Experience = Stuff / Time

The real value in creating new businesses is in delivering customer experiences. The ubiquitous nature of the web, devices, and social networks means successful companies in the future will understand this. The question is “what do people mean when they say ‘experience’”? This post provides an answer.

Over the years, I’ve developed a mental model that helps me and my teams think about new businesses from a very customer focused perspective. I refer to it as the “Experience is Stuff over Time” model.

This post explains this mental model. I hope you find it useful.

Experience, Experience, Experience

My definition of “experience”:

An end-to-end user experience is a cohesive combination of devices, people, brands, channels, services, and content that improves over time.

I visualize things graphically, so when I read the above definition I have this “formula” in my head:


Read this as Experience is Stuff over Time, not divided by time. This is not math, just a mnemonic.

The only sane way to think through an end-to-end user experience is from the end-user’s perspective. The Experience is Stuff over Time model works because it takes the customer/user’s perspective. Please put on your customer empathy hat before you continue reading.

I use the word experience carefully and consistently as a synonym for end-to-end user experience. I do this because, like most terms in our industry, the word “experience” has many definitions. Being clear on lexicon is critical to having a useful mental model.

American Idol is a great example of an experience. From my daughter’s perspective American Idol is a “cohesive combination of devices, people, brands, channels, services, and content that improves over time.”

She, of course doesn’t actually think of American Idol this way; she is, after-all, a typical teenager who just thinks Idol is fun entertainment. If I were to ask her to break down all the things that Idol is composed of she would say:

  • It is a TV show that’s been on for, like, 11 years. (time)
  • Each season there are a bunch of contestants and one wins in the end. (time)
  • Idol is TV show that we watch on TV while sitting on the couch. (device)
  • I love watching it with you, mom, & CJ and talking about it with my friends. (people)
  • It is on Fox, and there are a lot Ford commercials, and everybody is aware of “American Idol”. (brand)
  • This summer the Idol finalists will play a concert in Seattle (time, channel)
  • I watch Idol on TV (device, channel, service)
  • There’s also a website with tons of music & videos I can get to on my PC (device, channel, service, content)
  • I can buy the contestant’s songs on iTunes. (channels, services, content)
  • There’s an American Idol iPhone app I can use to access content. (device, channel)
  • There’s a Facebook game I can play. (channel, services, content)
  • I can text message from my phone to vote (device, services)

I love Idol as an example because it really highlights how important “improves over time” is. Think about it in “app” terms: The Idol “app” has existed for over 11 years. Every year there is a new major version and are about a dozen minor versions (episodes). Within each show the producers (developers) are pushing continuous improvement as they react to live performances and user input (votes).

My daughter’s perspective on Idol illustrates the “numerator” of the experience including devices, people, brands, channels, services, and content. I’ve also written a post describing what we mean by brands.

Note how each of these aspects is plural?  

  • Multiple devices(with “apps”) including the TV, the phone, and web browser.
  • Many people(my daughter, her family, her friends, J-Lo, and millions of others).
  • A primary (Idol) and secondary brands.
  • Many distribution channels from Fox TV to iTunes and Facebook and concerts.
  • Different services such as text messaging and a satellite TV subscription.
  • Tons of content (music, videos, desktop wallpapers, even coffee mugs).

Finally, Idol is a great example of an experience because the producers have done a great job of combining all of the aspects cohesively. Regardless of what device my daughter uses (TV, browser, phone) or channel Idol is exposed through (TV, web, iTunes, Facebook) everything fits together in a nice cohesive way.

Why is this so important?

I’ve been quoted as saying “apps are dead”. I stand by that statement: the companies that understand how to build cohesive combinations of devices, people, brands, channels, services, and content that improves over time will be the winners in the next phase of the consumer technology industry.


I know this “formula” has a lot of “variables” and seems complex. If this were easy everybody would be doing it well. Future installments will cover each “variable” in much more depth. Please let me know if there is something you’d like me to elaborate on more. I’m trying to create an end-to-end user experience here, and you are the end-user…

Other posts in this series on Experience is Stuff over Time:

© Charlie Kindel. All Rights Reserved.


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