Designing a more integrated experience, or how the Centre Pompidou teaches business design

Centre Pompidou in Paris, attributed to Daniel Kakiuthi on Flickr

Recently I went to the Renzo Piano exhibition at the Royal Academy in London (which has now come to a close). While there I was struck by Piano’s ability to balance different ideas and concepts, no doubt as many architects do. From respecting traditional craft skills to experimenting with new materials and sustainable methods, from understanding the history of his environment to pushing technical and societal boundaries, the exhibition did a marvelous job of showcasing his poetry in creating new structures.

However, it was his work on the ground-breaking Centre Pompidou building that made me think about how experience and service design come together and are realised through more than just customer-centric focus. For the uninitiated, the Centre Georges Pompidou building stands in Place Georges-Pompidou, the “cultural centre of Paris” and, in essence, is a building inside-out.

As the unknown architects at the time, Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers designed a building that had all its internal “technical guts”, its air ducts, water pipes, cables, and elevators, on the outside of the building. However, they didn’t just leave these monstrous parts (as they were initially seen) on the outside, but instead coordinated them in striking colours — “Blue marks air-conditioning pipework, yellow is for electrics, green denotes water pipes, and red highlights tubular escalators and elevators.” Link.

The technical guts of the Centre Pompidou, attributed to Nicole Hanusek on Flickr

The primary reason for bringing them outside was to focus on creating a cavernous, modular interior that could adapt to the requirements of the exhibitors, changing the space as needed to fit the desired experience. Making the “customer experience” (to use the jargon of my work-world) the central focus. However, I also think that by moving the support pipes to the exterior, it created an educational experience for visitors to visualise how the building worked and the ‘support functions’ that usually go providing their experience. You can see more about the design ethos here.

How does this connect with service and experience design? It made me think how many times we will think about designing a great experience — be it a service or product — and yet when “launched”, the customer or user unintentionally walks into the metaphorical Finance pipe, or is stopped by the broken IT-Elevator, and has to take the three flights of stairs to get where they need to go.

For me, the Pompidou building manifests the importance of ensuring that all aspects of the experience, down to the bolts that hold down the electrical wires, are thought about. As designers, and especially as service and business designers, we should be engaging with all the business functions in delivering the experience and understand how they align to deliver the optimal experience.

As part of the EY-Seren Business Design team, I work with service designers to bring new experiences to life, holding that ‘business’ lens at the forefront. Part of business design (amongst many tasks) involves understanding the business functions and stakeholders that are necessary to operationalise the experience. As an example, when prototyping a new digital strategy for a property management company, we conducted the standard user interviews, drew up the customer journeys and created prototypes of a future website and service. However, it was through engagement with the finance, legal, customer service, and delivery teams that we were able to uncover a myriad of factors that created the current state challenges. Through this insight, we were not only able to deliver a proposed future state but also suggestions of how to align all the “technical guts” to ensure a smoother transformation.

I think it’s important that we not only think about these teams when designing new experiences but also involve them in the design process. Through participatory design, it allows us to unite all teams with the singular focus on designing an optimal experience for the “customer”. However, by “exposing the pipes” we can also give these functions a face to the customer (how many angry customers have you had to deal with who didn’t understand your team’s responsibilities?). When all these teams work seamlessly together, the adage holds true that the “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Through better integration, you may even create new opportunities for delight as the organization’s culture becomes better aligned to deliver on the experience and ultimately its purpose.

From this, it is no surprise that more companies are bringing functions together to focus on customer journeys, and thus the experiences throughout them. Others have written extensively on how ING, Spotify, and Lloyds have created these new organisational structures.

Next time you think about improving a customer’s experience, think about the different pipes, cables, and mechanisms that support the experience — colour coordinate if needed. It will allow you to understand the entire functional ecosystem, and in effect give more space to the experience.

All views expressed are my own or attributed to their author(s)

Inner hall of the Centre Pompidou, attributed to Adam Polselli on Flickr

Consultant interested in systems, business models, and stakeholder value creation. Sounds dry, but so many fascinating topics hidden within