Experience Flows

Understanding people and their experiences to deliver meaningful innovations

Experience Flows


Understanding people may not sound like rocket science. But it’s one of the hardest and most rewarding challenges of an innovation team. It can be easy to make assumptions about how others experience the world, and if this is left unchecked it can lead to poorly thought out products and services. To keep the practical and emotional needs of our customers at the center of innovation, teams at Philips use the Experience Flow tool. (See the Backgrounder for more detail and how to make and use Experience Flows.)


Design thinking
The tool evolved from the Philips approach to people-centered design, which the company pioneered in the 1990s. The first Philips Experience Flow made in 2001, was developed during the creation of Ambient Experience for Healthcare. It was developed as a way of mapping an experience “from expectation, to first impression, then through discovery, usage and finally to memory.” The poster shows the journey a person or people make through their experience of a place, their interactions with people, and a product or service over time.


As Jos Stuyfzand, Senior Creative Director at Philips Design Healthcare explains: “We shadowed the patients, families and staff of the hospital. We asked them how they all felt and what concerns they had – all simple stuff, but you’d be surprised how little it gets asked. Then we started putting it onto a timeline and describing the perception of spaces and how they could be improved. The response was overwhelming. For the first time, people really started talking about the patient experience.”


Other departments across Philips quickly came to appreciate the value of Experience Flows in all kinds of innovation and product development. “We now use Experience Flow in many different fields – from shaving or cooking, to new lighting systems, to entire hospitals,” says Jon Rodriguez, senior design strategist at Philips.


Understanding people
The Flow is a distillation of vast amounts of qualitative and quantitative information in a large poster that makes immediate sense to everyone. Using multiple viewpoints related to a particular issue ensures that a holistic insight into the total user experience is created.


“I’ve seen the mindsets of people change using Experience Flows,” says Philips design manager Remco Timmer. “Suddenly everyone starts to think from the end user perspective, thinking beyond our current propositions and identifying solutions that really matter.”


Gathering user insights
Using people-centered research skills, the team works with the project’s target group to uncover what they think and feel as they experience the specific topic over time. This can be done in a number of ways, including interviews, workshops, diaries and shadowing.


Using the experiences captured during this fieldwork, the team starts putting together an Experience Flow poster and issue cards. This helps to visually pinpoint problems or gaps, and serves as a basis for identifying opportunities across the Flow in a collaborative workshop.


Identifying issues
The team uses the poster to walk through the journey as if they were the person or people concerned. Then they discuss, challenge and enrich the journey by spotting areas where the person’s needs are not being met. The Experience Flow is often used when improving an existing product or service or when implementing Ambient Experience in healthcare locations. See for example the case study from the Broward Health Medical Center.

Broward flow


A shared plan
Creating an Experience Flow requires a multidisciplinary team of inspired people – from business experts, sales and marketing specialists, scientists, people researchers and product designers, as well as thought leaders in an area that might inspire the innovation teams. And once a Flow is up on the wall, it is invaluable. It gives innovation teams a clear plan of action that makes them more efficient and focused. It is a source of inspiration, helping everyone to know what their role is and what needs the company is aiming to address for its customers.


Going deep
The Experience Flow approach is not exclusive to Philips. Some other organizations have developed similar tools, which they call a Journey Map or a Customer Journey. But Philips is one of few companies to go as deep into the emotional and practical experiences of the people they design for by carrying out extensive field research, and then distilling that understanding in a way that makes sense to others. “It sounds so simple,” says Mili Docampo Rama, Head of People Research at Philips Design, “but it’s that depth that makes all the difference.”


Biopharmaceutical company AbbVie hired Philips as a consultant to create an Experience Flow about patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and found the results were a long way from what they were used to. As Mike Sutliff, Senior Brand Manager at AbbVie explains: “The difference between a Philips Experience Flow and a normal customer journey report is like the difference between reading a thesis about a person and seeing that person in real life situations.”


20 March 2014

Dr. Mili Docampo Rama, Head of People Research at Philips Design

“What makes the Philips approach unique is how we build Experience Flows as a collaborative and multidisciplinary team, how we present them as a captivating poster, and how deep we go to understand people.”