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!

    Total Experience

    Monthly Archives

    September 27, 2006

    Passenger Comfort and the Flying Wing: human experience trumps engineering

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    One of the most enduring problems in experience design is how to ensure that products designed for efficiency and production economy still provide the requisite degree of personal comfort for those who use them. A case in point concerns the airline industry, which through trial and error has come to the conclusion that future airliners must offer comfort greater than is currently the case. Airline travelers will agree.

    250Px-1Er Vol De L' A380180Px-Airbus A380 Cross Section.SvgIn the md-90s, a design trend favoring jumbo and “superjumbo” aircraft became dominant in response to airline and air-traffic efficiency concerns. One result is the Airbus A-380. Able to carry between 550 and 800 passengers, this four-engine, double-deck superjumbo airliner stretches the limits of conventional airliner parameters. Passenger comfort is assured (Airbus claims) by resorting to time-tested factors: interior layouts and appointments, seating sizes and arrangements, adequate cabin pressurization and air circulation, colors and textures of materials, ease of movement (including evacuation), passengers services (including meals), well-trained flight attendants, and in-flight communications and entertainment.


    The A-380 is essentially a scaled-up conventional airliner, albeit a leap for manufacturers and airlines alike. Its paradigm is the same that was used by Dutch airplane designer Frederick Koolhoven to design the first commercial airliner in 1919: engine, fuselage, landing gear, wings, tail, and adjustable flight surfaces, with the passengers sitting in a cabin behind the cockpit. All very linear.

    Airbus, testing early passenger acceptance of the A-380, reports that it

    ...went to huge lengths to find out what passengers themselves wanted. Vast cabin mock-ups were taken to eight major cities on three continents and the views of 1,200 frequent travellers – male and female and from a range of cultures and nationalities – were listened to.

    This typical prototyping practice (described in IDEO's downloadable paper, Experience Prototyping (PDF)) produced no surprises, just a very nice, conventional -- though somewhat splashy -- interior design. No doubt, flying First Class among 500 passengers will be a different experience from flying Economy among 800. (That is, when Airbus gets around to delivering the A-380. Aviation history's only superjumbo is over a year late due to manufacturing challenges.)

    Nasa Flying WingReacting to the A-380's early announcements, Boeing Commercial Airplanes began a daring experiment to create a non-conventional airliner based on the radical “flying wing” paradigm. Flying wings have enormous lift and carrying capacity, but inherently are difficult to fly and thus more suited to high-stakes military applications (like the B-2 Stealth Bomber) than commercial air travel. Boeing, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force in the late-90s embarked on a plan to introduce a new paradigm, the “blended-wing” aircraft (BWA) combining the flying wing's cargo-carrying efficiency with traditional aircrafts' ease of control. “How Flying Wings Will Work,” in, describes these advantages. Like the A-380, the Boeing superjumbo would carry up to 800 passengers, but it would do away with the typical fuselage and place the passengers in the center of the aircraft, enclosed within the wing. This design is clearly depicted in an article on The Wing Is The Thing. As for passenger comfort, Boeing relied on the tried and true factors: color, texture, and spaciousness, as described in a Boeing article, “The Psychology of Comfort in Airplane Interiors.”

    bwb8.jpgEverything went swimmingly until passengers were confronted with mockups of the BWA interior. (This may have happened at the Teague Customer Experience Center operated by Boeing's Seattle-based design partner, Walter Dorman Teague & Associates.) According to sketchy reports (the only ones available to the public), the passengers revolted. Besides the auditorium seating, passengers resented the lack of windows to see outside. No matter that windows on conventional aircraft are barely useful when a plane is in flight (especially at high altitudes, at night, and in inclement weather). Passengers wanted to be able to see “out.” In a recent article, “The Sky's The Limit,” The Economist reported:

    Boeing once toyed with a blended wing-body, a sort of flying wing, to produce dramatically better aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. Passengers would have sat in a wide cabin, rather like a small amphitheatre. But tests with a mock-up produced such a negative reaction that the company dropped the technology, except for military refuelling aircraft.

    AirplanewindowSomeone at Boeing must have known about passengers' vision fetish, because when airliner windows first shrank with the introduction of jets (larger windows being difficult to seat and seal in highly pressurized environments, not to mention being more fragile), means were employed to make smaller windows appear larger. These include the curving interior “frames,” lighting, and even dual windows with the window on the inside being larger than the actual exterior window. (Today, we take these features for granted and hardly notice them, except when we have to twist and turn to see the Grand Canyon or Eiffel Tower below.) Boeing apparently tried to fix things by offering passengers video images of the outside world on seatback displays, but the tryout passengers were not mollified.

    There are two other problems with BWA aircraft: (1) the proprioceptive organs that provide passengers' with a sense of balance would be taken on a roller-coaster ride because of the steep turns these planes must make (a condition sure to be exacerbated by the lack of external visual references); and (2) evacuation procedures for airplane amphitheater seating have yet to be developed.

    The project was scrapped (“Boeing dumps plans for super jumbo,” BBC News) and Boeing turned 180 degrees, staking its future on the more intimate but largely conventional 787 Dreamliner, with its flying efficiencies and a plethora of interior amenities. “Smaller is better” has become Boeing's design mantra (James Fallows, “The Future of Flight," despite the increase in air traffic that smaller airliners will impose on an already teetering air traffic control system. Perhaps Boeing and its partners believe that new technology can fix what already ails air traffic control and that new airports will be built (at considerable cost) to handle the load. If so, it's a race against time.

    X-48B Schematic-2X-48B Windtunnel-1Boeing, therefore, isn't done with the BWA design all together. Boeing Phantom Works is leading development of the X-48B, a new BWA, with NASA and Boeing's research partner, Cranfield Aerospace Ltd. The 8.5-percent scale model is of a larger aircraft that purportedly could have commercial application, though the X-48B's purpose is purely for research. The scaled-down but flyable aircraft doesn't carry passengers, so they're not part of its initial design equation. If it does in the future, however, perhaps Boeing and other manufacturers will want to spend more time delving more deeply into the factors that make for passenger comfort in unconventional environments. They'll need to take a more holistic point of view when describing ”passenger comfort,“ something other than ”colors, textures, and spaciousness.“ I haven't seen signs of this development yet, but even engineers have to fly. Their subjective experiences today, and those they can imagine for future passengers, must take precedence over the more objective engineering factors that traditionally have guided aircraft design and manufacture, even before the first mock-up is experience prototyped.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | ED Projects of Note

    September 25, 2006

    Mark Vanderbeeken of Experientia interviewed on the practice of experience design (IIT Institute of Design's engageID)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Mark Experientia Colleague Mark Vanderbeeken of the Torino-based experience-design firm, Experientia, is interviewed by Enric Gili Fort on engageID, the student newsletter of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The extensive interview covers many topics salient to practitioners of the emerging discipline, including the leading role of European governments in promoting experience design. At one point, Enric asks Mark about the challenges facing experience design firms (and design firms in general), to which Mark replies:

    Challenges are always opportunities. The question is how to make them work for you, how to define yourself within the context of these challenges. Let me describe a few we have come across.

    First of all, people still often think of design as an aesthetic activity that makes a good product look great. Italians for instance have a very important tradition in that and are known for it globally. The experience design approach is of course much more about a way of thinking a problem, doing research and then solving it, rather than about making something look good. The “design as a methodology” approach is still fairly new here, but also quite logical, once you explain it to it. But the leap is not so big either. Many product designers have architectural training, especially in Italy. Architects are trained in a methodological approach. Many younger firms are now actively engaged in participatory design.

    A second challenge we are facing with some companies, but definitely not all, is a short-term financial logic, where usability can be perceived as an added cost, rather than an investment into a strong product. This is changing though.

    A third challenge is the structure of European companies, who are not always used to combine their R&D work with their marketing activities. Experience design addresses both, or better transforms both. Unlike the typical R&D department, experience design is not technology driven, but people driven, and unlike the typical marketing department, it is based on what people actually do, rather than what they say they do. Sometimes we work with the top management.

    Fourth, technology is often seen as the territory of engineers, and this is not just the case in Europe. There are many excellent engineers but they do not always have a people-centered or design minded professional methodology. Companies and public institutions can sometimes spend much energy on technologically splendid projects that people for some reason do not want to use. The step to a more people-centered approach might seem obvious, but is not always straightforward. If we want to change that, we need to know how to best talk with engineers, we have to understand the 'engineer' way of thinking, but also not be afraid of setting out a human-centered vision.

    In fact, all these challenges are cultural challenges. Part of our role as experience designers is therefore helping to bring about a new culture of innovation, not just through our work but also through our public engagement in the social role of design. At Experientia we communicate a lot, run seminars, and organize lectures. We organized last year the first World Usability Day event in Italy (, which was very well attended, and we are doing it again this year. And we are editing an entire issue of UX Magazine (the members publication of the Usability Professionals' Association) on usability and governance.

    Our main challenge as experience designers is how to define our new role within the society we are part of. I think we should not shy away from the larger discourse on regional innovation. We are working within a social and economic context and we have to take on our responsibility of helping to change some of that context through a more human-centered approach.

    Well put. Of course, these challenges are not exclusive to experience design firms in Europe. Here in the U.S., where design is being called upon for everything from overall corporate strategy and accelerated innovation to solving issues of communication and brand management, the challenges Mark cites and their solutions are perhaps more profound due to creative turmoil in the field.

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

    Down Under, Anecdote brings storytelling to the business world

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Around the world, Down Under, a daring but charming young company, Anecdote is touting that most ancient of experience-design crafts: storytelling -- relabeled by Anecdote, “business narrative.” Led by experienced electics Andrew Rixon, Mark Schenk, and Shawn Callihan, the Australia-based company is pioneering the use of business narrative in Australia, Southeast Asia, and other (for North Americans) exotic realms. It's also reaching out to other Asian, European, and Western Hemisphere markets.

    Anecdote is offering several opportunities to delve into the business narrative experience:

    Toppic11. If you're in Australia in November, you can attend one of several storytelling and improv workshops led by the Anecdote team and American Izzy Gesell CSP, one of the first people to bring improvisational theater concepts to organizational life. The workshops are entitled -- take a deep breath -- “Change your Story, Change your World: How storytelling and improv theatre skills can help you honour your past, understand your present, and shape your future.” Izzy will be touring the Australian Eastern Seaboard with Anecdote, delivering this workshop in several commercial centers.

    Evolve2. You can get a taste of this workshop by participating with Anecdote (it's free!) in an EVOLVE ‘Leading Light’ webinar that Anecdote will conduct on Tuesday, October 10, at 10 AM Sydney Time. (For North Americans, the webinar takes place the preceding day, Monday, October 9, at 8 PM EST.) All you need to participate is a telephone. Having Web access will enhance the experience.

    Zahmoo3. Later this year, Anecdote is launching a new online service based on storytelling, Zahmoo. It's designed to help organisations big or small, public or private, government or non-government, to address the challenge of evaluating intangible, hard to measure projects. Rixon writes, “Some call it a story approach to organisational learning. Others know of it as Most Significant Change. We call it Zahmoo and we'll be releasing it live into the world later this year.” You can visit the Zahmoo website to register and be notified when the service launches. In the meantime, you can read more about it on Anecdote's Zahmoo blog.

    I visit the Anecdote website frequently. It's full of good ideas, case studies, white papers, and the proprietors' own insights -- all told in a charming, easy to assimilate manner, as you might expect of professional storytellers. (Something to think about for our too often buzzword-confounded design profession.)

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events and Happenings | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    September 19, 2006

    Video Democracy Online: Once a Reality, Soon a Dream

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Logo Tagline SmWho hasn't heard of YouTube by now? It's a Web-based video scrapbook cum social network that features thousands, perhaps by now millions of videos submitted by professional producers and marketers, aspiring actors and musicians, parents and children, and the family dog. Many are original, most probably contain copyrighted material. This week it was revealed that while Universal pictures has threatened to sue YouTube for copyright infringement, other leading movie and TV distributors, including Warner, will be offering their properties on YouTube for playing, sale, and incorporation into mashed-up derivative products. Even the Bush Administration is posting ... anti-drug videos. YouTube is the largest of the Web's video scrapbooks, but it's got plenty of company, ranging from iTunes to Atom Films to AOL to Yahoo! 9 to Google Video and more.

    Obviously, there's a sea change happening in the way Internet users are accessing their media. Or is there? I'm not so sure.

    Frontcover1Nr5I was a participant in the Public Access Movement of the late 60s and early 70s (chronicled in its irregular journal, Radical Software, archived online). Its basis was the belief, based on various strands of critical communication theory, that via the media, we know our world -- and to the extent that the media are free for any point of view to be expressed, our individual and collective knowledge of the world, and our ability to act in it, is enhanced. Unable to penetrate the television establishment, public-access media activists used the first portable video cameras -- Sony Portapaks and Hitachi hand-helds, recording on narrow-gauge videotape -- to document local people, places, and events, hoping to distribute them over then burgeoning cable TV networks. The Movement's purpose was the democratization of the media, beginning with cable TV, which appeared vulnerable to local pressure. Most of the time, however, Movement “productions” showed mainly offline, in lofts and warehouses, not on cable. Cable operators fiercely defended their “right” to restrict access to their networks, especially those who wouldn't pay for the privilege. Over time, their position softened thanks to federal, state, and local regulation that opened a few channels to public producers. But not in time to save the Movement. Without broad public awareness or support, it evaporated. Many activists went on to careers in the media, but most, I suspect, couldn't bear to abet America's Funniest Home Videos posing as the legacy of public access.

    Given my background, you'd think I'd be head over heels about the success of YouTube et al. Doesn't it signal the triumph of media democratization after all? Hardly. For several reasons, I remain skeptical and even concerned about the future of media on the Internet. These factors are, in serial order:

    21. Video publishing is a fad, visual “long-tailism.” Yes, millions are publishing video content on the net. Some is original, most is not. Some is exquisite (so far as can be told from a three-inch image on a four-inch window on a 15“ screen). Most is not. Some is funny, most is banal. What are the motivations of those who publish the ”most“ stuff? Novelty is a leading cause. They do it because it can be done. Rank self-promotion is another. There are those who use the Internet for artistic expression, though art per se will only come off well when Apple's mythical iTV or some other device for easily sending video from the computer to the TV becomes available. Probably millions of parents are using YouTube like they used their wallets in the past, or Flickr more recently, to show off their kids. Kids are using it to show off their vacations, friends, really good rock shows, and the family dog. (We won't talk about the soft porn that consumes petabits of bandwidth.)

    Wow. That's a lot of video. Try plowing through it sometime for something truly informative or edifying, or exceptionally entertaining, and you'll realize just how much. One's only recourse are the recommendations of colleagues, friends, and family, who -- according to the network Power Laws, first enunciated by Clay Shirky right here on -- are drawn to that which is already best known. Blogs are still going strong even though only a fraction of a fraction ever have a readership, so maybe video publishing could continue indefinitely as the global community's video scrapbook and broadsheet. Probably not. We may never find out, because other forces are at work.

    Images-12. Multitasking leads to the demise of attention. Recent research indicates that the more individuals multitask -- the more things they try to accomplish simultaneously -- the less able they are to focus their attention. Follow-up tests and surveys almost always indicate reduced awareness and memory of experiences had while in a multitasking situation, compared to the results when individuals attend to only one thing at a time. Implicit in this diminution of experience is finding joy in it. I don't mean momentary hah-hah, as when the guy juggles balls to Jimi Hendrix, or a soccer match in Manchester makes it to the Little Screen. I mean something that would bring one back repeatedly, not just to the production, but to the genre of production. Call me old school, but I see a lot of fall-off as people grok that more video doesn't necessarily mean better video, or even good video. It's just video, probably better when seen without an iPod impairing one's hearing, the cellphone urgently texting, and business or school homework -- homeWORK? -- waiting to be done. Unless we're evolving into homo mediocritus.

    3. Professionalization of the medium. As a result of the aforementioned banality of most online video, professionals are stepping in in hopes of elevating themselves and their work above the fray. I enjoy many of the shorts on Atom Films. The ones I like best are produced by professionals, ad agencies, indie producers, and similarly skilled individuals. The computer monitor doesn't do their work justice, but at least it can be seen. Gradually, it's noticed. Over time, word gets out. The Power Laws kick in. In no time we have a cadre of media producers, larger than the one that serves broadcast and cable, but vastly smaller than the total audience of publishers who are now blasting the numbers -- postings and pageviews -- into the stratosphere. Video viewing is Newtonian, not quantum: what goes up must come down. The other consequence of professionalization is that real money starts to get necessary as the ambitions of producers and artists is fueled by the celebrity of public attention. Can Procter & Gamble, Chevron, and Target be far behind?

    Itv2005 44. Invasion of the corporations. BMW pioneered major-corporation videos online, first with excellent 3D product graphics, then with engaging short stories featuring Beemers for sale (now beamed straight to your iPod as "vodcasts"). now hosts features with big name stars and full production quality. Little by little, branded novellas are showing up on proprietary websites and on the scrapbook sites. As is said in Hollywood, money talks, everything else walks. YouTube is furiously cutting deals with big distributors in anticipation of an IPO. (YouTube as a public company? More like TheirTube.) Apple can't get enough high-quality product from Disney to fill the l iTunes Store, so it's after big money too, this time from its customers, to pay for the best. What remains to be seen is which corps win and which lose in the new ratings game.

    5. The total valorization of online visual experience. Not wanting to play Cassandra more than I already have, I was reluctant to include Reason 5. But it's the honest truth. With the rise of total monitoring comes total marketing and in its wake, total merchandising. The end of Net Neutrality as a policy option, the edict of a Republican Congress hypocritically for the little guy (”having it out for the little guy“ is more like it), means that additional, invisible infrastructural pressures will soon be brought to bear on those who produce and distribute the most video content, raising its price. Within the decade, virtually everything online that's truly watchable -- pleasurable, memorable, edifying, and attractive -- will have a price (extracted in dollars and cents or time spent dully watching mandatory ads). That price will go up, and up, and up, reducing the amount of time people spend watching, in the same way the rising price of oil is gradually constricting commuting and leisure driving alike.

    ImagesSo, sorry: no democratization of media this time around. It shouldn't be a surprise. Each time a new medium struts onto the proscenium, the hopeful audience shouts ”Freedom!“, ”Democratic communications!“, and ”Information just wants to be free!“ For a little while, it is. But as happened before with the printing press, photography, radio, TV, and cable, over time the numbers of content producers and controllers of distribution ceases to be proportionate to the volume of material available over the medium. I'm not saying this is wrong or conspiratorial, though the hegemonists do do their darnedest to preserve their advantages. It's just human nature. Only, this is about more than human nature. It's about messing with the media by which most of us come to know the world and our place in it, and to learn from others what their places are. When organic, democratic expression ceases to be free, what we're left with is paid expression. And paid expression...well, you get what whoever pays for it wants it to be. The new media is the old media. Good night, and good luck.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Experience Design & Technology | Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    September 18, 2006

    The Cultural Web: “Social Networking Ties the Knot” (in India)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    240169031 C6C5420D6DOn, Ash Kumra, a member of the METal professional group to which I belong, recently blogged “Social Networking Ties the Knot?”, a brief, fascinating interview with Murugavel Janakiraman, CEO of the family of Indian websites, I usually don't write about the Web per se, but in cases like this one, where the real and virtual worlds conjoin to produce concrete results, the Web becomes a lively environmental element. Janakiraman describes as a “matrimonial,” not a dating website:

    The entire concept and origin of a matrimony site is entirely different from that of a dating or relationship site. Our model has been strongly triggered by cultural connotations of specific regions where factors like compatibility, horoscopes, and family backgrounds play a key role. Our target audiences are very serious about marriage as an institution and hence it would be inappropriate to compare ourselves with such relationship portals.

    One glance at the website and you begin to understand the complexity of the challenge. has 7.5 million registered members and 15 sibling websites each catering to a different Indian region or religion. Since 30 percent of its users are NRIs -- “non-residential Indians” -- its reach is actually truly global. ( now includes job listings and product links, including real estate: the complete domestic package.) The company maintains an offline presence through its Bharat Matrimony centers, which it plans to expand in India from 38 to over 300 locations in the next few years, with investments from Yahoo! and Canaan Partners. (Three hundred may seem not enough for India's middle class of 150 million, but the websites support the network of connections.)

    Vertically focused relationship social networks are nothing new. Hundreds are organized around personal persuasions, occupations, and hobbies. There's been a long-standing debate in the social networking industry regarding the efficacy and financial viability of vertical social networks vis-a-vis horizontal, “mass” social networks like, Yahoo! Personals, or the behemoth MySpace, on which everyone's a member; but on which also, no member can be easily found. In America, social networks reflect well the fact that we are a society of individuals, constantly reinventing our identities and affiliations. In Indian society, cultural norms require verticalization: despite the invasion of India over the last 500 years by some Western values, the value of self-identity and communal membership, shared with a partner, remains a central life experience.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    September 14, 2006

    Experientia's e-democracy, RED's “Kitchen Cabinet,” and Planetizen: bringing experience design to the public sector -- and the public

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Logo-4e-democracy is a new blog launched by Experientia, the Torino-based experience-design consultancy co-founded by Mark Vanderbeeken, author of Experientia's well-read other blog, Putting People First. It's a necessary new venture aimed at exploring the interface between more representative forms of governance, technology, and social innovation. The announcement:

    Experientia, the international experience design consultancy, launches today a thematic blog on e-democracy.

    E-Democracy is aimed at public authorities.

    It gathers information on citizen participation, the use of web 2.0 technologies, and innovation in general in the websites of public authorities, public administrations and local governments.

    The blog starts from the premise that the role of public services is to help people or to represent them, based on people’s needs and contexts. It is set up to guide innovation-oriented public website managers with examples of best practices and a discussion of the main issues. It is managed by Mark Vanderbeeken.

    Designcouncilred R1 C1The role of experience design in governance, the provision of public services and infrastructure, and public participation has become timely given the many crises facing local and national governments. The UK Design Council's RED program (written about earlier) has embarked on “Kitchen Cabinet”:

    Kitchen Cabinet is a project to design and prototype new systems of interaction between MPs and constituents and to create an open resource of ideas, suggestions and best practises that MPs can use to strengthen the connection between people and politicians.

    A summary description, downloadable video, and report are available on this work-in-progress.

    Planetizen-LogoA third source that focuses on similar issues is Planetizen, a volunteer-edited, news-and-features website/blog that serves the planning community and which is hosted by Urban Insight, a web and interactive design firm in Los Angeles that provides services to a large number of local governments, public agencies, and non-profits. (It also serves commercial clients.) I read it regularly to keep in touch with my planning roots. Planning as a discipline has evolved from utopian “City Beautiful” and more mundane zoning practices to become highly involved with citizen visioning of desirable futures and planning for their achievement. At UCLA, where I studied, heuristics were the order of the day, learning how to make decisions to bring about desired futures.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: ED Projects of Note | Experience Design & Technology | The Practice of Experience Design

    September 12, 2006

    The Experience of 9/11

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    When asked why there have been no attacks on the U.S. since 9/11, a counter-terrorism expert interviewed on NPR remarked, "We have been attacked every day since 9/11. Our panicky reactions, resulting in wild aggression overseas and the diminution of civil liberties at home, is a daily victory for the terrorists."

    Let's vow not to lose ourselves by default. Rememberance, without fear.

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

    September 11, 2006

    Book Review: Design for Interaction -- one of the best books yet about contemporary design

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Showcover Design for Interaction (New Riders/AIGA, 2006) is one of the best books yet about contemporary design. Read it!

    Dan Saffer, whose online persona is Danny Boy, has crafted the most accessible and instructive book I’ve read about interaction design – and more. Dan deals handily with interaction design, which he characterizes in a Venn diagram as a subset of experience design. There are issues regarding experience design that discussions of interaction design inherently can’t reach, as I’ll discuss later; but having set out primarily to explain interaction design, Dan’s done a superb job. Indicatively, the book is co-published by the AIGA in recognition of the “revolutionary transformation” for “ordinary people to influence and design their own experiences.” Dan's exposition of design thinking is as important as is his fine job of explaining the how-tos of interaction design.

    Many recent bestsellers popular in the design community have featured cosmic themes: “the long tail,” “the wisdom of crowds,” “the tipping point,” and so forth. They describe social phenomena that the individual designer can only observe.
    Designing for Interaction is about things the designer can do to make life better, increasing what we might call the “liveability” quotient. To quote Dan,

    Interaction design is the art of facilitating interactions between humans through products and services. It is also, to a lesser extent, about the interactions between humans and those products that have some sort of “awareness” – that is, products with a microprocessor that are able to sense and respond to humans.

    (Calling design of any type an “art” – even an “applied art” – is bound to be controversial, especially as science increasingly is applied to the task. This is even more the case with interaction design based on digital technology. But unavoidably, there is an artistic dimension to any discipline in which human beings ultimately are responsible for making decisions.)

    Headshot SafferDesigning for Interaction is practical and action oriented. It provides the reader with a comprehensive history of interaction design, contexts for the application of interaction design, and tools for interaction design. It also contains numerous examples of interaction design and wonderfully informative, personal sidebar interviews on specific topics with leading interaction and experience designers including Brenda Laurel, Marc Rettig, Hugh Dubberly, and others of equal accomplishment and insight. Finally it gets down to the “craft” of interaction design, presenting categories of problems and solutions (with the caveat that the field is still new and all rules for practice are provisional).

    Dan’s chapters on “Smart Applications and Clever Devices” and “Service Design” indicate how interaction designers are expanding their field of focus from interactive objects to include customer services and in the future, robots, wearable computers and devices, ubiquitous computing, and digital toolsets.

    The 230-page book, small enough to easily tote around, is beautifully designed. The graphics complement the text and convey complex meanings in visually memorable ways. Designing for Interaction also has a dedicated website to continue the interactions between the author and his readers, and among the readers. The only dissonant note is the blurry and iconically unclear front cover. It doesn’t represent the rest of the book and its contents well. Don’t be put off by it. This is a great read.

    Dan’s concluding chapter, “The Future of Interaction Design” and his epilogue, “Designing for Good,” extend the discussion into new realms and propose canons for the ethical practice of interaction design. These provocative peeks into a larger realm indicate where interaction design reaches its limit. The goal of interaction design is a better product or service, and who can fault these goals? But experience design, as Dan initially pointed out, is the superset of which interaction design is only a part. What about the environments in which human beings interact with products and services? Who designs these? Or the vast number of experiences that condition how people come into contact with discrete objects and processes, and that determine indirectly, but decisively, how they react?

    Of equal significance are experiences that don’t fall under the purview of an interaction designer working for an organization with narrower goals – like the experience of power in the workplace or the sense of security one has, or lacks, in day to day activities. There remains to be written the full story of experience design. But
    Designing for Interaction goes a long way toward setting the stage for a deeper conversation. He’s described the craft and laid out the tools for an approach to design that can be applied on a larger canvas. You must at least start here.

    You can share an interview with Dan in the July 2006 Business Week's Innovation.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    September 10, 2006

    Experiencing Chabad: a delightful fusion of tradition and techno-savvy

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Faf Template BannerI was directed to tonight's Chabad Telethon by Rabbi Yossi Marcus with whom, while living in San Mateo, I enjoyed a weekly debate on issues great and small. Tonight, Chabad commandeered local TV channels in several large markets and in five hours of music and testimonials, raised $5 million for its operation and good causes. Chabad, a religious community, is well-known for its aggressive encouragement to other Jews to live according to Biblical precepts. It also provides services for the disabled, elderly, children, and the less fortunate around the world, regardless of religious persuasion. For Chabad, every time a Jew does a Jewish thing, it's a “mitzvah,” a blessing, bringing the world one step closer to the arrival of the Messiah.

    So much for the theology. It's Chabad's use of social technology that amazes and delights -- one of the more paradoxical social phenomena I've experienced.

    MosesChabad is culturally bidextrous. One one hand, it's an Orthodox stream of European Judaism that emphasizes the mystical (like the Kabbalah) and the charismatic as pathways to knowledge. It dates from the 16th through the 19th Centuries, when most European Jews lived in the Pale of Settlement, a kind of mega-ghetto in between Poland and Russia. Chabad carries on an oral tradition that it claims has coexisted with more legalistic Judaic traditions since the origins of the Torah, the Bible's first five Books. Chabadists believe in the literal meaning of the Bible, separation of men and women during worship, and strict observance of biblical laws governing everything from eating Kosher to child-care. On the other hand, Chabad is one of the savviest users of modern media. Chabad's website, though complex, is wonderfully designed. For its telethon, Chabad not only secured the use of several TV stations -- it also leased two satellite transponders to provide simultaneous national coverage for the LA-produced event., Chabad's online rabbinical academy, provides almost instant chat answers to questions posed by Jews and non-Jews about biblical matters and Jewish culture (from a Chabad perspective).

    I'm not Orthodox. My personal philosophy is Taoism, which resists thinking in terms of the miraculous and views technology as merely a standing wave in the river of human invention. But tonight's telethon caught my attention and held it with a clever juxtaposition of tradition, music, testimonials, and high-tech. Plus very good intentions (uncommon to TV).

    Chabad's mix of orthodoxy and state-of-art technology, creating the "Chabad mystique," is one of the better unintended consequences of our information age.

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

    September 9, 2006

    A New Meme: The Experience Design Institute

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Yesterday, I sent the following email note to 20 of the world's leading experience designers:

    Dear Lifetime of Design Friends,

    I'm writing to instill a meme. Yes, I know, it's the end of the week, almost the end of summer. Perhaps the last thing you want to do is think big thoughts. But this is a good an opportunity to share with you my idea and let it percolate. Then it's back to blogging!

    You're on my list of recipients because you are among the most distinguished and capable practitioners of Experience Design, whether you call it that or not. You do it, you write about it, or you teach it. Whatever it is you do in experience design, you contribute to our emerging field's evolution and development. You're ripe for my meme.

    So, here is the meme: there needs to be an Experience Design Institute. There needs to be a real place hosting real events, exhibitions, research, and studies, like Pasadena's Art Center where traditional design is studied; Ivrea, where interaction as a science was studied; and the Design Council and its RED, where transformational design is practiced. The Experience Design Institute will bring together practitioners from various disciplines who share a deep and abiding desire

    • What constitutes experience and good experiences (as defined by...?)

    • How environment, technology, knowledge, and perception interact to produce human experiences

    • How (with greater knowledge) we can systematically design experiences that are edifying, educational, and frequently entertaining for the “experiencers” -- and that produce the result, in terms of awareness and action, that the designer intended

    • How different design disciplines and modalities can combine to create richer and better experiences

    • What experience design portends for other design practices, business, and culture generally

    • Where this is all leading for future experience designers

    The purpose of the Institute would be to give us a place to really get into these issues, other than the workplace, where real sharing across disciplines and approaches could take place on a regular, continuous basis.

    Conferences and seminars are well and good, but they are extremely finite -- and if you miss one, you usually have a year to wait before the next on the same topic. (Of course, most of us miss most conferences.) Plus, conference and seminar audiences tend to be narrowly chosen on the basis of the very divisions that the Institute would bridge.

    Imagine a place -- let's take the Pilchuk Glass School cofounded by Dale Chihuly (, Esalen (, and Taliesin in its golden days as models in the US; or the Bauhaus in its prime, overseas -- where experience designers can go to study, learn, and converse with their creative peers. Where practitioners at various points in their careers can share their experiences and learn from one another. Where students can meet with teachers and mentors. And where the public can be invited on a regular basis to learn firsthand what it is that we do. Not just once a year, but continuously.

    Why not such a place for Experience Design, especially now as historical forces push it to the forefront of business, cultural, and social concern?

    How to get there is another matter. If such a place was designed, I'm confident it would be funded. Or conversely, if it was funded, it would be designed. This is a chicken-and-egg problem for which my meme provides no immediate solution. But maybe you'll think of one over time, individually or collectively.

    Thanks for taking time from your leisure to spend a few minutes considering my meme. Now, park it in the back of your cranium and have a restful, restorative weekend. Where did summer go? Please let me know from time to time where the meme has traveled and what's happening as a result.


    Bob Jacobson

    This morning, on Putting People First, Mark Vanderbeeken replied with a comprehensive list of schools where elements of experience design and related design disciplines taught -- but acknowledges, there is but one small program in comprehensive experience design, at the Design Academy Eindhoven, in Holland. I thank him for his comments and even more, his challenge to our community to do more.

    Even if there were a hundred programs in schools around the world, it would not be the same as a place where practitioners, students, and the public that we serve can come to share and learn: the Experience Design Institute, our community's Mecca.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    September 5, 2006

    “The Physical Attributes of A Well-Designed Workplace” (from the Future of Work Agenda Newsletter)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Logo-2-1The September issue of Jim Ware and Charlie Firestone's Future of Work Agenda Newsletter features several articles, unusual for their content but not the passion that Ware and Firestone bring to their advocacy for better working conditions. There are articles on distributed work (why there should be more of it), on fear of the future (why there should be less of it), a bonus article by architectural strategists Barbara Armstrong and Mark Sekula, “The Physical Attributes of A Well-Designed Workplace” (an excerpt follows), and more. You can subscribe to the the Future of Work Agenda Newsletter at the Future of Work website.

    The Physical Attributes Of A Well-Designed Workplace

    by Barbara Armstrong and Mark Sekula

    Barbara Armstrong, Principal, and Mark Sekula, Associate Principal, are senior workplace strategists with Kahler Slater Architects of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

    The work of today is drastically different than the work processes that supported the industrial revolution. Today’s product – knowledge – requires a different environment in which it can be “produced,” nurtured, and shared.

    Based on our experience as workplace designers, along with our research and review of current literature regarding workplace design, productivity, and business trends, we established a list of physical attributes associated with a well-designed workplace. We focused on those issues that may have the most significant impact on knowledge workers.

    We believe that the fourteen attributes described below are those that have the biggest positive impact on the physical workplace, and that individually and collectively contribute to productivity measurements and bottom-line performance. Understanding these attributes and their impact also can help to create a compelling business case to seek improvements in your own work environment.

    In research by BOSTI (Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation), as reported in “Dispersing Widespread Myths about Workplace Design,” the following three qualities were considered to have the strongest effect on job satisfaction. We believe they stand out as key attributes to measure:

    * The ability to perform distraction free work as an individual;
    * The ability to perform undistracted group/team work; and
    * Having environments that support collaboration and impromptu interaction

    An individual’s ability to perform his or her job efficiently and effectively is substantially influenced by a number of physical environment factors that can be affected by good design and planning. These attributes include:

    * Attention to thermal comfort;
    * Direct visual access to daylight;
    * Attention to glare factors;
    * Proactive attention to ergonomics; and
    * Workspace size allocations by functional needs, not hierarchy.

    We believe that several attributes can either enhance or create challenges to productivity:

    * Appropriate adjacencies to support workflow;
    * Simple and clear way finding, i.e., understandable spatial organization; and
    * Ease of accommodations to adapt to changing technology

    While overall well-being and health can be influenced by simple attributes such as;

    * Flexibility of workspace to accommodate personal work styles; and
    * The inclusion of a professionally maintained live green plant program.

    In our recent research of companies designated as Best Places to Work, we found that an important attribute in achieving a well-designed workplace is:

    * The expression and manifestation of the organization’s culture

    We believe that the benefits to achieving a well-designed workplace can be measured in many non-physical ways. With the changing workforce demographics, it is wise to use every available means to attract and retain top talent to your organization and to leverage that diverse talent to be creative and innovative. Using your workplace as an asset to achieve these goals makes good business sense.

    The physical workplace can be a critical factor in the success of an organization. It is an important factor in supporting an organization’s business initiatives and it can be proven to be an effective tool to improve performance, rather than being seen only as a cost of doing business. The physical workplace is often the second-largest asset of an organization; this asset can be used to effectively attract and retain talent, typically the first major asset of any organization.

    In today’s world, the role of the workplace is about:

    * Enabling new ways for people to work within an organization;
    * Valuing the individual;
    * Implementing new technology;
    * Shifting or reinforcing culture and change;
    * Leveraging facilities as assets;
    * Facilitating faster and more simple change; and
    * Achieving financial objectives - tracking how workplace changes help achieve the organization’s goals.

    The complete report on Armstrong and Sekula's research, “What Makes A Great Workplace,” is available by e-mailing your request to Mark Slater.

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

    September 4, 2006

    America's Ideology of Hope

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Not SharingOn this sixth Labor Day of the 21st millenium, I read a disturbing article that appeared earlier this week in the New York Times Business Section, by writers Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt. It bears this ominous headline: “Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity.” America is experiencing the worst mismatch of capital and labor since the statistics were recorded. The result is a fading quality of life for most Americans and greater profitability for those that own the means of production.

    Typically, when productivity rises -- when workers produce more value -- their wages rise. The rewards of an expanding economy are shared, somewhat. Today, there is no sharing. Workers produce more by working harder, working longer hours, and doing it with fewer vacations and benefits -- yet real wages for at least 90 percent of the American workforce are declining. UBS, an investment bank, is quoted in the Times, "[this is] the golden era of profitability.” What it boils down to, according to Greenhouse and Leonhardt, is the loss by labor of bargaining power attributed to globalism, new technology, and a general lack of organization. Some workers do all right: those at the top of a very pointed pyramid. One percent of the American workforce, mainly CEOs, senior managers, and star professionals accounted for nearly 11 percent of all salary increases in the last year. Shareholders also did well. But the middle class, once buoyed by boom market stocks and seemingly infinite elasticity in the price of homes, has seen its share start to slip away as the housing bubble bursts and everything necessary to just living life -- like gas for commuting to work and driving the kids to school -- skyrocket in price. Throw in an expensive, poorly executed, and needless war overseas (costing $10 billion and thousands of lives each month) -- and you can understand how the social services that once constituted a social safety net have been shredded.

    You'd think all of this would make Americans a hardened people, ready to take to the streets. You'd be wrong.

    Yes, there is discontent. The Conference Board's Index of Consumer Confidence is dramatically declining. Polls show that the Republican Party, the party that burnt the Treasury down, is in grave danger of losing control of the House of Representatives and just possibly the Senate. But these are formalities. Even if the parties switch, it's unlikely to change the systemic causes of worker impoverishment. Because we haven't the means to design solutions. As The Economist reports this week, American solidarity and overseas admiration that was at an all-time high following 9/11 has eroded to almost nothing. And the nation is riven.

    So why are the American people still hopeful?

    Hope has been part of the American ideology, growing larger in scale with each quantum leap in the national enterprise. When the first Europeans arrived to confront a seeming wilderness, they hoped to make it through the winter. The Declaration of Independence relied on hope to last for the duration of the Revolution, as its signing portended sure hanging for the signatories had the Colonies not prevailed. There was hope that the Civil War would end animosity between North and South. Hope that U.S. involvement in conflicts overseas would bring an end to imperial wars. Hope that comity might be restored between capital and labor. Hope that a global economy would float all ships. Hope for world peace. Hope in the hearts of each generation of immigrants. And hope in every American's mind that he or she might one day become the next Bill Gates or Angelina Jolie -- and if not that person himself or herself, then that person's children or grandchildren.

    This is America's ideology. Wikipedia defines ideology in benign terms as “a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things”; but also as “a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society.” It's the latter application of the term that worries me.

    Establishing a dominant ideology, like the ideology of hope, of optimism -- some would say, of “irrational exuberance” -- is something that the powerful do well, because it helps them to retain power. How does ideology manifest itself? In canons of belief. Take the nature of the state. In modern times, the integration of government, corporations, cultural institutions, and the educational system into a unitary state is an acknowledged fact. But Americans are taught that it isn't. As one Republican pundit told the Times reporters, “Americans don't blame the government for the current state of affairs. They blame big corporations.” It feels odd to argue the opposite, though the opposite is empirically proven every day. And the notion of classes at war, using the machinery of government -- tax policy, investment policy, global policy, etc., and the law -- to achieve advantages, while obvious to everyone, is not permitted as a topic of conversation in any of the popular media (except some films). In fact, it's not welcome. "Class warfare" is taboo. This situation, which has been written about extensively, harkens back to the singularity of national socialism, state communism, and other forms of fascism that sprang up in Post-WWI Europe. One does not invoke differences of class in America without penalty, and as a result, the nation cannot resolve problems that have their origins in class. Too bad. We almost punched through in the 30s. Then WWII intervened.

    Intentionally designed experiences have a lot to do with the dominant ideology in America. Media experiences, themed experiences, and educational experiences for the vast majority of Americans who never learn to think critically are among the factors that engender America's ideology of hope, even in the face of events that objectively signal alarm. Others are a pubic history that glorifies the state as a bringer of equality and religious faith that preaches the notion of heavenly intervention to alleviate suffering. Distraction with triviality disguised as culture has a place in America's ideology. Lastly, there is the myth of the self-made man or woman, that everyone can be one, despite historical proof that being a scion of inherited wealth and influence is the predominant key to personal financial success and power.

    Americans remain hopeful, not taking to the streets, not speaking our discontent unless they're among a sliver of organized labor or political activists. Moment to moment, sunshine optimism may be preferable to many Europeans' pronounced cynicism, or the despair that grips half of all people living today regarding how they'll survive the next 24 hours. But optimism per se is no solution to pressing, systemic problems; it's simply a condition. Rolling up one's sleeves and engaging in action -- that's what makes change happen. If, however, we wait while ideological optimism keeps a lid on discontent, our problems will get worse and then we may find ourselves as a nation and a society in the grip of cynicism, despair...or, as elswhere where ideologies have failed, bloody anger.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Odds and Ends: Random Observations | Theories of Experience

    September 2, 2006