Back to the F**kture: Ian Johnston

type - podcast
Retail experience isn’t just about UX tech, but about understanding how we blend all touchpoints we have with the customer into a single, seamless conversation, as Quinine’s founder Ian Johnston explains to Martin Raymond in his latest Back to the F**kture podcast episode.


The experiential conundrum

Quinine Design’s Ian Johnston is a man with a mission – and it’s all about experience. Or should that read phygXperience, digUXperience, or plain old Experience 3.0 where experience isn’t just a noun or a verb, it’s a journey of many moving and inter-related parts?

And Ian’s problem with CEOs is that they see experience as one thing – the in-store experience, the product experience, the UX experience and so on – when, as he tells me in my latest Back to the F**kture podcast episode, it really is a topline word that’s used to describe everything – and disguises everything.

‘So we need to unpick it, and talk about the functional experience, the social experience, the educational experience and the entertainment experience, and if you make these work across a brand – from online to in-store, you create what we call the escapist experience, which is the underlying framework or impact of what we really should be trying to deliver to the customer, when all the other parts are in place.’

The Phygital E(UX)perience checklist

First, as he puts it: ‘We need to do the obvious: leverage the customer’s device and allow the customer to use it to have live, ongoing, connected conversations with the store when they are in the store. Simple.’

Crucially, we need to define the experience first, and the technology second. Fun, in other words, precedes function. ‘Technology is merely a tool and is only beneficial when it serves to improve moments along a customer’s in-store journey,’ he says. ‘Design the best journey first and then decide how technology can improve it.’

We then need to create unique phygital retail experiences that are not repeatable or generic. ‘Yes, they need to be adaptable and interactive, but stores,’ he says, ‘now have the potential to be infinitely dynamic, with each store visit being unique to a time and place.’ 

Published by:

5 May 2023

Author: Martin Raymond



Left: Ian Johnston, founder and creative director, Quinine. Right: Xfinity King of Prussia Mall Store.

Key to all of this is reducing friction and improving operational efficiency – this is the functional part of his experience definition, and this, he says, is how many retailers want things to be, as we continue to tackle the cost of living. But a two-pronged approach is required, so that we are still using discovery, serendipity and journey as core parts of the reason we venture online or into a store in the first place.

Likewise, as he further explains in his highly insightful Our Perspectives white paper series, we see many retailers using the digital to enhance the physical store environment, but few are using the physical environment to enhance digital experiences. This is a key opportunity for bricks-and-mortar retail to differentiate itself from online retail. It is also important to use the phygital and digital to drive customers between one and the other, and utilising the unique benefits of each channel.

Finally, he says, ‘digital interaction in a physical store can conveniently drive customers online, while the physical store can be used to bring together a brand’s online community in person.’ And community, he insists, is the core objective of all of these actions and activities: building one, servicing one, seeing your ‘data points’ as human, and technology as an enhancer of these communities – especially ChatGPT – but not as a replacement for staff-customer interaction.

You can listen to the full version of Ian’s Back to the F**kture podcast here, or read his ongoing blog, and find out more about his insights and design work from his website.

Tune in to the podcast on Audioboom, Spotify, Apple.