SaaS business

What Is Holistic Design? The Future of UX or a Buzzword?


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“Holistic design” sounds like a new flashy trend that’s used here and there without a real meaning behind it. However, the term was present long before UX design was born. Some say it was on the scene before the product design became a thing in the 1920s. 

Nowadays, when we started using “product design” for digital products and “industrial design” for furniture, gear, and other hardware things, “holistic design” makes a comeback to UX design. Or has it never gone?

We are an agency full of seasoned UX designers, but “holistic design” is not very easy to explain. Let’s start with the main question:

What is holistic design?

Holistic design is a design approach that suggests looking at the product from different angles, considering all the aspects, stakeholders, and the environment.

However, the definition of holistic design is not enough to really understand the phenomenon. The holistic design combines the approach,  practices, and the philosophy.

Holistic design is not something that happens solely in the design department. It is a synchrony of all the company processes: to provide a holistic user experience, a good-looking UI is not enough, you need a holistic mindset.

The term “holistic design” is often used in architecture, urbanism, and interior design. For example, ancient Greek tractates about urban planning suggested that architects should consider the directions of the winds when projecting the streets of the city in order to create the most comfortable air circulation.

Factors influencing urban planning. Image credit: ramboll.com

Some of the problems related to holistic design in other spheres can help better understand how holistic design can be applied in the modern digital world.

When projecting an interior, designers should not only think of the clients’ tastes and general style consistency. Here are some of the questions designers have to consider while developing a holistic design:

  • Is the neighborhood noisy? Does the apartment need noise isolation?
  • Are the materials sustainable? If we put this vintage fridge, would it be possible to fix it if it breaks in 5 years?
  • Is the furniture resistant enough to the cat’s claws?

Holistic design is not something that every client wants. It is a long process and requires not only the budget but also time and will to change the corporate processes and even culture. Of course, the company aiming for holistic design should have a high level of UX maturity.

When the decision to adopt a holistic approach is well thought, you can start shifting to new design practices.

Rules of the holistic design approach

6 rules of the holistic design approach
  1. Take into consideration all the stakeholders, not only users or customers. It doesn’t mean that we have to solve everyone’s problems with our product. Yet, we have to be aware of all things happening around us.
  2. Research methods. When we focus solely on users, individual interviews are a golden standard of UX research. When we decide to take a holistic approach, we have to add other methods to our research, such as ethnographic research. We have to go out in the field to better understand the environment.
  3. Participative practices. A step forward from taking into account all of the stakeholders is to involve them in the design process. It is likely to be tricky and even messy, but giving such approach a try doesn’t cost much. The promoter of design thinking, David Kelley, pointed out that involving people of different backgrounds significantly benefits the process.
  4. Sustainability. Most modern companies want to appear sustainable. They introduce the principle in various parts: from corporate responsibility programs to even the production process. There is always room for improvement in sustainability, and holistic design naturally raises the company standards.
  5. Ecosystem, not just design system. A design system is a great tool for the company, but it applies mostly to the design sphere. It is often used to simplify and unify UI/UX design. Holistic design implies an ecosystem including values, philosophy, and attention to every detail.
  6. Going beyond digital. Even if we are talking about a highly digitalized company, in the absolute majority of cases holistic design solutions will change physical items, such as offices, and also the human capital.

Real companies. Holistic or not?

As we say that holistic is an idealistic term, it is hard to say that any company at all is really holistic. Yet, there are some that move in that direction. Sometimes these are the same companies that invest in the petroleum industry (nobody said “holistic” was simple). 

Let’s go through some examples to see how far famous companies can get on their way to becoming “holistic”. Is there a way to avoid mentioning Apple in an article about design? Not that we know.

Holistic style. Apple

Apple stands quite close to the holistic design approach. All the products have a clear consistent line, the company has a recognizable style and philosophy. All Apple products sync naturally and gather in an ecosystem: they look similar, they use the same software and user interface, they feel the same. Once people get used to the Apple ecosystem, they have hard times abandoning it.go on using the same products.

However, the sustainability of Apple design is questionable. The company is constantly using the principle of planned obsolescence and its products are not very easy to repair. Also, the well-known method of Apple is to create users’ needs rather than satisfying existing ones. Products are often designed with limitations that require users to adapt to them rather than adapting to users: for example, new Iphones have no power adapters.

Design thinking applied. Bosch

The spectrum of holistic design approach is large. It might be unexpectable to see this company as an example, but there is something we can learn from Bosch, a company with over 150 years history and quite a traditional line of products.

Apart from quality electro domestics, Bosch is known for its success in applying design thinking throughout a large established company. They started with launching a whole “design thinking department” and it changed the processes in the company leading to the redesign of office interiors to adapt to the reshaped collaboration models.

Bosch is now producing a wide range of products apart from washing machines. They construct smart buildings that promote sustainable living. This is a classic understanding of holistic design approach in modern times.

One of the good practices that Bosch adopted is involving people of various profiles in the design process, such as engineers, testers, marketers, scientists. Diverse teams provide the best ground for innovative solutions.

How holistic is Bosch’s approach? They mostly declare the design thinking approach, but being an old German company working with product design, they are well familiar with the notion of holistic design from the first sources. How sustainable is their product? Well, we'll leave it to the environmentalists.

Holistic path of small companies

In this article, we’ll leave apart the interior Feng Shui design companies and will focus on UX. 

One of the companies that declare holistic design to be a cornerstone of their work is Tactile design firm. They see UX as a cross-pollination of various disciplines, from architecture to marketing. No surprise that half of the company consists of industrial designers and engineers.

Ideal cross-pollination: UX design with other disciplines
Image credit: Tactile

Designers at Tactile dedicate a lot of attention to studying the context of the product they are working on. Also, they surely go beyond digital as they work a lot on physical interfaces and innovative technologies.

As a UI/UX design agency, we are far from claiming ourselves holistic. However, we do like the approach and it is present in our work.

We always try to do a bit more than the client asks us. Solving the problem is good, but our objective is also to simplify the implementation of the design and think of design accessibility even when it is not in the brief.

Take a look at the case study of Handprinter, a lifestyle app. As the product itself is quite holistic, our approach was similar: we thought about all the stakeholders, thought not only about the principal user’s goal – decreasing the handprint - but also about other aspects, such as a social network of like-minded people.

Network screen of Handprinter
Handprinter design by Eleken

What to start with?

If you are more than just curious about a holistic approach and want to try adopting it in your company, our advice is to start slow. Here are few steps that will get you closer on the way to holistic design:

  1. Apply design thinking (you might think it is another buzz word and you’ve heard of it a thousand times already… But check out these design thinking examples from top companies if you have doubts).
  2. Design system. It’s likely that you already have one, but look at it closer: is it a real system based on philosophy or more of a visual components library? Are the principles of the design system used outside of design software?
  3. Check if your design is inclusive. Without being inclusive, there is no thinking of a holistic user experience.
  4. Provide consistent user experience. Make sure that your customers are enjoying interacting with the product at every moment of their journey. Every little thing is important for a holistic user experience. How to get there? Dig deeper into UX research, go beyond competitors’ analysis and user interviews.

To sum up

The most complicated thing about holistic design is that different people have very different images of it. The second most complicated thing is that the idea of holistic design is rather idealistic: each goal is never final, the path is ongoing. Yet, following this path would bring many pleasant bonuses on the way.

Let me finish with a quote from Karthik Vijayakumar, Founder and Principal, DYT Studios & Host of The Design Your Thinking Podcast.

Holistic design is to see and think of the world in two broad dimensions – as interconnected and evolving systems. Holistic design is formed by and leads to interconnected systems. Evolving nature of holistic design is when the design leads to the evolution of the interconnected systems.

And if you want to talk more about holistic design — or about anything else — we are here.

Masha Panchenko


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SaaS business
min read

CX vs UX in the Era of Experience

We all know that we should not confuse user experience with customer experience but… What is the real difference?

There's nothing as tricky as specific terms that sound "obvious" and make us feel like we know exactly what they mean since everyone knows what is user and what is experience, right?

To put it simply, UX (user experience) is about all the interaction that end-user  has with a website or app. CX (customer experience) is the interaction with all the facets of business: sales manager, customer service assistance, website, and so on. Here is a visual representation of CX and UX:

CX - all user/brand interactions. UX - digital products

Another abbreviation that might add to the confusion is UI, which stands for user interface. User interface is all that’s in between human and computer: menus, icons, sounds, animation, and so on. UI goes hand in hand with UX. To learn more about the difference between them, read our article “UI vs UX. Ketchup, Chicken, and Egg”.

UI, UX, and CX are all part of the same pie. For now, let's focus on CX and UX differences.

Marketing vs design

However close these terms might seem, UX and CX specialists belong to different departments. Customer experience is the responsibility of the marketing team, while user experience is the object of product design.

For both departments, experience is one of the key focuses. Nowadays businesses know that people are willing to pay 4,5 times more for a good customer experience. The vast majority of people check reviews before making buying decisions and trust them more than any other marketing message. The feedback economy is taking over the business world.

As a design agency, we deal mostly with user experience, but communication with the marketing team in order to better understand customers’ needs and problems is a must for our work.

User vs Customer

One of the simplest ways to explain the difference between customer experience and user experience is to understand what is the difference between customer and user. These terms are easier than CX and UX, but still, some people think that they are interchangeable. Especially those who work with digital products often call customers users and vice versa.

For them, the word user is quite clear: these are the people who use your websites, apps, and whatever other things you produce.

What about customers? This is a much older term. Each business has customers: banks, shops, medical institutions, and so on. In digital products, there are customers, too. They are the people who buy the product.

An example: if you are creating a B2B solution, and your sales manager is working with one person on the client’s side. This person is the customer. The rest of the client’s team are the product users. In this case, there can be one customer and 50 users.

Of course, the customer and the end user can be the same person. However, their experience can be different, as we have explained above. Users may find the website great but be disappointed by the price change or slow tech support. On the other hand, a customer can suffer from a badly designed website, while still loving the product (though bad UX would surely affect CX).

Objectives. WHAT are they doing?

What are the ultimate goals of user experience design and customer experience management, except for “improve the experience”? Let’s see one by one.


All the main objectives of UX professionals are related to human/ digital product interactions. Here are some of them:

  • Improve app usability. Usability means that the navigation is understandable, people can find what they are looking for, and they enjoy the process of interaction. It is called human-centered design.
  • Analyze the process of user interaction, find weak points and the ways to improve them. This process starts with UX research and goes through various iterations of the design process and user testing.
  • Decrease bounce rate (a number that shows how often users give up on a task, such as registering on the website). This is an example of a more concrete goal. We’ll talk more about UX metrics later.


While UX objectives are laid in the product design field, CX objectives are closer to business goals.

  • Build brand loyalty of the customers by providing them with a superior experience. Knowing that the brand provides a much better experience than the competitors, customers will be coming back again and again, sticking with the brand even when others provide similar products at a cheaper price.
  • Turn customers into brand ambassadors. Loyal customers bring value not just by buying products, but also by recommending the product to others. In an environment oversaturated with ads, word of mouth is one of the cheapest and most efficient means of marketing.
  • Increase ARPU (Average revenue per user). This is the ultimate business objective that every product hopes to achieve with the help of customer experience. The principle is simple: happy customers are likely to buy again and more.

Tools and methods. HOW do they do it?

The most important thing in both customer and user experience is the research. To improve the experience, we have to know what the customers/users’ needs and problems are. We can't assume what are the problems of the customers if there was no research conducted. 

Both CX and UX research rely heavily on interviews. Some other common tools include field research, questionnaires, and competitor analysis.


  • Usability testing implies having a group of people using the product while the researcher observes their interaction and asks them to complete tasks. Analyzing the usability of the product is the basis of the UX research.
  • Empathy mapping is the process of listing all the insights that researchers gained during user interviews. Here is an example of a map that we made during our work with Gridle, a CRM platform.
Empathy map
Empathy map for Gridle by Eleken
  • Digital tools for eye tracking, mouse tracking, or similar stuff to help you find specific things in the app that need improvement. Check out the list of top UX research tools that our designers use.
Image credit: MeasuringU

To better understand the UX research process, read our article about UX research methods.


  • Customer journey map (CJM) is a visualization of all the interactions that a customer has with a product/business from discovery to the moment when they tell their friends about the great experience they’ve had. Check out some examples of CJM to grasp the idea.
Customer journey map of a university. Image credit: Chris Becker
  • Reputation Experience Management (RXM) systems monitoring is one of the most efficient ways to keep track of basic CX metrics, watch trends, and gather feedback. For smaller companies that don’t have a whole CX department, CRM systems can also be used as a tool for customer experience management.
  • Social media monitoring. Watching reviews on the App store is essential, but a look at brand mentions in social media can give more insights about personal relations with the product.

Key metrics. How do they MEASURE success?

One of the biggest achievements of the CX and UX profession is finding a way of measuring such an intangible thing as experience. And these experiences are measured in different ways when we talk about customer and user experience.


  • Time per task, TPT. How much time does it take for an average user to complete a task? Some examples of user tasks: buy a pair of sunglasses, register for an online event, find information about pricing. This metric is based on the results of user testing with many participants.
Time per Task = (user1+user2+user3)/the total number of respondents
  • Error rate. How often do users enter incorrect information? The error rate is measured in percentages, based on the results of user testing. The number is calculated as the average of the number of errors divided by the number of attempts.
Error rate=the number of errors/number of task attempts
  • System usability scale, SUS. The scale consists of ten standard questions that users ask as a part of the questionnaire. Adding more questions and customizing the questionnaire is recommended, but the standard scale is useful for comparing your product with the competitors.
10 questions about the system usability. 1) I think I would like to use this system frequently --- etc

These are just a few of the UX metrics. To learn more, read our article on measuring user experience.


UX metrics have an impact on customer experience, so CX professionals usually keep track of them as well. In addition, there are exclusively CX KPIs, such as:

  • Customer satisfaction (CSAT). This metric requires no complicated formulas: it is basically the 5-star ranking that you can leave as feedback on different platforms such as the App store, Facebook, Clutch. As simple as this, CSAT is arguably the most popular customer experience metric.
  • Churn rate shows the percentage of users who stop using your services and is typically measured yearly. Although there might be different reasons for customers to leave, making them stay is one of the principal responsibilities of the CX professionals.
  • Net promoter score (NPS) is a way of measuring customer loyalty and clients’ willingness to recommend the product to others. It is calculated based on the questionnaire, defining the number of fans (promoters) and detractors (unsatisfied customers). Customers are asked a single question:
On a scale of 0 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this company's product or service to a friend or a colleague?   0-6=detractors.  7-8=passives   9-10=promoters       NPS= # of promoters - # of detractors


Hopefully, after reading this, you'll never confuse customer and user experience again. To sum up, the principal differences between CX and UX are the following :

  • CX is about marketing, UX is about product design.
  • UX is about the interaction of end users with digital products, CX is about the interaction of customers (buyers) with business in all aspects: sales, customer service, offline store.
  • CX includes UX but has a larger scope.

As product designers, we take into account customer experience specifics, metrics, and objectives, but focus on the user experience. If you want to learn more about UX design, read our article on the UX design process.

SaaS business
min read

10 Reasons Why Products Fail (So You Can Prevent It)

… really good teams assume that at least three quarters of the ideas won’t perform like they hope.

Marty Cagan

In articles on project management, you can find scary (and somewhat overused) statistics: 70% of projects fail “scary sounds”. When I saw it for the first time, I had many questions. What do they consider a failed project? Moreover, how do they define a project?

So, I started looking for the source. It turned out to be a research from 2010 by KPMG New Zealand, an accounting advisory company. They made a survey of “100 businesses across a broad cross section of industries”, and 70% of organizations reported that they have suffered at least one project failure in the prior 12 months.

Well, 100 businesses is not the most representative sample. And the research is a bit old. Does it mean that we shouldn’t worry about projects failing en masse? No, because believing that the situation has changed drastically since then would be too optimistic.

We are the Eleken design agency and we help businesses succeed. But in this article we’ll talk about how to survive the step that preceeds success, or in other words how not to fail (and show some examples of projects that failed).

How big is the probability of failure

Let’s get back to the infamous 70%. Why is this result so shocking? First reason: we had no idea about the success rate of projects. Second reason: the survivor bias. 

We think that “people reach success when they work hard enough” because that’s what Hollywood tells us. At the same time, failure stories are much less popular genre because new products that failed don’t become famous and don’t have that voice. We see the survivors, while the non-survivors remain invisible.

Even when you think of failure stories, the most known ones are from famous people who reached success and then tell a story of their old failures, proving the rule of “working hard enough”.

To get away from the biases, let’s take a look at the statistics. 

A more recent study from PwC (2014) overlooked 10,640 projects from 200 companies in 30 countries and across various industries. The result showed that only 2.5% of the companies successfully completed 100% of their projects.

But the projects that don’t fail still often get the results that are far from the plan. A research by McKinsey and the University of Oxford found that “large IT projects run 45 percent over budget and 7 percent over time, while delivering 56 percent less value than predicted”. All of the 5,400 IT projects in the study had initial budgets over $15 million, so imagine how big these 45% were.

percent of IT projects with given issue

These numbers prove that the problem with failures is real. Whether it already happened to you or not, it’s time to understand why products fail and how to prevent it.

What are the reasons of product failure?

When looking through PwC research, I stumbled upon this picture showing cases of expensive project management mistakes. It shows the reasons like “failure to apply AML procedures” and IT “glitch”. Among them, there are even the wrong trains purchase.

It’s a story about how SCNF, French state train company, purchased new trains worth 15 billion euros and then found out that they are too wide for some old stations and simply can’t fit there. To fix this, they had to invest in renovation of these stations, spending over €50 million.

What does this failure story teach us?

Everybody fails sometimes. And the reason to that can be anything.

However, it makes sense to go through the most common reasons of IT products failure. These are the ones we can learn from and increase the chances of success.

Marty Cagan wrote a book Inspired. How to create tech products customers love, where, among other, he described ten root causes of product failure. Each of them is related to a phase in product development, as seen on this picture.

  1. Idea. The product starts with an idea, and the failure can start with an idea, too. When it is sourced from top to down, without team participation, it is likely to miss this initial validation phase.
  2. Business case. It’s made to plan the financial questions and prevent failures, right? The problem with business case at this stage, however, is that nobody knows how long will it take, how much will it cost, and how much money it will bring. That’s why making a business case without any real data is worse than not making one.
  3. Product roadmap. Similar to the previous one, the roadmap at this stage is an overestimating of one’s ability to see the future. What most product managers don’t want to see in the future is that half of their ideas won’t work and even those that work will need some iterations to get to the point that we can call success.
  4. Gathering and documenting requirements is a job of product managers. The root of failure here is that many don’t understand that product manager’s role is much more than that (read our article on product management to find out more).
  5. Role of design is another thing that is underestimated and misunderstood often. When designers are given a ready solution to create an interface for it, there is little they can do to make the product itself better. To make sure that design works on the success of the product, read our article on product designer role.
  6. Engineers are involved too late. To create a product that is truly innovative and user-oriented, both designers and engineers have to be involved in the process at the early stages.
  7. Agile… is also involved too late. As it is often believed to be a framework for developers team mainly, the development stage is when it starts to work. But when introduced only at the stage of development, it brings only 20% of potential value it could bring if started earlier.
  8. Project-centricity. It’s a logical and comfortable situation for companies to think of their work in terms of projects. The problem here is that projects are outputs, while products need outcomes. As was said earlier, a finished project doesn’t equal success.
  9. Customer validation happens in the end of the process. Which means that after all the design and development, the project might come to a conclusion that… the idea doesn’t work and customers don’t like it. And they have to start all over again. That’s why testing and validation should happen as early as possible — to decrease the sunk cost.
  10. Where did the time go? Wasted. As well as all the wonderful things that could have been done during this time. That’s what is called opportunity cost: the time spent on the projects that were likely to fail. When tested earlier and changed earlier, there would have been less time spent in vain.

Product failure examples

Let’s see some real-life examples of product failures. And who do you think have many stories of failures to tell? Industry giants! If you want to learn from successful companies, it’s good to learn from their failures, too.

Tesla Motors

This company has a long track of failures. Tesla’s history was constantly accompanied by huge delays and overruns, worsened by the crisis of 2008, and recalling the cars twice for errors in engineering. A cherry on top was when Tesla’s new car, which claimed to have armoured glass, had this very glass broken during the presentation, when the head of design hit it with a metal ball.

This story is about how tech challenges paired with errors in project management can cause problems for a company (and how state loans can solve them, but that’s a story for another day).

Facebook Home

A new app from Facebook appeared when the company was already leading the world of social media. The app was supposed to make Facebook feed more accessible (as if it was too hard to get before). It was placed literally on the main screen when it was blocked.

The app immediately received lots of negative feedback. The addictive nature of social media was already a problem for many, and Facebook Home app could only worsen the situation. I never had a chance to use it, but can imagine the constant “doorway effect” that it must have produced. The product failed because it wasn’t properly validated with customers.


A story of how gaining millions of customers can cause harm to business when the pricing is wrong. MoviePass, a movie subscription service (real movies in real cinema theaters), decided to make a flat rate subscription of $9,95 per month.

As a consequence, the number of users rised to three millions, but soon the company realized that the business case was not viable. They tried to fix it by limiting movies and rising the price, but the subscribers just dropped the service and it had to shut down later.

Google Glass

When Google Glass appeared in 2013, it was a huge innovation and nobody could predict that it wouldn’t be successful. Yet, for a number of reasons, it wasn’t a success on the market. There were a few reasons for that: high price, privacy issues, wrong positioning, and simple failures in performance.

Image credit: Tedeytan

In the end, the product failed in mass usage, but worked for enterprises. Correcting the positioning and improving the product was helpful.

How to avoid product failure

Facebook, Google, Tesla… Examples of product failures include many famous names. It can be somehow comforting to know that world’s biggest enterprises fail just like the others. Occasional failures are something that all people and companies have in common. 

The difference is the cost of failure. For such giants as Facebook and Google, a failed product is a sad case, but it’s just a drop in the ocean. For a newly established company, a failure can be fatal. When you don’t have spare millions of investment money, you have to be careful and learn from other people’s mistakes and avoid the most common pitfalls.

And if you want to get a failure-proof design, get in touch with our product design experts.

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