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

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    Monthly Archives

    November 20, 2005

    Gastronomical Goes Astronomical

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    The strongest point that Joseph Pine makes in his book Experience Economy is how companies capitalize on the economic return scale by increasing the experience value. Where Starbucks moved the coffee bean up the economic chain by making the drinking of their coffee an experience, there are a number of Chicago restauranteurs who are taking cooking and eating to the next level. [Recognition given to CBS News Sunday Morning for their feature on this timely topic.]

    bacon.jpgPushing the limit not only on the preparation of food, but also on its presentation and delivery, these epicurial artists have kitchens that resemble high-tech research laboratories. Transforming balsamic vinegar from a liquid into a solid or delivering a popcorn soup where a quick dip in liquid nitrogen turns the consumption into a smoke-blowing, dragon-like experience, to ordering from the menu delivered on a plate and then eating it as the opening course. These creators are pushing the edge on both the product and the way in which it is delivered and consumed. The standouts include Moto and Alinea (who's fabulous photography is shared here). The latter experiments with new delivery mechanisms, such as the bacon slings pictured here, to feature their unique creations.

    As you uncover more of these unique eating experiences, be sure to share your finds here.

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

    November 8, 2005

    Edification and Commutation: Canons for Experience Design

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I observed last week that brand focus limits the effectiveness and to some extent denigrates the potential power of experience design. Experience design isn’t just about making things work better or more memorable, for the purpose of making sales. The design of “user experience” and “customer experience” may be the Next Big Things in marketing, but like the design of milk cartons or tennis shoes, they’re more about engineering than experience. I like the definitions of “experience” offered on

    1. The apprehension of an object, thought, or emotion through the senses or mind: a child's first experience of snow.

    2a. Active participation in events or activities, leading to the accumulation of knowledge or skill: a lesson taught by experience; a carpenter with experience in roof repair.

    2b. The knowledge or skill so derived.

    3a. An event or a series of events participated in or lived through.

    3b. The totality of such events in the past of an individual or group.

    Further, to be “experienced” is

    1. To participate in personally; undergo: experience a great adventure; experienced loneliness.

    Jim Hendrix had it right. We aren’t users or buyers of experience (though we can impose a price for the opportunity to have an experience, the exchange of cash being its own petty experience). We are, as puts it, “experiencers.” We personally participate in creating experience. To be human we must experience the world within collective and personal frameworks: our cultural traditions and our individual intellects, emotions, and spiritual selves.

    Canons are rules that define a profession's ethics and by extension, the practice of the profession itself. I propose two canons for experience designers, motivations more profound than moving goods, selling politicians, or hyping destination resorts: experience design must edify and it must commutate.

    These canons are not just “person-centric”; they are design-process-centric. Edification and commutation are outcomes of the experience design process. The experience designer, through self-experimentation and a conversation with the audience feedback, is affected and changed as much as the audience. In this light, embarking on an experience-design project is risky. You never know where you, the designer, might come out – or who you will be when you do.

    Edification is simply defined (again, from as:

    1. Intellectual, moral, or spiritual improvement; enlightenment.

    2. Uplifting enlightenment.

    Bruce Mau, Bob Rogers, Ralph Applebaum, and Paul Prejza and Deborah Sussman (among others) have offered eloquent descriptions of the edification canon, not as a formal rule, but as a desired outcome of their best work. The tacit outcome that accompanies this purpose, exemplified by Mau and Rogers, is that the designer is edified – improved upon, if you will – as much as the audience by the process and products of an experience design. Maybe their clients measure their success by some brand metric, but that’s not the ultimate reward for the design of experience, at least among the best of designers.

    Commutation is a little more difficult. The common definitions relate to the reduction of criminal sentences or in the engineering world, the transmission of energy within an electric motor. (There’s no easy way to reduce the ardors of experience designing, but there’s no denying that it’s a process that energizes everyone involved – and not just individually; but also collectively, mutually.) These contemporary definitions obscure the original power of the concept: that an exchange between designer and audience occurs as a successful experience design emerges.

    The term has a Latin root, in keeping with its initial use within the Catholic Church: commutation is the purifying process that occurs when a priest takes confession from a parishioner. Both emerge from the experience edified. Commutation also occurs when a religionist accepted the sacrament of bread and wine during Mass. This act of taking for the faithful transforms the food literally into the body of Christ.

    Not to be too holy about it, but there are few experience designers who don’t experience a boost, maybe even edification, on seeing audiences really get into their creations. In fact, as Disneyland has long demonstrated, the audience creates the experience as much as the designer.

    Experience design is a transactive process. Commutation leads to edification, and edification makes possible commutation.

    How interesting and different our emerging discipline will become if instead of professing loyalty to brands, we as experience designers profess loyalty to the audiences with whom they create experiences, with whom they transact meanings and emotions: for whom and with whom they pursue edification and commutation. These are fit canons for a truly innovative design profession. -- Bob Jacobson

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

    November 3, 2005