The concepts of user experience (UX) and customer experience (CX) are foundational to the way products and content are designed, created, and managed. And further, putting the customer and their experience at the center of the model is a paradigm shift that re-frames the globalization challenge. How can UX/CX designs be made to work across a planet that is culturally and linguistically diverse?
In the summer of 2017 I discovered the book “Ends.” by Joe Macleod, and it resonated with me, both professionally and personally. It's a call to action for UX designers to consider and include closure experiences in their designs. He makes a compelling case for why it's in companies' enlightened self-interest to do so, and explores some of the historical reasons for why we tend to avoid endings, even though they’re a natural and inevitable part of every single human experience. I highly recommend the book.
Joe has vast experience in UX. Before his current focus on closure experiences, he worked as a UX design manager for Nokia and was also a designer for Ustwo, the company behind my favorite mobile video game of all time, Monument Valley. He also has a background in art.
I reached out to Joe to talk to him about the global dimension of this concept of designed offboarding experiences. Below is an abridged version of that conversation.
Jim: In the second half of last year, your book was a real subject in my life. Everything I was thinking about, I was seeing through the lens of this idea of closure experiences.
Joe: Since I started researching it long ago—for maybe a decade now—I almost always look at everyone and everything, especially our consumer experiences, through the lens of an ending and an offboarding experience. And you just think how little and how bad they all are.
Jim: Maybe companies think that it's not important to manage the offboarding experience because they benefit only from onboarding. But, is there an argument to be made that a company actually benefits from managing offboarding experiences?
Joe: I think it goes deeper, actually. I think we are all in this societal denial of endings and offboarding. We’re repulsed by death and that's quite normal. And in business as well, we've distanced ourselves and become repulsed by the idea that somebody will leave our business, or that an end will come to the product.
Jim: Let's put this in a global context. Our audience for our blog is involved in globalization and localization, so one of our questions is: how do you maximize the user experience or user journey in the context of a world with lots of cultures and different languages? If a designer is responsible for user experience globally, what are the things that they need to consider geo-culturally when designing closure experiences?
Joe: Different cultures have very different experiences and relationships with death and heaven. But there is less variation in the consumer experience as there is in the social experience. The consumption model we have is very much a Western model of really exciting starts and poor endings. But that model has to grapple with local culture.
An example of a culture that does have a closure experience is Japan, where tailors used to have a day where they'd give thanks to sewing needles. They'd take the needle they'd been using for a long time, now blunted through use, to a shrine and they'd insert it into a little block of tofu to give the needle something soft and comfortable. And then a ceremony took place in which they would give thanks to that product. I think that's beautiful.
The Japanese Buddhist and Shinto Festival of Broken Needles. Credits: Wikipedia
Nowadays, Japan does this for all sorts of things. There's the Day of Dolls to commemorate when someone gets too mature for playing with their dollies or their teddies. There's a Shinto ceremony for ending that era of a child's life.
The Japanese have a far richer emotional relationship and a more ‘valuing’ relationship with the products they own than different cultures and contexts. Japan, China, and other Eastern cultures have a vocabulary of reflection and understanding of products. However, that is getting crushed, I believe, by the Western culture of consumption. We're pushing harder on our model and it's drowning that model of reflection and that understanding of endings.
Jim: Maybe you could give us an example of a product death experience from any culture?
Joe: Are you familiar with Aibo the Sony robot dog?
Aibo came out around 15 years ago and people loved it, especially in Japan. This robot was super successful across Japan on lots of levels, and there were these people who kept them alive, almost literally, for a long time. Sony used to fix them, but stopped about four years ago, so for around a year after, people were fixing them themselves in the back streets of Japan. They were soldering the robots back together and it looked like a horrible sort of future robot world. But eventually they died, and there were Shinto ceremonies for these robot cats and dogs, which people had put a lot of emotion into for potentially a decade or more.
They were extending the life of the robot to be a similar amount of time to the average lifespan of a dog. I don't think anybody had the presence of mind to think about the onboarding/offboarding experience, yet people in Japan were applying a lot of emotion and value to their experiences, particularly because of the culture of animism.
Jim: You see bad closure experiences everywhere, and I think a lot of that has to do with vocabulary. You state that the closure experience was in our operational vocabulary, but then it vanished. But once you have a word for this thing, then you're able to recognize it as a phenomenon.
Joe: We actually do have a vocabulary of emotional endings; they're enormously valued in films, books, and theater, but hopelessly overlooked in the consumer experience. Everyone has experienced breaking up with a loved one, losing something, or having an awful ending with a service provider.
Jim: You've been conducting workshops with designers, helping them start to think about how to design closure experiences. Can you talk about that?
Joe: It's super interesting and it's really a lot of fun. I usually do a half-hour introduction to give the context of what an ending is. Then the first exercise in the class is for students to share their current endings. I ask, what are the endings they have had recently? We then work on transaction models, off-boarding narratives, and a whole selection of other aspects that are often overlooked at the end of the customer life cycle.
To get more insight into Joe's models and concepts and learn about his book, workshops, lectures, and consultancy practice, visit www.closureexperiences.com.
How do you see the challenge of designing closure experiences intersecting with the globalization challenge? Share your thoughts here!