The True Power of UX Goes Beyond Digital

by Jared M. Spool

There’s a tendency to think that when we’re designing for a user’s experience, we’re only talking about applications, websites, and other digital products and services. Yet, UX design encompasses far more than digital design. It always has.

Last week, I was in Memphis, TN at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I met with the UX team at the hospital’s fundraising and awareness organization, ALSAC. That team is responsible for the experience of people funding the hospital’s operation and maintenance. They’ve built out websites, applications, email campaigns, and any number of digital tools and services to make it easy to donate to St. Jude’s.

The UX team formed when ALSAC realized that building digital tools would be difficult. Before that, the organization hadn’t thought at all about designing donor experiences. It had never occurred to anyone to bring on a UX team.

Many organizations formed their first UX teams under the same circumstances. They hadn’t thought about user experience until they were struggling to deliver well-designed experiences.

That almost always happened as they were making their first forays into delivering digital products and services. This is why we meet people who think UX only is for digital, even though user experiences aren’t constrained to the digital product experience.

“As a donor, I want to make a donation.”

It’s easy to imagine how UX design will make a better donation process. Donating money is similar to online e-commerce or banking. After all, boiled down, it’s the process of transferring money from one bank or credit card account to another.

Yet, that’s a very limited view of the donor’s overall experience of making a contribution to St. Jude’s. A donation to St. Jude’s is much more than a payment transfer.

Making a donation is incredibly meaningful. For example, St. Jude’s focuses on child cancer and other life-threatening childhood diseases. It’s a research hospital and uses money that ALSAC collects to pay for the research.

St. Jude’s also uses money to assist the families of children. Families don’t have to pay for housing, travel, or food while to be there when a child is treated at St. Jude’s. That support helps families focus on their child.

Every donor is making a difference in people’s lives. While there’s a financial transaction underlying each donation, it’s a big mistake to see the design of the donor’s experience as only the moment of the transaction.

Experiences happen before and after the transaction.

St. Jude’s partners with local marathon events to raise money for the hospital. Runners who raise at least $250 in donations become a St. Jude Hero. Heroes who raise larger donations get rewards and benefits, including exclusive access to celebrity events and hotel stays during the marathon weekend.

The UX team has innumerable ways to craft great experiences for the Heroes running the race, the volunteers organizing the event, and the fundraising staff coordinating the volunteers. These marathon events take months of planning and attract thousands of participants.

There a large range of experiences before the first donation is collected. And the experience doesn’t end with the financial transaction. Every Hero wants to know how St. Jude’s used their donation. Plus, there are future fundraising events those donors might wish to attend, to continue supporting the hospital.

The entire experience, not just the digital bits.

To meet ALSAC’s mission of raising the necessary funds for St. Jude’s, the UX team must go beyond what the user experiences while interacting with digital products and services. Their design must include their audiences’ offline experiences too.

The UX research efforts must bring everyone at the organization a deep awareness of what each audience member’s experience is like today. When are those experiences frustrating and when are they delightful?

The UX content efforts must support every aspect of the experience, whether it’s online or not. The donors need tremendous support before and after they make their donations.

The UX design efforts must tie each audience member’s journey into a cohesive experience. It needs to feel connected from start to finish, making each donor feel valued and appreciated at every moment. The team couldn’t do this if they only focused on the digital components.

Nobody at St. Jude’s knew about user experience until they created their first online web site. Since then, they have needed to broaden their understanding of what UX is.

They had to expand their UX thinking to encompass the entire experience, from beginning to end. This broad view of UX is necessary to deliver well-designed products and services that meet the organization’s goals.

About the Author

Jared M. Spool is a co-founder of Center Centre and the founder of UIE. In 2016, with Dr. Leslie Jensen-Inman, he opened Center Centre, a new design school in Chattanooga, TN to create the next generation of industry-ready UX Designers. They created a revolutionary approach to vocational training, infusing Jared’s decades of UX experience with Leslie’s mastery of experience-based learning methodologies.

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