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Cross-Channel is described in the following way by Mr Andrea Resmini, President of the Information Architecture Institute:

Cross-channel offers a different stance from both multi-channel and cross-media: the single channel might or might not offer a complete entry point into the ecosystem, but the fact is that most of the users / customers will not stay in that channel from point A to point Z. In other words, it might very well be that in a ubiquitous ecology some channels do allow users to complete their experiential journey without resorting to other channels, in contrast to cross-media, but that is not going to happen very often (or at all, in contrast to multi-channel). This is where the specific nature of cross-channel lies, and where the challenges for design reside.

Cross-channel is not about technology, or marketing, nor is it limited to media-related experiences: it's a systemic change in the way we experience reality. The more the physical and the digital become intertwined, the more designing successful cross-channel user experiences becomes crucial.

Reference: What is Cross-channel

Multi-channel is explained by using different devices or means to complete a single goal, like paying your bills with the Bank App, the Bank Website or using the Banks office at office hours.

Cross-media is more like consuming the same thing in different environments without any real connections. As an example take a movie that have side-projects like a video game, merchandises, comic books and even toys placed inside Happy Meal Boxes.

I understand the Multi-channel and Cross-media analogies, but I’m having a hard time understanding Cross-channel. How does it work as its “not about technology, or marketing, nor is it limited to media-related experiences”? It’s a “systematic change in the way we experience reality”. How I wonder?!

So explain to me: What is Cross-channel?

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Just because somebody made up a term, doesn't mean it has a coherent, useful meaning. It sounds like marketing fluff to me. Maybe there actually is an important meaning that I am missing, but the fact if an article entitled What is Cross-Channel? (written by the people who made up the concept) doesn't give a clear answer, then my default position is that there is no clear answer. –  dan1111 Sep 5 '13 at 18:25
    
@dan1111 It's not a "made up term" without meaning, it's discussed on Twitter, on Euro IA in the talk “Metadata in the Cross-Channel Ecosystem — Consistency, Context and Interoperability” and on a Workshop “Being in Business with IA — Delivering Cross-channel UX”. –  Benny Skogberg Sep 9 '13 at 9:19
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Yeah, it's about the idea that you have all these devices and are exposed to content through all these different means. An experience (e.g. the journey of a purchase) might start at any of those, pass through a number of others and end somewhere else. It's about new solutions that allow you to take a piece of information with you throughout all these touch-points. –  Koen Lageveen Sep 9 '13 at 10:34
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The concept is indeed very badly explained, but as a rather abstract concept that can be applied in many ways, you would expect that.

I'll use learning as an example here.

Multi-channel

An image illustrating multi-channel experience

The idea is that a complete experience can be realised using only one of a few possible channels (or media).

For instance, if I wish to learn about Task Analysis, I can choose between a book, a website, a video tutorial, or a classroom lecture. All will teach me the same thing, and although each in a different way, the outcome will meet my needs regardless of the channel chosen.

Cross-media

An illustration of cross media

The idea is that a complete experience requires crossing the different media.

For instance, a Task Analysis module that requires students to first read a particular book, then visit a particular website, then watch a video tutorial and then attend a classroom lecture. The experience will not be complete unless all the related media is visited.

Cross-Channel

An illustration of cross channel

The idea is that a complete experience can be realised by jumping between channels at will.

For instance, a module on Task Analysis that is designed in such way that learners can choose a different media for each sub-module, and regardless the media choice their experience will be complete.

The authors do mention that it may not be possible to align all the steps between the various channels.

The Future Supermarket

Additional examples can be given using a future supermarket:

  • The ability to choose the basket online, and when you get to the supermarket a mobile app will guide you to the goods.
  • The ability to visit a supermarket and add to your basket products by scanning their bar-code with your mobile. Then request a delivery with your mobile an go home empty handed.
  • Having a mobile app that whilst in the supermarket allows you to perform a faceted search on products (Red wine from France for less than £10) then shows you all options in stock and guides you to the product.
  • Allowing you to pay for your basket directly via your mobile.

So a particular experience may involve this path:

An example of cross-channel supermarket channel

Conclusion

All of these are ideas that align the physical world with the digital world, thus allowing a more diverse experience paths than either the multi-channel or cross-media solutions.

In addition, this line of thinking also opens doors to things that were not possible before in the real world. For example, it is impractical to offer faceted search in real-world supermarkets without the aid of digital technology. With the aid of digital designs, you can overcome many constraints of the physical world, and satisfy user needs to a greater extent. For instance, a need such as "I wish to make a vegetarian italian meal for 4". Thus, the "systematic change in the way we experience reality".

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It all makes perfect sense now. Thanks! –  Benny Skogberg Sep 6 '13 at 3:41
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A little off topic, but interesting - Sainsbury's have an express checkout where you find and pay for your goods online, and you pick up a barcode scanner at the entrance. You then just scan barcodes and leave. It's basically your "Future Supermarket"! –  Ruirize Sep 9 '13 at 10:11
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Cross channel is also defined by Kathrine Barrow as the following:

Cross channel design refers, briefly, to creating a cohesive user experience across multiple channels (including smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, physical stores, kiosks, wearable technologies and numerous others).

Key words to me are a cohesive user experience across multiple channels. It makes sense since me and my friends get frustrated we communicate across channels about a certain event or a product and cannot 1) switch between channels, since our entered information is lost or 2) we cannot end the workflow in current channel. I would imagine the marketing department get furious if they heard of a check-out process that couldn't be concluded since that channel didn't have an end point, and there was no way you could switch channel to complete the purchase.

This is also where there is a recent shift in both expectations from users and demand from the market. A few years back, the world looked different, Kathrine continues:

In the past, simply having your website “work” on multiple devices was as far as you needed to go in terms of the cross channel experience. However, as the digital world matures, and information becomes more abstract and ubiquitous, it becomes increasingly important to ensure that a user’s cross channel experience is not only seamless, but effective and appropriate for their current channel.

The challenge for Information Architects would be to deliver a consistent Information architecture across all channels reducing the cognitive load on users as much as possible. Users need to quickly and seamlessly find their way across channels and not reach dead end points.

For Visual Designers demands are equally challenging to meet:

Ensuring that the way you represent different elements is consistent is critical in creating a seamless cross channel experience. Just as having a consistent IA helps the user orientate themselves within your service, so do the colours, shapes, icons and other aspects of the visual design. A positive flow button, for example, should be consistently represented across all channels. Not only does this ensure that the channels are visually seamless, but it once again decreases the user’s cognitive load and learning curve, and aids them in transitioning effortlessly from one channel to the next.

Further you need not only to be consistent within your service, but also apply style guides on specific operating systems all in the good sense not to confuse users. It's probably easier on game where you use your own design, fill the entire screen with your elements, than to implement e-commerce experience on different operating systems.

What is cross channel?

Cross channel is multi-channel and cross-media experience combined. The cross channel experience often start a task in one channel, moving across different media to end in another channel. All channels don't have starting points nor ending points. To complete a full task, you often have to move across channels.

Reference: Cross Channel Design- Consistency vs Optimization


Disclaimer: This answer will not receive the bounty, since it's my own. The reason for posting is to further define what Cross Channel is all about, and is much inspired by Kathrine Barrow and Izhaki.

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