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

    March 29, 2007

    Busy times: We propose a US Pavilion for the Shanghai Expo while Nina designs “Operation Spy”!

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The last three weeks have been hectic, a perfect storm of convergent deadlines. Four projects that have been germinating more than six months (one of them, for two years), plus a couple consulting opportunities, finally erupted, ripping me away from Total Experience. Now I'm back, with lots of catching up to do....

    Shanghai-Expo1152500441092 By far the largest of the projects, in sheer scope and size, is planning for the US Pavilion at the forthcoming Shanghai 2010 World Expo, possibly the most important and certainly the grandest World Expo since the New York World's Fair, in 1964. Nearly 200 nations and NGOs are expected to participate -- in other words, the whole world. The Chinese and Shanghai governments are pouring nearly $4 billion into developing the Expo, and that doesn't include new maglev train lines, a new airport, new docks, new traffic metering systems, a regional 4G wireless system, untold amounts of commercial and residential construction, and the wholesale relocation of entire neighborhoods from what will soon become a highly congested area to new communities elsewhere in Shanghai. It does include $100 million in subsidies for developing nations. Over 70 million visitors are expected to visit the Expo between May and October 2010, just two years after the Beijing Olympics. There's a not-so-subtle competition between the two cities: one is China's political capital, the other its economic capital. This Expo means a lot to China, but even more to Shanghai and the rest of the industrial South. The Expo's theme is “Better City, Better Life,” which translates into progressive urbanism and lively communities, a healthy and stable environment, “green tech” and a sustainable economy, and a higher quality of life for everyone. This is the first Expo to take on such a global theme, and one so timely. The US Pavilion will have a lot of important storytelling to do.

    Bh&L Logo Toward that end, the BH&L Group, an impromptu consortium of Expo veterans -- world-class designers, architects, and builders -- has gathered, led by legendary Expo designers Barry Howard and Leonard Levitan, and I'm a member (but only an Expo apprentice). The BH&L Group's noble purpose is to create a great US Pavilion for Shanghai, one that speaks eloquently of the American people's desire, in common with the other peoples of the world, for better urban environments, globally, and better lives in them. We submitted our Proposal to the US State Department in February, as required by a November 2006 RFP from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). One of the Proposal's most creative innovations is the prospective creation of an "Expo corporation" in which any American can invest, an entity with longevity that can acquire assets to fund not just this Expo -- to the tune of $100 million -- but also, Expo's to come. We hope we get the nod; we're still waiting to hear. In the meantime, I'm continuing to build BH&L's Advisory Board. The Board already boasts an impressive collection of experts to help us grapple with the Expo's theme, the Pavilion's design, and China's cultural and international trade issues. But I keep searching for potential new members. We're going to rely a lot on our Advisors once things really get rolling!

    Gse Multipart21896 In the process, I meet interesting people. An interesting person I met today is Nina Simon, author of the excellent Museum 2.0 blog, subtitled, “From visitors to users. From artifacts to social networks. What's good, what's bad, what's possible?” Nina is one of the principal designers for "Operation Spy," a new attraction -- and quite an experience -- soon to open in this, the "Year of the Spy," at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. Founded in 2001, the Spy Museum offers a fascinating exposition -- or should I say, exposé? -- of the international spy business. It's “Spy vs. Spy" all over again, only this time for real. The Spy Museum investigates how intelligence communities are formed, the trade's startling technical evolution, and the confounding social issues associated with covert activities. The Spy Museum's website is a virtual embodiment of the Museum, clever, mysterious, and highly interactive. Nina describes "Operation Spy" in an email:

    Logo-7 I'm the project lead for Operation Spy, a 3,800 sq ft new immersion experience that is set to open at the Spy Museum in June of this year. I'm the “experience development specialist,” which means I was the creative director, and now have slid into managing the construction and build-out. It's a really unique museum experience --a narrative, guided immersive mission in a highly-themed environment. Guests will enter in small groups and spend an hour trying to find a missing nuclear device in a (fictitious) foreign country. There are motion simulators, safes to crack, and agents to polygraph. There are branching endings that reflect the guests' actions and decisions throughout. It's been a blast to design and I'm enjoying watching it come together ... hopefully these last few months will send it out into the world with a bang!

    So when a shady eye peers at you through the Museum peephole, and a raspy voice inquires, “Psst...who sent you?” you'll know what to reply: “Nina sent me.” Then the eye will draw back, the door will creak open, and the raspy voice will whisper, "Enter...Operation Spy." (I think I'm channeling Edgar Allen Poe.)

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

    March 16, 2007

    More on my search for cases of exemplary experience designs

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Festivals-Of-IndiaEarlier, I posted an invitation to readers, to make me aware of exemplary experience design projects for possible inclusion in my book-in-progress.

    I forgot to add an important category:

    Pageants, Festivals, Rituals, and Spiritual Places and Experiences

    Please keep this one in mind, as these phenomena are often the most intense expressions of intentional design for experience. Thank you, and special thanks to those of you who've already submitted very interesting prospective cases. I'll review them and get back to you over the weekend.

    (Illustration: Festivals in India)

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: ED Projects of Note | The Practice of Experience Design | Theories of Experience

    March 15, 2007

    Worldly Realities, Symbolic Fantasies: “Strange Maps,” the Blog

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    0747550476.01. Ss500 Sclzzzzzzz On my end of year list of recommended gift books about experience design, I included the fabulous Atlas of Experience, by Dutch cartographer-philosophers, Jean Klare and Louise van Swaaij. I thought it incomparable. But now it has friendly competition: Strange Maps, a remarkable blog

    The Atlas of Experience is a beautifully illustrated collection of maps and text depicting, as places and features on an fantasy globe, states of mind -- Elation, Panic, Loneliness, the Swamps of Sloth, and The Long Road Home. It shares my reference shelf with a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a traditional atlas of the world.

    Strange Maps“Strange Maps,” on the other hand, features fantastic maps of our real globe -- truly strange maps. The blog first appeared in late 2006. Its author, not identified on the blog, has assembled an outstanding collection of strange maps from different times and geographies (including our own), and keeps discovering more. The editorial notes that accompany each map are informative and warmly written.

    It's difficult to convey in words the magic of these strange maps and how addled, propagandistic, mistaken, or clever each one is. Reading Strange Maps, one comes to appreciate the ingenuity, craziness, or both of simple people trying to portray the complex worlds in which they live and often revealing more about themselves, their cultures, and their times than their actual environs.

    Sometimes, however, it's not the cartographer who's off-axis, it's the geospatial “reality” that a strange map portrays: bizarre realpoliticks, theological mythology, empires that endure only days, territories claimed by multiple nations, and especially the virtues of regions as proclaimed by their inhabitants -- and the evils of surrounding people and places.

    How strange the maps of our time will seem to future geographers. Given the obvious ecological interdependence of all systems on our planet, the arbitrary divisions known as cities, nations, regions, and other human constructs may seem extremely odd. Ursula Le Guin put it well in her portrait of a future, re-ruralized California, Always Coming Home: they are places in an historical epoch when the “people-with-their-heads-on-backwards” lived.

    The atlases of our interior selves and of our geography co-exist and intermingle, each equally real and fantastic.

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

    Next week: Mobile Nation conference explores “mobile experience design,” Toronto, March 22-25

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    MobileDespite the cellular industry's uninspiring (in fact, sickening) plan to saturate the mobile environment with advertising, hope lives eternal in the hearts of mobile experience designers that there is another way -- in fact, many other ways -- for the medium to develop.

    Next week, the Mobile Nation international conference, hosted by the Mobile Digital Commons Network and the Canadian Design Research Network, will offer participants a chance to explore deeply the emerging field of mobile experience design. The conference theme is “Creating Methodologies for Mobile Platforms.”

    Participants will share expertise with WiFi, Global Positioning System (GPS), Bluetooth, Radio Frequency ID tags, intelligent garments, ambient media applications, and geo-locative gaming. The conference features keynotes, live demonstrations and hands-on workshops.

    It will take more than better platforms to avoid the advertising onslaught, but certainly, better platforms will make possible other uses of mobile technology other than those constrained by arbitrary, self-serving industry limits. And then truly creative design for the mobile experience can take place.

    The event takes place at the Ontario College of Art & Design, 100 McCaul Street, in Toronto. The speakers and sessions are knockout. Highly recommended. (Nice website, by the way.)

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

    March 12, 2007

    Exemplary cases of experience design: your suggestions welcome!

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Help SignAs I wrote earlier, I'm working up a book about experience design -- also called, “designing for experience.” I met with my publisher and it looks like a go. As cases that can be featured in the book, I welcome your suggestions of exemplary experience design, applied to the following:

    • Architecture and urban designs (intended to produce identifiable experiential outcomes)
    • Cross-media environments (e.g., so-called “real-world games” employing various media )
    • Customer experiences (processes as well as physical artifacts)
    • Exhibitions, museums, and learning centers
    • Experiences for education
    • Experiences for entertainment
    • Games and simulations (in the “real world,” not just on-screen)
    • Haptic environments (acoustic, tactile, scent, motion, etc.)
    • Immersive environments (virtual and physical)
    • Integrated marketing (synergistic scored experiences)
    • Landscape architecture and interpretive environments
    • Longiitudinal experiences (single or multiple related experiences that occur over time)
    • Themed attractions, theme parks, and themed destinations
    • Workplaces and “third places” (places that are social, apart from the workplace and home)

    These categories overlap. It doesn't matter at this time precisely into which category a case falls, or whether it's for a client or experimental. Also, if you have an example of experience design that doesn't fit within the categories, send it along anyway. Our field is growing like Topsy: there are always new expressions and formats. Also, I'm interested in instances where research methodologies, like usability and ethnography; and application methodologies, like interaction design, wayfinding, and corporate narrative, have contributed to successful experience designs.

    As for the much-debated “user experience,” I'm interested in on-screen presentations and discrete products if they were integral parts of more complex experiences (for example, integrated media campaigns, the interior of a vehicle, or exhibitions).

    Please be sure to include with each case suggestion a point of contact (email and phone if you have them). The POC should be an individual associated with the case project, with whom I can arrange the case's submission for review. Send your suggestions to my Gmail address, please. Please include in the Subject Line, “Experience Case:” and the case's working name. I'd appreciate it also if you'd share this invitation with your friends and, if you're a blog author, your readers. Thank you!

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

    March 10, 2007

    Forthcoming: the cellphone industry's customer-experience debacle

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

     It Wp-Content Photos AdvertisingThe icky experience of cellular telephone service is about to get ickier. “The Ad-Free Cellphone May Soon Be Extinct,” laments an February 24 article in the New York Times by Eric Sylvers.* The last non-advertising communications medium. An endangered species.

    For all that's been written about the ethics and aesthetics of cellphone design -- cellphone user interfaces, mobile interaction design, the on-cellphone “user experience,” and “user-centricity” -- and the many investments in and careers built on this engrossing pastime, commercialism, not design, ultimately rules the cellular service roost. Cellular customer experience is about to undergo a momentous transformation, not for the better.

    ...continue reading.

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

    March 8, 2007

    CHI 2007, San Jose University, April 28-May 3

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Sigchi-Logo-OnlyChi2007Lest anyone's missed the news, CHI 2007 -- the annual conference of the ACM's Computer-Human Interaction Special Interest Group, SIGCHI for short -- will take place next month at San Jose University (California). It's a worthwhile event for those who make their livings studying and applying lessons learned about how people connect with technology (and vice versa).

    SIGCHI has long been a mainstay for those interested in how computing and information technology generally have altered human experience. Throughout the 1990s, SIGCHI was poor cousin to the more glamorous SIGGRAPH, the SIG devoted to computer graphics and glitzy, entertainment/defense-driven conferences. But SIGCHI's finally come into its own with the recognition that UX (“user experience”) is a central and important factor in the success of online and device-driven environments. Just how important is indicated by CHI 2007's registration fees -- at this point in time, north of $1,000 (not including travel and accommodations) for everyone but students -- and its roster of A-tier corporate sponsors. I suspect that this and the full week required to attend all of the events, including tours of local interaction labs, may discourage many people from attending. But CHI 2007's roster of talks is fascinating, as always, and this is a great opportunity to recruit UX researchers and so forth to keep the wheels of digital commerce turning. Also, day registrations are available. So no doubt the halls will be full.

    So which conferences will you attend this year? I count at least 25 that get my attention, with topics ranging from expo design to ethnography to digital technology to landscape architecture; even children's emotional development. If I had a cool $100,000 to invest in my education and edification -- for my readers' and clients' benefit, as well as my own -- where would I best put the money? I hope to read in your Comments good suggestions.

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events and Happenings

    March 7, 2007

    The Give-Credit-Where-Credit-Is-Due Dept: Kudos to the US Passport Office and Folgers Coffee

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Sometimes good experiences get taken for granted. Here are two projects that deserve commendation.

    EpassportThe US Passport Office has issued a new passport dubbed the e-Passport. It's an unfortunate name, because it puts the focus on the passport's inclusion of an RFID chip and not the excellent look-and-feel of the passport itself, which is what most impressed me and will impress most passport holders. The RFID chip has drawn a lot of controversy. It's supposed to make it easier to screen returning Americans and more difficult to counterfeit by ne'er-do-wells (as always, terrorists come first to mind, followed closely by drug dealers and gun runners) -- and already, the chip's own vulnerability to cloning has been demonstrated. But that's not what got my attention.

    What got my attention, however, was the e-Passport's excellent graphic design (Flash version) and textual contents of the e-Passport. Yes, textual content. In the past, US passports have been uninspiring examples of bureaucracy-speak -- don't get in trouble, don't volunteer to serve in foreign militaries, don't import cigars from Cuba, etc. -- hardly the stuff to instill pride in Americans overseas. The e-Passport is different. It feature beautifully rendered two-page portraits of American landscapes coast to coast. (Pictures of actual Americans, glorious in their diversity, would have been equally welcome; but what can you expect from a nation that still adorns its drab currency with pictures of old white men, dead now for centuries?) The multicolored engravings are complemented by inspiring quotations on every page. And not just patriotic cant. One quote that will stay with me forever, now that I've seen read it in my daughter's new e-Passport, is Dwight Eisenhower's sage advice:

    "Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America."

    Whether jaded border guards and customs officers in foreign nations will appreciate the beauty of the e-Passport, whose pages they will besmirch with their inky stamps, is unimportant. What is important is that Americans, now traveling overseas in record numbers, can proudly display their passports to friends, family, and business colleagues and so help to tell an American story -- an idealized story, but one to which we can aspire. And the e-Passport, in addition to the standard English and French diplomatic greetings to foreign readers, finally includes one in Spanish: “El Secretario de Estado Unidos de America....” It's about time. Kudos to the anonymous civil servants who put this together.

    0903Np350Of purely domestic importance but ubiquitous and collectively beneficial is Folger Coffee's new HDPE coffee cannister. This is an easy to handle, air-tight canister that allegedly keeps coffee fresh longer than conventional coffee in metal cans and hard-to-reseal plastic bags. It features a “peel-away” AromaSeal with a built-in air valve (which critics have attacked as being essentially useless, but that's another story). The main benefit of the canister is that it's ergonomically convenient, unbreakable, rust-proof, and recyclable. It even won an award from the Arthritis Foundation for its ease of use. Lastly, the canister's bright color is useful early in the morning when you're too bleary-eyed and grappling for that first cup of coffee (as I can testify). Kudos to P&G for this good idea that could have been mundane but which isn't, and which can be experienced and enjoyed on a daily basis.

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note

    March 3, 2007

    Problems at Amazon?

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    I experienced my first chink in Amazon's brand experience armor. It wouldn't have necessarily been enough to report on (how many random issues do we run into in experiences daily?), but this seemed too different in too many ways. I did a search to see if anyone else had reported anything (not that the search engines aren't so clogged with 'noise' that results would be meaningfully indicative of anything) and found only 1 artifact, which isn't even directly related. Take my observation for what it's worth.

    I went to order a book on Amazon yesterday. Amazon set the bar for simplicity in online ordering. I could have used 1-click, but after the initial novelty wore off (years ago), I often find that I change orders a lot and like to mess with a shopping collection for some time. But in this case it was just one book.

    When I got to the payment page, my head tilted to the right -- you know, the autonomic inclination when your eyes and brain are trying to resolve some unidentified conflict -- where "something's different" is trying to raise to the level of conscious awareness.

    Months earlier, as a result of very successfully-crafted persuasion, I had set up my primary payment option as my bank account. It was suddenly not there. Then I noticed that issues at the payment stage were not supported in any way: there was no access from the page to your account information and there was no access to any help links. I bailed out of the transaction to do some research. This was the first of many repeats of this action.

    The only 'clue' that I had was that there was some 'red' on the payment page: one of my cards on file had expired. Having been in this business too long, I'm supposing that there might be an error condition overriding the display of my bank account. I check and my bank account is listed as my primary method of payment. I'm running short of time -- I wasn't planning to spend this much time to order a book. I engage the online feedback loop to get some clarity.

    The next morning there's a response in my inbox. Well, there's an email. There's nothing in the response that even remotely addresses my concern, but there are phone numbers. I call. While the support agent spoke perfect English I knew they were not US-based (I had to spell everything). They had no answers and suggested at least two actions I was not happy with (1. Would need to wait until Monday to get someone to help me 'fix' issues with my bank account -- there was no evidence that my bank account had any issues and 2. They'd report that I had problems with a virus (where the heck did this come from?)). Lastly, they gave me an email address for the web team.

    In the meantime, the prior email had a feedback feature for me to respond if the email had solved my problem, and the call itself generated another one of these. It was through this mechanism that I got some real answers:

    Hello from
    First, please allow me to extend my sincere apologies for any inconveneince this matter has caused to you.
    I want to let you know that we've removed the option to "pay directly from your bank account" temporarily due to an issue with our payment processor. I'm afraid I don't have any information about when or if we may offer this option again.

    That's pretty significant. And yet, through at least 4+ touchpoints this oh-so-important piece of information was not available to either myself or the interacting support staff/mechanisms.

    Has Amazon finally exceeded the optimal tipping-point of size and control?

    Or are they too focused elsewhere?

    Lately profits have fallen, dragged down by spending on new technology projects and on free-shipping offers that Amazon considers marketing in place of TV ads. Analysts expect full-year net income this year to come in at about $180 million, or half of last year's total. Most worrisome to investors is Amazon's three-year-plus binge on new technologies. So far this year its spending on technology and content, including hiring hundreds of engineers and programmers to produce all these new services and buy more servers to run them, is up 52%, to $485 million. As a result, operating margins, at 4.1% for the past four quarters, now come in at less than Wal-Mart's 5.9%.
    Source: Business Week 11.13.06

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

    March 1, 2007

    Classic: Channeling Negative Energy

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    PayPal, likely the most frequent subject of phishing expeditions, has now turned the tables on the practice and without doing a single thing to change their business model is using this practice to their advantage.

    Getting a PayPal email in your inbox is almost an immediate 'mark as spam' action -- unless you see the title of something you recently bought in the subject line. This subject line said: "How to spot scams and protect your identity"...not too many phishers would pick this as a topic. But just to make sure, I opened it. Inside was a beautifully-crafted html page with various sections and links, better than some of the finest of online page design. At the top of the page banner, centered off of the PayPal logo was a large "Hello Paula Thornton" (most phishers don't have a lot of personal information). There were enough cues in the piece to clearly suggest that this indeed was from PayPal.

    Of the many actions available on this newsletter-like piece was the following:

    How PayPal Works
    Check out the new demo
    See why PayPal is the safe and simple way to pay online.
    Find out the many ways you can use your account. Watch the demo.

    While they never really use the words directly (very crafty) by the tying in of this message to all the other messages around identity theft, phishing and the like, they're reinforcing the opportunity for people to use their service as a means to secure their personal identity and related financial information.


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