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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    April 23, 2006

    Epistemology of Experience: John Dewey on Experience and Learning

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    (Per my comments in "The Experience of...Experience," below.)

    John_Dewey.jpgJohn Dewey, the father of experiential education, has much to say about the nature of experience and how we use it to learn about the world and our place in it. Two short, very good essays on Dewey's rationales, by Gorden L. Ziniewicz, are "John Dewey: Experience, Community, and Communication" and "Experience and Nature, Individuality, and Association in Dewey."

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

    April 22, 2006

    David Armano's “Experience Map”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Experience MapDAVID ARMANO, creative lead at agency Digitas, in Chicago, has published a pretty neat “experience map” on his blog, Logic + Emotion. A work in progress, it's visually stimulating, and conceptually as well as practically interesting. However, I'm waiting for David to extend the map's concepts off the Web page and into the material and experiential world. The map's downloadable. Your comments are welcome (we'll share them with David).

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: ED Projects of Note | Theories of Experience | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    The Experience of...Experience.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    ChaosIT WASN'T UNTIL PAGE 20 OF MY GOOGLE SEARCH ON THE WORD, “EXPERIENCE,” that I first found a reasonably objective description of its meaning. The preceding 19 pages were filled with commercial claptrap, notices of events, and bloganeering claims to own the term. Too many were advertisements selling ways to create and control experience (often meaning, the banality of Web surfing). The hubris of this foolish cacophony spoke for itself.

    Different traditions have different ways of categorizing experience. For the spiritual and the formally religious, it's the peregrinations of the soul. Professionals of a more scientific bent situate experience in the same realm as perception and cognition, physical and psychic processes built into human beings and other living things that are, even to the scientistis, frankly still a mystery. Then there are the opportunists who take experience for granted and forge ahead with the project of altering minds by tripping people out with “new” and “better” experiences (at least in their own estimation).

    Excuse my candor, but from my perspective, it's incumbent on those who are attempting to engineer new experiences (and even more, those who claim success in this effort), to get down to the epistemology of experience: how we truly can understand what we're doing when we play with people's hearts and minds. Pragmatists in our “experience design” community will dismiss this as so much philosophical noodling: “There are things to be done, we don't have time to count the angels on a pin!” Au contraire. So far the field has been whirling crazily, processing from one axis to another, searching for anchor points that constantly elude it.

    From a market perspective -- and what else matters in capitalist thinking? -- it's enough to create MySpace and let the chips fall where they may, so long as there are subscribers. “The proof is in the pudding.” A pretty thick glop, it appears to me. From a social perspective, getting people off the dime, to take positive action is always an adequate rationale (the alternative being inertia) -- until one set of actions contradicts another, provoking strife, exploitation, social conflict...even war. From a spiritual perspective, edification is sufficient; but so, so elusive and most often, ephemeral.

    I'm writing this provoked by yet another workshop on the design of experience (though that's not exactly what it's called, to fend off potential critics). It's a very hands-on enterprise, this time having to do with mobility and location-awareness. (In fact, there are several occurring that share this trendy theme.) The talk at the event predictably will be hither and yon, spiced with anecdotal evidence for one or another speaker's proximity to the truth about experience -- but it's all alchemy for now, like Ptolemy explaining the complex Earth-centric universe; or how lead can be transmuted into gold.

    Maybe philosophical pondering about experience design wouldn't be a bad thing. Philosophy, after all, is the science of thinking.

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

    April 13, 2006

    April 12, 2006

    The Experience of Protest: The Street, Its Power and Passion

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    French Protest
    THIS MONTH, simultaneous outbursts of public political expression -- street protests -- occurred in France and the United States. The French protests were in defense of France's traditional social contract preventing arbitrary job termination; the US protests attacked plans to implement oppressive anti-immigration laws.

    Latino Marchers-1

    Much about the protests was different, save one thing. In France, labor unions, students, and the unemployed constituted the population of protesters. In the US, although unions and students were involved, most of the protesters were from the unorganized working class: immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, now US citizens. In France, protests became violent (though of course, never as violent as the media portray anti-establishment protests); in the US, they were completely peaceful. The French protests spotlighted France's ongoing class warfare between the employer class and its compliant government, and the employee class and its supporters among a left-learning populace. The US protests were intended to cloak the differences between (mostly Latin) immigrants, legal and illegal, and other citizens.

    The French protesters challenged the state structures that threatened their well-being, especially parliamentary law wielded by those they saw as their class enemies. Perhaps if the Congress had actually gone through with its threat to return the US to pre-globalization Dark Ages, the American protests too would have turned ugly and anti-state. We won't know on this go-round, because the US protests were successful.

    But so were the French protests, though they were so different from the US protests in conception, organization, promotion, and execution. Does this validate the sneaking suspicion of every status-quo, law-and-order type, that “the street” has ultimate power in a political system, whatever its constitution?

    In a way, yes, it does. Activists learn how to construct their protests so that they produce the desired outcome and not its opposite due to public misinterpretation and backlash. In fact, skillful street protest organizers take into account the information environment in which they operate.

    Todd Gitlin, once an activist against the Vietnam War, now a university professor, has written extensively on the ways that the TV networks (dominant at the time) and other media manipulated protests in the 60s and 70s.

    Those days have passed, as the US protesters know. They coopted the TV networks, cable programs, and newspapers by wrapping themselves in the flag, Mexican as well as American. But also, the media is fractured. The protesters relied on alternative channels (Spanish-language talk radio, cellphones, and the Internet) to support their movement's internal communications. The French did it a little differently, as befits a more literate culture in which the written word still commands the attention of intellectuals, politicians, and other opinion leaders. They certainly didn't attempt to put a good face on their protests; the violence was apparent. But they shifted the center of political gravity from the spokespersons of rightwing "reform" to the public arena, thereby thwarting the politicians who have, to put it lightly, a problem communicating with people (including each other). The strategy worked. The new employment bill was withdrawn.

    The one thing that the two street protests shared in common, and with Islamic protests earlier this year against Danish cartoons and Western values (including world domination, a value shared by many of the Islamic activists), is passion. It's impossible to particpate or even just witness a real street protest and not palpably feel the energy of the assembled crowd (and occasionally, the counter-crowd formed by their opponents). Children of the 60s may remember, but no one since then has -- until America's soon-to-be-a-majority Latino population spread its political wings this month.

    Much has been written about “mob behavior” and crowds by conservative social theorists, but the fact is, they work. In the US, it's not so much the street as public functions and parades where the forces of the status quo hold forth. The intended effect is the same. Emotional force translated into political power.

    What leads me to these observations is the realization that it's difficult to discover much passion in in public places, whether they're government buildings, commercial offices, shoppingmalls, or destination resorts (including theme parks) -- and not only in the US, but everywhere. How is it that the deployment of some of the best, brightest, and well-paid professionals -- planners, designers, marketers, ethnographers, PR people, real-estate developers, and the like -- are unable to project, even just once in awhile, the same power inherent to the street protest? With the exception of sports events, where the excitement is highly synthetic, thin gruel, we seem incapable of tapping into the power of the marching crowd even infrequently, let alone on a sustained basis. Maybe it's because the protests really are about something, and not totally synthetic and soulless vanities.

    Fortunately for the politically dispossessed, street protests work. But for most citizens, day to day, there is only blandness, civility, and too often, marginalization and irrelevance.

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

    April 1, 2006