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  • Writer's pictureLisa Morris

Employee Experience Design—Finding the Right Problems to Solve (EX Series, Part 2)

Updated: Feb 20

Looking for an antidote to the uncertainty and complexity in today’s workplace? Here’s how to envision and implement great employee experiences that keep team members fulfilled and motivated.

In Part 1 of this employee experience (EX) blog series, we defined EX from two perspectives: the human’s and the organization’s. We examined why and how investing in EX delivers significant return and is beneficial to any organization.

In this second part of the series, we explore the ‘how’ more deeply—specifically, how employee experiences can be purposefully created (innovated) or improved. The answer lies in the emerging discipline of employee experience design, or EXD.

What is EXD?

As with EX, there are numerous ways to define EXD. In our view, EXD offers an antidote to the uncertainty and complexity inherent in today’s workplace by using the power of design to envision and implement a desired experience for a specific type of employee in a specific part of their employment lifecycle. It involves the application of the mindset, methods, and tools of human-centered design to determine the desired experience of employees… then to intentionally curate, create, and continuously refine a system of interactions that produce the desired human outcomes.

The mindset of EXD is all about being “people-first”—that is, understanding the needs and abilities of the people, or specific employee populations, for whom you are designing. It is also about designing with them and for them and including them in all problem-solving activities. In other words, it’s about co-creating employee experience. This involves:

  • understanding and addressing core problems, not just symptoms;

  • shifting focus from macro to micro and back again as needed; and

  • adopting holistic principles in considering the entire activity, not just its isolated components.

Like any project, start with a clear scope

There is no step-by-step process for EXD. Rather, there are a set of core activities that the EXD team follows when designing employee experiences: research, framing, ideation, prototyping, testing and implementation. Throughout the process of designing for employee experience, quantitative and quantitative data is gathered, stakeholders are consulted, and evidence-based decisions are made.

With the help of experienced EXD practitioners, a design team can determine exactly what combination of methods and activities will best obtain desired goals within the constraints of the project.

A successful project begins with a clear project brief, often documented in the form of a charter, that defines the project’s scope, desired outcomes, and resource requirements. To create a solid charter, we ask the following questions:

  • What is the problem we seek to solve?

  • What clear opportunities exist surrounding the problem?

  • What might be regarded as in-scope and out-of-scope?

  • What constraints (e.g., budget, time, appetite for change) exist?

  • What different populations of people do you need to reach or understand?

  • Which populations are the initial focus of your design effort?

  • What other people might be important to improving the employee experience?

  • What is the ideal outcome and what are the criteria and metrics that will be used to measure success?

The charter will also identify roles for different members of the project team including those who are part of the ‘core team’ (partially or fully dedicated to the project) as well as key decision makers and other stakeholders. The project charter serves an important function of clarifying the scope for all team members, and it also facilitates communication with key external stakeholders, especially leaders and those will be asked to support the design effort.

Plan Your Research

Human-centered design should be built upon empathy with the people you are designing for through carefully planned research. The goal of this research is to genuinely understand people, motivations, and behaviors. Through research, the team seeks to understand the lived experience, needs, moments of delight, and pain points of the people they are focusing on. The team should challenge their assumptions and develop a deep, fact-based understanding of the research subjects and their contexts .

Design research includes both quantitative and qualitative methods. Quantitative research is often a good way to gain insights into the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of an experience, while qualitative research provides insight into the ‘why’ of people’s motivations, behaviors and needs. Quantitative data can be useful to point to areas for deeper qualitative research investigation.

Creating a research plan helps to get the most out of your research efforts. A solid research plan should address these key questions:

  • What scenarios or parts of the overall employee experience will be your focus?

  • What are the main research questions you want to explore?

  • What combination of research methods should be used?

  • What is the appropriate amount of research to gather?

  • When and by whom will the research happen?

  • Which employee populations will you study and how will you access them?

Get to know the people you are designing for

Once your plan is developed, participants are recruited, and logistics are set, it’s time to do the research. The research itself can take days, weeks, or months depending on the scope of the project. A typical research effort contains several weeks of data gathering, synthesis, and analysis.

As part of synthesis and analysis, teams often use various forms of visualization to bring structure, identify patterns, and uncover existing gaps in data (e.g., where more research is needed). It also deepens their understanding of a topic and helps them develop empathy with the research subjects. Some common design tools used for representing data visually include personas, journey maps, experience delivery blueprints, and jobs to be done.

For EXD, these visualizations are used to help understand the experiences of different types of employees who are the focus of the EXD project. The focus employees, or personas, might be executives, people managers, or individual contributors. They might be more specific and focus on call center operators, R&D engineers, ER nurses, etc. The design team makes the choices of how to define the persona and visualize the data to best depict the current state of the employee’s experience.

Up Next

In Part 3, we examine the very iterative effort of making sense of all the data—to find the opportunities the design team wants to explore in order to improve the employee’s experience.

Everything up to this point in the process has been about finding the right problems to solve. The next step is a key decision point in the project and determines what the team will do in the problem solving phase.

We will describe how to use the data and visualizations to identify multiple challenges to address. Then we will describe how teams find solutions in a typical co-creation workshop in which multiple stakeholders generate ideas and build rapid, inexpensive ‘prototypes’ of their ideas.


Co-author Lisa Morris has over 25+ years’ experience at the forefront of brand, organizational behavior, and human-centered design. As founder and CEO of XPLOR, she has become a leading expert in EX design and service design. Her innovative approach has helped clients in a range of sectors to create engaging, effective experiences for their customers and employees.

Co-author Marc Bolick is founder and managing partner of reshift, an innovation support partner for leaders and teams seeking Big Change. He draws on decades of experience in product and service innovation to facilitate collaborative problem solving and drive impact for the most complex challenges organizations face.



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