The Race to win customers’ minds and hearts is ON! and experience is what defines and differentiates a brand. With competition getting the fiercest, brands have started to pay a special attention to how instrumental designing for experiences is to their business growth. We’ve exclusively interviewed Gary Hoff, Executive Creative Director of IBM iX, for his views. 

BB: Experience Design (XD) has recently been one of the buzziest terms in the world of brands. In your opinion, and from the strategy manual of IBM iX, What experience design is really all about ?

GH:Ha ha, I wish there was an overall strategy manual it would make life simple

Gary Hoff – IBM iX

Experience design is about every touch point and interaction someone has with your brand, and most importantly how it makes them feel.

Think about your relationship with any brand and think of how they make you feel. If a brand is showing you adverts on billboards which look beautiful and when you walk in to their store they make you feel welcome and don’t ever sell to you and when you use their products and services you feel empowered to be creative that could make you feel positive and trust builds with that brand.

If on the other hand you see an advert which is bland and price driven and then you call that service and the customer service person is rude and unhelpful or tries to sell hard, it makes you feel unwelcome and embarrassed. Chances are you will avoid that brand and find another if you can.   

One of my favourite experiences is to walk into an Address hotel, I like the fragrance they use and is a subtle reminder of their brand. There’s often someone playing a piano in the foyer and generally there is always a calm buzz about the place.  

Another favorite is Shazam to Apple Music, I DJ a lot and use it to discover new tracks on mixcloud that haven’t got track listings. Then the classics I buy from flipside in Alserkal Ave on vinyl (who also have an amazing Instagram account for inspiration) and the others I buy in digital format.
I use various platforms to journal tracks to become mixes back onto Mixcloud. Apple music then recommends new music through their AI that build on composition, artists, producers and genres.

So experience design for me is about the brand value and your relationship with it. If your experience fails, your brand fails. We have moved on from transactions to interactions. Any brand that works purely in transactions is in a race to the bottom of price. Apple, Tesla, Netflix, Emirates, Etihad, Noon, Emaar, Google, Airbnb, Nike, Adidas, Instagram, Warby Parker and more are redefining what brand experience means.

BB: Experience design is driven by consideration of the moments of engagement, or touch points, between people and brands. How can experience design empower the digital- savvy connected consumers of today ?

GH: I think community empowerment is a whole article in itself. UAE has around 97% penetration of smart phones it is one of the highest in the world, so I think that says a lot of how progressive and open to the world the UAE is. A good experience is easily shared and actively builds community. Digital can bring content and ideas together in the time place that are immediate and useful to us.

We have so many new things coming down the line with AI, XR (Extended Reality), Automation that can give brands added experience and customers and staff will be taking full advantage of them.

BB: Brands stand or fail based on the customer experiences they create. Can you mention the top 5 lessons brands can learn from the success and failures of experience design around the world ?


Lesson 1 Innovation
Guy Kawasaki talks about jumping the innovation curve. He said,
“None of the ice cutters became ice factories, none of the ice factories made refrigerators” and I would further propose that none of the refrigerators have become Nest. If you want to succeed as a brand you need to jump the innovation curve or accept your place as a commodity or go out of business.

Segway, was ahead of it’s time in personal transport but didn’t consider onwards travel with metro and taxi for long journeys as they were too big/heavy and didn’t fold. The new e-scooters are a good evolution of these, they are built around the experience of the last few miles thinking. Xaiomi in China ended up buying Segway, the new Ninebot ES2 is amazing, it has a 30KM range, 25kph speed and it is foldable.

Lesson 2 Integrity
Apple of course, their attention to detail and ability to simplify the complex has made them the most valuable company on the planet. Walk into Apple store at The Dubai Mall or Mall of the Emirates and they are always busy morning and night. Apple is a master class in how to deliver brand experience. Software, hardware, retail, community, content, architecture even urban planning with councils to renovate public spaces such around Milan and Chicago stores, they do it all so well.

Lesson 3 Interaction
Make every interaction have purpose and value. I don’t want to interact if there is no value in it.
By this I don’t mean just tapping a screen, it’s how you talk to me and how you make me feel.
Brands make so many mistakes by asking if people want to take part in a survey before you’ve even spoken to someone on the phone. A success is Uber, who ask after you take a trip so that it is relevant and timely, I can decide to review or dismiss, it’s my choice and is timed well.

Lesson 4 Insight
If customers give you permission to use their data, you could tell them if their favourite parking spot is available at the mall, if they can be upgraded or if their car needs servicing. I once watched film trailers that had been edited by AI and each one was tailored to the individuals viewing habits, so someone could see none stop action and another could see the court room drama.

Use my data to help me and add value not send me junk emails or unsolicited offers at inappropriate times. It’s just noise and you are actively saying to customers we don’t value you or your time and we don’t even understand you. Add value not noise.

Lesson 5 Impact
What feeling do you leave with your customers. We use IBM Design Thinking to work alongside users to help brands understand how experience effects them. The impact of experience is huge, some people might use software for hours a day or drive a car every day, the impact from this is vital to create experience that is positive and most importantly designed for everyday people.

The other part of impact is what is the impact of the brand on the world, both environmental and psychological. Every brand needs to do more, with less. It’s estimated that the world’s population will grow to 9 billion and in the future there will less arable land, less food, less raw materials, less oil so we need to rethink how we live responsibly, and brands will have to fit in this new world.

BB: When it comes to customer experience design, emotions play an instrumental role. Consumers of today tend to form an emotional bond with brands that are delivering on their promises when it comes to the experience. Please comment. 

GH: I totally agree. Everything is emotion. Now we live in a pay as you go, service culture if you make me feel bad or unwelcome I go somewhere better. Why has Uber been so successful? There is a trust between driver and passenger. If you don’t drive well or behave well as a passenger you get marked down, so the exchange is simple drive safely, be nice and I will be a good passenger.   

BB: Customer experience design is proved to outsize business growth, drive meaningful brand positioning and yield long-term competitive edges. What’s the business value of customer experience design ?

GH: Ford is a good example of how they have started to embed User Experience Design into their business. See link below. They make their engineers and designers put on special suits that show them what it is like to use their cars as different people. They have added in small touches like a cable channel for USB chargers in the arm rest so that your charger doesn’t get worn down by the lid.  

Forrester did a report into IBM Design Thinking and they discovered that companies saw an ROI of 301%. That’s just from using a practice in how to become user centered. In reality it is hard to put a number on it as every company and experience is different, but the value experience design can bring to a brand is more than just monetary, it starts to set a legacy with the culture of the company and it’s value to the market place.

Imagine Apple just made smart phones and the PCs and took away all the experience design, so the software would be poor, the shops could understaffed and no people in them, the staff pressurizing you to buy something you don’t want, maybe they are competing on price alone with all the other manufactures saturating the market out there, the value of that brand would be no where near 1 trillion. In fact if Steve didn’t come back to Apple in 97 and put faith into Jony Ive and his team, it might have closed it’s doors all together.  

BB: The customer experience race is already on and the majority of brands around the world compete primarily on the basis of customer experience. Some brands are getting it right, some brands are learning it the hard way. What are some of the brands in the Middle East you’d consider as hallmarks in customer experience design ?

GH: Good question. Living and working in the middle east has completely changed how I see the world.  Some of the stand out brands and experience design are:

Emirates and Etihad, are redefining what it means to travel. Economy on both their A380s is generous and more like premium economy. DXB and Midfield in Abu Dhabi are outstanding.

The staff are always helpful. I wish they would put Bluetooth connection for NC headphones and Apple iPads in for entertainment, but small things compared to what they do in the UAE and around the world. One bug bear is forcing me to watch the adverts and announcements. A more discrete way would be better so that I can dismiss it. I always pick up my newspaper and switch off when the ads come on.

Noon is really good at giving me a really wide choice of products and options to pay and deliver. The option of cash on delivery was really good when I can’t be bothered to confirm card details, I thought why can’t all brands be like this. I don’t like the pop ads on their app, a small banner ad would be better below the content after I scroll . I like the yellow it instantly connects with me to the brand and I know when Noon has been with their bright yellow package on the door step.

Lourve Abu Dhabi, the ambition, the building, the brand, the experience, the books, the post cards all of it amazing. They have really set the standard for museums not just in the middle east but around the world.

Alserkal Ave. Just clever innovative modern way of bringing Emirati culture and the world of art and design together. I feel so lucky to have this 15mins down the road from me.  

DIFC Gateway Ave. This is an innovative way to merge gardens and the mall by putting the garden on the roof.  

Soho House Istanbul and Mumbai, affordable luxury. The staff are always helpful and I like the way they locate their houses in historic locations and reinvent them.

Brown book magazine. This always opens my mind to other creative people and places in the middle east. It’s a classy publication.  

Dubai Now. to be able to pay and manage all my government services in one app saves me so much time. It would be good to update the design.