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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    October 31, 2006

    Ah, Halloween! The experience sublime.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    610Px-Jack-O'-Lantern 2003-10-31Halloween is here! How it became an American holiday is a mystery to me, since our British cousins don't celebrate it, but it's the best! And now, retailers and cultural observers report, it's not only my, but also most Americans' favorite holiday experience (Christmas being too obligatory).

    Halloween -- originally, the Celtic Samhain (“sow'-whain”) -- is the day when the material and numinous worlds conjoin. When people and spirits cross over.

    Sure, now it's mainly about kids and candy, and partying and costumes. Nothing wrong with that. Just remember, though: there's more happening on Halloween than meets the eye...!

    For some Otherworldly fun tonight, check out Ghost Studies. "Hey...did you see THAT?"

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

    October 30, 2006

    Digital Hollywood LA Report (complete)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    290X50La06Fall-1If it's one thing they should tell you when you assume the mantle of a not-for-profit blogger is not to promise anything with a deadline attached. Lots can happen (and did this week) to retard this blog-in-progress.

    But my delay in publishing this entry is a direct result of my lingering inability to get my head around Digital Hollywood LA, until now. conference is one of the best of its type. Few publicly-accessible conferences in any domain or at any cost (let alone DH-LA with its modest registration fee) bring together so many high-level executives, technologists, academics -- all do-ers -- and the press to talk about their subject. Even fewer conferences examine as topical and shifting a target as the morphing media in their multiple roles of information channels, places to sell things, political soapboxes, an infinity of forms of entertainment, and cultural events; and for most of the people at Digital Hollywood, also their livelihoods. The Loew's Hote provided an intimate, personal setting. Everyone was approachable. DH-LA was a kaleidoscope of ripe meanings just waiting to be plucked. Congratulations to Victor Harwood, Digital Hollywood's founder, who persevered in his vision of a conference populated equally by people in media, entertainment, and technology, before convergence was cool.

    DH-LA was so rich in meanings, however -- overt and subtextual -- it could also be confusing. Several smart people told me they were bewildered by DH-LA and “what it all means.” For many participants, the conference is a stage on which to play out the part of New Hollywood types, characters you'd cast in a 2006 remake of The Day of the Locusts or Sunset Boulevard. For others, high level executives who didn't “get it” before, it's a chance to hop on the digital-media bandwagon before it leaves town. Technologists are there to pitch their latest “enabling” products while the producers, big and tiny, use lots of video to hawk their products for mobile, locational, in-the-workplace, at-home, while-you're-out-having-a-good-time, and morning-after-edification purposes. A few press types like me, fairly low-key at this conference (perhaps because so many attendees are bloggers themselves and can publish a thing or two about too-intrusive inquisitors), are checking it all out, trying to capture the infinity of announcements -- some made off-hand during panels -- and spotlight what they consider the most salient points about this gathering.

    As you readers will know, I covered the Preview Day in an earlier posting and the rift it revealed between those who see the Internet as a service to the Broadband Nation and those who see it as something to be sold. I missed Day 1 due to my own affairs. Day 3 was pretty much a repetition of Day 2 and I used it to cruise the exhibition hall. (So I didn't attend the panel on adult entertainment, “The $10B Opportunity”? I didn't think the thesis, that adult fare drives technological innovation, needed further defending.)

    I'm going to concentrate on Day 2, because the three panels I attended together tell the story most of interest to experience designers: the errant, often-unclosed loop joining technologists, media monetrizers, and the people whose sensoria and pockets they're trying to reach -- known respectively as the “users,” “consumers,” and “us.” Media's ability to shape our society and cultural values is immense. Yet, it turns out, there's no Invisible Hand working to ensure that anything turns out right. The disconnects among the actors who are deciding the future form of our media environment, and between them and the rest of us, whose quality of life will be enhanced or diminished, are dramatic -- which all readily admit. For all the learned dissertations churned out by media scholars and visionary forecasts dispensed as corporate white papers on glossy stock (or now as podcasts), theirs is not The Media Future that actually will be. Personal agendas may be partly at fault, but there's more than a little Heisenberg Principle at work here, too. Speak the Next Big Thing and suddenly it's not, it's Something Else. No wonder they pay people so much to worry about what comes next, and how to plan for it. It never stops.

    The first panel I attended on Day 2 was “The Networked Entertainment Home -- the PVR/DVR -- the Set-Top & PC Entertainment Server,” to see what the technologists had to say, the people building the pipes and devices. It turned out that the panel, smartly chaired by Strategic's Gary Price, was about a lot more than just media centers. I took copious notes, but the bottomline was that the scientists and engineers who are responsible for developing the technological infrastructure that make possible today's and tomorrow's media wonders don't get much guidance from the media people who guide their work -- and when they do, it's often contradictory within and among the industry sectors and the companies and agencies they comprise. The complexity of working on a global basis, Motorola's Nick Chakalos reported, makes vendors slow to roll out services because of all the different markets, strategies, and channels that now must be served. This affects technologists' planning and development activities, emphasized Nvidia's Scout Vouri, right down to the level of the microprocessor: the “chip.” There was a vigorous debate about how to deal with security in the Net. Many panelists and attendees side with individual user, whose identity must be kept secure, thus requiring all sorts of interoperability bridges (and opportunities for them to fail) between standards-setting and solutions. Others, like Sun's Bill Sheppard, believe that identifiable personal devices are our best bet to create the “Open Media Commons” (an open DRM -- digital rights management -- regime) that provides equal open access to services.

    During the Q&A, I questioned whether the industry, while the FCC dithers about decency, is taking its own steps to learn what it is that users want, need, and will use. It turns out, it is, but in a somewhat indirect manner, through its own technology councils and standards groups. These IBM's Stephen Mannel advocated as worthy of greater industry participation. CableLabs' Frank Sandoval noted that TV (particularly as cable) is now the entry point for most new media -- largely, TV shows and movies, and gradually, interactive experiences -- suggesting that their success on cable, because of its large audience, is a reliable de facto metric for their success. (Now and in the future?) He also made the trenchant observation, seconded by the other panelists, that “the distinction between devices, service vendors, even content providers, will disappear.” Disney's Phil Lelyveld, in the audience, had several important things to say; two stayed with me as relevant to media designers. First, interoperability, as much as it may be the technologists' Holy Grail, is a danger to artists' rights in a environment that's universal, where content can flow without regard to the artists' wishes. If one repository is cracked, they all can be. Second, Phil lamented that none of this is very sexy and thus it's not large in the public's consciousness.

    But all of this reconnoitering among the technologists left my question still unanswered: why is the infrastructure segment of the media industry still disconnected from its end users? Perhaps because the middle-men and -women, the media vendors, are as benighted as anyone else.

    This was the impression I got from the second panel I attended, “TV & Interactivity: Evolving Content & Business Models: Content, Commerce, and Branded Entertainment.” It's not that the self-moderated panel (four interactive TV executives and one advertising researcher) didn't appreciate the environmental changes taking place. They do. But most of their employers don't.

    The four interactivists -- FOX Reality's Ed Skolarus, A&E's Jim Turner, Showtime's Chris Lucas, and NBCi's Jon Dakss -- were strong, proponents for the case that the established broadcast and cable media should embrace interactivity as a way of more closely aligning with their audiences. The examples they gave were really stunning, particularly NBCi's exciting interactive promotions that spice up some very uninteresting shows; Showtimes' portal art forms, employed most recently exemplified by the Dexter and Weeds websites; and Turner's videogames, prepared in collaboration with Kuma Reality Games, that will allow viewers to simulate historic battles depicted on The History Channel's “Shootout!”, debuting November 3. (I intend to download my share). The problem is that, for all their successes, these imaginative folks' work is hamstrung by enormous inter- and intra-organizational bureaucracies -- once again centering on who owns properties and who earns from their reuse -- and budgets that, in my opinion, limit their scope. Sure, as with any Internet offering, it's possible to measure various aspects of an interactive audience and its opinions. But the interactive audiences, though growing, remain barely representative of the larger TV-viewing population. Through lack of vigor in funding and promoting the interactive services, it remains distressingly disinterested in them.

    More broadband access is one solution that doesn't require voluntary media transformation; in fact, it's driving transformation, involuntarily. (FOX's Ed Skolarus predicted the emergence of virtual channels online in the next year.) Still, what's it all about? Lydia Loizides, VP for Consumer Experience in Interpublic Futures Marketing Group, disconcerted everyone with her unit's survey research that found that for all the hoorah, most people still haven't warmed to mobile media forms, let alone more sophisticated inter-media packages. As a result, a good deal of her time is spent brokering relationships among advertisers, media, and technology vendors in order to create a more hospitable business environment. Her goal is to realize potential alternative media synergies -- which she characterized as “permission-forming,” gaining viewers' acceptance -- especially in underexploited markets.

    Following on her comment, I speculated during Q&A that if the panel had been titled “Interactivity & TV,” rather than the other way around, it might have revealed a very different point of view. Interactivity would properly be seen as the potential growth market, rather than stagnating TV for which the demographics are declining. Obviously, that's why the TV moguls have brought all of these very bright people onboard (most of whom, BTW, were experienced, of middle-age, and not post-teenyboppers) -- to stem the bleeding. Yet few TV executives are making the necessary investments to find out how to grow this market and then support it. They hardly know their audience. No wonder the technologists are baffled.

    The third and last panel I attended on Day Two, “Venture Funding and Leadership in the Entertainment and Technology Space: Games, Wireless & Broadband, decisively tipped me toward my conclusion that the technology-media-entertainment circle is broken. The panel, moderated by spunky business consultant Joey Tamer, consisted of three well-known VCs, two investment bankers, and a corporate VC, all with strong histories of media investing -- Charles River Partners' George Zachary, ComVentures' Roland Van der Meer, Spark Capital's Todd Dagres, UBS' David Higley, Oppenheimer's Sun Jen Yung, and Intel's Mike Buckley. Although all trek to “Hollywood” occasionally, only Higley, so far as I know, lives and works in Southern California. In fact, This weak link in relations between those who fund the development of new media and those who will deploy it is only one of the impediments that afflicts the cutting-edge of media innovation. Another is the unspoken tension between the traditional investment community and the media industry -- the production houses and producers, not the product technologists trying to sell into the industry. Venture investing is big on risk reduction and high on reliable growth and earnings, two factors that make non-entertainment investors skeptical of working with the industry, where risk is abundant and growth/earnings are a binary deal: they briefly skyrocket before descending or, more often the case, vacillate and then plummet.

    As for coordination between the media industry and the investors whose money defines the media environment five or ten years out, it's a little thin. Roland Van der Meer cuttingly commented, “When it's hot, it's already not.” He meant that whatever is currently in the public's eye, or the eye of media executives, is already passe from an investment standpoint. MySpace, GooTube, and their ilk regardless of their merits, held little interest for investors for most of this year and generate less now. George Zachary told us: like the others, he's investing in “do-able, innovative Web services that haven't been done yet.” Taking George at his word (and knowing him well, I do), the results of most early-stage technology investments will manifest over the horizon, well beyond the state-of-the-art technology and services currently deployed or about to be. A cognitive gap separates them. It's not actually a disconnect. The VCs are pathfinding; but the medial industry will be able to follow only a few of the paths that the investors are breaking, and then only slowly. Which ones will they tread? Why, of course, the one's the users -- us -- want them to. And there's the rub. No one knows which they are.

    I respect investors. VCs, made had my last company, also visionary, possible. Investors, like designers, rapidly suck up and process information, maintaining real-time situation awareness about the sectors they care about. Their limited partners, large pension firms and the like are often less intuitive and sometimes exert pressures that result in unwise investments. Investment bankers and corporate VCs tend to be more conservative, but those in the media/entertainment domain are likewise more intuitive than their mundane counterparts. All successful investors -- those who survive -- develop a sixth sense about what will work and what won't based on many factors. They may write and speak prolifically about the orderly manner in which they do this, but the sagest among them will admit that experience, heuristics, and a hyper-sensitive business radar, plus a wise personal network, have more to do with their success than lessons learned in management school. In the same way that designers often turn up good designs without knowing why, smart VCs and other investors make guesses about the future that are right more often than wrong. Most of their portfolio companies fail, but usually from poor management, not misdirection. Trusting to investors, however, we're consigning our media future to a tiny handful of men and women whose personal judgments, no matter how informed, are a weak substitute for “what the people want, need, and will use.”

    One of the reasons for ferment on the leading edge of media invention is the fact that “too much capital is flooding the domestic market,” several of the panelists agreed, motivating investors to take chances that share characteristics with investments made during the Dot-Com Bubble. “Too many successful companies today are blood-soaked ticks that arbitrage services carried on others' infrastructure,” Todd Dagre sneered. “And I support them. That's capitalism. But it doesn't build a future.” Eventually the free-flowing capital will dry up and investors will retreat. The legacy they leave behind will be the companies that are tomorrow's new media. For now, there's a glut.

    Nevertheless, as David Higley pointed out, “Two years ago there were all these tech types at Digital Hollywood, and the media guys just watched from their offices down the street and smirked. Now it's changing. Suddenly it's all media types, and the tech guys are in the minority.” Is that good? Is that bad? Does it mean more on-target media in the future, or more of the same? Digital Hollywood brought the players together, once in a very long time. Whether it achieves the melding of visions and interests that remains Victor Harwood's goal remains to be seen. I know, as an experience designer, that I'd be a lot happier if there was a discernible common strategy among those creating our new, digital media environment. There's nothing like a road map to know where you're going. But there isn't one. For the foreseeable future, we're driving -- or being driven -- by the seat of our pants. Hand over your A Ticket and buckle up: we're on a Mr. Toad's Ride into the future!

    * * *
    I was proud to see at Digital Hollywood so many members of METal, the Media-Entertainment-Technology Alliance, actively participating on DH-LA's panels and in the audience. METal, a collegial, professional men's group based on LA's Westside, is an organization with possibly the greatest concentration of new-media experts anywhere. Its founder, Ken Rutkoskwi of leads one of the industry's greatest resources. Thank you, METal Men, it's an honor to be among you.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | Experience Design & Technology | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design

    October 24, 2006

    Digital Hollywood LA, Report No. 1 -- “Two Internets, Coexisting”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Digital Hollywood LA on its Preview Day has already proven a very interesting conference. Beyond it's “Hollywood” theme and flavor -- lots of beautiful, politely aggressive people pushing product -- unique among the Internet conferences, DH features a striking subtext. Here more than ever, the Internet Dichotomy separating those who see the Internet as a service from those who see it as a product, has become a yawning chasm. Having worked on both sides of the gap, and intending to again, I make no value judgments. I merely observe: two Internets coexist on the same global network, and which (if either) will be dominant remains to be seen.

    This was revealed most starkly on Preview Day, when I attended two panels that couldn't be more different.

    The first panel, “Citizen Media -- Blogs, PODs, Activist Media & Personalized News,” was one of four dealing with user-generated media. It was a contentious free-for-all on social and personal media, during which eight very sincere people (like AOL Weblogs Jason McCabe Calacanis, Reuters SVP Dean Wright, social media theorist and critic JD Lasica, and moderator and venture capitalist Shelly Palmer -- who did a great job adding fuel to the fire) debated such weighty topics as the pros and cons of the “wisdom of crowds,” collaborative journalism; the role of the professional editor in filtering scurrilous reporting; and those Siamese Twins, truth and opinion. It was taken for granted by most of the panelists that Google's AdSense advertising model is the most efficient way to fund citizen media, and perhaps the best indicator of media quality. As Palmer put it, there are three ways to fund anything: “with your money, with my money, or with someone else's money.” Advertising seems the best bet to conserve the first two.

    Calacanis repeatedly had the most trenchant comments, including two that will remain with me. First, he said, studies have repeatedly shown that bloggers practicing their often lonely craft are motivated by three things: “recognition, affiliation, and a distant third, compensation.” He also noted that “the key ingredient to successful expression on the Web is authenticity.”

    Perhaps, but authenticity had nothing to do with success for the panelists of the second event I attended, a lengthier show-and-tell, “Mobile Video & TV -- The Who's Who of Content.” The secret for these panelists was monetization, turning packaged media, sometimes user-authored, more often professionally produced, into revenue streams. The speakers were representatives at the top of the current mobile-media production and distribution pyramid: Sling Media, HELIO, Sony Pictures TV, Sprint, MobiTV, and a half-dozen others. One by one they promo'ed their fare, short videos intended to be seen on the tiny screens of a cellphone, iPod, or portable computer, presumably while wearing a headset. Some were lyrical, a couple poignant, but most were blaring, edgy, and trivial: try-to-hard humor, sports, rap, and all the other genres that appeal to pre-teens. The future of this panel's Internet will be very different from the first panels, in scale and direction.

    The most memorable comment was an observation by moderator Frank Chindamo of Fun Little Movies, an accomplished teller of five-years-too-soon, arrow-in-the-back pioneer stories, of which he has a admirable collection. (Thank goodness FLM has become successful in his lifetime!) He reported that studies have shown that the length of time a viewer spends with a production is directly proportional to the size of the screen on which its presented. This means, until Bluetooth and its descendants make it possible to point your cellphone at a big wallscreen and gain dimension, we are blessed that most future mobile productions will be short. Hallelujah.

    Pretty much for the entirety of the rest of DH, it's the monetization crowd that will rule the roost, in keeping with the conference's Hollywood half of its moniker. “Monitor, syndicate, and monetize” is a mantra I heard reported frequently.

    After the first panel, a senior participant with years of experience in media, online and offline, turned to me and asked, “So what's it all about?” I could almost hear him add, “Alfie?” “No one really knows,” I replied. “If you took 100 people from the four conferences on the Internet and communications that are taking place simulatenously right now, maybe we could assemble a mosaic. But this is Digital Hollywood, and this is what it's about, now.”

    * * *

    Regrettably, a personal project kept me away from the official Day One, but I'll be back for Days Two and Three. These promise actual insights as to what it may be all about in our multiple futures, online and off.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | Experience Design & Technology | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    October 21, 2006

    Total Experience covers "Digital Hollywood LA" this week!

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    290x50LA06Fall.gifThis week I'll be covering Digital Hollywood L.A, courtesy of the event's founder and president ,Victor Harwood. (Thank you, Victor.) The annual entertainment-business extravaganza this year takes place Monday through Thursday, October 23 through 26, at the Loew's Hotel in Santa Monica, CA.

    Digital Hollywood is a veritable circus of activity serving up a cornucopia of ideas and insights about how traditional media can transform into new media, and how new media are changing the way we experience our world. I'll be blogging regular feeds from the event itself, keeping you informed.

    Check out Digital Hollywood LA's daily agendas. If there's an event you'd like me to cover or someone you'd like me to interview, send me an email pronto. I'll do my best to comply.

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

    October 19, 2006

    The (ever more painful) Dow of Experience

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Jbe0003News that the Dow Jones index has topped the 12,000 mark, an historical high, adds tinder to a political firestorm in the making.

    In an earlier TE entry, “America's Ideology of Hope,” I noted that while productivity in America is rising, wages are falling (and real wages, adjusted for inflation, falling even faster). The explosion of the Dow, which measures stock value among America's largest corporations, indicates how dramatically corporate profits (and in turn, assets and dividends) have risen, enriching the investor class.

    We take reports of the Dow for granted. They flicker on tickers on during the TV networks' evening newcasts, on CNN, Fox, and Bloomberg, and are part and parcel of almost every radio station's news broadcasts. For a long time, the Dow's ups and downs were taken to be synonymous with the strength of the nation's economy, all boats rising and falling with the Dow.

    But investment income and wages have become disconnected, radically. A rising Dow no longer means good times for the working class (which comprises that 80 to 90 percent of the American people who do not receive substantial investment income). Each time Americans hear about the Dow's climb, it reminds them that things are getting worse for the majority in terms of falling purchasing power, rising household indebtness, and a general decline in their quality of life. The American Dream vies with a nightmare reality.

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

    Once people generally championed the Dow's good fortune and news of its unprecedented rise may still be welcome among America's wealthy (as Donald Trump tells Fox Networks). But for the rest, reporters droning on about the Dow have become a constant reminder that things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. And we experience this on the hour, every hour, all of the time....

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

    October 16, 2006

    Studio 360: “Scratch and Sniff,” The Mystery of Smell

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The first 40 minutes of this week's Studio 360, New York Public Radio's always fascinating show about design and experience, is entitled “Scratch and Sniff,”and features four short audio programs (in Real format) about the wonders of smell.

    Small Portrait“Scratch and Sniff” begins with a conversation between Studio 360 host Kurt Anderson and author Chandler Burr, the New York Times' first perfume critic (“Scent Strip”) and author of the bestselling The Emperor of Smell: A True Story of Perfume, Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses. In Emperor, Burr profiles the biochemist Luca Turin, a compelling force -- and highly controversial -- in the $20-billion-a-year perfume business. Turin believes that smell is actually a result of molecular vibrations, not chemical reactions, and can be tuned like music. (An archive of Turin's now-closed blog, Perfume Notes, can be downloaded here in PDF format. Turin's monthly “Duftnote” is now published in English in NZZ Folio.) Burr advocates founding a “museum of smell” to celebrate smell as an evolutionary triumph and driver of creativity and commerce.

    The show's other smell-related audio articles include “Snow in a Bottle,” describing the work of Christopher Brosius, “a perfumer with a different approach: he bottles the smell of celery, a gin and tonic, thunderstorms, even snow”; “Scent of a Painting,” which looks at the love of painters for the smell of paint and canvas; and “Death in Venice,” in which writer Adam Haslett, author of the short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. admires Thomas Mann's Death in Venice for its stench. “Everything in the story, he says, is 'overripe.'”

    Profile Nose Smell, as poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman reminds us in her lyrical A Natural History of the Senses, is the most emotive of the senses, able to evoke memories of places, people, and events long after their sights and sounds have been forgotten. When two people experience a smell together, it can be the basis of a lifelong bond. Yet smell is the sense we have the most difficulty talking about. Because smell and taste are so intimately fused in the human sensorium, we commonly use taste words to talk about smells (“sweet,” “sour,” “like roses,” etc.). Ackerman also introduces us to the mysterious folks within International Flavors & Fragrances, IFF, a multibillion-dollar laboratory that invents smelly and tasty chemicals for inclusion in our foods, cosmetics, new cars, and virtually every perfume not made with 100% natural products. IFF's new Visionaire 47 TASTE is “a limited edition arts publication that pairs paintings, photographs, and conceptual images with specially-created flavors.” A best-smeller, for sure.

    Digital media do a poor job of capturing and representing smells. Smell-O-Rama, a recent technology for “attaching” scents to email, and other such strange inventions for conveying the experience of smell are notable more for thier oddity than for their effectiveness, although the search continues. One non-digital format that works is “scratch-and-sniff” paper, the once ubiquitous stinker-upper of fashion magazines, now largely banned because it stirred allergic reactions in too many readers.

    mid_logo.gif Black-DeathHow can we design compelling experiences to exploit people's sense of smell? Displays of perfumery and taste enhancers are common. A more expansive example is London's Museum in Docklands (sister museum to the popular Museum of London). As part of a historical walkthrough, reports Museum spokesperson John Joyce, modern chemical science has recreated the smells of tides, ships, warehouses, inns, trade goods (like spices, tobacco, and tea), even sailors and sewers, that characterized the Dockland's streets and quays during successive historic periods. Most challenging of all, according to a radio reviewer? Creating the odor of disease and death during the 17th-Century calamity, The Great Plague of London (recalling Monty Python's classic line, “Bring out your dead! Bring out yer dead!”). A laboratory commissioned to develop these aromas reportedly was all too successful: the display is a repellent success.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Experience Design & Technology | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | Theories of Experience

    October 10, 2006

    Design Lessons from IIT's Institute of Design

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Newly minted IIT-ID graduate Denis Weil is profiled in Business Week's "Want a Master of Design with That?" Among Denis' lessons learned:

    Notable Quote: "The true value of design in business is being able to use real case studies to show how design adds value."

    A great focus group cross-check: "We have customers act instead of talk, because in focus groups, people can't project how they will act."

    ...And the pinnacle view across the kingdom: "The emerging discipline is not just how to design artifacts, but how to design the kiosk, the interface, the process."

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: ED Education

    IT = Innovation Terminus

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Innovation%20Barrier%2060SI_chart.gif An insightful piece from Information Week, "IT & Innovation: Out Of Sync?", highlights surprising findings as to the perception of others about IT's contribution to innovation. The expectation would be that IT should be highly innovative; the reality is not bearing up this assumption.

    Quotes from the piece:

    At Babson College's Research Center on Innovation and Corporate Entrepreneurship (ICE), we define innovation in six words: implementing new ideas that create value.

    Harvard professor Jim Cash suggested at an InformationWeek conference that the term CIO should stand for chief innovation officer—with the same guy in the job.
    Our IT people don't think like innovators.
    I often refer to our IT group as the business-prevention department
    IT often says no to the innovator in many companies

    Examples of roadblocks installed and heavily guarded by IT:

    • No outside groupware
    • No loading of unauthorized tools
    • No access (particular challenges to change, e.g. rapid inclusion of contractors and/or industry collaboration)

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

    October 9, 2006

    Advertising rediscovers experience design: more of the same, or a sea change?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    As a former advertising creative director (as you may read in my prior entries), I've been giving a lot of thought to the advertising industry, wondering why it hasn't embraced experience design in the same way that the avant-garde design community has -- or at all. But change is in the air.

    Experience design, actually promoted as such, is practiced mainly by individuals and boutique consultancies. As a result, most experience design projects that have been undertaken so far, except for those sponsored by governments or an enlightened corporation, are usually one-offs, invisible to the business world.

    Of course, if you know how to look for it, experience design is taking place all of the time, in virtually every profession. This blog, for example, has featured articles about designed experiences in architecture, product development, exhibitions, customer services, traditional and online communications, landscape architecture and urban design, interior design, and many other fields. But when an experience design project is conducted by industrial designers, it becomes industrial design. When conducted by architects, it becomes architecture. Experience design is cloaked in its practitioners' disciplinary costumes. This has prevented the formation of a formal experience design community large enough to command potential clients' attention or scale practices that can win and execute large projects consistently.

    Because we who style ourselves “experience designers” consider ourselves pioneers, we're prone to look for new developments on the edge of business, not in its mainstream. Though some experience design firms are relatively large -- LRA Worldwide, a customer experience company in Pennsylvania; IDEO, headquartered in the SF Bay Area; and the Design Council's RED, in London, are known to readers of this blog -- but although their projects are emcompassing, even these organizations feel unique, particular, and narrowly focused in terms of their clientele or practice.

    Now the advertising industry is getting into experience design -- baby steps, to be sure, but it's making progress nonetheless, possibly moving experience design into the mainstream.

    Advertising agencies are definitely in the mainstream. They've been designing experiences for large audiences since the birth of the modern advertising profession, 150 years ago. Their media and methods have been limited, however, grown stale over the years. Except for the fact that market research, media, and messages today are more often digital than analog, the business of advertising has remained almost the same since its inception. The modern parade of Edgy, Ironic, and Cute advertising is more impressive for its quantity than for its quality. And people are turning off. Media consumption is at a record high, but attention to commercial messages is low. Advertisers must resort to crude devices like product placements in films and TV shows, information planted on Internet blogs and forums (“buzz”), and guys waving arrows at intersections to compete for the small proportion of their attention that consumers are still willing to share.

    Responding equally to this crisis and to the opportunities brought on by technological and social change, the advertising profession has opened to the possibility of a more systematic approach to experience design. Three new initiatives illustrate the variety of these approaches: Interpublic Group's (IPG) Consumer Experience Practice, Publicis Groupe's Denuo, and the independent Brand Experience Lab. (IPG and Publicis are two of the world's largest advertising combines.)

    Interpublic Logo-1You'd think it almost stealth, so unremarked upon is IPG's Customer Experience Practice (CEP) by IPG itself. CEP, founded in February 2006, is led by IPG senior executive Stacey Lynn Koerner, now president of CEP. It's staffed with a handful of “consumer-centric” experts drawn from within IPG but mainly outside hires including vice president Lydia Loizides, whose Techie and the Media blog provides insights to the unit's interests. Currently, the CEP, among other things, gathers “buzz” about forthcoming media happenings (like new TV shows) and shares that information with its clients (who may include other IPG units, it's not clear) regarding new trends. Located in IPG's Media group, CEP is complemented (I think) by the also new Emerging Media Lab (EML), with a broad mandate to explore the future of media -- but which seems at least temporarily stuck in the online world. Studying popular and online media by no means constitutes a fleshed-out experience-design practice, but it's a start. I think Lydia Loizides' recent blog entry, “Extension Versus Creation: What Does Technology Actually Do?”), sets a direction. Now if only all the oars will pull in the same direction....

    Denuo Logo-1At about the same time that CEP was formed, Publicis was rolling out Denuo, a “futures practice.” Denuo is led by Rishad Tobaccowalla, Denuo's CEO and Publicis Groupe Media's chief innovation officer; and president Nick Pahade, who directs the unit. It has about 15 staff members, approximately equal to the size of IPG's CEP and EML, recruited from the wireless, Web, and videogaming industries. Despite an exuberant (though overly “ad-ish”) mission statement on its homepage (“Denuo gets to the future first, making tomorrow tangible today”), Denuo displays the same fixation on “new media” that characterizes many large communications firms now getting into the futures game. Digital developments rightfully command everyone's attention, as a new phenomenon of unknown dimensions. But it's a strangely asymmetrical fascination for advertisers, because (as experience designers constantly, but obviously so far ineffectually, point out), most people's experience is not digitally mediated, not even as consumers. Nevertheless, dealing with social issues raised by the digital onslaught inevitably will drag Denuo and the others into the larger realm of experience. Expect its team to grow and mutate in an experience design shop when it encounters this irresistible force.

    Brand Experience Lab Logo-1The third model, and the one I find most appealing for its holism, is the Brand Experience Lab (BEL) founded by virtual-worlds pioneer David Polinchock, BEL's founder, chairman, and chief experience officer; and CEO Barry Grieff, an entertainment marketing entrepreneur. It's an unabashedly experience-design firm with some seriously exciting projects underway, like this one described in AdWeek (quoted on the BEL blog, Experience Manifesto (aka The Experience Economist):

    In shopping centers, Mindshare sibling The Wow Factory, a nontraditional ad specialist, teamed with high-tech brand firm Brand Experience Lab to create displays for malls that transmit “sonic blankets” of broadcast-quality audio. Wow president Connie Garrido said that laser-activated motion-detector technology triggers the audio when shoppers pass by the display, but the sound is contained to just within that “blanket” of space, so it doesn't echo throughout the mall.

    It's the first time the technology has been used for advertising, and Sunsilk has an option to retain the technique exclusively through 2007, she said. Some mall operators were concerned it would be disruptive to shoppers, but the feedback so far has been positive, said Garrido. The transmitted voiceovers address hair issues (e.g., “My hair is poofier than my bridesmaid dress”) that reflect the visual message.

    Sex and the City co-star Mario Cantone, who played the sassy, raspy-voiced “gay friend” Anthony, is the voice of the effort. “The audio and the tone of the campaign is very distinctive, and we looked for a way to incorporate that audio into the media in ways that had never been done before,” Noble said.

    Calling BEL a “high-tech brand firm” confuses metaphors and misses BEL's point, which is to deeply understand culture and think creatively about how people use technology in this context. David is a regular contributor to Paula Thornton's Experience Design newsgroup, and based on his posts there and a history in the design of virtual worlds (which he and I share), BEL is squarely among the ranks of experience designers.

    Alas, BEL is yet only a boutique, but it's crossing a chasm to educate and inspire the larger advertising community. This move is not without risk, given the insularity of the advertising profession. In today's posting to Experience Manifesto, Polinchock quotes an editorial that appeared in today's Advertising Age (not available without a subscription). The editors had just attended Advertising Week 2006, a major industry blow-out in Philadelphia:

    Talk about a squandered opportunity: Titans of the media industry turned out to speak at Advertising Week - and had nothing to say.

    There was an all-star lineup for many sessions that offered many worthwhile lessons and tidbits; Tom Schumacher even got the famously private John Wren to open up. But when push came to shove, about the most provocative comment made during the industry's recent confab was Martha Stewart's remark that her lawyer wanted her to waffle.

    It's a regrettable commentary on an industry supposedly on the bleeding edge of popular culture, one that gives a lot of lip service to calls for action and motivating the consumer. And it is by no means limited to Advertising Week; far too many of the usual conferences have served up smart speakers who stick to safe topics and warmed-over case studies.

    Whatever happened to the industry's paradigm-shifters? The advertising world is in the throes of the biggest upheaval since the advent of TV, and the revolutionaries are nowhere to be found. Instead, there are predictable arguments from predictable sources: The old-media mavens espouse the importance of integrated solutions with new media, and new-media moguls chatter politely about spreading the wealth with network TV. Just once we'd like to hear a broadcast-booster bash the whole concept of broadband marketing or the other way around. At least it would get a decent debate going.

    Of course, it takes courage to be an agitator. And that's exactly what's needed to stimulate an industry on the brink of an entirely new, if you'll forgive us, advertising age.

    At this writing, the Association of National Advertisers' meeting hasn't convened yet in Orlando. (It will be wrapped up by the time you're reading this.) Without benefit of hindsight, we are hoping that the reinvention and innovation theme -- and a roster including keynoter A.G. Lafley and big-thinking creative minds such as Russ Klein and James McDowell -- will generate a much-needed provocative spark.

    The industry most certainly needs one.

    Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or do they? One of my favorite Taoist sayings is, “You never step into the same river twice.” Here's to advertising's rediscovery of experience design -- this time around, “consumer-centric” experience design -- with, one hopes, attention paid to the full range of human potential and experience.

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

    Advertising spending moves back to the real world

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Erik Sass, in Online Media Post, summarizes a new Blackfriars report that claims companies are “slashing” their Web marketing budgets by a third this year. In the same article, it's revealed that offline marketing budgets have increased by more than 100 percent.

    This change may be a recognition that only so much can be accomplished online: most people still live most of their lives offline, and that's where the action is. It may also signal a shift to advertising directed more to niche-market websites and social networks based on real-world interests, away from large horizontal portals and social networks. The “niches” generally offer access to their more active members (more active commercially as well as socially) at lower prices -- an irresistible bargain.

    Was it a coincidence that I saw a decline in my member network on MySpace today, maybe by a million fewer members?

    Naw, I must be mistaken, MySpace's member network never declines. (Why not?)

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | The Practice of Experience Design | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    October 6, 2006

    The Graying Of MySpace: time for adult supervision

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Myspace LogoIn The Graying Of MySpace, Online Media Daily today reports that more than half of MySpace'smembership is now over 35, up 40 percent from last year, while 18-24 year-old membership has declined 50 percent, from 44 to 30 percent. Writer Mark Walsh, summarizing a recent comScore press release, observes:

    While MySpace and Friendster skew older--with people 25 and older accounting for roughly 70 percent of their user bases--more than one-third of Facebook visitors are 18 to 24, as expected for a college-oriented site. Xanga was the most popular with teens, drawing 20 percent of its audience from that age group. The comScore figures encompass all visitors to the sites, not just registered members.

    “While the top social networking sites are typically viewed as directly competing with one another, our analysis demonstrates that each site occupies a slightly different niche,” said Jack Flanagan, executive vice president of comScore Media Metrix, in a prepared statement.

    The initial obvious implication:

    For marketers, the research suggests that MySpace is increasingly becoming a mainstream Internet portal. “The type of advertising it has today is for the youth market,” said Sarah Fay, president of Aegis' interactive ad agency network, Isobar, U.S. “But as we move forward, I'm sure that brands are going to start to speak to other types of audiences on MySpace.”

    For now, however, the middle-aged MySpace users I've spoken with -- those who'll admit to using MySpace -- tell me they turn off the MP3 intros and hold their noses when they log-in. Most use MySpace only for the free profile, which doubles as a website (albeit one that's ruggedly misdesigned), email, and file-sharing. They'd like to use it for other purposes, too, but can't. Amid the promotions from aggressive bands, amateur video producers, and aspiring pornstars, there's not much about MySpace that respects their lifestyles or serves their needs.

    The obvious follow-on implication:

    MySpace (and MySpace wannabees), and the advertisers and the ad agencies who use them, need to integrate their teams with people who share demographics with the majority of MySpace's users: people who are middle-aged or older, with jobs and families, interests more diverse than pop music and social bling, and loads of disposable income. Until they do, they'll fail to create an environment that produces trust and transactions among this mature (but please, not "old") majority. MySpace gets killed by Google and Yahoo in terms of people buying and selling things; and of course, in terms of ecommerce. Now we know why.

    What would a better-aligned MySpace look like, and how would it work? Not like today's MySpace.

    Rupert, perhaps it's time to bring in some gray hairs and incorporate in your team who are more seasoned and experienced, with relevant cultural perspectives. You can then create a product that the majority of your users enjoy: one that respects who they are, provides what they need, and gets them to do more for your pocketbook than click on links.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    October 5, 2006

    Total Experience is recruiting Guest Authors!

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson


    The Total Experience team invites designers from every discipline to become Guest Authors and share in our conversation.

    Experience design is eclectic. It explores and interacts with the full range of human phenomena. Culture. Technology. Behavior. Experience. Our practice encompasses a diversity of disciplines. We want to honor that diversity on Total Experience and facilitate its integration.

    As a TE Guest Author, you can cover any topic in the experience design (not "user experience design") universe. Contribute an entry when you're motivated and able. Paula and I will review your entry and if it's of the quality that our readers expect of TE, we'll post it and credit you as its author. Or we'll suggest changes to improve its fit.

    Also, when you become a Guest Author, you'll become a TE "Official Commentator." We hope you'll frequently reply to others' entries.

    How's that for a low-maintenance way to converse with the global experience design community (and show up more frequently on Google)? Send us an email (the link is to the left, above our bios) telling us about your interests, background, and abilities. We'll reply promptly.

    Thanks to those who've already submitted ideas and those who do in the future. We'll see you online!

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

    October 3, 2006

    Service as a journey: Doors of Perception weblog

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I'm compelled to share this from European experience-design sage John Thackara's Doors of Perception. John writes about service design for public entities, primarily in the UK, but much of his commentary applies to commercial service design, also; and in places other than Europe:

    Thackara Portraithome-2SERVICE AS A JOURNEY

    (John reviews The journey to the interface: how public service design can connect users to reform. By Sophia Parker and Joe Heapy. Demos, London, 2006.)

    Is service design the next big thing after e-everything? If the recent surge in books and conferences is a guide, service design is at least a meme – if not yet a mania.

    The trouble is, it can’t possibly be new. Seventy percent of the UK economy is ‘services’, for goodness sake, so someone must have designed them. Service designers look foolish when they claim to be inventing a new profession.

    What’s new is an interest in existing public services as potential subjects of re-design. “All service organisations need to find new ways of connecting intimately with their users and customers” say Sophia Parker and Joe Heapy, in a new booklet. They’ve written down a set of service design principles that offer “fresh approaches to organisations seeking to close the gap what they do, and what people want and need”.

    Do such virtuous organisations exist? The Italians have a great word – “managerialita” – for the obsession with process and targets that so mesmerise politicians and officials. I recently started working with the UK public sector for the first time in thirteen years. The application to what is basically a cultural project (Dott 07) of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), evaluation protocols, and risk assessment has been, to be frank, bizarre. The fact that everyone around me finds this stuff to be normal is almost as scary as the stuff itself.

    ...continue reading.

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

    October 2, 2006

    Fashion Today: Less “Project Runway,” more “Corporate Strategy”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    1101060910 400Clothes make the person -- or rather, the persona. Time's Fall 2006 Style & Design Supplement: "Going for Gold, The Art of the Luxury Deal,“ explains why luxury fashion -- haute couture that's increasingly taken from the streets, refined, given elite prices, and then sent back down the social pyramid -- is no longer the exclusive province of fashion designers. Increasingly, corporations are determining what gets absorbed into the luxury fashion melange before being dispensed to the rest of us. In ”Who's Got the Power?“ Marion Hume observes:

    ONCE UPON A TIME, FASHION WAS A BUSINESS defined solely by creative talent. A bubble skirt, a padlocked handbag or any other commercial success was attributed to the ”artiste“ who sketched out his or her dreams and somehow, with just a hemline or a dangly tchotchke, was able to seize the zeitgeist and magically send millions of cash registers ringing. Every six months, newspapers and fashion journals would feature quaint headlines announcing the dictates of those creative types—PARIS SAYS PANTS! Nobody paid much attention to the anxious number crunchers in the back offices studiously poring over sales estimates and marketing budgets.

    That was then.

    Global luxury has wrought billion-dollar businesses and dizzying amounts of dealmaking—which means that today's fashion stars aren't only those manufactured in schools like London's Central Saint Martins or New York City's Parsons. A whole new breed of fashion influencers are formed at hard-core business schools like Harvard, HEC, ESSEC and Bocconi where the syllabus doesn't include patternmaking but rather an altogether different kind of intangible skill set, namely the ability to manage intensely creative talent. Dior president Sidney Toledano, a graduate of the top French engineering school ECP, compares the structure of his company and his role within it to a nuclear power plant: the brand is the sun, the source of raw energy, the designer supplies the radium to set off fusion, and those highly skilled managers run the plant.

    It turns out the managers aren't just managing the talent; they're directing it. Those trendy dresses and rustic jeans we wear as publicly illustrative tokens of our fashion sense aren't necessarily a designer's dream. They could very well be the result of a textile plant manager in China, where much of the world's clothing is produced, recommending -- prior to the designs being drawn up for the luxury crowd -- that knockoffs will be more economically produced if the luxury design conforms to thus and so. What's so luxurious about haute-couture if it's the consuming hoi poloi that's calling the shots via its purchases at Wal-Mart? God Lord, it's fashion socialism, and the global corporations are waving the flag of revolution!

    The Supplement's two-dozen articles are available online, written and illustrated in the esteemed Time tradition but spunked up for a younger breed of readers. They got and kept my surprised attention. Hey, except for adoring Heidi Klum's Project Runway (which I appreciate even more after reading the Supplement), what does fashion mean to me? A lot, I learned. Or it should. Our clothing is the most intimate projection of our personalities that others experience, short of the bedroom. Knowing from whence fashion choices arise is real power. Being able to avoid the banal and achieve a truly authentic presentation of one's self is no mean feat.

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

    “Human Directionals” enliven the drive-by environment

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Main LgYou know those guys who flap their arrows to get your attention at real estate developments and corner malls? NPR's Jennifer Sharpe has produced a fascinating audio documentary, “'Human Directionals' Twirling for Your Attention,” that sympathetically portrays this odd breed, the auto generation's equivalent of the street barker. On the same page is a link to the QuickTime movie, Street Moves, about “Active Advertiser” Steven Meyer. For Meyer, who was disabled, human directionalism turned his life around and made him a local celebrity with a sizable clientele.

    BTW, I've witnessed Phil Parks, the human directional captured by Sharpe in the thumbnail above, in action. I pulled over and just watched. He's an arrow with a bullet. I already patronize his client, an online rental exchange -- but if I didn't, I'd certainly motivate in its direction.

    Human directionals. Back to the basics. Designing experience one twirl at a time. (But notice their digital accoutrements!)

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

    October 1, 2006

    Niche social networks powered by members' real-world passions are gaining advertising traction

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    After taking a dig at the huge, undifferentiated, and messy “social networks” like MySpace and Facebook, which are the press' and investors current darlings, I was gratified to read two recent articles about smaller, “niche” social networks and their new appeal to advertisers targeting specific audiences. These social networks complement their members' real world activities, things they feel passionately about; many of these networks came together organically, out of need to share knowledge and experiences. You read it here first.

    Librarything“Can Social Networks Sway Shoppers?”in Internet Retailer's most recent issue, describes several strategies for creating and advertising to niche social networks. The research isn't all in yet, but on first blush, the answer is: yes. And more efficiently than by running links indiscriminately on their giant counterparts. IR describes the experience of Abebooks, a seller of new, used, rare, and out-of-print books, which became a part-owner in LibraryThing, an organically grown website that helps book collectors to catalog and share their collections. According to Abebooks COO Boris Weitz,

    We did not first sit down and make a strategic decision to invest in social networking. Like many others we simply were watching this whole new space. But then LibraryThing came to our attention. We asked the network’s president to make a presentation to our senior management team, and that led to our investment.

    DogsterRed Herring, the popular investor-oriented technology magazine, in its October 2 print edition, features an article, “Niche Marketing,” which describes the growing profitability of sites such as Dogster and Catster (dog and cat owners), Boompa (car enthusiasts), Famster (family-oriented fare), Traineo (fitness and weight loss), Tot Jot (parenting), and YouthNoise (teen activists). Each has advertisers (direct and affiliate) or is in talks with advertisers. The article focuses on Dogster, with 250,000 members, which is gathering a portfolio of large, influential advertisers like Disney Entertainment. Says John Squire, analytical software firm Coremetrics' vice president of product strategy:

    Advertisers are beginning to see they can spend very little and still get a big return using niche networks. Last year, people wondered, 'Is [targeted advertising] a wave that is really going to come in? And now they see that it is, and the wave is getting bigger and bigger.

    (An online version of the article isn't available, but you can buy the entire archived edition of Red Herring, in digital format, for $3.99 from Zinio.)

    The niche social networks' individual advertising revenues are small, and they generally require advertisers to carefully integrate their ads with the niche networks' content, lest the ads drive off ardent members who don't see value in them. In the long term, however, the niche social networks probably will exceed the horizontal networks in their lasting appeal, member activity (including recommending and purchasing relevant goods and services), and their revenues.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts