the physical and digital worlds; fostering customer-centricity on diverse design teams; carrying this empathy through physical space design, prototyping, and iteration; and navigating the politics of experience design.
Stuart Maxwell is the Lead Information Architect on REI’s Findability team, where he focuses on taxonomy development, metadata design, and findability strategies. In his spare time, he organizes community events, such as this year’s World IA Day Seattle. He has a Masters in Information Management from the University of Washington.