I started my career as a graphic designer with an emphasis on print. This is what I learned  at Hussian School of Art even though I knew then I was missing a huge chunk of necessary education; designing for the web. After I graduated from Hussian, I immediately re-enrolled back to my local community college where I received my fine art degree from and began taking full-time night classes on web development. In time, I made the jump from print designer to also being a competent web designer.

That was back in 2012 and the world has changed. Design has become recognized as a valuable cornerstone for business by the masses. The design disciplines have matured and what was once a niche focus has bloomed into viable career paths. New technology has spurred much of this growth. Designing for apps has become a career all in of itself, quite separate from web design. Product and service design is a blend of user interface, the web and visual design. Visual Designers blend illustration to become icon designers. Some of you might read this and completely agree with me and others might argue every single point. Regardless of where you stand, we can all agree that in the last five years, design as an industry has changed.

I was a visual and web designer for a long time, but I had done some work on user interface. Back when Flash was still king of the interactive experience online. Interaction design, UI, and the whole UX was something that I innately worked on with any project. Several of the agencies and in-house teams I worked at had done user experience but called them things like “Shared experience”, “Integrated Marketing Communications”, and “Seamless Brand Integration”. If anything, our industry isn’t short on catch phrases and buzzwords.

In 2014, I made a conscientious effort to work more in the UX realm. Already as a visual designer and web designer, I could think along the lines of brand integration and continuing an experience that was shared on print and digital. Neilsen Norman Group defines User Experience as encompassing all aspects of an end user’s interaction with a company, its services, and products. Thinking along these lines, as professional, I was already working in this mindset. My good friends at Ephyra Group scoff at that blatant misuse of the term UX when the people really mean UI Design.

“UX is the total customer experience, from the digital, marketing, print and customer service experiences. It’s not just one thing, it’s everything.”

So is there a “switch” to UX Design or is it a buzzword? In my opinion, a smart designer is already taking into consideration the total experience when they are working a project. I think that the business world is jumping on the term “UX Design” as a keyword to help them catch up to what smart, successful ventures are already reaping the benefits from.

Let’s take the good old standby of design and break it down; Apple. Apple is known for its dedication to design and rightfully so. They take everything into consideration as the only luxury computer company. Everything from the experience of dealing with the employees at an Apple store to the packaging, to the OS and the marketing drips with integrated atmosphere.

For another example of good design and user experience, I am looking at Sheetz Convenience Stores in the Mid-Atlantic region. Sheet is a gas station, convenience store, fast food place all in one. They practice a strategy called TCF; Total Customer Focus. This is a huge part of their employee training. Everything from their marketing, store layout, and employee interactions creates this total customer focus. In particular, there are five components to an interaction with an employee at a Sheetz store that every customer can expect and it’s called the GUEST program.

G – Greet, every employee acknowledges and greets that customer regardless of where they are at in the store. A standard greeting is “Hi, welcome to Sheetz”.

U – Uniform, every employee is instantly recognizable with a Sheetz t-shirt or polo, Hat, name tag and promo button. Deviation from that uniform means they are not ready for work.

E – Else, “Will there be anything else”. This phrase verbatim is key to any interaction with a Sheetz employee.

S – Smile, Boiling down the experience to have a cheerful and warm demeanor is vital for the Sheetz employee to interact with customers.

T – Thank You, not thanks, but Thank You. Thank you’s continue to build the brand loyalty.

That is a powerful program that is just one facet of their total customer focus. The continue this experience across their communication platforms, from their website to the customer loyalty card program, from window clings on the cooler doors to the bright red overhangs on the gas pumps. This creates a focused experience for the customer. In the context of user experience design, Sheetz champions this in their industry.

So again, the switch. How do you make the switch from “design discipline A” to “UX Design”? In my opinion, you don’t make a switch. You expand your knowledge and look at the bigger picture. If Sheetz’s GUEST program was never realized, Sheetz would be a  different company. So how do you as a designer approach UX Design? Think about the entire life cycle of experiences that an end user would have with the company, the services, and products. As a web designer or visual designer working on a team, you might have your focuses but working to realize a larger goal and experience should be the ultimate goal you are trying to create.

So the switch is an illusion. You’re growing as a designer and taking into consideration more than just one aspect of a client project. You’re thinking more globally.

November 23, 2015

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