Lessons from SXSW 2019: Designing the Best Customer Experiences

By  Leigha Selby  Senior Experience Strategist projekt202

By Leigha Selby
Senior Experience Strategist

SXSW is over and done with for 2019.

So, how was it?

It was hot and sticky, sometimes confusing, and definitely overwhelming. Someone I met waiting in a line that wrapped around the building said, “After spending a week at South by, my brain feels like a bowl of soup.”

In much the same way,  it’s taken me a good long while to make sense of my time at SXSW. I’ve had to process all the thoughts sloshing around in my brain and let them simmer for a while – converting a still fresh experience into a memory.

While reflecting back, I remembered an interesting concept I came across at the festival: Behavioral economics tells us that we essentially have two selves – an experiencing self and a remembering self.

Our experiencing self can only really comprehend what’s happening in the moment in functional terms. It’s our remembering self that is capable of looking back and putting “spin” on our experiences.

It is our remembering selves that come to conclusions like, “That was a fun holiday,” “That spa day was so relaxing” or “Flying coach is just the worst.”

For those of us that are in the business of designing experiences, that’s a valuable lesson. When we peel back the layers,  we’re not necessarily crafting experiences, but memories of those experiences.

In one of the SXSW panels on design thinking, designer Julie Schell said something very similar: “We need to be thinking about a user’s perception of what happened, not necessarily with what actually happened.”

It turns out a lot of people are thinking about this space between experience and memory.  Several of the other presenters I saw that week had a lot to say on the topic.

Dr. Melissa Weinberg and Dan Monheit talked at length about creating advertising that can hijack our emotions by tapping into shared cultural memories.

They also talked about leveraging peak-end theory, a theory which suggests that our memory of positive and negative experiences primarily depends on a couple of peak experience and a great ending.

All well and good in the theoretical ether of SXSW, but how do we leverage this in our day-to-day work?

Because I am fundamentally a practical person, I decided to road test some of this.

Let’s use peak-end theory as an example.

Say you end up with a customer journey map that looks a little something like this:


And you work diligently with your team to identify opportunities to improve the experience.


But how do you prioritize what to do? We would normally suggest a traditional opportunity matrix looking at impact and effort. But, sometimes these kind of matrices feel more business-oriented than people-oriented.

Maybe it’s possible to leverage peak-end theory to prioritize the opportunities that will give us the biggest impact in the minds and memories of our customers.


Now, suddenly, there’s clarity around where to focus.

The implications for this kind of thinking are huge. Designing for memory over experience allows us to think holistically and it keeps us from getting bogged down in point solutions.

It shows us what’s important, so we don’t try to solve for everything but instead can focus our energy where it matters.

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projekt202 is the leader in experience-driven software strategy, design and development. We have a unique and established methodology for understanding people in context — we reveal unmet needs — which drives everything we do. This leads to a crisp, clear understanding of the customer, which shapes the design and development of new solutions and experiences. We have the expertise, teams, skills and scale to deliver sophisticated software solutions that improve any and all touchpoints across the user journey.

projekt202 has spent over 15 years bringing to life and to market compelling experiences through our Experience Strategy & InsightUser ExperienceSoftware DevelopmentMarketing & Analytics, and Program Management practices. Our talented team has delivered emotionally-rich and intuitive solutions for global brands and clients such as 7-Eleven, Capital One, Dell, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services, Neiman Marcus, Samsung Electronics, and The Container Store, among many others.

projekt202 has offices in AustinChicagoDallas, San Francisco and Seattle.