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
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    Total Experience

    Monthly Archives

    August 30, 2004

    Innovation Convergence, Minneapolis, Sept 26-29.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Innovation Convergence 10 looks like the place to be this September. Featuring an all-star cast of innovators, including our own new co-author, Tom Mulhern.

    One question: why do these innovation conferences always cost upwards of $2,000 (in this case, $3,000 with workshops)? Distilled wisdom dispensed by experts is one thing, but an audience distilled on the basis of wealth -- that's not innovative, it's pure showbiz.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events and Happenings

    New TE Coauthors Coming Online

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Ethnographer Steve Portigal, innovation strategist Tom Mulhern (former principal, Conifer Research), and design theoretician and director Paula Thornton, i knovate will soon be joining me as coauthors of Total Experience. Their participation will add a whole new dimension to our blog, the ability to dialogue on issues. Moving away from the typical one-person point-of-view, TE will feature a multifaceted discussion in which, we hope, you too will take part. Welcome Steve, Tom, and Paula.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: TE Blog

    August 27, 2004

    Where does experience design begin?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    It's intriguing in how many different professions the design of experience takes place. But where does the designed experience begin?

    Does it begin with the conception of a need? Or when a prototype design idea is floated? When a design team actually sets forth to design an experience? Or when the designed experience is first translated into a form that can be experienced by a human being?

    labyrinth.gifI've asked leaders in key industries to get back to me with their impression of where the design of an experience originates and how a design idea percolates throughout the design process. I'll be reporting back shortly with their comments.

    In the meantime, where do you believe intentional experiences originate? Enter your comment and let's see if you and the experts agree.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design

    August 26, 2004

    The Birch Aquarium: Interview with David Krimmel, Designer

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I'm still in San Diego, looking for distinctive landmarks that set it apart from other regions in California. So far, my impressions are that this "big small town" exists in a literal desert bounded by Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, and that it's main unique features are aircraft carriers, old and new.

    topleft.gifAn exception is the Birch Aquarium operated by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a unit of the University of California. Scripps, now celebrating its 100th anniversary, has long been synonymous with oceanography. Like Woods Hole in MA, Scripps is one of the places that the discipline was invented.

    The Birch originally was a simple affair, a collection of ocean-water tanks containing bright marine flora and fauna: mainly, fish. And that's how it remained until relatively recently, when the Birch finally acquired an executive director, Dr. Nigella Hillgarth, capable of formulating a vision for the Birch other than just showing off local fin folk. In fact, the Birch's newly expanded mission, accompanying a four-fold increase in its floorspace, is complex: describing and visualizing for the public the hundreds of research projects ongoing within Scripps, most of which are abstruse but many of which are relevant to the general public.

    "The challenge we face," said David Krimmell, a designer and Manager of Exhibits whom I interviewed on a recent visit to the Birch, "is portraying the full range of exciting science taking place within Scripps to a visitor population that's largely parents with seven-year-olds in tow." David, an artist who joined the Birch after earlier stints with other local exhibitions, faces a few other challenges that exhibition designers elsewhere will recognize: limited floorspace, limited access to technology, and a budget that shows no signs of imminent expansion, other than whatever new revenues the Birch can itself generate via visits.

    ...continue reading.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: ED Projects of Note

    August 17, 2004

    Suburbia As Auditory Hell

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    leafblower-gas.jpgWorking in my home office, in the otherwise pleasant SF suburb of Redwood City, has turned hellish. In small and large increments, the ambience of my neighborhood has been transformed from relative tranquility to a noisy purgatory by hordes of gardeners with lawnblowers (blowing dust and dirt into air and into the street for public clean-up), kids on gasoline-powered skateboards, second-childhood adults riding mini-motorcycles, SUVs and service trucks lumbering (and almost colliding) on narrow residential streets, and aircraft of all types flying low overhead.

    The resulting cacophony's destroyed for me the of pleasure of working from home. Suburbia may not be as hustle-bustle as the Big City -- San Francisco still takes the local cake for chaos, creative and otherwise -- but Redwood City's 24/7 noise quotient is now so high, there's no delight in keeping the windows open on an otherwise beautiful summer day. The constant noise spoils everything.

    As the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse states so well, "Polluting the commons is not a right. Our effort to reduce noise pollution is similar to other efforts to reduce pollution and reassert our collective stewardship over the commons. Whether the issue is second-hand smoke, elevated mercury levels, or ground level ozone, the strategy is to protect the environment and our health and well-being by creating an ethic of the commons." Unfortunately, in America the notion of the commons has always been more respected in the breech. There is no appreciation for our need for quiet nor policy that protects this vital and fast-disappearing environmental resource.

    ...continue reading.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    August 16, 2004

    Interaction Design Group Launches Web Site

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson


    (From an August 9 press release)

    The Interaction Design Group (IxDG) today launched its Web site at, to serve the needs of the international community of practitioners, teachers, and students of interaction design.

    The Interaction Design Group Web site will provide resources for both people and organizations who want to learn more about and advance the practice of interaction design. Steering Committee member Joshua Seiden said, "I'm thrilled to see the community that has come together around this idea. People are really eager to learn more about interaction design.

    ...continue reading.

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

    Call for Papers (AIGA): "The Sensual in Contemporary Design"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson


    Whither The Touch?

    The American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) is pleased to share this call
    for papers. This call is for the AIGA special session of the College Art Association annual conference in Atlanta 2005.

    The AIGA is seeking papers that address the question, "What is the place of the sensual in contemporary design processes and education?" The sense of touch is evident in the results of consumer product design and has been documented by the exhibition catalogs of the first two National Design Triennials, “Design Culture Now” and “Skin."

    This session seeks to investigate how the sensual is currently integrated into the areas typically associated with the process of creation in design, and, in what way is the sensual evident among the design disciplines in digital internetworked modes / environments of creation?

    Further, is there a role for the sensual in pedagogy where digital, instrumental training occupies ever larger proportions of classroom time? Your responses are sought across the spectrum of design disciplines, and are sought of practitioners, educators, theoreticians and critics.

    ...continue reading.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events and Happenings

    Next GEL Conference scheduled for 2005.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson


    Mark Hurst has announced the next GEL (Good Experiences in Life) Conference , scheduled for April 28-29, 2005, in New York City. According to Mark,

    "GEL is the only conference of its kind, focusing on experience itself, rather than on taxonomies or frameworks that only indirectly relate to experience. We all know a good experience when we see it; at GEL you'll hear the user's perspective, since (designers or not) we're all on the receiving end of experience most of the time.

    "GEL brings together over a dozen eclectic speakers who are experts in a number of fields. Internet-related topics (on e-commerce, research, journalism) will be interwoven with offline topics (photography, performance art, education) to create a day focused on experience in all its forms."

    GEL's special. Don't miss it. Sign up now and get a discount.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events and Happenings

    August 2, 2004

    A Good Read: "SERVICESCAPES, The Concept of Place in Contemporary Markets"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Apparently little noticed outside the field of retail marketing when it was published in 1998, ServiceScapes, by John F. Sherry, Jr., remains a treasure trove of findings regarding the notion of "place" in contemporary marketing. So much marketing is done abstractly, by the numbers, that it's refreshing to find a collection of case studies that actually puts feet on the street to observe how location and environment combine with brand to create new consumer perceptions. ServiceScapes isn't another trendy. slapdash, "shopping-mall" faux-sociology, but rather a considered, theoretical discussion of place and space, and their consequences for commerce and consumer experience, backed up by rigorous observation.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Theories of Experience