TOTAL EXPERIENCE explores designing for experience: its theory, its practice, and how designing for experiences affects us socially and in our personal lives.


  • Bob Jacobson
  • Paula Thornton
  • BOB JACOBSON is fascinated by the experience of experience. A planner and technologist, Bob has a Ph.D. in Urban Planning & Design from UCLA. He's been a policy researcher, technology CEO, science writer, and consultant. As a Fulbright Scholar, he studied cellular telephony's impacts on transborder communities in the Nordic Arctic Circle. Bob edited Information Design (MIT Press 2000) and is now writing a book on the theory and practice of creating edifying, transformative experiences.
    ( Archive | Contact Bob )
    CORANTE PAULA THORNTON says, "Understanding human behavior (economics), optimizing interactions (design) and facilitating conversations (markets), are the means to achieve strategic differentiation. This is the focus of our discipline. It is not a 'nice to have'‚ and is not, like documentation once was, an afterthought. It is the means by which to start a strategic discussion and the means by which to drive a tactical initiative. All design should be evidence-based."
    ( Archive | Contact Paula ) >

    (Courtesy of Mark Vanderbeeken, Experientia SpA, Torino)

    Experience Design Websites
    Core 77 Website & Forum
    Business Week|Innovate
    InfoD: Understsanding by Design
    The Wayfinding Place
    Wayfinding Focus
    Design Addict
    L-ARCH (Landscape Architecture Mailing List)
    DUX 2007 Conference
    Digital Thread
    Enmeshed, Digital Arts & New Media
    Ludology (Game Playing Theory)
    Captology, Persuasive Computing
    Space and Culture
    Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces
    timet (acoustical design)
    Steve Portigal, Ethnographer
    Jane McGonigal's Avant Game
    Ted Wells' living : simple
    PingMag (Japan)

    Experience Design Blogs
    Adam Greenfield's Speedbird
    Experience Designer Network (Brian Alger)
    SmartSpace: Annotated Environments (Scott Smith)
    Don Norman
    Doors of Perception (John Thackara)
    Karl Long's Experience Curve
    Work•Play•Experience (Adam Lawrence)
    The David Report (David Carlson)
    Design & Emotion (Marco van Hout)
    Museum 2.0 (Nina Simon)
    B J Fogg
    Lorenzo Brusci (acoustics)
    Cool Town Studios
    Steve Portigal
    Debbie Millman
    MIT Culture Convergence Consortium
    Luke Wroblewski, Functioning Form|Interface Design
    Adam Richardson
    Putting People First (Paul Vanderbeeken/Experientia
    Laws of Simplicity (John Maeda)
    Challis Hodge's UX Blog
    Anne Galloways's Purse Lips Square Jaw
    Bruno Giussani's Lunch over IP
    Jane McGonigal's Avant-Game The Future of Work

    Experience Design Podcasts
    Ted Wells' living : simple Podcast
    Design Matters Podcast, Debbie Millman
    Icon-o-Cast Podcast, Lunar Design

    Experience Design Firms and ED-Oriented Manufacturers
    Barry Howard Limited
    Hilary Cottam
    LRA Worldwide, Inc.
    BRC Imagination Arts
    Stone Mantel
    Experientia s.r.l
    Herman Miller
    Cooper Interactive Design
    Doblin Group
    Fit Associates
    Strategic Horizons LLC (Joe Pine & Jim Gilmore)
    Cheskin Fresh Perspectives

    Education and Advocacy
    Centre for Design Research, Northumbria University (UK)
    Center for Design Research, Stanford University
    International Institute of Information Design (IIID)
    Design Management Institute
    Interaction Institute IVREA
    Design Research Institute (UK)
    UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Design Research
    History of Consciousness, UCSC
    Design News Magazine
    Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD)
    Design Museum London
    Center for Sustainable Design
    Horizon Zero, Digital Arts+Culture in Canada
    Design Council UK
    First Monday

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    Monthly Archives

    January 29, 2007

    A stroke of good luck!

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    ZhuanjiThis is zhuanji, the Chinese word for “a stroke of good luck!" As you may have noticed, I've been absent from this blog for the last week. I'm engaged in probably the most important experience design project of my career, and this phase of it has an early February deadline that I absolutely must meet. I can't talk about this project now: it's what the current generation of money-chasers call “stealth.” I promise to tell all, once this mission is accomplished. Thanks for your patience and thanks also to Paula Thornton, who continues to post provocative entries worth your while. (For a much-needed caution on the frequent but incorrect use of the Chinese word for crisis, weiji, to mean “opportunity," as I almost did, see “Danger Plus Opportunity Does Not Equal Crisis,” on Weiji is actually a situation to be feared: the unknown abyss.)

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | TE Blog

    January 19, 2007

    Maybe ad agencies don't get it, after all

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Closed SignI hope I'm not a Cassandra. Only months after I praised the advertising industry for acknowledging the value of full-featured experience design, Interpublic Group, one of the world's largest advertising combines, dissed its pioneering Consumer Experience Practice. MediaPost's Joe Mandese broke the news(“Interpublic Shutters New Media Practice”).

    While the eight-person unit was beginning to generate genuine insights, it was also incurring significant costs without a clear revenue stream back to Interpublic, pitting it in a political quagmire with other operating units doing similar research tied directly to client business. Under [Nick] Brien's helm, Universal McCann in particular has amassed an array of new research techniques and products that one insider termed “duplicative” with those of the Consumer Experience Practice. Universal also has been rebuilding a formidable communications practice and is getting close to announcing some of the fruits of those labors.

    The full story remains to be told. No doubt corporate politics and power plays had something to do with it: within IPG, CEP executives Stacey Lynn Koerner and Lydia Loizides were intellectually avant-garde. Koerner was with IPG for a decade, always pushing the envelope. Loizides was a relative newcomer, from the new-media world. But more indicative is the issue of ROI. Old line marketers and ad agencies still have a problem with developing new knowledge that can't be sold, unlike Google and other new-media leaders that correctly perceive in knowledge a currency more valuable than dollars. Knowledge can be exchanged for more knowledge, which in turn creates generative value (nearly infinite). IPG told Mandese that it intends to press on with innovations like its LA-based Emerging Media Lab -- which, for the life of me, looks like a sparsely-equipped college research lab -- and more client-linked research initiatives like those of its main competitors, Publicis (click at your own risk, the Flash crashed my Powerbook) and Omnicom. Bon chance.

    Meanwhile, while we wait for the other shoe to drop, you can read Loizides' ever-interesting and provocative observations on her blog, Media Technology Futures. I do and either learn something new, or gain a new insight, with almost every posting. Her postings from CES were great.

    I hope CEP's closure isn't a trend, but with so much breathless “new research” taking place, much of which is useful, but much more of which is duplicative, I sense a bubble bursting.

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

    January 17, 2007

    Quick, read this article before it's branded!

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Nyt Urban Advertising GraphicWhile I'm on a rant about marketers -- who are on the verge of replacing politicians as Least-Admired Persons -- permit me to direct you to Louise Story's emperor's-new-clothes article in the New York Times, “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It's Likely to See an Ad.”

    Story begins:

    Add this to the endangered list: blank spaces.

    Advertisers seem determined to fill every last one of them. Supermarket eggs have been stamped with the names of CBS television shows. Subway turnstiles bear messages from Geico auto insurance. Chinese food cartons promote Continental Airways. US Airways is selling ads on motion sickness bags. And the trays used in airport security lines have been hawking Rolodexes.

    Explains one marketing executive:

    “What all marketers are dealing with is an absolute sensory overload,” said Gretchen Hofmann, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Universal Orlando Resort. The landscape is “overly saturated” as companies press harder to make their products stand out, she said.

    Story observes:

    Outright advertising is just one contributing factor. The feeling of ubiquity may also be fueled by spam e-mail messages and the increasing use of name-brand items in TV shows and movies, a trend known as product placement. Plus, companies are finding new ways to offer free services to people who agree to view their ads, particularly on the Internet or on cellphones.

    More is on the horizon. Old-fashioned billboards are being converted to digital screens, which are considered the next big thing. They allow advertisers to change messages frequently from remote computers, timing their pitches to sales events or the hour of the day. People can expect to see more of them not only along highways, but also in stores, gyms, doctors’ offices and on the sides of buildings, marketing executives say.

    And that's just the beginning. Sprays and odors and even physical assaults on our sensoria are in store. How much can our psyches tolerate before we develop “allergies” to this stuff, serious mental asthma? Public space, the last commons, is in the process of being informationally trashed for private ends. It's taken for granted, even praised, so lost has our culture become.

    In Europe, there are laws against noise pollution. Why does it sound ridiculous to speak about outlawing marketing pollution? Are we all, as Don Henley sang, just prisoners here of our own device?

    Story's article will be archived next week, when it will become available only for a price, so grab your copy now. It's a classic. And a warning.

    (Photo; New York Times)

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

    Much, much, MUCH ado about nothing: “Billions for toothpaste advertising, but not a penny for floss!”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Awhile back on this blog, in “Finding experience in a tube of toothpaste,” I critically considered GlaxoSmithKline's multi-multi-million-dollar investment in the development and promotion of AquaFresh Toothpaste, which it hopes will best rivals Colgate (Colgate-Palmolive) and Crest (Proctor & Gamble). I concluded that despite GSK's sizable investment, Tom's of Maine does a better job at creating the warm fuzzies that make customers seek and stay with its products.

    17Adco.1901Now it turns out that P&G's back in the fray, reports the New York Times' Louise Kramer. “In a Battle of Toothpastes, It's Information v. Emotion,” Kramer describes P&G's massive $100 million roll out of Crest Pro-Health, which certainly sounds healthy but really doesn't have much more to recommend it than the toothpaste it allegedly betters, Colgate Total. Colgate's counter-punching with its own nine-figure advertising campaign.

    Like most consumers, I can't keep all of these shelf space-stealing brands in my head, so pardon me if I observe that the billion-plus dollars going into North American toothpaste advertising have basically one function: to make the owners of Saatchi & Saatchi and Young & Rubicam (Publicis and WPP, respectively) and their counterparts a lot richer, and the rest of us a lot more confused. The ad agencies like to pin the blame on the consumer, that intrepid seeker of facts about toothpaste who demands more, more! I doubt it.

    Much ado about nothing. A billion dollars is a lot of money to push goo that lubricates your toothbrush, applies meager amounts of medicinal material, and most importantly, tastes good. These companies can't find anything better to do with it? How about educating kids (and adults, a tougher mission) to eat less sugary foods? Or initiating programs to train people how to use floss, which would be infinitely more valuable to dental hygiene? Oops, I forgot, there's no shareholder ROI in that!

    HappytoothWhat Brooke Shields, whose white-capped smile graces the Colgate ads, has to do with dental health is beyond me.

    Oh yeah, she's a mother as well as an occasional actress. She knows what kids need.

    I prefer to get my toothpaste advice from Colgate's original spokesthing, Happy Tooth, from my Howdy Doody days. Happy Tooth knows: It's been there.

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

    Design as a Strategic Function

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Online Video: Executive design recruiter, RitaSue Siegel, offers her perspectives to assess whether or not a company is commited to design strategically. [QuickTime, 03:40]

    In it, she closes with one of her beliefs: that getting an MBA is not a relevant step for increasing one's ability to be effective in design leadership. Other more recent pieces contributed by RitaSue provide a great perspective on the growth and potential of the larger discipline of design.

    Notable Quote

    Five years ago few designers used the term experience, as in experience design. Today, virtually no designer leaves the office without it.
    From Innovation, Winter 2006

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

    Other TV Experiences to Change

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    When I posted my HDTV comments earlier this week, I'd forgotten that I'd previously shared my dilemma of finding the right HDTV equipment. In that post I noted the opportunity to bypass programming schedules and avoid the necessity to store programming yourself, but to rely on the source for the programming.

    It only came to my attention today that the BBC is specifically addressing this issue, as a public entity. An "on demand application with the working title of MyBBCPlayer".

    Of significant note is this quote from the Director-General: "Quite quickly we expect many more households to adopt a range of solutions for moving media from PC to TV and vice versa and from fixed devices to mobile ones and back again."

    I'm ready for it...

    Footnote: It's obvious from additional comments why we can find some of our best practitioners coming out of this organization. We'd all love to work in an environment where at the highest levels this was the focus of the work:

    This picture of a possible on demand future is part of a bigger story – which is the BBC's response to what is often referred to as Web 2.0.
    The second chapter in the web's history requires other changes from the BBC: a much greater focus on content management and supported metadata to allow for sophisticated search and navigation, a shift of gravity from text towards rich audio-visual content across the piece, an engagement with user-generated content, user-recommendation and personalisation which goes beyond anything I've touched upon this evening.
    And it requires a different kind of BBC

    To our colleagues at the BBC, don't let us get in your way...

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

    January 15, 2007

    January 10, 2007

    TSA and SecurityPoint Media's “Better Checkpoint Experience” capitalizes on fear

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Tsa LogoHarry Shearer on “Le Show” (a highly recommended alternative radio program) brought to my attention the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) plan to offer advertisers a chance to assault a captive audience -- travelers waiting to be screened for airline flights -- with more marketing gook. The plan is described in full on Aviation Week's Commmercial Aviation website:

    “TSA plans to launch a one-year pilot program where airport operators may enter into an agreement with vendors, who will provide divestiture bins, divestiture and composure tables, and metal-free bin return carts at no cost to TSA,” said spokeswoman Amy Kudwa. “In return for the equipment, TSA will allow airport operator-approved advertisements to be displayed on the bottom of the inside of the bins.”

    (“Composure tables,” as Shearer wryly notes, are those metal slabs where TSA agents -- beneficiaries of the Bush Administration's main “make-work” policy -- dump out your personal belongings and sort through them if you trigger one of the metal detectors. Composure is one thing the TSA does not offer its unlucky victims.)

    FlashSecurityPoint Media supplies the ad-festooned security devices. This fascinating company puts a smiling face on social despair, in the form of advertising revenues. It calls the program “A Better Checkpoint Experience.”

    Talk about government welfare! Now airport administrators and advertisers can benefit by the long compulsory wait that everyone is subjected to when they want to fly, whether to Baghdad or Baltimore. The program is one more of the commercial benefits made possible by the campaign of fear-mongering that's been the mainstay of this Administration's political marketing.

    So far, reports Forbes, Rolodex is the only advertiser to have signed up for the program, being beta-tested at LAX:

    For the advertisers, the program is a chance to reach a wealthy demographic: Frequent flyers. According to a 2004 study of frequent flyers by market research company Arbitron, airline travelers are 80% more likely to have an annual household income over $100,000. They're also more often household or business decision makers.

    “It fits well with the Rolodex position of clean and organized,” says Doug Kruep, the company's director of brand development office solutions.

    TSA claims that the program has saved $250,000 in the six months it's been running, Probably just a drop in the TSA's overflowing welfare bucket. Airports want to get in on the largesse too, of course, reports Forbes:

    Airports believe ads will equal profits. “We are always looking for creative ways to increase nonairlines revenue to help us keep our operating costs down,” said Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Wendy Abrams.

    I always thought advertising on buses was an outrageous expression of agency greed. But bus advertising pales in chutzpah before the coming security checkpoint onslaught. TSA is holding an "Industry Day" tomorrw, on January 11, at its headquarters in Arlington, VA, for those interested in participating in the program.

    Of course, billions have been wasted already on thousands of unimpressive attempts to make Fortress America a safer place, but most have been invisible. This one is right out there for all of the flying public to experience. What will be the reaction? A lot of grumbling, for sure, but maybe, just maybe, an upwelling of angry public opinion that refocuses Americans' consciousness on how 9/11 has been exploited to make money for commercial interests. I can think of few government enterprises less crass than this one.

    I wrote earlier about the yucky experience of waiting in line at Albertsons supermarkets having to endure the ridiculous Avenu advertising videos. Most commenters agreed. Apparently the TSA has taken a cue from Albertsons and is going it one better. You can always shop somewhere else, but if you're going to fly, you're going to endure the TSA-hosted advertising, damn it!

    What's your take? Are you looking forward to more force-fed marketing messages? Or will you take the train instead?

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note

    January 8, 2007

    Why we publish in spurts

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    My colleague Paula and I tend to publish Total Experience in spurts. A week or even two will go by without a blog entry -- and then three, four, or more explode out of our minds and onto the screen. Maybe that's because we don't have brilliant thoughts every day, at least not ones we deem worthy of taking your time to share. Real insights come of their own accord, on their own schedule. Not each day when we wake up.

    This defies the laws of media, best exemplified by television with its mostly empty content, but content nonetheless, continuously broadcast, cablecast, or netcast so that the viewers won't tune out. Media colleagues, they've already tuned out. They sit passively, thankful for the experience of a mental void. (See my preceding article, Stress and the Internet.)

    I have more faith in our readers, that you prefer to look in when something's significant and not be bothered the rest of the time. RSS notwithstanding, it's the policy with which we'll sit tight.

    However, we are cooking up some pretty good new stuff. I promised earlier a state of the art discussion of experience design. It'll be here later this week. Turn on your newsreader and when you get the call, do read up.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: TE Blog

    Stress and the Internet: Why “always on” may be always off

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Munch.ScreamA year ago this week, Krysta Tippett's excellent Speaking of Faith (on public radio) featured a conversation with rheumatologist Dr. Esther Sternberg, author of The Balance Within. The episode, entitled “Stress and the Balance Within,” examined the mind-body connection, especially the effects of continuous stimulus on the human nervous system and the consequences thereof. (The show is archived for streaming, downloading, or podcast listening, along with related music and other audio materials.) We swim in a sea of concerns that technology has made more turbulent of late, deeper and darker, and pay for it with our well being.

    Sternberg describes how our brains manufacture biochemicals when we're faced with “fight or flight” situations. When we perceive a threat, our brains go into action and start secreting hormones: putting the body on notice, stepping up many of our autonomous processes. Being able to anticipate and react to crises in this way has been a key to human survival, especially in primordial days when prowling saber-tooth tigers were the issue. The animal predators have largely been replaced by human predators and environmental threats, so having our awareness heightened is still essential.

    The problem is, the primitive parts of the brain that secrete the biochemicals can't discriminate between a genuine threat and a mere sensory excitation. So, the more inputs we endure -- particularly those to which we can't respond, to gain closure -- the more likely that the biochemicals will begin to overwhelm the body's normal chemical balance. That's when we experience stress, an imbalance that is physiologically based but which, because of the mind-body connection, affects us psychologically as well.

    When stressed, we easily sense the emotional danger, becoming edgy, insomniac, or distracted. But we don't correctly assess stress' impact on our bodies -- that is, until we suffer cardiac arrest or become chronically ill, two scientifically established (among many) effects of stress.

    I reflected on this while cleaning out a couple thousand emails from my laptop's collection of many thousands more, emails that are complemented by untold numbers of phone calls -- my monthly phone bill is scary -- and assorted unbidden communications, like TV news, crazy “user experiences” on the Web. There's a general digital hum of alarm that afflicts all Americans (and, I guess, people everywhere) whenever wars are raging, economies are out of control, and products are on sale. The more we know, the more we feel the need to act but are prevented from it by power hierarchies, scarce time, and trivial obligations. Our personal life crises, in this Information Age, are also abetted by digital communications. This daunting, vast, stress-inducing melange has grown exponentially with the expansion of the Internet and its assimilation and distribution of more and more and more information. Users of this all-consuming utility are “always on.”

    Tony Perkins, editor of the original Red Herring, has celebrated the positive aspects of being “Always On” with his eponymous, blog-based, venture-business community. Perhaps being always on is a good thing, for those with resources to buffer the info flood: professional minions, administrators, technological filters, and so forth. Maybe it's like the gallons of ocean water that wash through the gills of a baleen whale, leaving behind plankton for consumption. But for the rest of us, we're the unaware victims of stress that addles the mind and endangers the body. We just factor this invisible mental pollution into our general experience of being slightly out of control, a common theme of popular films. Paradoxically, the welter of information doesn't seem to have increased our understanding of our predicament; our problems multiply. First there was smog; now it's global warming. Knowledge isn't power, it's merely awareness. Awareness without the power to act produces stress.

    Those of us who are Internet-dependent for work and pleasure know the majority of our acquaintances primarily as presences on the Internet. Our friends and family have their own 24/7 networks of online relationships that indirectly impact us. And almost everyone watches TV, reads newspapers, goes to movies, or all three -- not to mention riding roller coasters at theme parks, gambling wildly, or engaging in reckless recreational activities. Therefore, most of the people with whom we deal are probably suffering from stress, too. Maybe they're not clinically crazy, but if we knew them more intimately, what tales of woe would emerge. I now consider every online and media celebrity as probably half-cocked. And not copping to this fact I take as a blatant demonstration of neurosis, at the least. That's okay. Like the Firesign Theater, I think we're all Bozos on this bus. There's a certain pleasure having faith in Digitalism as our epoch's Great Leveler. (I don't apply the same easy acceptance to kids who are multitasking beyond human comprehension, and who have been this way since early childhood. They're not so much “born free” as born crazy, infomaniac crack babies.) I take great deal of pleasure in siimply raising a child.

    For a long time there have been individuals who've proudly refused to watch TV, read newspapers, or use computers. Their resistance has been commonly attributed to petulance, political consciousness, romanticism, and eccentricity. Now it turns out that these Luddites may be more sane than we are, if less well-informed. Maybe ignorance is bliss. Too bad that for most of us, we've been banished from the pre-digital Garden of Eden by the mighty Archangel Internet, who now bars our way home.

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

    January 5, 2007

    January 4, 2007