TOTAL EXPERIENCE explores designing for experience: its theory, its practice, and how designing for experiences affects us socially and in our personal lives.


  • Bob Jacobson
  • Paula Thornton
  • BOB JACOBSON is fascinated by the experience of experience. A planner and technologist, Bob has a Ph.D. in Urban Planning & Design from UCLA. He's been a policy researcher, technology CEO, science writer, and consultant. As a Fulbright Scholar, he studied cellular telephony's impacts on transborder communities in the Nordic Arctic Circle. Bob edited Information Design (MIT Press 2000) and is now writing a book on the theory and practice of creating edifying, transformative experiences.
    ( Archive | Contact Bob )
    CORANTE PAULA THORNTON says, "Understanding human behavior (economics), optimizing interactions (design) and facilitating conversations (markets), are the means to achieve strategic differentiation. This is the focus of our discipline. It is not a 'nice to have'‚ and is not, like documentation once was, an afterthought. It is the means by which to start a strategic discussion and the means by which to drive a tactical initiative. All design should be evidence-based."
    ( Archive | Contact Paula ) >

    (Courtesy of Mark Vanderbeeken, Experientia SpA, Torino)

    Experience Design Websites
    Core 77 Website & Forum
    Business Week|Innovate
    InfoD: Understsanding by Design
    The Wayfinding Place
    Wayfinding Focus
    Design Addict
    L-ARCH (Landscape Architecture Mailing List)
    DUX 2007 Conference
    Digital Thread
    Enmeshed, Digital Arts & New Media
    Ludology (Game Playing Theory)
    Captology, Persuasive Computing
    Space and Culture
    Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces
    timet (acoustical design)
    Steve Portigal, Ethnographer
    Jane McGonigal's Avant Game
    Ted Wells' living : simple
    PingMag (Japan)

    Experience Design Blogs
    Adam Greenfield's Speedbird
    Experience Designer Network (Brian Alger)
    SmartSpace: Annotated Environments (Scott Smith)
    Don Norman
    Doors of Perception (John Thackara)
    Karl Long's Experience Curve
    Work•Play•Experience (Adam Lawrence)
    The David Report (David Carlson)
    Design & Emotion (Marco van Hout)
    Museum 2.0 (Nina Simon)
    B J Fogg
    Lorenzo Brusci (acoustics)
    Cool Town Studios
    Steve Portigal
    Debbie Millman
    MIT Culture Convergence Consortium
    Luke Wroblewski, Functioning Form|Interface Design
    Adam Richardson
    Putting People First (Paul Vanderbeeken/Experientia
    Laws of Simplicity (John Maeda)
    Challis Hodge's UX Blog
    Anne Galloways's Purse Lips Square Jaw
    Bruno Giussani's Lunch over IP
    Jane McGonigal's Avant-Game The Future of Work

    Experience Design Podcasts
    Ted Wells' living : simple Podcast
    Design Matters Podcast, Debbie Millman
    Icon-o-Cast Podcast, Lunar Design

    Experience Design Firms and ED-Oriented Manufacturers
    Barry Howard Limited
    Hilary Cottam
    LRA Worldwide, Inc.
    BRC Imagination Arts
    Stone Mantel
    Experientia s.r.l
    Herman Miller
    Cooper Interactive Design
    Doblin Group
    Fit Associates
    Strategic Horizons LLC (Joe Pine & Jim Gilmore)
    Cheskin Fresh Perspectives

    Education and Advocacy
    Centre for Design Research, Northumbria University (UK)
    Center for Design Research, Stanford University
    International Institute of Information Design (IIID)
    Design Management Institute
    Interaction Institute IVREA
    Design Research Institute (UK)
    UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Design Research
    History of Consciousness, UCSC
    Design News Magazine
    Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD)
    Design Museum London
    Center for Sustainable Design
    Horizon Zero, Digital Arts+Culture in Canada
    Design Council UK
    First Monday

    Total Experience on Technorati
    Technorati Profile

    Get Camino!
    In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

    Total Experience

    February 28, 2010

    Design Thinking in Stereo: Martin and Brown

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    While read and reviewed by many already, this piece takes a critical look at Tim Brown’s “Change by Design” and Roger Martin’s “The Design of Business” for significant contributions and potential misses.

    When the topic of “design thinking” had gained enough momentum for BusinessWeek to devote an entire issue to design in 2004, it was a siren song to me. Newly converted, I digested everything I could find. Design thinking seemed to cover most of the experiential clues I’d been collecting as the means to improve business potential.

    By 2006 an IIT Institute of Design interview with Roger Martin, titled “Designing Decisions,” told of his conversion to the concept when noting the language and behaviors of designer friends. That same year, Tim Brown presented fundamental thoughts on design thinking that also caught my attention.

    But none of it was enough to satisfy me, so I convinced colleagues to help host a 2007 Design Thinking conference in Dallas, just to talk about it. We extended that conversation via a LinkedIn group that has grown to more than 2,500 members worldwide [as of this posting, 3000 members].

    Discussions on the LinkedIn group noted an increase in attention to design thinking, particularly in 2009. Martin was either speaking or hosting conversations with other members, while Brown issued a challenge to “move from design to design thinking” via a 2009 TED presentation. By the end of the year both Martin and Brown had released books on the topic.

    Same Song, Different Verses
    Both texts are extensions of each author’s continuous and evolving messages. Each approaches the same subject from a different perspective.

    In The Design of Business, Martin expands on what I’ve labeled the “Design Thinking Continuum” which he described in the winter 2003 issue of Rotman Magazine, under the same title [pdf].


    Martin took this continuum to a new level in a 2007 IIT-ID presentation when he talked about the significance of shifting from a focus on reliability to viability (which I summarized in Reliability vs. Validity). He expands on this duality throughout his book, in the context of specific business examples.

    Martin’s thesis for business: “Design-thinking firms stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business. They do so with an eye to creating advances in both innovation and efficiency—the combination that produces the most powerful competitive edge.”

    Brown’s book, Change by Design, struck a chord similar to that of his 2006 presentation, which highlighted principles necessary for the practice of design thinking. He notes why business interests have turned to design: “Innovation has become nothing less than a survival strategy.” Later in the book he adds this emphasis: “Design thinking may be one of the most profitable practices a corporation can adopt during a recession.”

    Change by Design builds upon a theme that both Brown and Martin embrace: “The natural evolution from design doing to design thinking reflects the growing recognition on the part of today’s business leaders that design has become too important to be left to designers.”

    Good Vibes
    Neither book stands alone. Tim covers more of the practical elements of applying design thinking (some of the ‘binary code’) and Roger focuses more on the models to frame the activities (the algorithms and heuristics).

    In select passages from Brown’s repertoire, he illustrates how design thinking moves design into a more strategic role to unleash “its disruptive, game-changing potential”:

  • Empathy: “Perhaps the most important distinction between academic thinking and design thinking… The mission of design thinking is to translate observations into insights and insights into products and services that will improve lives.”
  • Collaboration: “We need to invent a new and radical form of collaboration that blurs the boundaries between creators and consumers…. For the design thinker, it has to be ‘us with them.’”
  • Synthesis: “The creative process…relies on synthesis, the collective act of putting the pieces together to create whole ideas…to sift through it all and identify meaningful patterns.”
  • Biomimicry and intelligent design: “Nature, with its 4.5-billion-year learning curve, may have something to teach us about things….”
  • Optimism and trust: Design thinking relies on an “attitude of experimentation,” supported by a “climate of optimism…Optimism requires confidence, and confidence is built on trust.”
  • Visual thinking: “Words and numbers are fine, but only drawing can simultaneously reveal both the functional characteristics of an idea and its emotional content.”
  • Prototypes and storyboards: “…thinking with my hands…”
  • Brown also offers specific examples on where and how to apply design thinking:

  • Transactions and touchpoints: “Describing a customer journey…clarifies where the customers and the service or brand interact. Every one of these ‘touchpoints’ points to an opportunity to provide value….”
  • Engineering experiences: “An experience must be as finely crafted and precision-engineered as any other product.... Unlike a manufactured product or a standardized service, an experience comes to life when it feels personalized and customized.”
  • Innovative approach: “Many companies have shifted the horizon of their research programs from long-term basic research to shorter-term applied innovation…. Eventually it will be as natural to see innovation labs in service-sector companies as it is to see research and development facilities in manufacturing companies.”
  • Not business as usual: “We…set out to train companies in our methods of human-centered, design-based innovation: user observations, brainstorming, prototyping, storytelling, and scenario building…. [This] is not the most effective way to proceed. Innovation needs to be coded into the DNA of a company…P&G…designated a chief innovation officer, increased the number of design managers by more than 500 percent, built the P&G Innovation Gym…and elevated innovation and design to core strategies of the company.”
  • New relationships: “Design thinking is being applied at new scales in the move from discrete products and services to complex systems.… We are entering an era of limits; the cycle of mass production and mindless consumption that defined the industrial age is no longer sustainable…. Design thinking needs to be turned toward the formulation of a new participatory social contract…. We’re all in this together.”
  • Embracing complexity: “When it comes to colonies of humans, we have to reckon with additional factors of individual intelligence and free will…. Instead of an inflexible, hierarchical process that is designed once and executed many times, we must imagine how we might create highly flexible, constantly evolving systems in which each exchange between participants is an opportunity for empathy, insight, innovation, and implementation.”
  • Repeatedly, design is compared and contrasted with design thinking: “Design is about delivering a satisfying experience. Design thinking is about creating a multipolar experience in which everyone has the opportunity to participate in the conversation.”

    Dissonant Passages
    I’m quite comfortable mucking around in concepts, which are far more critical to the design of transactions and services than to products you can see and touch. Martin focuses on concepts as a means to help others apply design thinking to things like business strategy.

    I’m not as comfortable, however, with the way Martin shares his concepts. The book was bumpy—it lacked the natural flow of his other works, and seemed ill sequenced. The strongest lead-in for the book started in Chapter 4—design thinking in the context of the P&G story—with supporting details in Chapter 3. Then Chapter 5 introduces the critical context for the trade-off between validity and reliability, with supporting details in Chapter 2.

    Chapter 1 starts off with a “new” concept, a “knowledge funnel,” that is referenced throughout the book. It takes the original design continuum (referenced earlier) and aligns each part to a funnel starting with “mystery” as the widest part. For me, the funnel detracts from the original concepts, as the funnel forces something that was once fluid and unidirectional into a very linear concept. The additive value of the funnel is not apparent.

    This is unfortunate because Martin’s concepts are not only relevant, they’re also interrelated in ways that provide a powerful framework for assessing and applying design thinking (as illustrated below in the “Design Thinking Framework”). The mystery continuum has a direct correlation to validity and reliability. Note how the left and the right of the various continuums in the following diagram correspond directly to one another.


    This collection mimics the left and right of a long-standing, powerful model: yin and yang. Just as with the yin/yang model, design thinking works to embrace the dichotomy—embracing both sides at once to create a new “middle.” But business tends to believe that the goal is to move toward the right. As a result, businesses are predominantly over-yang’d. Design thinking provides a means to restore the natural power inherent in the balance.

    Martin’s writing circles back on itself often and poses contradictions. He speaks repeatedly of a balance: “Design thinkers seek to balance validity and reliability.” Then in the diagram of the “Design thinker’s personal knowledge system,” the first label states: “1. My world is reliability oriented.” I got the distinct impression that Martin kept commingling references to designers with design thinking.

    Perhaps Martin simply lacked having the benefit of a strong co-author like Tim Brown had: “My silent partner Barry Katz, through his skillful use of words, made me appear more articulate than I really am.”

    Unresolved Passages
    Other critics have suggested that neither author sufficiently communicated how to apply design thinking. With a deep reliance on the context of a problem, I’m not sure that anyone can “prescribe” enough of an approach to satisfy these detractors. My guess is that people still need help figuring out how the parts and pieces apply in various situations (if anything, this was where Martin excelled, as he gave example after example as to how the validity versus reliability continuum applied).

    Neither author sufficiently addressed the following:

    The design question. Martin has addressed the relevance of asking “why” in past articles, and Brown mentions it briefly in his summary. “A willingness to ask ‘Why?’ will annoy your colleagues…but…it will improve the changes of spending energy on the right problems.” But it is through repeated inquiry that the core design question is identified. In an earlier book, David Kelly gives a perfect example of not getting the question right (though his example is intended as a positive one). In the redesign of a water bottle for bikers, IDEO did not start with a non-product question, such as: “How do we deliver fluids to an individual who may have one or both hands busy?” If they had asked this question, they would have invented the water bladder years earlier.

    The significance of failure. While both authors heartily supported the significance of discovery by failure (failing faster), and cultures that support such, neither addressed the significance of failure as a starting point for design discovery and the relevance of accommodating exceptions in solutions (embracing failure as part of the solution).

    Embracing the in-between. Late in his book, Brown notes in passing, “It is precisely in the interstitial spaces…that the most interesting opportunities lie.” That is the sweet spot for design thinking. It is both in-between and comprehensive at the same time. It is the dichotomy, the paradox. In his book, Martin erroneously assigned the paradox to the mystery: “Starting at this paradox – this mystery…”. Design thinking’s strength is in embracing the paradox, considering possibilities across all of the dimensions of the Design Thinking Continuum. How is that possible? By delivering solutions that most appropriately apply binary code to the repeatable actions that no one wants to be bothered with, algorithms to repeatable yet variable things, heuristics where human judgment can help with exceptions, and a healthy dose of mystery to continuously question all assumptions. It’s effectively no different than applying the concepts of integrative thinking -- which Martin supports in his earlier book “The Opposable Mind” – across the Design Thinking Continuum.

    Curtain Call
    In the end, both books—and both authors—contribute significantly to the discipline of design thinking. My armchair recommendation for practitioners is to leverage both books. If your goal is to share the value of design thinking with others, I’d suggest Brown’s book over Martin’s.

    Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Design Thinking

    July 30, 2008

    Back to Experience. Back to the Life.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I returned to Tucson from Denmark and Sweden in June, took July as a holiday, and am astounded at the changing world outside my door. Time to kick out the jams and start sharing insights once more. My themes will be the nature of experience, innovation, change of all types, and transformation. Above all, transformation: coming to be that which we always were, waiting to be realized. Stay tuned.

    (Thanks to Paula for her excellent entries in the interim and now.)

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    June 19, 2008

    More Amazon Kindle

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    In a previous post I pointed out that there are a number design factors that weigh in to determine experience success. With the Amazon Kindle, portability and convenience outweigh other reported design flaws.

    Good Experience author Mark Hurst offers his own perspectives to the Kindle design team. His key observations and recommendations:

    1. The search function doesn't work well
    2. Its unclear how to upload content (particularly Creative Commons-licensed books)
    3. The button design is awkward
    4. "Next page" and the scrollbar have conflicting/confusing behaviors
    5. Content pricing doesn't make sense
    6. For $300 it should come with 'something' already loaded on it (hmm, I guess Mark's not impressed with the free copy of the New Oxford American Dictionary -- not exactly casual reading material)

    He mentions in the body of the text, that the device is not backlit. Like a book, it relies on ambient light to be read (that kinda strikes me odd -- even cell phones are backlit).

    All said, sales for the device continue to defy the concerns.

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    March 28, 2008

    Getting Twitterpated

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Paying homage to my colleague, Bob, by posting a reference I made to him and his thoughts on Twitter today. And by doing so, illustrate the effect this 2.0 element of 'social networking' is having to change our daily experiences. [Read bottom-up]


    For those less familiar with Twitter, it was originally designed for people to announce a 'current state'. Indeed the single entry field interface prompts "What are you doing?". It was also uniquely designed to capitalize on mobile text messaging. Thus, a single entry string cannot be longer than 140 characters even if using the full-screen desktop interface. Many 'inline' interfaces have been created so individuals can watch what colleagues/friends around the world are doing/thinking throughout the day.

    It's a phenomenon of communicating with critical 'peeps' ("I'll have my people call your people") via 'tweets'. It gained necessary critical mass by adoption at the annual phenomenon-unto-itself, South by Southwest (SXSW) in 2007 -- the Woodstock of techno-dweebs -- where it became the mechanism for a networked conversation. Where, this year it was leveraged as the means to report on a reporter.

    For anyone you 'follow', their tweets are like an instant RSS feed into a reader (I've got one on my iGoogle desktop -- way more fun than the fullscreen version). For those of us easily distracted, we have to intentionally stay away from getting caught up in the activity (heaven forbid if I got these on my phone). Even when slammed for time, eventually I catch up and comment back on things shared by others. It's my own personal idea orgy.

    Catching up is particularly hard to do when several people are at a conference. During SXSW the history queue goes to overflow quickly (you 'miss' notes as they roll off -- my queue is about 200 messages).

    For those who prefer to manage who sees what they say, there's an option to approve followers.

    The power of social networking channels like Twitter is being leveraged by those 'in the know' as a source of data (ala. research channel). Barack Obama's campaign is following over 18K voices. Shortly after casually mentioning a very specific product in a tweet, I was suddenly being followed by a cow. So how much can you tell about potential consumers based on their conversations?

    Two critical voices (there are many) are David Armano (@armano) and Jeremiah Owyang (@jowyang). The @name format directs a message to an individual. @name puts your message in their queue (if they're following you) or puts it in a direct message folder (if they're not). @name messages can also be set up to be the only messages routed to your mobile device, and can be set on/off follower, by follower

    David Armano suggests that Twitter has gained momentum because of the 2.0 elements which have been created all around it to offer a total Conversation Ecosystem. I maintain a collection of interesting elements of this ecosystem on I picked up most of these from 'tweets' from my 'peeps'.

    Writing about Twitter on Twitter is a phenomenon as well. But today there seems to be Twitterblogathon. Here I'm writing about it...Jeremiah Owyang suggests how to leverage Twitter as your own personal "social advisor" in real time, and an @armano peep drew attention to "Observations of a Twitter Newbie" by @marobella.

    Pick a channel, any channel. Leveraged as a location device, as a mini-blog, as a 'man on the street' reporting device, paying due homage to Mr. Weinberger, et. al, it's still all about conversations.

    And yes, there have been plenty of conversations around, "You know you're a twitterholic when...".

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category:

    February 5, 2008

    Making Lemonade

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    My original title for this was "Changing the Rules", but then I saw the broader beauty of what's being done here.

    Start with a good recipe:
    Find an experience people complain about...a lot.
    [Get your ideas from the 'joke butts' of the late night talk show hosts.]
    Find a way to make it better.
    You'll not only get their attention...
    (which is the 'best' you'll achieve with a multi-million dollar 30 second spot at the SuperBowl)'ll have immersed them in an experience that they'll appreciate, and remember.

    Who better than a leader in recipes to figure this out: Kraft Foods

    Here's their recipe:
    Don't just advertise your product,
    immerse people in it,
    while they're captive'
    and you really have their attention.
    Provide free food on airline flights,
    where they'll think anything tastes better.
    And 'free' is a great sauce...


    See related details.

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    February 1, 2008

    Amazon Kindle: Video Review

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Innovation & Concept Design

    January 21, 2008

    Davos 2008: Collaborative Innovation at the Global Country Club

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    As it does each year at this time, the World Economic Forum is happening in Switzerland, holds its annual intellectual funfest for the high and the mighty. The WEF, a nonprofit institute officially dedicated to “improving the state of the world” -- and funded accordingly -- stages this annual meeting, more commonly known as the “Davos Conference,” for the city where this event takes place. Attending Davos costs tens of thousands of dollars -- and you have to be invited. In evidence are CEOs and investors (first and foremost), political leaders (including Presidents and Prime Ministers), and cultural leaders (ranging from the Pope to Bono). In short, Davos is a temporary global country club, with skiing takes the place of golf or sailing mega-yachts. In WEF's defense, it does host a whole lot of interesting sessions at Davos, with titles that wet one's whistle -- but for the 99.9999999% of us without invitations, they hardly matter. Just a lot of fizz and fizzle.

    Davos' theme this year is “The Power of Global Collaboration” (described in a “We Are the World”-like video), in this case as applied to solving the world's problems and not just building better mousetraps or Internet social networks. Bruce Nussbaum, Business Week's Design Editor, sagely reports this week that Davos 2008 is really about three things: officially, innovation as a source of solutions (to what seem to me puny problems, when seen against a backdrop of environmental catastrophe); unofficially, heading off the coming “world economic recession” (which, should it be truly on that scale, will probably rate being called a “depression”), a feat that Davos' PR terms “ensuring growth in 2008”; and most importantly, reaffirming the attendees' co-membership in Davos' exclusive global country club. Side issues that will be discussed, but predictably not solved, will include terrorism, climate change, and water scarcity. How statesmanlike. How safe. How status quo.

    What's fascinating to me, and what prompted me to blog about Davos -- which otherwise merits the attention paid to the Cannes Film Festival, which it resembles -- is the juxtaposition of collaborative innovation, a process of management, with world economic recession and a massively messed-up global ecosystem -- graphic testimonials to how badly things have been managed so far and continue to be, Davos notwithstanding. Is collaborative innovation (which I teach) up to solving the world economic crisis? Only if the right conditions for innovation to take place are met.

    The first of those conditions is to eliminate all mental constraints at the get-go and allow creativity free reign, at least during the run up to developing concrete solutions. It's important (a) not to set one's future event horizon too short, lest you merely reify the present; and (b) consider every possibility, lest an unexpected solution escape notice. The second of these conditions is to include all stakeholders in the innovation process, and not merely CEOs, political leaders, and Popes.

    So how real is the Davos commitment to innovation?

    First, what options and alternative are permitted to be discussed at Davos? Is creating and funding a global economic safety net, as the UN has proposed, on the table? What about a more equitable distribution of global wealth? How about rich nations taxing themselves for their disproportionately enormous economic and environmental demands on already terrifically strained physical and social environments, then putting the revenues in a global fund to deal with real global problem-solving? Is unbridled immigration from poor nations to rich an open option? A world government? A universal social democracy? Corporations devoting 25% of their income (not just five percent of their profits) to fighting climate change? Not surprisingly, these options are non-starters at Davos.

    Second, who gets to participate? Is the Davos collaborative innovation space full of people including representatives of the global population that this collaborative innovation is out to effect? Are you kidding?

    Collaborative innovation, as its described in Davos own PR and as represented by the speakers invited to discuss innovation, looks a lot like innovation talked about in corporate boardrooms, political smoke-filled rooms, and media situation rooms: how to get out a better product, a more compelling service, make people work harder but happier, etc., etc.

    Not that global crises are going unnoticed. In addition to many, many niche meetups on the pressing sidebar topics mentioned above (terrorism, water, how we understand our bodies, dealing with global poverty, etc.) which the avant-garde can attend, if you're at Davos you can buy offsets and drive hybrids, thus salving your conscience after traveling first class by air (a huge CO2, ozone-killing activity) and while being waited upon like a modern mogul, eating as perhaps 1% of the world population does regularly, and if you're an expert guest, sit at the feet of economic and political satraps like intellectual court jesters.

    (Image: Global Warming, Climate Change, Greenhouse Warning)

    + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Innovation & Concept Design

    January 6, 2008

    Designing Today for a Very Different Tomorrow: Suggestions for the coming Age of Austerity

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    1836 200 150Yesterday I wrote despairing that most designers are busy designing products intended to promote consumption and that end up as waste, while all objective indicators signal the need to start designing for a very different future of limits, constraints, and parsimony. Then I came across “Designing Behavior,” a video presentation on on Fora.TV, the outstanding website that features videos of intelligent discourse. The panelists share my concern and describe ways that designers can and are helping people to get ready for the coming Age of Austerity.

    “”Designing Behaviour“ was produced at the 2007 Battle of Ideas conference hosted in October by London's Institute of Ideas. Here's the Program Preview. It says it all:

    Nowadays, even before designers have put pen to paper, there are growing concerns about the consequences of their work and its effect on society. They are accused of everything from creating too much waste (excess packaging) to fuelling excessive consumption (producing unnecessary gadgets, luxury goods). We are told designers need to rethink their role, ensuring 'products' make a responsible contribution toward the common good, solve social problems, even promote responsible behaviour. Many designers have gone ethical; every designer wants to produce their version of 'I'm not a plastic bag'.

    While design has traditionally been about making life better by designing better things, many now argue it also has a duty to promote wellbeing, responsible behaviour, and to make people think rather than just consume. Today there are calls from government, local authorities and policy advocates that designers need to rethink their role, ensuring that 'products' make a responsible contribution toward the common good, by tackling issues from health awareness and rebuilding community to reducing consumption and global warming. -- Institute of Ideas

    Okay, so now I'm not quite so despairing. But I remain cautious. The tale will be told in the solutions' execution.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | The Practice of Experience Design

    January 5, 2008

    Designing Today for a Very Different Tomorrow: The coming Age of Austeriy

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Chinese Happy New Year It's another New Year. According to the Chinese calendar, which begins anew on the 7th of February, 2008 is a Year of the Rat.

    Rat years are fertile for new beginnings:

    A Rat Year is a time of hard work, activity, and renewal. This is a good year to begin a new job, get married, launch a product or make a fresh start. Ventures begun now may not yield fast returns, but opportunities will come for people who are well prepared and resourceful. The best way for you to succeed is to be patient, let things develop slowly, and make the most of every opening you can find. (

    So what new beginning should designers pursue in 2008? Try, planning realistically for a very different future.

    The last few weeks I've been researching and analyzing trends for a prominent European manufacturer of home goods. I was charged with describing current trend that characterize lifestyles in the industrial world (and elsewhere) over the next five years -- but as with most true trends (and not just fads), the trends I found most significant have a trajectory lasting well into the next two or three decades. No aware person will be surprised to read that the most significant trends include:

    • Climate change and global warming, leading to environmental stress
    • The scarcity of petroleum as a basis for gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil, and plastic products, curbing travel and encouraging recycling
    • Rising prices for health care specifically, but also for any products and services based on petroleum -- in other words, almost everything
    • A credit crunch followed by a money crunch, leading to reduced consumerism, market declines, and job losses
    • Greater reliance on intentional communities, physical as well as virtual, for personal well being
    • Greater economic globalization accompanied by devolution of national structures
    • An overarching need for parsimony, the husbanding of resources and extreme care in their deployment

    (On the plus side, dwindling energy probably means an end to the war economy, late in the game.)

    So are designers planning for for this rapidly approaching future of limits, constraints, stresses, and new behaviors? Not many, and not much.

    Recently, Cooper-Hewitt, the US National Design Museum, hosted “Design for the Other 90%.” (The exhibition closed in September, but its website remains -- and it's a good one.) The website opens with this quote from Dr. Paul Polak of International Development Enterprises,

    "The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%."

    Most people will read this, as have many reviewers, as a cliché: "Once again, designers are neglecting the developing world." But that's not what Dr. Polak's saying. At least half, if not more, of the world's customers don't live in the developing world. They live here, in the advanced and advancing industrial nations. In other words, 90 percent of the world's designers are designing to serve only a tiny fraction of customers...everywhere.

    And in the future, the situation could get worse. One of the megatrends resulting from the trends listed above and others (including falling stock markets and incipient economic recession or depression) is a noticeable bifurcation of advanced societies, particularly the United States and other “free market” economies, as the middle class is absorbed -- a small proportion into the genuinely rich class and a much larger proportion into the genuinely poor class.

    (Even designers are feeling the pressure: young designers are mainly just getting by and older designers are discovering that seniority brings no security.) Given the easy foreseeability of this future, one might expect more designers to begin identifying with “the other 90%” and restructuring their design practices for future survival and prosperity, such as can be accomplished in a society under extreme pressure.

    But with the exception of designers who explicitly design for the developing world -- and designers in the developing world, who are used to economical design (though not necessarily designing economically) -- there appears to be no groundswell of realism among designers. Most continue working on interfaces for electrical gizmos, expensive medical technology, furniture for mansions, fashions for consumption, food that contributes to obesity, homes and cars that queer the air, and all the many other environmental and energy sinks that promise to drag down the quality of life for “everyone else.” Caught up in their professions and determined to get ahead of the rest of the pack, designers, ethnographers, marketers, and brand managers all seem caught up in the same lemming race. Not this time, Horatios. We're all in this together. Nor will “designing green” or “living simply” suffice. The are merely affectation, luxury options for the rich. They will not buy dispensation in the real world to come.

    Bill Calvin, a well known mind scientist at the University of Washington, was one of a hundred-plus very smart people asked by the Edge Foundation its World Question for 2008: how have you changed you mind? Bill replied that the evidence of rapid global warming changed his mind, and it should change others:

    "...We're not even back paddling as fast as we can, just drifting toward the falls. If I were a student or young professional, seeking my future being trashed, I'd be mad as hell. And hell is a pretty good metaphor for where we are heading if we don't get our act together. Quickly."

    The same goes for the design profession. Especially for designers of experience, whose creative inventions won't survive the extreme trauma of new experiences foisted on all of us, rich and poor, in a world under harsh stress: environmental, economic, and social.

    Happy New Year.

    (But wait! "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." Check back next week....)

    + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | The Practice of Experience Design

    January 3, 2008

    Amazon Kindle: A New Experience Channel

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Amazon%20Kindle.jpgWhile the likes of the iPhone expand our access to online, Amazon embraces our changing states of online and offline by synthesizing them in an experience-specific device, the Kindle, for wireless reading. Amazon reinforces the synthesis by using the term “electronic-paper”. With a pricetag of almost $400, the fact that they’ve had to post the following statement, says something for the market response since its November 2007 debut, and its potential:
    Kindle Availability Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is temporarily sold out. We are working hard to manufacture Kindles as quickly as possible and are prioritizing orders on a first come, first served basis. Please ORDER KINDLE NOW to reserve your place in line. We will keep you informed by email as we get more precise delivery dates. Note that Kindles cannot currently be sold or shipped to customers living outside of the U.S.

    The Kindle even has its own Wikipedia post (maybe offering full access to Wikipedia offline is related? Oh, and did I mention a full version of the New Oxford American Dictionary?). The post reports that the initial offering resulted in a sellout in 5.5 hours. Sure beats standing in line for hours on the street only to end up empty-handed. While the device was announced well over a year in advance, and even though I’m on Amazon weekly, it’s never caught my attention until this week. That suggests to me, that there’s a lot more upside to this product. [Gosh and I’ve already spent my $400 buying a pair of XOs – I got as far as charging it up, but haven’t had the time to power it up. More later…]

    Here’s where the total experience gets more specific to a focused scenario: If you look very carefully above main contents of the Amazon Kindle product page (bottom of the page header) you’ll see a series of links related to the Kindle Store. Select “Kindle Books” and you get a collections of book ‘products’ different than their non-electronic brethren. These SKUs will download, on purchase, to your Kindle device, in 2 minutes. Not sure if you really want that title, and thinking of going to a retail store to flip through the pages? Grab the first chapter for free. That, my friends, now differentiates the offering by the experience — an experience that spins endless new offerings for the brand.

    When you specialize the experience to the product and the products to the experience, how quickly can the competition respond? [Repeat again, “The experience IS the product.”]

    Amazon is a market maker. When some companies waste valuable cycles building walls against the competition, Amazon goes out embraces theirs. By expanding their model to include used and second-market books Amazon capitalized on a larger portion of the demand chain, and expanded the total market (just ask the many used book vendors who liberally leverage Amazon’s online storefront) – recognizing as Bill Gates did, that when the pie gets bigger so does their slice of it.

    Amazon does this one better by creating the Kindle Edition of major newspaper subscription content. Bear in mind that these publishers have already had to grapple with the transition of their identity from newspaper to content provider. I wonder how long it will be before the section label will change to drop the “newspaper” reference? [I’d sure like to hear the debates that went on around the division of product collections and how to label them.]

    And while there’s been some whining about the cost of the newspaper subscriptions being the same as the newspaper stand versions for content that is more frequently being offered for free online, Amazon is likely looking to capitalize on the long tail of economics. Don’t think that they’re not going to experiment with the elasticity of pricing for these offerings over time. In the meantime, they capture the small slice of the market that finds reason for this offering to most closely match their specific scenario needs. [I know I’d want to be doing some ethnographic work to identify a potential Kindle-factor on BART, WMATA, and MTA (amateur sightings welcomed).]

    How many more dots can Amazon connect?

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Experience Design & Technology

    December 20, 2007

    Shine Doesn't Matter

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Shoes.jpg ...well at least not nearly as much as comfort. It's amazing what a company can discover when they actually do deep research about their products from the customer's perspective. Discovering such facts is fairly significant to your business model when you're in the shoe 'shine' business, like Sara Lee is (gosh, I thought they made great frozen deserts).

    The Wall Street Journal reported today about customer research done two years ago. So what do you do when 'shine' is 17th on the list of 20 related values? You focus on satisfying higher-valued attributes, like comfort.

    If I'd been the WSJ writer I would have questioned Sara Lee about Kiwi's brush with comfort products in 1992: "Kiwi to Market Comfort Insoles to Consumers." I'd want to know more about why they decided on the range of products they're now marketing (what did they throw out?) and how/why they hoped to differentiate these from existing comfort offerings like insoles.

    I'd also want to determine how much they really valued the results of research by asking what they've learned about the adoption of the new products so far (from the consumer's perspective) -- that is, what's been the feedback? I'd ask this, because the original research was initiated and conducted as part of a media/campaign budget, suggesting that ongoing Design Research has not be adopted as a key strategic contributor to their business planning.

    Having continuous access to such facts is critical to adjust a strategic business model: "Today's footwear is made less from leather and more from canvas and synthetic materials. Even the military, one of Kiwi's best customers since World War I, had been moving away from leather, partly because so much fighting now takes place in the Middle East, where desert sand makes canvas more sensible. Most consumers today are more likely to toss out worn shoes than work to keep them in good condition." This is critical information to prepare for a shift in demand for products.

    Amazing that a company's web site can be read like tea leaves, to infer critical things about a business and their agility: Sara Lee doesn't leverage the Kiwi site as a strategic component of their business. How do I know?

    1. Limited content
    2. More importantly, knowing all of the above for 2-years, why are products still organized by: Leather, Suede & Nubuck, Outdoor, Sport, Multi-Purpose?

    I'm buying comfort. Are you selling any of that today?

    Hmmm...the new products are not ON the web site. Wouldn't you want them there first -- particularly since retailers need to know about them to want to order them INTO the stores? Did they miss the obvious when it stared them in the face?

    "And when the Sara Lee sales representatives who call on big retailers like Wal-Mart and Tesco were told they'd have to sell the new products, "they looked at their sales directors like they were mad," Mr. Casa says. "They said, 'Kiwi is a round tin, mainly for men, and now you're coming to us with colorful products called smiling feet. It's not serious.'"

    Indeed, wouldn't you want to 'feature' your new products (and the stories about why they were developed) on your main page as a teaser, particularly on the same day that you've made the pages of the Wall Street Journal?

    What better position to be in than as a writer from WSJ to ask Sara Lee what percentage of their revenue is allocated to the online channel (seems like a reasonable business question). There's got to be a model we could come up with to 'guestimate' a range of investment based on the evidence of the channel as it speaks for itself.

    Doesn't seem to me that Kiwi was ever in the 'shine' business after all -- just polish, and only for shoes.

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    December 17, 2007

    Prisoners in the Digital Panopticon: The Experience of Constant Surveillance -- Or, When Bad Things Beckon to Good Designers

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    PanopticonThe Panopticon was 18th-Century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham's concept of the ideal prison. It consists of two components: a central tower in which the jailers reside, invisible to the prisoners; and a ring of cells around the central tower in which the inmates toil, behind bars that do not, however, obstruct the view of the jailers into each and every cell. We live in a Digital Panopticon.

    French social critic Michel Foucault based his theory of self-censorship as a means of social control on the Panopticon. Commenting on Bentham, he wrote:

    ...The major effect of the Panopticon [is] to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so. In order to make the presence or absence of the inspector unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, cannot even see a shadow.

    Foucault then observed that in contemporary society, the media, our means of communication, have become a modern form of the Panopticon, with most of us in the prisoners' ring. Foucault died before the Internet became a reality. Had he lived to see the excesses of personal revelation and voyeurism associated with Internet use, he would have considered his theory proven a million-fold. The Internet has become our Digital Panopticon. Powerful interests can invisibly record and analyze our every conversation, domestic and international -- and without the force of law to restrain them or, as in the case of the Bush Administration, with active encouragement to violate the law -- they do so, often.

    Today, a filibuster took place in the U.S. Senate, led by Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd. You probably didn't hear about it watching TV, reading the or listening to the radio this weekend. If you had, you'd have known that what was at issue was a request by President Bush to grant AT&T neé SBC and Verizon -- two oligopolists that control most of this nation's telecommunications links, including the Internet's “backbone” fiber -- legal immunity from charges that they conspired with the National Security Agency to illegally supply the NSA with real-time and archival access to telephone calls, email, and all other forms of digital communications. Only Qwest, the third oligopolist, resisted the urge to collaborate without a judicial warrant. Those familiar with SBC (formerly Southwestern Bell, which acquired the shell of AT&T and then took its name), will not be surprised: it's long enjoyed playing sheriff, ever eager to participate in law enforcement, sometimes almost without being asked. Verizon's capitulation is no surprise, either: as General Telephone, junior partner to the Bell System, it always toed the prevailing Bell line. Now it's AT&T's line. Nothing's changed.

    Dodd's filibuster succeeded! When time ran out and the Senators began wanting to go home for the holidays, Senate President pro tem Harry Reid pulled the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) with the offending provision. The President says, if you're a huge corporation -- a more powerful element of the modern industrial state than the government that supposedly regulates it -- you can illegally collaborate with giant spy agencies to deprive Americans and those with whom they communicate, here and abroad, of their privacy...the essential condition of free and honest speech. What will the Senate say when it eventually gets to vote, after the New Year?

    Speaking with colleagues and friends here and overseas, I'm made aware more frequently than I'd like that we share a Dark Secret: we're being snooped, we know it, and sheepishly, we live with it. We are being snooped by corporations, we are being snooped by government, and in a figurative way, we are being snooped even by each other. It's become big business for startups to devise ever better ways of disrobing oneself in public view and conversely, being able to spy on one another. Many technologists and interaction designers are making careers of creating ever more invasive technologies and enabling their ease of use.

    Our every utterance and writing, even our very ideas, can be swept up by a giant vacuum cleaner wielded by private interests and an oppressive government, working in collusion, apparently without fear of prosecution. Nothing can be done about it if the law cannot prevail. What's the effect on free speech and honest discourse of being surveilled, geospatially tracked, and represented by thick, information-rich dossiers kept secret from us? We all know the answer...and it isn't pretty, democratic, or much of a future. The new American experience of constant surveillance is deadening. And it will take only one insane President, someone out of touch with America's democratic ideals or enthralled by religious quackery, to put the machinery of surveillance to truly evil use. For all we know, it's already our reality. Why did I disconnect from Twitter and Spock? Maybe because, even if I'm as vulnerable as before, I don't want to aid, abet, or encourage others to exploit my personal information in untoward ways. I'm protecting my property and their souls. Plus, I'm not a techno-lemming.

    Stealthy surveillance makes a mockery of our best designs. Take the iPhone, an icon of innovation: sold by Apple, that paragon of freedom, into the monopolistic grasp of AT&T, snitch to the most powerful. How can you design for a better tomorrow when the very things you design are put to such terrible use today? The Nazis had good design, too.

    Where, today, were the voices of the web developers, designers, technologists, ethnographers, and other technologically smart and socially sophisticated individuals and their professional organizations as our communication birthright went on the auction block? There will be more votes in the Senate and the House. Live your life like you design for it. Speak out for corporate accountability, for privacy, and for freedom of speech. It's your turn now.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | The Practice of Experience Design

    December 5, 2007

    Paranoia and recklessness among national leaders: what role do events play?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Several recent political events will test the hypothesis that national leaders become paranoiac and rule recklessly when their worldviews dramatically part company with reality.

    Bush-1Capt.Sge.Btu85.010307160229.Photo00.Photo.Default-373X512-2Take two cases of radical disagreement (also known in politics as “betrayal”). In the US, the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate exonerating Iran from charges that it's developing nuclear weapons flies in the face of the Bush-Cheney duet's years-long warmongering against Iran. Is this the revenge of the US "Intelligence Community" -- 16 different government agencies -- as neo-cons claim? Or just a more objective conclusion than offered by prior NIEs?

    Coincidentally, in Venezuela, populist President Chavez' plan to undergird admirable social equity gains by extending his tenancy in the Palacio de Miraflores was set back by the votes of former loyalists who joined the CIA-enhanced opposition.

    Bush appears to have lost his grip. Whether Chavez similarly retreats into delusional thinking or engages with his erstwhile supporters to find a better solution will serve as a partial proof or a refutation, coming as it does from the other end of the political spectrum. Of course, many more cases need to be collected and studied.

    In politics, the proof is in the pudding. So far, only the case in the U.S. supports the Crazy Leader hypothesis. I feel confident, however, that with additional research around the world and throughout history, enough proofs will be found.

    So then, what about the A Crazy Leader creates a Crazy Nation hypothesis? In this regard, I refer you to Tom Friedman's excellent and very funny column in today's New York Times, “Intercepting Iran's Take on America.” After recounting the factors that have rendered Bush's America a toothless giant, crazy in its own right, the mock Iranian intelligence memo quoted by Friedman concludes:

    First, 9/11 has made America afraid and therefore stupid. The “war on terrorism” is now so deeply imbedded in America’s psyche that we think it is “highly likely” that America will continue to export more fear than hope and will continue to defend things like torture and Guantánamo Bay prison and to favor politicians like Mr. Giuliani, who alienates the rest of the world.

    Second, at a time when America’s bridges, roads, airports and Internet bandwidth have fallen behind other industrial powers, including China, we believe that the U.S. opposition to higher taxes — and the fact that the primary campaigns have focused largely on gay marriage, flag-burning and whether the Christian Bible is the literal truth — means it is “highly unlikely” that America will arrest its decline.

    Third, all the U.S. presidential candidates are distancing themselves from the core values that made America such a great power and so different from us — in particular America’s long commitment to free trade, open immigration and a reverence for scientific enquiry wherever it leads. Our intel analysts are baffled that the leading Democrat, Mrs. Clinton, no longer believes in globalization and the leading Republican, Mr. Huckabee, never believed in evolution.

    U.S. politicians seem determined to appeal either to the most nativist extremes in their respective parties — or to tell voters that something Americans call “the tooth fairy” will make their energy, budget, educational, and Social Security deficits painlessly disappear.

    Therefore, we conclude with “high confidence” that there is little likelihood that post-9/11 America will, as they say, “get its groove back” anytime soon.

    Who needs nukes when you have this kind of America?

    God is Great. Long Live the Iranian Revolution.

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    November 19, 2007

    Confronting the authenticity conundrum: A review of Authenticity, by Gilmore and Pine

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    ImgbookauthenticityAuthenticity: What Consumers Really Want, by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine II, Harvard Business School Press, 2007

    Authenticity is an ambitious volume by Jim Gilmore and Joe Pine, authors of the 1999 marketing classic, The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage. Authenticity is an important, simultaneously prescriptive and cautionary addition to the rapidly growing corpus of literature on experiential marketing. Much of this literature is trivial. This book is first-rate. But also challenging. Despite its business-book style, it's not an easy read: you have to pay attention.

    Authenticity, as other reviewers have noted, features an impressive encyclopedic review of corporate attempts to create good experiences for their customers. Gilmore and Pine also proffer copious advice on how to assess a company's current authenticity; the art of “placemaking,” creating unique sites for the expression of authenticity; and most scientifically, how to become measurably authentic. But Authenticity's importance isn't as a how-to book: the more concrete its recommendations, the more speculative they feel. That's because pedagogically, Authenticity is a collection of truly interesting hypotheses, the proofs for which are anecdotal, not scientifically tested theories. (Gilmore and Pine may possess testable data and actual scientific proofs; but if so, they're only accessible to paying clients, a universal problem for consultants touting theoretical insights.)

    In their largely observational The Experience Economy, Pine and Gilmore describe the evolution of product-marketing embodiments in this way:

    Commodities -> Goods -> Services -> Experiences -> Transformations

    In today's sophisticated business environment, commodities, goods, and services are virtually indistinguishable as competitive offerings. Marketers must now generate experiences by in order to reach customers jaded by too many marketing claims and information overload.

    Their message in
    Authenticity is more directive. Transformations, which bond companies and customers irrevocably, occur only when authenticity -- customer self-identity and the brand experience -- are total. They're beyond intentional design. But at the highest level of manipulable reality, the generation of experiences, the higher the degree of authenticity, as perceived by customers, is the critical differentiating factor in the quality of experiences that companies offer to their customers.

    Authenticity, however, is a fluid quality, difficult to acquire and even more difficult to retain. Every situation is unique and requires special treatment. To establish overarching principles and rules, the authors' arguments range far afield, involving quantum physics, existentialism, psychology, heuristics, and architecture and design. Highly complex, these arguments rely on pages of footnotes set in small type (which most business readers will ignore -- but which I found evocative and insightful). It will be tough for most lay persons to apply Authenticity's methods. Which is why this book will probably be more popular among the consultants who are hired to turn its dictates into practice.

    It's Authenticity's subtext that's makes it a must-read for everyone else. Ultimately, and not surprisingly, even as clever as Jim and Joe are, they hit a logical wall when they try to make marketing and authenticity compatible -- a project comparable to mixing oil and water. This constant contradiction troubled me from the book's first page to its last. If the authors were writing science fiction, a story requiring the heroes to exceed the speed of light would be fine. But Gilmore and Pine's prescriptions in
    Authenticity are meant for marketing managers who can barely manage brands, let alone contradictory logical types and confusing syllogisms. (In The Experience Economy, the authors took a simpler line, making their principal argument in considerably fewer pages. I wish they'd done the same in Authenticity.)

    For most readers, this book will serve as a significant historical marker in an age of commerce when, as the authors observe, the “real” and the “fake” have become completely transferable, substitutable, and indistinguishable. It's an energetic, intellectual, neo-Aristotelian romp through the land of make-believe concocted by marketers, designers, creative directors, retailers, real estate developers, and by a public only too willing to believe the unbelievable. The authors' argue among themselves as often as they do with the charlatans and mediocre impresarios of experience. Their sincere attempt to come to grips with the authenticity conundrum is moving.
    Authenticity is a manifesto for our time that can't be ignored.

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    November 15, 2007

    'Fill 'er up!“ as a customer experience, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Oil

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Red Gas PumpThe price of sweet crude oil futures is nearing a $100 high-water mark that will inevitably result in social sticker shock, followed by resentment everywhere except among the OPEC nations. Marketers and brand managers of gasoline and other consumer petroleum products will be busier than ever. My best guess: Big Oil's customer-experience sycophants will portray Big Oil, a closed, self-serving global cartel ready and willing to use any means to defend its economic privilege and political power, as "people like us." "We're all in it together!" "Like the rest of us, Big Oil is a victim of circumstances beyond its control." "Big Oil's members are good citizens doing their best to maintain our accustomed lifestyle AND protect the environment." Watching the flood of corporate TV ads, I sense the din's already begun. (But where's the tiger? Where's the Happy Engine?)

    Downstream oil companies long ago understood the value of positive and negative “customer experiences.” In the post-WWII America, they joined with the then-Big 3 automakers to promote unbridled driving (“See the USA in a Chevrolet!”) as a positive customer experience. Simultaneously, with help from the automakers and tire manufacturers, they worked hard to make the use of public transit as unpleasant a customer experience as possible -- ultimately, by getting cities to tear out the efficient tramways that once got commuters to work without driving. This dual strategy successfully (a) equated driving a car with personal freedom, turning the phrase, “the open road,” into a kinetic metaphor for the First Amendment; and (b) made transportation policymaking a wholly inter-corporate process (except for the taxes collected by a villainous government to finance necessary infrastructure: the highway, roads, and parking).

    Today, however, Big Oil's customer experience people must be working overtime. First, there's the visceral experience we have of crude oil's skyrocketing price, leading to our future experience of rapid, continuous, unprecedented price hikes at the pump. Second, there's the physical experience, conveniently camouflaged by TV ads filmed in scenic national parks, that most time spent in automobiles, in the US, is dead time. (Over on The Oil Drum, the best blog about Peak Oil -- our historical era, in which demand for petroleum exceeds supply -- I read a quote that Americans spend literally billions of hours each year idling at red lights and in traffic jams.) Third, there's our uneasy awareness, fed by scientists and our own environmental experience, that automobiles run on oil account for nearly a fourth (or more) of all CO2 emissions and thus, cataclysmic global warming. Fourth, there's the knowledge, the cognitive experience, that American policy and policymakers, from the President and Congress at the top, down to local traffic planners, are enslaved by the Big Oil/Automobile & Trucking/Highway Construction Establishment -- and that there's no escape in sight. These are pretty negative customer experiences.

    Big Oil, to preserve its leading role in our society, is working hard to generate more positive customer experiences. “Empowerment”: pump your own fuel, at your own convenience. (Bonus: it costs less in labor.) “Green”: Standard Oil, a multi-multi-billion-dollar a year global oil enterprise, proudly announces it's generating enough eco-energy to power a city of seven million. (About a third of LA County.) “A Better Future Through Big Oil”: BP is proud of its plan to invest in eco-energy. It's plan. Sometime. Funny, I haven't yet heard anything from Big Oil's customer experience experts about walking or riding a bike, taking public transit, or simply driving less.

    Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore in their fascinating new book, Authenticity (which I'll be reviewing here later this week), decry this sort of bleating as “Fake/Fake authenticity” -- in other words, inauthenticity, worse than not saying anything at all. The pitches are false and they're perceived to be false. The problem is, Big Oil doesn't really care. Perhaps its silence would be taken as the most inauthentic thing of all, so used have we become to the oil industry's blaring self-promotion and take-no-prisoners attitude in terms of getting its way.

    I thought I might carry out a collective exorcism and call out all those strategic marketers, ethnographic and market research firms, and customer-experience designers who lend their expertise and earn their livelihoods (and a good deal more) from this in-vain effort to turns sows' ears into silk purses. Shame them into renunciation of their wage slavery. (I too once fed at the teat of Big Oil myself, leading a startup whose software products Big Oil coveted. But as I've learned, there's life after Big Oil.) The task proved too immense. It would be a lot easier to list the relatively few professionals who refuse to serve the Petro Beast.

    But what's the point? It's just one more customer-experience racket we endure for the sake of denial, like Big Media, the Military Industrial Complex, and The National Exceptionalism Myth. When the oil's gone, it's gone. And that will be the end of it. And us?

    (Image: Big Red's Place)

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    November 8, 2007

    The (ever more painful) Dow of Experience, Redux

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    WA little over a year ago, I published an entry here, “The (ever more painful) Dow of Experience.” I was critical of the frequently recurring, almost unavoidable repetition of a rising Dow Jones index as a feel-good economic mantra. I wrote:

    We take reports of the Dow for granted. They flicker on tickers on during the TV networks' evening newcasts, on CNN, Fox, and Bloomberg, and are part and parcel of almost every radio station's news broadcasts. For a long time, the Dow's ups and downs were taken to be synonymous with the strength of the nation's economy, all boats rising and falling with the Dow. But investment income and wages have become disconnected, radically. A rising Dow no longer means good times for the working class (which comprises that 80 to 90 percent of the American people who do not receive substantial investment income). Each time Americans hear about the Dow's climb, it reminds them that things are getting worse for the majority in terms of falling purchasing power, rising household indebtness, and a general decline in their quality of life. The American Dream vies with a nightmare reality.

    I also wrote,

    According to critical theorists, people can indulge in hopeful thinking for only so long before their objective living conditions start to breed intolerable dissonance, dismay, and resentment. That's when societies experience dramatic tensions, often resulting in political upheaval and even revolution.

    Now things are different. Today, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that the economy's rotten and that things are likely to get worse -- much worse -- before they get better. Gas prices will go up. Buying during the all-important Christmas season will go down. More banks will be in distress. More people will lose their homes and their jobs. (Yet, according to a report on public radio's Marketplace business-news show, investors in hedge funds -- the few individuals who are already the richest in our society, those who can afford multi-million-dollar investments -- are doing very well, better than ever before, some earning as much as 10% on their investments.) The last week has been hell for the Dow. But there's not a hint of domestic political upheaval, let alone revolution. People are in shock and denial rather than rebellious. Probably, because they have no past referents.

    What's the experience of living in a down economy? Most young adults never had the experience. What's the experience of living in a recession? Only the Boomers remember. What's the experience of living in a depression? I had to ask my Dad, who's in his 80s, to get an answer.

    The answer? Harsh. Very, very harsh.

    It's difficult for me to understand how people go about their day-to-day lives, minding the store, designing products, innovating ideas, going to conferences, chattering on the Web, watching their iPods and plasma TVs, making love, raising families, commuting to work and (via a corps of official spokespersons) reassuring themselves with forecasts of better times to come and better lives. Few, it seems, are preparing for the coming crisis -- crises -- in any substantial way, except perhaps for the survivalists, who don't look so stupid anymore. Oh yes, and the hedge fund investors, who are sharpening their claws in expectation of fresh meat, dining off the carcasses of dead and dying enterprises and their employees. It's not just an American problem, either, although for many reasons, the consequences of the crises are likely to be felt here first and foremost. It's a world problem. So who's working on preserving global stability? Certainly not the American government, which is out raising havoc and planning for more. Not the United Nations, already wracked and worn by a million demands on its limited resources. The people of the world? You and me?

    It's difficult also to escape the impression that we are wearing the sandals of the Romans just before the collapse of their Empire, only this time with universal repercussions. Religious and political mania will no doubt continue to manifest, more severely with time, before reason reasserts itself and solutions are proposed and implemented. So how do people get on? How do they deal with the sense of impending doom, now reinforced for them every time they hear the Dow -- this time, going down, down, down....

    How do we live with unremitting crisis, the social equivalent of psychological stress? What are its consequences, personally and collectively? Who's doing research on this most important aspect of our experience? As usual, there are far more questions than answers, though you'd hardly know it from all the smiling faces going places.

    (Image: Yahoo! Finance)

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    November 5, 2007

    DUX 2007: A great conference, but fundamentally off the mark

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Dux07 The DUX 2007 conference begins today in Chicago. Thematically, content-wise, and in terms of approach, this is the consummate conference on cutting-edge design. The speakers are top-notch, too. If I could, I'd be there. But ideologically, DUX is discomforting. For all its virtues, DUX embodies a set of values that, while commendable, are incomplete and off-kilter.

    Despite its aspiration to be universal, DUX remains user-centric, not human-centric. And experience, inherently and essentially, is human and thus, holistic.

    DUX stands for “Designing for User Experience.” It's the "user" part that continues to annoy me, while others seem blithe to its portent. According to Wikipedia, (quoting sage designer Don Norman's 1999 book, Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex and Information Appliances Are the Solution):

    "User experience design is a subset of the field of experience design which pertains to the creation of the architecture and interaction models which impact a user's perception of a device or system. 'The scope of the field is directed at affecting all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product: how it is perceived, learned, and used.' "

    200711051709 Designing for experience is about holism, understanding and working with the totality of human experience. “A user's perception of a device or system” seems a peculiarly narrow niche in which to ply one's experience design skills. Of course, it's important: devices and systems are what drive the machinery of commerce and government, and even how we as consumers conduct ourselves at home and in leisure time. But so mechanistic a conception of the human being is antithetical to our knowledge of how people holistically perceive, think, act, and experience their lives. Maybe that's why Don himself on more than one public occasion has eschewed the term he invented, “user experience design,” advising that we'd be better off without the “user.”

    DUX could more realistically portray the challenges facing experience designers, and champion their successes, by replacing “user” with “human” and thereby symbolically and practically opening the conference to a wider audience of designers and composers of experience.

    (BTW, I'm not reactive to the use of “user” in all R&D contexts: I'm about to take part in a multiyear, overseas study of “user-driven innovation” that aims to understand and enhance this innate human capacity. In this context, "user-driven" makes sense. Innovation by design is instrumental and goal-oriented. Innovation serves. But experience happens.)

    This isn't a trivial matter. Many of the presenters at DUX are willing to generalize beyond the scope of device and system development. This attempt to apply mechanistic theories best suited to things and systems to the larger world of human affairs can and likely will breed skepticism and perhaps even resistance to design for experience. The backlash against “social engineering,” a counterpart to DUX once advocated by structural-functionalist social scientists in the 1950s and 1960s could easily be repeated in our own time, especially since so many designs for experience fail in important settings at crucial moments.

    A potential reason why DUX and its organizers and participants haven't grasped this relationship may be that they haven't a long history in the work they do or sufficient familiarity with the scholarly study of experience. Perhaps it's a function of the organizing process, but it appears to me that with only a few exceptions, most of the speakers and workshop leaders -- and I suppose, attendees -- appear to be shy of 40 years of age. That means they would have been born sometime after 1967, when systemic thinking was king and every person was treated as a cog in some larger device; and that they came of age in the mid-80s or later, as information technology was replacing systems as the predominant archetypal metaphor. The inclusion of Harper's and The Huffington Post's
    Thomas de Zengotita within DUX, as an invited speaker -- a man who wears his years proudly and who's the antithesis of a “user-experience designer” -- is a welcome breath of fresh air. More like him would leaven the persistent technophilia that many other speakers manifest.

    It feels to me that the concern for audiences as human beings present in the work of such great designers of the past as, for example, Chermayeff, Bel Geddes, and the Eames, has evaporated in the fiery breath of Moloch aka The Machine (per Lewis Mumford's 1967
    Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine). Even those presentations at DUX that sound wonderfully focused on human fancy -- art and dance and travel to strange places -- seem prone to converting that fancy into factors that are part of technical solutions: making products and services. They don't really depict or serve edifying human experiences, although they may well fit the interests of those seeking to exploit experiences. This dog won't hunt.

    Doors of Perception's Designs of the Time (Dott07), a 23-month participatory project that will continue through year's end, is an illustrative counterpoint to DUX. Dott's slogan is, “Why our design festival has no things in it.” Besides being overtly human-centered, Dott's participation ranges more broadly by age and is geographically more diverse. Its participants are as often involved in public as they are in commercial projects. DUX's youthful audience, by contrast, comprises a bucket-load of North Americans, a moderate serving of Brits, and a dash of Dutch and German presenters mostly working in the world of business and academic/brain-trust institutions serving that world. Pragmatic instrumentality, the dominant ideology in North American, British, and Germanic cultures driven by economic, thing-maker philosophy, pervades most of what DUX is about.

    Transformation designers tell us that in order to change constituent experiences, one has to first change the constituents themselves. Broadening DUX and its focus requires broadening its base of its participants, and vice versa. Here's my call for “Designing for Human Experience” in 2008. To preserve the delightful waterfowl homonym, use the acronym, DhUX. Or continue to call it DUX -- but for gosh sakes, at least make the "U" mean ... “hUman."

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design

    “From Information Design to Designing for Experience”: Keynote at 3rd International Conference on Information Design (ICID), Curitiba, Brazil, October 8-10, 2007

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I gave this presentation on October 8th by Skype, speaking before the 3rd International Conference on Information Design (ICID) that took place in Curitiba, Brazil, 8-10 October 2007. It sums up well my current thinking about information design, user experience design, designing for experience, and the composition of memorable experiences. My thanks to event organizers Carla Spinelli and Stephania Padovani, and technical helpers Tiago Maia, Re-nato Bertão, and Charles Costa. Your comments are welcome. © Robert Jacobson 2007

     Archives Img1 BOM DIA! It’s a pleasure to join you this afternoon, albeit by digital communications and not in person as I would have preferred. Thanks to organizers Carla Spinelli and Stephania Padovani, and media men Tiago, Renato, and Charles, for making this presentation possible. Our plan is to have me make a short presentation and then for us to interact via Skype. You may see me working at the keyboard occasionally, to keep the connection running smoothly. In the film, the Wizard of Oz, the Mighty Oz loudly tells Dorothy, with great blasts of fire, “Ignore the man behind the curtains!” That’s me.

    200711042321 This is an interesting study in information design. I’m speaking to you from the living room of my home in Tucson, Arizona, in the heart of the Sonora Desert. The video you are watching today was edited in the camera, harkening back to the early days of the 1970s-era, worldwide “Radical Software” movement, when activists around the world used portable video cameras to elicit honest communication in a formerly media-dominated information environment. Theirs was authentic video, without embellishment. So, 35 years later, here is my authentic video, no frills….

    200711042328 I was invited to speak to you as the editor of the anthology, Information Design, a collection of essays by world-class designers, published by the MIT Press in 1999. In the eight years since, there has been no satisfactory revisiting of the issues we raised in ID – especially the questions: what is information design and what will it become?

    Today, I’d like to talk to you about why and how I believe information design will evolve into a new practice, “designing for experience” or, as I prefer to call, it, “composing for experience.”

    200711042328-1 Experience is the proper center of the design universe. An environmental outlook comes next. Conventional design in many ways is pre-Copernican in this regard and new approaches to conventional design, like user experience design (about which I’ll speak later), only add more epicycles. I’m optimistic that information design will more quickly adopt the new paradigm.

    200711042329 In eight years, a lot has changed, not least the quantity and quality of the information environments in which we live and work. Today, technologies of communication and information are abundant, and networking computing is more pervasive than ever – many would say, invasive – changing how we live, work, play, educate, and communicate.

    Despite information designers’ high aspirations, the sheer volume of informational activity has nearly overwhelmed their ability to design for it.
    (Image: Artem)

    Our anthology anticipated this future. Our collective concern was not for better construction of representations and artifacts. Instead, unanimously, we called attention to the ever more complex information environments into which people, individually and collectively, are plunged almost at birth and through which they must navigate their entire lives. We agreed, on this if on nothing else, that information design, as it had been practiced for 25 years – rationalizing the presentation of information, usually in graphical form – must grow conceptually as well as technically, even epistemologically: information design must become experientially and environmentally wise.

    200711042332 Eight years later, the concept of information environments is no longer exotic. We are more cognizant of the systemic relationship between information and the environments – physical, social, and personal – in which information is produced, shared, and acted upon. There is a change in orientation among information designers from the particular to the global, even universal context. (Image: David Armano)

    In the name of informational environmental awareness and holism, all sorts of recipes are being promoted for messages that are more easily assimilated.

    200711042333 Apparent is the intrusion of the market: information is now more often than not treated as a commodity that must be designed for consumption. One narrow but broadly applied variant of information design, perhaps responsible for the majority of information designs these days – on the Web and incorporated in products and services – is called “user experience design” or more baldly, “customer experience design.” Say it loud and say it proud, its practitioners have one purpose: to get people to use things and to buy things.

    200711042335 Over the last decade, “interaction” has been added to the stew as a necessary element of instrumental design, a way to draw “users” into the purchasing process. Dan Saffer of Adaptive Path in san francisco has written a pretty good how-to book on Interaction Design and IDEO co-founder Bill Moggridge has published a mighty tome of interviews with “interaction designers.”

    200711042336 BJ Fogg, a professor of design at Stanford, whom I admire, has the gumption to call this branch of information design captology, the science of persuasive technology that captures and keeps an individual’s attention. (Image: Cache Creek Casino)

    But technology can’t do the job alone.

    200711042336-1 Vast armies of ethnographers, anthropologists who study culture, have been deployed to observe, describe, and annotate the lives of those whom their mainly business and occasional government clients wish to affect via “user experiences.” These costly cultural explorations are justified by the unique insights that ethnographers can supposedly provide to designers. (Image: Business Week)

    In these circumstances, however, for these insights to be acted upon, they have to relate to business, and so does the design that results from these insights. Ethnography and design thus form a neat little tautology that offers employment for ethnographers, validation for designers, and comfort to the business executives who pay for each.

    What’s remarkable is that the success rate of designed user experiences, even those informed by ethnography, is anecdotally reported to be a sparse five to ten percent. It might even be less. The vast majority of products and services designed according to the tenets of user experience, supported by ethnographic findings, do not achieve their goals.

    ...continue reading.

    Comments (7) + TrackBacks (2) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    October 30, 2007

    "I'm b-a-a-a-c-k!"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I've been absent from Total Experience for several weeks. Here's why....

    Movable Type,'s server software, was upgraded in September. In the process, it became incompatible with my Ecto for the Mac blog editor. Having worked so long with Ecto, I can't go back to MT. Ecto's that much better. After a lot of hard work on their part, übermeister Hylton Jolliffe and tech wiz Reeve Jolliffe got the softwares working together again. Mighty thanks to both!

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    A thoughtful personal reflection on a boring cultural recursion.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    MoebiusAs a teenager and a young man, I was totally current on the theoretical and hypothetical aspects of existence and experience, as those were known in the 1960s and 1970s. I read books and listened to the newly available FM radio, partaking of high-falutin' “discourses” about beautiful phenomena: social change, collaborative problem solving, advertising, classical music and the Beatles, Zen and Taoism, being in the moment, social milieus, poetry, media, politics, environmentalism (very avant-garde), even Space Shuttles.

    Then, in the early 80s, I got sucked into the world of affairs. Government. Business. Research. Cable TV. The Internet. Cellular phones. HDTV. MBO, Six Sigma, and Co-Creation. Making money. Living large. I turned my truest loves, System Thinking and Media Theory, into instrumental chum to lure work my way. I had wandered off The Path and driven onto the Highway.

    A cliché: it's dangerous in the fast lane. Mostly, your childish wonder is at risk.

    Since resigning from my last startup in 2003, between episodes of consulting, I've had time to think broadly again. I've been able to revisit the high falutin' stuff again. Plus, today, besides knowledge found in books, there's the Internet. I've read quite a few websites, blogs, newsletters, and emails. I've watched my share of Fora.TV,, the yin and yang of online video. I've listened to my favorite media friend, the radio, again. And I realized: a whole, whole lot of what now's passed off as lofty new insights, intellect, and innovation, particularly in the fields I love -- among them, phenomenology, design, and media -- is really not very new at all. A lot of it boils down to that old saw, “The customer's always right,” in various permutations (co-creation, ethnography, customer experience design, etc., are some of the better known variations -- at least, those most chattered about).

    A friend of mine whose opinions I value confided during a one-on-one that he couldn't understand what I did. Maybe it's because what I do is what I've done before, not repackaged in new jargon in order to appear inventive and fresh. I create things. Themes, Ideas. Products. Services. Events. Organizations and companies to make them real. I hire people and I discharge managerial responsibilities, including building and leading teams, encouraging multilateral communication, and getting things done. That kind of boring stuff.

    But a lot of people don't do those things, or maybe they do them, too -- but mainly, they strive to reinvent the wheel. And you know, they do a good job of it. In universities, think tanks, research labs, and at professional retreats. The jargon, now “the buzz,” is sometimes deafening. ...continue reading.

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    October 24, 2007

    When You Want Results...

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    ...hire the best.

    Apparently that's what the U.S. Government believes -- at least the Department of Homeland Security. In an unlikely pairing, they've engaged Disney to create messages to welcome visitors to the United States:

    The film and still portraits feature the diversity, friendliness and optimism of the American people. The film will be shown in the Federal Inspection Areas of U.S. airports, and in U.S. embassies and consulates overseas, while the still portraits will be incorporated in posters, banners and other imagery welcoming visitors to the U.S. The first airports to feature the images will be Washington Dulles International Airport and Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, to be followed by the nation's other international airports.

    Source: MediaPost, Marketing Daily, "Homeland Security, Disney Team For Welcoming Film"

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    October 23, 2007

    True Cross-Channel Experience

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Don't know if you've tried this yet. Amazon offers a great example of a true cross-channel experience.

    Cross-Channel 1: Online to Real Time
    I had some books to return. I filled out the return information online and a return label was provided for me to print, tieing the box to my online entry. It made the return easy (which with my schedule is a critical barrier for entry).

    Cross-Channel 2: Email to Online to Phone
    I got an email today indicating that the box had been received on their end. The details of the return had an 'issue' (I was charged for return postage when I should not have been). I clicked through the email (I wanted to reply -- which I couldn't, but that's a different issue) to online and saw the option to contact Amazon by phone. A small window pops and asks for my phone number. I barely had pressed return and my phone was ringing! The item was resolved in 5 minutes.

    Cross-Channel 3: Phone to Email
    Back into my email, and there's already an inquiry asking me if my issue was resolved to my satisfaction. Even better, there were two separate links: one to click if I was satisfied, a different one if I was not. [and there's a closing of the loop]

    That's a Total Experience!

    Now, if they could just do something simple like offer me a complete inventory (list) of all the titles of books I've ever ordered (instead of asking me to open hundreds of orders to uncover that data -- and then do what? make my own list?).


    Something I hadn't really noticed (reinforcing this message), is that Amazon no longer really has a header with their logo prominently featured. Their logo is only one of the tabs...taking up miniscule real estate. Thanks to Luke Wroblewski for capturing this entire visual evolution. Apparently this change has been in place for 2 years.

    See, evolving design really does work!

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    October 7, 2007

    Successful Brand Experiences?

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    The Design Council site features "Thirteen examples of successful brand experiences".

    This piece exemplifies my issues with brand experience definitions of those who engage the phrase most often: embodied by an inherent element of 'staged event'. Our paths of understanding diverge.

    Rubber%20Bands.jpg Experiences happen. When they happen to include inference to a brand, the brand owner better hope that the experience is a positive one, or at the very least, not a negative one.

    Each experience is framed by the fundamentals of economics. Consider the concept of elasticity. "Behavioral elasticity" and "elasticity of substitution" both come to play in brand experiences. Indeed, they help define a key element Marketers often rely on: affinity.

    My throat is parched and I open my refrigerator. As my eyes identify a can of Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, a positive brand experience begins as I imagine the taste of the Coke, satisfying my thirst. The reality is, if the formula is not quite 'right', my experience will be impacted. If the can contains "Classic Coke" instead, my personal experience will be quite negative. In all cases I have engaged in a brand experience. The latter, impacted by a breakdown in quality control, results in a negative experience. Repeated too often, brand trust is eroded. My affinity is weakened.

    Severity depends on current elements that can impact my elasticity of substitution. If there is another brand with which I can have a similar positive experience, I will likely switch to that brand. If my perception of cola is only filled by a Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, then I have lower elasticity and will tolerate the variability as long as I can occasionally encounter the familiar experience that I prefer.

    The impact of changing a preferred brand experience is readily illustrated in Coke's historic error in abandoning the "Classic Coke" formula, rather than creating a different product to expand consumption.

    Consumer control over brand experiences, good or bad, is significant. In today's market, their voice is stronger. With lowering barriers to entry, there are many waiting to rush in and capitalize on the mistakes of others.

    Please. If you're going to engage in a brand experience conversation, do it in a deeper, meaningful way. Do it in a way that truly increases understanding of the many dimensions of brand experience and its direct impact on relationships. Those who focus on entertainment or event aspects (e.g. Chuck E. Cheese), limit the types of products/services to which they can apply their principles. They are more subjected to the shifting whims of tastes, preferences, and clever competition. And they are less likely to account for significant variables that can impact product affinity, and therefore, sales.

    Which definition do you embrace?


    Image Attribution: Getty Images

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    October 6, 2007

    Delta Embraces Experiential?

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    A tease to content elsewhere...

    Delta Air Lines is bringing its in-flight experience to the streets of New York City with a temporary lounge.
    Visitors can drop by the 3,500 square-foot space at 101 West 57th St. called Delta SKY360 to test some of the airline’s newest features, including refurbished seats, new menu items and route information.

    The following comment is a bit disheartening as it seems to imply an oversimplification as to the potential of real relationships and real still implies an elitist business perspective to relationships with customers:

    It’s an opportunity for us to engage with our customers outside of the airport.

    It makes me want to ask, "What's wrong with engaging with them where they already are? Um, in the airport?"

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    October 2, 2007

    SRI "Discipline of Innovation" Express Workshop, St. Petersberg, FL, Oct 10

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    0a0476be642b4d54b301624da3790d96.jpgSRI International, for whom I worked as a futurist and commercialization expert in the late 1990s and 2000s, is presenting a "Discipline of Innovation" Express Workshop for the Tampa Bay (FL) Technology Forum in St. Petersberg on October 10, 2007, at the Poynter Institute.

    I'm glad to see SRI coming out. SRI, located in Menlo Park, CA, is the original home of scenario planning and the Mother Ship to such better-known spinoffs as the Global Business Network. Long before "innovation" was a household word and "ethnography" the darling of the business set, SRI was plugging along developing tools like the unmatchable VALS (Value & Lifestyles System) and SCAN to track new technology and social trends. Perhaps because it's nonprofit, SRI maintains a relatively low profile -- but its social and technology innovations are impressive. They often get implemented because the organization cultivates a sterling client list of Global 100 corporations and governments, long-time clients here and abroad. When SRI comes up with a good idea, there's money to move the idea forward to prototype and implementation.

    Presenting at this event are William W. Wilmot, Co-Creator, SRI Discipline of Innovation Workshop; Co-Author, Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want; and Peter Marcotullio, Director, SRI Business Development of Engineering and Systems. Innovation comes to Florida. Sounds tasty.

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    Innovation Nation 3: The Transformation Gap

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    hands.jpgAs regular readers will know, for the last two weeks, I've been interviewing technology policymakers, VCs, government investment agencies, incubators, and innovation/concept-design consultancies in Denmark and southern Sweden (Skåne) -- the new, high-tech “Øresund Region” -- to explore how ideas and concepts are born and how they then are converted into usable products and services.

    The two nations, and especially Denmark, have garnered a lot of kudos in the press for their innovation initiatives. They execute better than almost anywhere else on earth.

    But even in these societies where a large portion of GNP is strategically reinvested in innovation, product development, and new company formation, often no spark crosses over from innovation to product or service, as it does from God's hand to Adam's in Michaelangelo's fresco. A fatal gap remains that separates the innovation process from the development process. Innovations often fail to become IP because no investor who will fund the transformation of the idea into its usable embodiment. The result is that there is no demonstration of the innovation's worth and hence, no way to argue for investment in innovation services or activities.

    One solution is to extend the innovation consultants' responsibility to include guidance and assistance regarding how to valorize and promote the innovation to investors, and then helping to find investors -- but this solution costs time and money. Few innovation consultancies can afford the stretch. Most seem happy to diddle in the innovation zone anyway, leaving their clients to fend for themselves once the brain games are over, a self-defeating strategy that devalues the consultancies' own work. There aren't enough incubators to go around -- and these mostly enter the fray after a company has a product at least in prototype, too late for the moment of creation. Business angels aren't many nor are they able to make large investments. And local VCs, like VCs everywhere, have taken the uptown route, preferring to fund companies that have made it at least to mezzanine stage. In Denmark, the state-funded Vækstfonden attempts to fill in, but like the early-stage VC that it is, VF has limited resources and can only support a handful of innovators. The situation is more dire in Sweden, where angels are almost completely absent and VCs, including the state established (but self-financed) Industrifonden and its subsidiaries, must adhere to the bankers' rules that govern most VC activity.

    Within many companies and public agencies, similar processes play out that result in lack of internal funding for transforming innovations into IP.

    This flaw isn't unique to the Scandinavian economies, where at least it's recognized and solutions are being sought. It's evident on a larger scale, and is more damaging, in Silicon Valley, a place familiar to me. The proportion of unrealized opportunities in the Valley must be huge. Given the dynamism of invention in the Valley, funding announcements are relatively few and far between. A few VCs, like Charles River Ventures with its QuickStart program, have tried to help out, but they're a drop in the bucket. The only place this problem isn't pronounced, I suspect, is China, where investment capital is copious and investments are available for almost any buildable product/service idea (although the inventor may not hold on to his or her rights very long).

    I'll have more to say about this in a following entry. I'm still catching up and getting over jet lag. Thanks for your patience.

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    September 26, 2007

    Design Thinking 2007, Dallas

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    DT_07_Fullcolor.png As we try to catch Bob up with conversations already going on in the industry, let me illustrate the significance of having Design Thinking conversations by offering notice of an event planned for the DFW area.

    For those of you in the area October 19th, plan to join us. For the rest of you, this is an experiment for continuing face-to-face annual events in local venues. The idea being that there is much needed energy bringing local companies together and sharing their stories and progress with others (including the press, academia, and generally interested souls).

    Updates will be provided as we see where the conversation goes this first round. Already there are signs of a focus on organizational changes including new roles and new business models, but we wouldn't know these things were happening if we weren't coming together to talk about what we're seeing.

    We hope to challenge participants to return to their own circles of influence with actions to influence change, and seed deeper understanding through related programs throughout the following year in existing local professional organization chapter meetings -- e.g. UPA, STC, AIGA, AMA, PMI, etc. (that's the adaptive/integrative gene).

    Each year we'll convene to share and talk about our progress -- catalyzing latent Design Thinking DNA already floating in the organizational ether.

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    September 22, 2007

    Our Innovation Nation exploration ends; my conclusions to follow, when I get home.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    My partner Debra and I are nearly at the end of our Øresund Region adventure, meeting and speaking with friends and colleagues in Greater Copenhagen and Malmö, the capital of Skåne, the southernmost region in Sweden. We've had an active two weeks filled with learning and sharing of ideas with a full menu of good thinkers. Our experiences, professional and social, have been memorable.

    Tonight, to add to our collection of exquisite experiences, we're off to see the Royal Copenhagen Ballet, in Denmark, and meet personally with Kirsten Simone, one of the Ballet's outstanding prima ballerinas, whose 1964 appearance in Tucson sent little Debbie off on her own balletic adventures. Theirs will be an emotional reunion.

    On Sunday, having returned to Sweden across the beautiful Øresund Bridge, we'll further explore Malmö, Sweden, which everyone agrees is this region's most exciting, up and coming city in a region already known for its natural beauty. It's where we'd like to live and work, if we have the chance.

    On Monday, I'll have important “summation” sessions prior to departing for home (“home” this time meaning, not the beautiful, green Danish farmstead or the bustling maritime city that have been our home bases for most of this trip, but rather our sunny, cactus-studded Arizona desert homestead).

    We return home on Tuesday, after which I'll share my conclusions regarding the practice of innovation policy and consulting generally, and their specific expressions in Denmark and Sweden, which differ substantially.

    yq_StCRxVLLgtjPEmn4V.gifAlso when I return, in my thread of entries about the “design” of experience, I'll further expand on my notion of composing rather than designing experiences and the consequences that flow from it. Conversations during my trip to Scandinavia strengthened my feelings in this regard. Thanks especially to my hosts, Professor (and occasional DJ) Bo Reimer, and Professor Jonas Löwgren, of Malmö University's outstanding School of Culture, Art, and Communications, "K3" (specializing in interaction design and new media production and studies), and K3 Dean Ingrid Elam, who joined us. Jonas' confirming thoughts on the composition of experience have been especially useful.

    Now sets in the inevitable sorrow at the journey's conclusion. In a couple of days we must make the difficult but necessary cultural tradeoffs: herring on flatbread to beans and burritos, aquavit to tequila, and cool to warm. Ah, if one could but be in two places at once -- and not just quantumly, but forever!...

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    September 11, 2007

    Innovation Nation: The "Øresund"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    On Monday, I spent 15 hours in the air, the last seven aboard a Boeing 757 “Flying Cattle Car" (perhaps the worst aircraft ever foisted on the traveling public) with a malfunctioning entertainment system. What could compel me to such an act of aerial self-flagellation? The answer: to visit “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen,” capital not only of Denmark but of the larger “Øresund Region”: the Innovation Nation.

    Back in the United States and everywhere in the Blogosphere, designers of various ilk are thrashing around with the concepts of innovation, ideation, strategy, and co-creation. The heated conversation has been led most recently by the Interaction Designers, who are having a run of popularity not seen since the onslaught of the Information Architects, whom the Interaction Designers have displaced in the minds of the design critics. (Can the Service Designers be far behind?) Basically, the issue is whether, as Michael Beirut put it in Design Observer, “Innovation is the new Black,” or whether it is a truly historic evolution of conventional design,, the purest evocation of “design thinking” as described by Peter Morville in a classic Semantic Studios blog entry reprinted on NextD, with contextual remaks by G.K. VanPatter ("Unidentical Twins")

    In the Øresund region comprising Greater Copenhagen and Skåne (Malmö, Lund, and other formerly Danish parts of southern Sweden), where two geographies and national cultures have been joined by a beautiful new bridge after 500 years of separation, innovation consulting isn't an issue. It's for real. Not only is innovation consulting considered an accepted design modality, it's gaining the blessing and support of the Danish and Scanian governments and their larger societies. The Danes in particular have invested literally tens of millions of government dollars each year to resurrect their once glorious national brand -- Danish Design -- and they now seem bent on doing the same for the innovation consulting business, where they stand a good chance of actually getting ahead of the curve and leading the global innovation industry.

    To be sure, innovation consulting is still a relatively small industry, with total revenues hovering around $1 billion. It's also labor intensive, since its main assets are inspired human minds; operating margins are okay but not great. But because the innovation industry's potential to derail conventional management consulting -- getting in there right at the beginning of every management decision process, and thereby controlling it -- has not gone unnoticed. Recently the Monitor Group, a fast-growing, mid-range management consultancy, bought the Doblin Group, a brand management firm in Chicago that made a big deal of its powers of innovation. It then aligned the Doblin Group with its own internal, organically grown innovation consulting practice. One has the sense that many of the small firms growing up on edges of the management consulting industry have the same goal, since nearly every one now styles itself, in one sense or another, as an innovation-consulting provider.

    To get back to the Øresund. Although the Danish government has spent generously to restore Danish Design's preeminence, in fact the emergence of the innovation consultancies in DK and SE has been organic, not dependent on government spending (except for government's business, when its appropriate). This has caught DK's intensely thorough economic planners by surprise. A hot-off-the-press Danish governmental study and report, Concept Design, published by the Danish Enterprise and Housing Agency, directed by agency planner Jorgen Røsted (and employing many internal and external consultants), describes innovation consulting as "concept design," a tenuous semantic bridge. In this ethnography about ethnography (a primary ingredient of concept design, as the authors define it), Concept Design's authors take the word of their industry informants too literally, without sufficient critical distance. Three case-studies among several presented by their informants as unquestioned successes I know personally to be problematic. Overall, however, most of the report's observations appear accurate. Concept Design meticulously describes what's happening structurally within the budding industry. What it doesn't do is explain how innovators and their clients actually solve problems. Instead, reciting the five steps of concept design -- a process pioneered at SRI Consulting and the Institute for the Future in the 1980s and 1990s -- it describes the crucial step of ideation as "this is where the magic happens." This phrase is somewhat lacking in precision. It mystifies the process rather than revealing it. (A follow-up report, InnovationMonitor 2007, due out at month's end (September 2007), will discuss the "biggest challenges facing innovation in Denmark." Should be exciting.)

    So that's why I'm here in Denmark, the per capita national leader (so Concept Design reports) in innovation consulting. For two weeks I'm going to study governmental and private initiatives on both sides of the Øresund. In the process, I hope to be able to accurately characterize what's going on industrially but also in terms of process; what innovation consulting means for the region's economy, culture, and society; and its significance in the world of ideas, including the creation of experience and design thinking.

    My first appointment takes place today at the new Copenhagen Institute for Interactive Design (CIID). Then I'll meet with the Danish Venture Capital Association. On Thursday and Friday, I meet with leading consultancies and government design-policymakers on the Danish side of the Øresund. Next week, I'll travel to Skåne, to do the same. My insights and information that can be made public, I'll share with you here.

    For a personal experience of the field's dynamism, II encourage you to attend ECCI X, the Tenth European Conference on Creativity and Innovation, to be held in Copenhagen, October 14-17, 2007, where these issues will be the subject of intense examination and debate. Over 400 leaders in the innovation business, from Scandinavia, the rest of Europe, and around the world are expected to attend. Wish I could join them. Hey, maybe I will...! From Denmark, this is Bob Jacobson saying, "Med venlig hilsen, ciao!"

    (Images: Light bulb,; Øresund Bridge, Malmö)

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design | Theories of Experience

    The best experiences aren't designed. They're composed.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The most evocative experiences -- those that have lasting power, that alter one's perspectives, apprehension, appreciation, and actions -- aren't designed. They're composed. The distinction isn't subtle. Compositions are easy to identify and remember: everyone can cite his or her favorite composed experiences. Designs, for the most part, aren't so easy to identify or remember. In many cases, they're not even designed to be memorable; they're designed to be imperceptible.

    My brilliant partner Debra Jane, a talented creator of great experiences -- in fashion, dance, art, and story-telling -- sent me down this thought-path when, one night, she announced, “You know, I'm not so smart...but I sure know how to concatenate!”

    “Compose” has many meanings, but the two to which I refer (from are:

    1. To make or form by combining things, parts, or elements.


    2. To create (a musical, literary, or choreographic work).

    Composition is an act of creative combination, working with elements in the environment. The assemblage that results may or may not find an audience or serve a purpose. The composer knows this going in: his or her motivation is simply to compose.

    “Design” also has many meanings, but central to its definition, in the sense that designers use it, are:

    1. To form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan.


    2. To plan and fashion the form and structure of an object, work of art, decorative scheme, etc.

    Design begins with a purpose in mind. Commercial design has as its first purpose to serve a client. The designer must succeed in this purpose.

    Composition draws on inspiration from deep, often hidden emotional, spiritual, and psychological aquifers. Design occurs largely in the mind. The difference in results is profound, especially when it comes to creating experiences.

    The acts of composition and design thus start from different premises and have different intended outcomes. Good experiences may be what each act is intended to engender, but one act is artistry and the other, science and engineering. Increasingly, I'm led to believe that artistry is key to successful creation of the best experiences. The composer may fail, of course; only a relatively few composers achieve excellence; whereas, there are many good designers. But design thinking, although probably more reliable as a methodology, inherently limits the designer's artistry. It places strictures on design in order that a design should work; these strictures include basing designs on reasonably hard data and not deviating too far from audience preferences or too greatly challenging existing behaviors.

    Also, a design's consequences, for that design to be considered a success, must be measurable. Compositions, on the other hand, must merely be memorable.

    My colleague Barry Howard creates exhibitions and museums. He and I are part of a team preparing a plan for the US Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. Barry has a long and successful career in his line of work, beginning with the pioneering Coca-Cola Pavilion at the 1964 New York Worlds Fair. Barry is an artist. Each project begins with a storyline, a visionary narrative, which then is translated into its physical evocation. Barry is a composer of experiences.

    Barry related to me a relevant anecdote. Walt Disney had captured the American imagination on the silver screen when he decided to turn his studio's creations into a physical place, to be called “Disneyland.” There was no one with prior experience creating a theme park on the scale Disney envisioned, so he called upon his studio team -- writers, illustrators, animators, musicians, and so forth -- to come up with the plans for Disneyland. The result was a remarkable collection of experiences, magnificent and small, that remains an icon of creativity and spirit (some would say, chutzpah) to this day. No one on the team considered himself or herself a “designer.” Its members considered themselves artists, the original “Imagineers.” Over the years, the original Imagineers were replaced by individuals with backgrounds in business, technology and social sciences, and design. Imagineering became something of a science. As most of us who experienced the original Disneyland agree, the result has been less than sterling. The new parks created by these Imagineers, for all their splendor, efficiency, and effectiveness as revenue generators, didn't manifest the same excitement as the original Disneyland. The rides were stupendous but numbing and the overall experience of the new Disney theme parks was one of grandiosity, not edification. New management at Disney is now working hard to turn the parks around and restore the creative luster that the second-generation Imagineers' calipers and mechanics almost erased. Composers are back in charge.

    Another of my experience-creating heroes is the landscape architect and educator, Lawrence Halprin. At a landscape architecture conference I attended at the University of Washington, he issued a powerful edict: “Design not with forms, but with forces.” Halprin excels at apprehending deep meanings in the physical environment and then creating compositions -- literally scoring the subject environment and things in it -- to produce wonderful experiences. Anna Halprin, the renowned choreographer, inspired Lawrence's approach. He is a choreographer of environmental experiences. Halprin values design methodology as a means of realizing his visions -- but always, his visions are preeminent.

    It may be somewhat disturbing for you, as it is for me, to acknowledge that artistry, not science or engineering, is the sine qua non for creating the best experiences. (Architects who excel, for example, consider themselves artists of space.) Artistry, sadly, can't be learned. It's an inherent talent that can be improved upon, but not taught. Artists must mingle with designers for designs to be infused with compositional fire. Otherwise, design remains an interesting, challenging, but ultimately mundane process. The best experiences aren't designed. They're composed.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    September 4, 2007

    An odd little book: Everyday Engineering: What Engineers See, by Andrew Burroughs

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Everyday EngineeringEveryday Engineering: What Engineers See, by IDEO engineer Andrew Burroughs (Chronicle Books 2007), is an odd little book -- and I do mean odd, it's almost completely pictorial; and little, about 4“ x 6”. It's now part of my permanent collection of design books worth keeping. Why? Because it's a perfect evocation of, as the subtitle says, how engineers see the world of everyday life: as an assortment of things -- objects, assemblages, and machines -- maintained in relation to one another by unseen forces, both manmade and natural.

    Over time, these relationships are altered -- the objects' purposes are sometimes defeated and at other times improved -- in ways that designers and engineers can't always predict. It's the engineers' responsibility, however, to anticipate these vagaries, to make these arrangements work and keep on working -- or if things go really out of kilter, to shut them down and replace them. One would like to think that designers -- a term I use broadly, to include professional designers but also architects, carpenters, industrialists, and other de facto designers -- are the engineers' equal partners in this pursuit. But as the prolific photographs that constitute the main content of Everyday Engineering illustrate, too often this isn't the case.

    Everyday Engineering is a study in visual literacy. Burroughs' foreword and brief introductions for its 17 chapters are too short to fully explain his meanings in every sense. (Part 1 focuses on Creation, Part 2 on Degradation.) I would have liked more of Burroughs' insights and recommendations for how everyday artifacts, machines and processes, should be created and maintained. Instead, he's assembled hundreds of full-color photographs to make a persuasive case for more advance thought on the designers' part before they foist their inventions on the engineers who must convey them to the public. Some are close-ups of obscure elements, others broad landscapes; most are portraits of things.

    Yet it's the unforeseen forces that most need to be elucidated. These are largely implied in the photographs, not explicit. This may be the nature of everyday environments and the their elements, but the delightful website, How Stuff Works, is a more accessible guide for those whose curiosity about everyday life requires more than Burroughs the engineer's visual lyricism. (HSW is about more than engineering. It ranges across mythology, biology, physics, media -- you name it, it lives up to its title.)

    Published by Chronicle Books, at $29.95, Everyday Engineering is pricey. ( currently discounts it to $19.77.) The cover is stylish but impractically constructed of black paper that doesn't resist stains. The pages, however, are substantial. I liked very much the press kit that accompanied Everyday Engineering: it provides a context that increases the reader's appreciation for Burroughs' accomplishment. Perhaps Chronicle Books or IDEO will see fit to incorporate the press kit in a website that allows Burroughs and his readers to more fully explicate their take on everyday engineering and its future.

    I'm placing my copy of Everyday Engineering next to my copy of the 25th-Anniversary Edition of Vintage Books' Tao Te Ching, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and illustrated with photographs by Jane English. The two books' classy illustrations are yin-yang representations of the manmade world and the natural world, respectively. The contrast is remarkable. “Designing with nature” has a long way to go.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Commentary | The Practice of Experience Design

    August 31, 2007

    Design Thinking

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    I was attempting to edit the abysmal entry for Design Thinking on Wikipedia. I began to doubt the appropriateness of what I was writing – not for its validity but for its style. I finally decided to simply put what I would have wanted for an entry there, here.

    Design Thinking leverages implicit elements of design practices, as a means to approach problem solving. It is a critical factor for innovation.

    "Design thinking is a term being used today to define a way of thinking that produces transformative innovation." [1] The term has gained significance as it is being embraced outside of the normal realm for which it might have traditionally been applied.

    Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, suggests that Design Thinking is central to value creation in the 21st century (see "Design of Business"). It is not a matter of gaining an understanding of design, it's a matter of embracing design – a way of operating. Martin further suggests that success in the 20th century was defined by an ability to move through a continuum, from mystery, to heuristic, to algorithm, to binary code. In this way things are identified, a pattern is made, and exact replicas are generated. For a mass production economy this is an ideal model for operating success.

    But as barriers to information are lowered (less expensive, more readily available/shared), the economics of competition change dramatically. The value of intellectual capital is now often greater when it is shared and allowed to evolve openly (a lot of lawyers suddenly become irrelevant). Fundamental business models rely on minimizing risk. Getting to binary code was an ideal way to lock down fluctuation and variance – both associated with risk.

    New economic models embrace risk as reality, requiring a move back up the continuum to 'heuristic'. Roger Martin specifically suggests: "I would argue that to be successful in the future, businesspeople will have to become more like designers – more ‘masters of heuristics’ than ‘managers of algorithms’." For classic business models this is uncomfortable. The idea of managing something squishy is foreign. Design Thinking is required to operate in squishy-mode.

    It's not to be confused with a method – it's fundamentally a culture, a genotype to reshape methods of operating. Contemporary organizational structures are antithetical to this culture. Martin elaborates,

    Whereas traditional firms organize around ongoing tasks and permanent assignments, in design shops, work flows around projects with defined terms. The source of status in traditional firms is ‘managing big budgets and large staffs’, but in design shops, it derives from building a track record of finding solutions to ‘wicked problems’ – solving tough mysteries with elegant solutions.

    Whereas the style of work in traditional firms involves defined roles and seeking the perfect answer, design firms feature extensive collaboration, ‘charettes’ (focused brainstorming sessions), and constant dialogue with clients.

    Design Thinking is critical to and at the same time relies on emergent structures. As such, it is central to all aspects of 2.0 design.

    Design Thinking is a specific concept (the significance between specific and general use of a term is illustrated in the reference to complexity). While common methods of thought include deductive and inductive reasoning, Design Thinking embraces these but adds abductive reasoning. Abductive reasoning is effectively embracing a posture of "Why not?", but with a layer of rationale.

    Random trial and error is expensive. Rationale is too often replaced by random opinion. While predominantly driven by profit-motivation (e.g. search engine optimization, transactional growth), there is clear professional growth in the discipline of web analytics. To be most effective, Design Thinking must be informed by Design Research (transactional analytics, behavioral analytics, feedback loops, usability studies, and ethnography). I call this evidence-based design, Jeffrey Pfeffer calls it evidence-based management.

    Another differentiating element of Design Thinking is a focus on synthesis rather than analysis. Claudia Kotchka notes:

    Designers problem-solve holistically, not in a linear fashion. While the scientific method for problem solving uses problem focused strategies and analysis, designers use solution focused strategies and synthesis. They start with a whole solution rather than break it down into parts.

    Good Design Thinking is the ability to see things not readily apparent to others (that's where market differentiation can occur). Thus my favorite Schopenhauer quote:

    “Thus the task is
    not so much to see
    what no one yet has seen,
    but to think
    what nobody yet has thought
    about that which
    everybody sees”

    It's the ability to see the 'edges' of something, to find shape and form in a mass of stuff. It's the ability to see things differently – to see the implicit and make it explicit.

    Additional References

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    August 20, 2007

    Spirituality and Design, Part 2

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The-Lake-MartinPreparing to write a book on designing for experience, I decided to explore four ways of understanding experience: as spirituality, philosophically, scientifically, and what we might call “by design.” In an earlier entry, I listed several categories of spiritual experience and their significance in the lives of those who have these experiences, which can be profound. Spirituality in the lives of individuals may be beyond the reach of designers working with experience, however.

    At least this is what my research suggests. Despite looking very hard, I was unable to discover evidence of designers acknowledging, let alone employing, spiritual experience in the process of creating experiences. The intense materialism that characterizes contemporary design mitigates against working in a spiritual dimension. Perhaps this is because design has become so closely associated with science and engineering (or maybe it always has been).

    Take DUX 2007, the Conference on Designing for User Experience, is the closest thing to a conference on designing for experience generally (and a very good conference on its own terms). The “user” qualification immediately hearkens back to systems engineering, with which the process of design has become intertwined. This co-dependence is reflected in DUX' s topics: for example, tangible interfaces, embedded interfaces, ubiquitous computing, design process, process design (interesting recursion, responsive environments, and so on -- a lot of engineering, very little of spirit. Similarly, interaction design, on the cutting edge of contemporary design, is based on systems engineering concepts taken from empiricism and scientific logic: how things work. Of course, there is a human dimension to interaction design, a large one. But it's more often expressed in psychological, sociological, and (the latest trend) ethnographic terms than anything we might call spiritual. Ethnography as it's commercially practiced is in fact quite a bit like systems engineering with its focus on identifying and describing tangible, observable human behavior that can then be harnessed for designing products that can be made and sold.

    Ever hopeful, I explored the “Blogosphere” using Technorati, Google Blogs, and Nielsen BuzzMetrics' Blogpulse (the best of the lot, in my opinion). “Design” and “spirituality” seem to exist only in entirely different universes. Their appearance together, except on blogs with a sect to sell, is infrequent or non-existent.

    This isn't to say that designers of experience, and designers in other modalities, don't have spiritual experiences or don't know of their significance. To the contrary, designers' websites and blogs abound with descriptions of objects seen or encountered, environments inhabited and traversed, and processes enjoyed or endured that they describe as “wondrous,” “awesome,” “disheartening,” or “encompassing” that indicate they've been touched deeply. In The Experience Economy, their influential work on intentionally designed experience, Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore devote an entire chapter of this short book to the spiritual dimension of experience design. (I admit that I dismissed this chapter too quickly when I first read it. Now I have a deeper appreciation of Pine and Gilmore's meaning, although I haven't seen them develop it further, at least not online.)

    More often, however, designers speak of designs as “effective,” “working” or “broken,” or use other mechanistic terms that have designs serving instrumental purposes: getting this or that done or accomplished. Interestingly, the main critique of The Experience Economy on Wikipedia is that design of experience is about better managed co-creation and co-production with consumers, completely disregarding the spiritual dimension alluded to by Pine and Gilmore. So much for far-ranging inquiry.

    We know from the work of child psychiatrist Robert Cole and others that infants lead a rich spiritual life (which some experts on childhood believe can be diminished or killed outright by a society's and parents' materialistic perspectives and religious dogma). Spirituality may continue as a profound element in most people's lives. I read today of a survey conducted by AP and MTV among American kids aged 13-24. In this most materialistic and religiously dogmatic of cultures, more than half of the young people surveyed credit spirituality, defined as a connection with something Other, as an essential element of personal happiness. (The leading factor is happy family relationships, definitely a worthy aspiration but one that depends on more than good intentions. Shared spiritual understanding among parents and siblings, a rare condition, might have something to do with it.) The famous longitudinal study of a group of men conducted by the late Daniel Levinson, in which they describe their lives over many decades, suggests that the degree to which the subjects maintain viable spiritual outlooks correlates with their subjective happiness regardless of their objective accomplishments. Similar studies of women -- for example, the now well-known Nun Study confirm this connection as universal: they reveal how dependent the quality of women's lives in their advanced years may be on the strength of their spiritual convictions acquired in youth (as well as on more objective factors).

    So let me circle back now and talk about design with a spiritual dimension: not design for spirituality so much as design with spiritual experience in mind.

    The website for the Partners for Sacred Places reminds us that people have been creating places evocative of spiritual experiences probably since the dawn of history. Whether or not the architects often hired to accomplish this purpose is a matter for debate, on a case by case basis -- but there's no doubt, significant time and wealth have been invested in producing a heightened spiritual experience, one of their “deliverables.” Some sports, particularly in the martial arts (I'm thinking of my own aikido training) are also “designed” to enhance spiritual awareness. Experiencing awe in a cathedral, holy garden, in exercise, or on a retreat, however, is a momentary experience, ephemeral. We all know how quickly an elevated state can “entropize” and disappear, usually with a half-life expressed in days or even hours. Unfortunately, few designed experiences include a sufficient “spirituality quotient” to sustain this awareness. Most design projects are paid for by merchants (commercial and otherwise) with something to sell or a position to persuade: a product, a candidate, a point of view, a desired behavior, and so forth. Given this mercantile framework, how much leeway do even the most determined designers of experience have to apply the canons of experience design I identified earlier as edification and commutation? Not much. Meditation isn't a fungible commodity, unless you are a guru.

    Nevertheless, some designs, whether intended to or not, make a spiritual connection that results in a deeply memorable, sometimes actionable experience. My partner, Debra, has a spiritual experience (she claims, and I believe her) whenever she sees or experiences a particularly beautiful person, fashion, machine, or landscape. “Beauty” for her is a combination of elements that perfectly achieves its purpose. Given her pragmatic definition, many designs might be considered highly spiritual. More often, however, we admire the affordance provided by a designed object, environment, or process -- the ability it gives an individual awareness of, and ability to interact with, an environment. Most people globally have become overeducated in the appreciation of material achievements. Their spiritual edge is dulled. How can this dynamic be altered so that instead of us taking more and more of the world for granted, we experience wonder continuously or at least, more frequently? This isn't an option: the alternative to spirituality, in my opinion, is cynicism; of this, the world already has plenty.

    Speedbird's Adam Greenfield, in a reply to my comment on his well presented essay on experience design, turned me on to the notion of “qualia.” Qualia are supposed units of experience that each of us maintain, which -- if they could be apprehended and worked with -- would enable designers to compose truly remarkable experiences that, I'm sure, would have a powerful spiritual component. Unfortunately, qualia as defined cannot be shared and thus are not readily available for stoking spiritual or any other fires. But for me they remain a powerful concept. What if designers gave more attention to the spiritual dimension of experience and helped to better understand and appreciate its constitution and consequences in other than purely numinal ways? What if discussion on design blogs was about more than technology and techniques, or social media and psychology, and supported a meaningful conversation on the spiritual dimension of experience (as do so many non-design-oriented blogs)? Like most others in our field, I haven't the time to answer these questions, not so long as my livelihood is determined by clients who could care less about spirituality because they know so little about it. But perhaps others are better situated to explore. To them, I offer every encouragement. (I especially like this meditation developed by Steve Stein for the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, CA: it suggests what to look for and the right questions to ask as we look for spiritual expression in our daily environments. Funny how a sermon can produce a design program!)

    If you are a designer of experience who incorporates an appreciation of spirituality in your work, please share your cases with me so that I can share them more widely. Who knows, you might be The Next New Thing -- or should I say, The Next New Old Thing?

    Next: Philosophical perspectives on experience.

    (Image: Sri Chinmoy Bio)

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    August 19, 2007

    Spirituality an Design, Part 2: Tune in tomorrow, please

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    CalendarNearly five weeks ago I posted a summary of spiritual experiences, categorized in terms of their context and consequences. I intended at that time to follow up with a discussion of spirituality's meaning for the design of experience, and how designers have reacted. (In the future, I intend to do the same for philosophical and scientific treatments of experience.)

    As some of you know, my partner, Debra, and I have been preparing for a trip to Copenhagen and Malmö -- the two metropoles comprising the “Øresund Region” -- to interview for jobs and perhaps become a part of the region's innovation-driven economy and emerging 21st-Century culture. Arranging travel and interviews engaged me more intensively than I anticipated! But now things are mostly in order, so it's time to return to my discussion....

    Please check in tomorrow afternoon. Thanks for your attention and also for your great comments on my earlier entry.

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    July 17, 2007

    Varieties of Spiritual Experience, 1

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Spirituality SunsetAfter two long weeks of relocating, I'm back to my opus: to describe those categories of experience -- spiritual, philosophical, scientific, and design -- that bear on the practice of systemically designing for experience. My first topic is spiritual experiences, experiences derived from the phenomenon of human existence we call spirituality. What follows are basically notes preludes to a more thorough discussion; neither complete nor conclusive, but suggestive of the broad array of experiences that derive from our spiritual natures.

    The literature regarding spirituality and spiritual experiences -- possibly one and the same thing -- is immense, predating the Common Era (CE, also known as “A.D.”). In fact, it probably begins with the Neanderthal species, elements of whose traditions no doubt were assimilated by Homo sapiens when they appeared on the scene. Neanderthals, we know from their burial site remains, were intensely spiritual beings. But even to begin more recently with the Cave of Lascaux, where modern human beings 30,000 years ago painted zoological murals to ensure a successful hunt, creates too vast a corpus to explore. So I began my researches reading papers and articles examining “modern” spirituality as practiced in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Europe, the Americas, and Asia. It felt esoteric. Not a whole lot of this early experience has found its way unaltered into our own time: the notion of good and evil in eternal conflict is one that has.

    I used a controversial source to inaugurate my deeper explorations, Gore Vidal's controversial novel (which Vidal novel isn't?), CREATION, published in 1981. In it, he travels with a sojourner who meets in the same short period of time, Zoroaster, Socrates, the Buddha, and Confucius. In real life, these figures were almost contemporaneous, as were various Native American codifiers of Indian religions; Lao-Tzu, father of Taoism; and Judaism was reasserting itself in its homeland after the Babylonian Exile. For some reason, around the Fifth Century BCE (Before the Common Era, also known as “B.C.”), people's experience of themselves and their relation to the infinite underwent a massive change, globally.

    I then began reading (and still am) about the evolution of spirituality and religion (two parallel, sometimes complementary, sometimes competing social phenomena) as they have evolved to our modern time. To do a thorough job would take more than a lifetime, so my own quick study won't earn me a divinity degree. But it may prove useful in identifying themes, events, and experiences common across sectarian boundaries and even among individuals.

    There are four types of relevant spiritual experience -- according to me, not necessarily the authorities -- each with its own defining characteristics. For convenience, I've referred here to Wikipedia entries that do a good job of summarizing accumulated knowledge and also presenting links to specific resources for deeper reading:

    • Ecstatic experiences -- Personal epiphanies and “callings”
    • Ritualistic experiences -- Tribal and cult experiences often derived from oral tradition
    • Formalized experiences -- Highly structured experiences often adhering to a doctrine
    • Spiritual living -- Spirituality as a constant, day to day experience

    Ecstatic experience. Before it became the name for a puny drug, ecstasy was more commonly known as a state of enlightenment and bliss associated with extreme physical deprivation (wandering in the desert would do it), the ingestion of psychotropics, frenetic physical activity, or simply encountering some “perfect” visual, aural, or haptic sensation. Another, quieter type of ecstasy is the “calling,” a direct communication with a perceived “higher” entity. Callings often result in dedication of a portion or all of one's life to service in the higher entity's behalf. Prayer for some can be an ecstatic experience, until it becomes formalized.

    Ritualistic experience. When shamans and priests invoke specific modes of belief and behavior, the outcome is a ritual often intended to promote a shared experience -- and beliefs -- among more than one individual at a time -- a group of devotees, a tribe, or a cult (a group of devotees within a tribe). (Individuals can practice rituals, too, but these are usually prescribed by a shaman or priest and then adapted to personal expression, like a Buddhist shrine ceremony.) Rituals, also known as rites, employ standard methods for invoking altered states, some of which may be ecstatic but all of which are intended to produce a sense of spiritual unity with a greater whole.

    Formalized experience.
    Over time, especially as the numbers of adherents to a particular suite of rituals and belief grows, doctrines and canons evolve into religions, structures that approve some methods for attaining spiritual awareness and exclude others. In effect, experiences themselves become subject to religious provisions. For example, most Christian sects advocate prayer and formalized rituals -- events that largely take place within the confines of a cathedral, chapel, or church -- but discourage reliance on drugs, alcohol, or sexual activity as the path to enlightenment. The exceptions are notable. Other religious doctrines, however, incorporate practices forbidden by the Christian sects. The Native American Church's use of peyote as a path to enlightenment -- a natural drug claimed to be endowed with its own spiritual identity and powers -- is a well-known case, upheld as a legal practice by the US Supreme Court. The current contention between Western religions and Islam has as much to do with regional politics as spirituality, but the methods by which their respective adherents express their spirituality is also a source of conflict that in the past has resulted in no less than religious wars. Even the use of music to celebrate spirituality, or the roles of the genders, can lead to serious theological disputes.

    Spiritual living. The last of the categories of spiritual experience with relevance to the designing of experiences I call “spiritual living,” an attitude and approach to day to day existence that emphasizes spirituality as the key to living “the good life.” In my own Taoist practice, spiritual living means living with an awareness of the greater whole, The Tao or Way, that governs how things work but that itself has no personality or interventionist intent. In its purest form, Taoism requires simply acknowledging and respecting the spiritual commonality of all things. There are also ritualistic versions of Taoism that invoke ecstatic experience in order to attain immortality, but these experiences I would classify as ritualized or even formalized, since the methods of doing so are rigorously prescribed. Other self-defined spiritual traditions have their own spiritual-living variations, but the large numbers of individuals (for example, on online dating sites) who proclaim to be “spiritual but not religious” is testimony that everyone from hard-core religionists to atheists, even people who convention deems mentally unbalanced, can live a spiritual life. In fact, the odd exception is the individual who claims not to have any spiritual experience. Nevertheless, in our time and culture, spirituality of this type is often subordinated to material -- i.e., matter-based -- experiences. A great deal of influence to engender experiences is lost in this process.

    In Part 2 of this discourse, I describe how spiritual experiences of various types interact with “designed” experiences; and how designers can (positively) exploit spiritual experiences and what they must look out for when invoking (or ignoring) them.

    (Image: Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto)

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    July 6, 2007

    Toward the Total Experience

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Synthesis.png I loved Bob's cute image in his June 28th post. I think I was so taken by the imagery and his personal story that I missed the significance of his incidental mentioning of the Adam Greefield piece. Just for diversity, I'm linking here to the original version as a contribution to Adobe's Think Tank series.

    Of greatest significance:

    ...the time would appear to be ripe for a new kind of designer to take center stage...neither a "graphic" nor a "Web" nor even an "interaction" designer.

    Over the past few years, the domain of practice known (if only briefly) as "user experience" has begun to accommodate the new realities...recasting itself as "experience design."

    Adam then suggests why the transition is relevant:

    ...our technosocial practices have transcended the rather limited model of the "user" ultimately derived from old-school human-computer interaction studies...

    One of the challenges with the piece, is that Adam makes sweeping assumptions as to what he believes Experience Design has resulted in. Indeed, there are always malappropriations of any discipline. But good Experience Design is flexible. Indeed, the primary focus is to recognize that not every scenario can be accounted for, so the design needs to be flexible enough to not rule out possiblities. The true focus of Experience Design is to design out barriers. We're the engineers of facilitating individual progress.

    The examples Adam selects are very narrow in focus and his perspective of "Experience Designer" appears to be more in line with that of Joseph Pine's perspective (one that I have always taken issue with, as a predominant focus), where the goal is to 'create' an experience. My definition of Experience Design is to 'facilitate' an experience. Fortunately, Adam is effectively arguing for the same thing, but doesn't realize it. [I can also see how this 'disconnect' could have occurred as he got his inspiration from AIGA perspectives of the space/practice, which are often in line with the 'creationism' theory (e.g. reference to theatre).]

    He specifically states the architectural goals I have been defending for over a decade, that the ultimate design goal:

    ...ought to allow people to swap their own desired components in and out at will, to pull data out in a useful format...

    The latter was a point I tried to make to Bill Gates, face to face, in 1990 when I asked, "When are you going to separate your applications from the data they create?" The former was the point we made to a collection of vendors at an internal MCI data warehousing conference in 1996, when we asked them to break their applications apart into component functions and allow us to assemble them at will and put our own interface on the front. While akin to the SOA efforts going on, I have IBM architecture diagrams from the '80s that purport the same thing.

    Both of these concepts are fundamental to 2.0 thinking. But they're not specific to just digital -- digital just happens to provide a great platform upon which to effectively exchange stuff and facilitate open conversations, with recall.

    In the end, it's not about designing 'in' an experience it's about designing 'out' barriers to end goals (intents). It's about tying together things that are often considered in isolation from one another. And fundamentally it IS about the whole (contrary to comment 2 from the blog post suggesting that "holistic never ever works"). The disconnect comes to play in various ways that want to focus on the parts (budgets aligned to a piece of the whole, breadth of responsiblity/influence limited to a part of the process, akin to Seth Godin's 7 Reasons This Is Broken, the first one being, "Not My Job").

    Experience Design is fundamentally a practice of synthesis, not analysis.

    Image Credits: L!NA, Flickr

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