[Review] X: The Experience When Business Meets Design (Brian Solis)

solis

Brian Solis has a new book out and it is an instant classic. X: The Experience When Business Meets Design is sure to inspire new thoughts and actions.

Everyone works hard. Everyone has good ideas. Everyone wants to succeed.

But only some make it.

Why?

The ‘x’ factor, that undefinable difference that means some rise to the top and others can only watch as they do. Until now.

In his new book, X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, Brian Solis explains in great detail and with reference to classic examples how to grasp that ‘x’ factor and succeed in business.

And what is that ‘x’ factor? Simply put, it is the nexus of business and design, and the experience that emerges when business care enough to think through the effects of their design decisions – including the design of processes, retail outlets, customer interfaces, products, and systems – on customers and optimize for a superior experience each and every time.

The Book

Solis divides his book into nine sections of varying lengths. Some are short, to the point and limited in their scope, while others are divided into sub-sections, each with their own stories to tell and lessons to be learned. It’s not a book that is written to be read out of order, though after a first reading there is certainly value in revisiting certain information-heavy sections. Section five on mapping, for example, is a part of the book that bears reading more than once, and there will be value in bookmarking this section for easy review.

The presentation and design of the book is interesting, colorful, and a tribute to the talents of designers at Mekanism.

The Argument

Opening the book Solis states his objectives for the book in no uncertain terms:

Close your eyes for a moment and think about the last time you truly had a great experience with a company as a consumer, an experience that captured your heart, mind, and spirit.

What about it was special?

Let’s call it “x”—that je ne sais quoi that makes something so special.

This book is about x, creating such memorable moments for your customers through every encounter they have with your brand—all day, every day.

Solis continually returns to the connections that brands can make between themselves and their customers. Drawing on examples from around the world, Solis illustrates how putting the customer at the center of a brand’s decision making process not only results in a better experience, but success – financial, commercial, and social – for the brand, too.

An Example of X: Telstra

solis-telstra-ad

While it is probably not a surprise to find some of the biggest names in international marketing and brand management mentioned positively in the book (Apple fans will find numerous references to their favorite brand in Solis’ text) there are other less well-known brands that stand as examples of delivering the ‘x’ Solis is promoting.

Among these lesser known brands is Telstra, an Australian media and telecommunications company that made science-fiction into science-fact. Or more precisely, took the customer experience and made it something akin to magic. Solis describes the Sydney flagship store experience that Telstra customers enjoy:

It starts when you approach the store. Beacons activate the Telstra app to greet incoming customers, and they can select the reason for their visit, which is then sent to the store’s floor manager via tablet. Once a Telstra Advisor is available to greet the customer, a notification will be sent to the customer with a picture of their advisor and a location in-store to meet him or her.

Even Apple’s retail team could learn a thing or two about Telstra’s UX approach to in-store activity.

That’s high praise from an Apple fan like Solis. He continues with an emphasis on the design elements of the store itself:

solis-telstra-space

It’s open and spacious, of course. It’s also incredibly well organized. But a few other key things struck me instantly.

First, the wooden slats on the ceiling were noticeably, but barely I should say, different. Some were tightly grouped. Others were slatted with distinct gaps. When I asked about this, I was told that these configurations subtly direct customers to key areas in the store. Those more tightly grouped represent the most important destinations.

Second, I noticed the absence of a register or sections that separated the customer from Telstra representatives. Instead the store features small, open podiums and rectangular tables and chairs, such as at coffeehouses or a library, which are meant to bring people closer together while also flattening the engagement experience, making it more natural and friendly.

As Solis is most interested in where the practices of business intersect with design, he identifies how the Telstra experience is enhanced by the staff who serve in the well-designed store:

Advisors can also use tablets to serve customers from anywhere in the store. The plan is that they will eventually even be able to order a tea or coffee for customers from their tablets.

They’ve had world-class training, and it shows. I never saw a representative leave the sight of their customer even when they went to get a product.

Finally he notes that classic design touches – putting products behind a screen to enhance value, for example – can be supplemented with the most modern of technologies to amazing effect:

Telstra introduced a subtle but enchanting feature of the design is that all products are shelved behind translucent doors that slide open, which adds a certain grandeur to the browsing experience.

solis-telstra-sandbox

One of my favorite features is the “Sandbox.” Situated at a waist-high stance, this grand table, like a giant iPad, features a vibrant and interactive service. Customers can compare handsets and other products by placing them on a digital display to access information, including price, battery, speed, and reviews.

In short, then, Telstra has enabled a customer experience where design meets expectations, service is enabled by technology instead of technology being a barrier to service, and where sales and satisfaction are up. Solis concludes his example by quoting Telstra’s then-CEO who explains:

Technology is constantly changing, and the needs of our customers change rapidly, too. Our customers are telling us that they appreciate our more personalized approach to service. We also know they like to touch and experience things in a store and they also like the choice, speed, and convenience of digital channels.

Note the keywords:

  • Technology
  • Change
  • Needs
  • Personal
  • Experience
  • Choice
  • Speed
  • Convenience

These keywords form the basis for the story of Australia’s Telstra, America’s Disney and Denmark’s LEGO – both of the latter feature in Solis’ book, too – and define this era of ‘x’ that Solis outlines.

Who Should Read This Book

This is a book for business people who are committed to doing rather than dreaming.

While he offers a strong theoretical argument to underpin his work, Solis keeps his focus on the practical. X will appeal to business people who want to move ahead in their design, practices, and systems, and who can be humble enough to learn from both Solis and the numerous world-class examples he offers in the text.

There is plenty of inspiration packed into the pages of Solis’ book but it is inspiration for action. In other words, the reader will be motivated to change the way they go about their business rather than find confirmation that their current approach is correct and mainstream. Indeed, as Solis notes again and again, by moving away from the mainstream of ‘good for business’ and embracing the ‘good for customer’ model instead, businesses and customers will win out in the end.

Get your copy of X: The Experience When Business Meets Design today!

(Images of Telstra flagship store via Telstra)

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