From UX and CX to HX: The Human Experience

We, the users, are not only users. We might be customers, or the product being sold, but we definitely are human beings.

Over the past two decades, we have seen a shift from user experience (UX) to customer experience (CX). This shift reflected the underlying assumption that a happy customer is more important than a happy user. Or isn’t it? After all, the customer is the one who pays the bills, and if the customer is not the user, than why care about the user at all?

Wrong. We’ve seen countless products thrive because of their outstanding UX, and others fail because of their lacking UX. The distinction between user and customer is still valid and essential, for the reason that sometimes there are heavy tradeoffs to make and tough business decisions to take.

UX is a term invented in the early days of the IT industry, while CX is more of a marketing phrase. Now there is a third kid on the block called human experience (HX), and things are getting complicated. What the heck is HX? Broadly defined, it’s everything a human being experiences. There is a slight difference between HX and human perception, but I’ll leave that aside, at least for now.

A human-centric perspective

Since we are talking about (digital) products and services, HX is how a human being experiences your product or service. So why is that different from how a user or a customer experiences a product? Clearly, HX provides a more holistic, human-centric perspective than UX (user-centric) or CX (customer-centric). We, the users, are not only users. We might be customers, or the product being sold, but we definitely are human beings.

HX is more about purpose than about consumption (customer/consumer) or usage (user). We use or consume products for a purpose. What’s more, “purpose is what gives life a meaning,” as American social reformer Charles Henry Parkhurst famously put it. Almighty Google also knows this.

By the way, the second quote – “purpose is what creates true happiness” – stems from Mark Zuckerberg’s May 2017 commencement address at Harvard University. The corollary of these two statements would be that what gives life a meaning is what creates true happiness. We are talking about a lot more than products or services here. After all, we are human beings 24 hours a day, while our existence as users or consumers is only a part-time endeavour.

HX trumps everything

In an undated by insightful essay, Paul Campillo writes:

Make no mistake. This is the great opportunity that stands before makers—the understanding that products exist to enhance someone’s life. The human experience trumps everything, and a product or service that’s designed with a contextual view of someone’s life will dominate the marketplace.

He defines the human experience as the exact opposite of what he calls the sucky experience (SX), on a continuum that is the UX spectrum.

The ultimate UX of a product is HX. It’s the highest experience of what a product, company or organization, or brand can bring to its users. The HX hooks every user because, in the end, there’s one thing most humans want more than anything: To feel more alive.

We can see a pattern here. HX is more or less strongly correlated with Digital Humanism – “the notion that people are the central focus in the manifestation of digital businesses and digital workplaces” (Gartner). To get from UX and CX to true HX, we first and foremost must stop to reduce human beings to their roles as users or consumers, or to an entity that can be replaced and superseded by technology.

We need a Renaissance

Secondly, we need to break the world domination scheme of technology and restore technology to its proper place as a means to an end, and not an end in itself. What is the proper purpose of technology? Start with why, as Simon Sinek would say. There is no easy answer. Quite the contrary, we need a movement like the Renaissance. Sheer Romanticism would not suffice.

Truly human experiences satisfy our emotions, ethics and creativity. What sets us apart from technology is neither rationality nor knowledge, but the opposite. The challenge is to add erratic, beautiful, and totally unexpected experiences beyond conventions and norms. Outliers. But how do we build them? Experiences will have to integrate concepts like emotions, morals, and beliefs.

To quote Charles Henry Parkhurst again:

There is always the possibility of beauty where there is an unsealed human eye; of music where there is an unstopped human ear; and of inspiration where there is a receptive human spirit.

Let’s talk about beauty, music, and inspiration, as well as emotions, morals, and beliefs.

Last updated on May 4, 2021. Photo by conner bowe on Unsplash