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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    July 17, 2007

    Varieties of Spiritual Experience, 1

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Spirituality SunsetAfter two long weeks of relocating, I'm back to my opus: to describe those categories of experience -- spiritual, philosophical, scientific, and design -- that bear on the practice of systemically designing for experience. My first topic is spiritual experiences, experiences derived from the phenomenon of human existence we call spirituality. What follows are basically notes preludes to a more thorough discussion; neither complete nor conclusive, but suggestive of the broad array of experiences that derive from our spiritual natures.

    The literature regarding spirituality and spiritual experiences -- possibly one and the same thing -- is immense, predating the Common Era (CE, also known as “A.D.”). In fact, it probably begins with the Neanderthal species, elements of whose traditions no doubt were assimilated by Homo sapiens when they appeared on the scene. Neanderthals, we know from their burial site remains, were intensely spiritual beings. But even to begin more recently with the Cave of Lascaux, where modern human beings 30,000 years ago painted zoological murals to ensure a successful hunt, creates too vast a corpus to explore. So I began my researches reading papers and articles examining “modern” spirituality as practiced in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Europe, the Americas, and Asia. It felt esoteric. Not a whole lot of this early experience has found its way unaltered into our own time: the notion of good and evil in eternal conflict is one that has.

    I used a controversial source to inaugurate my deeper explorations, Gore Vidal's controversial novel (which Vidal novel isn't?), CREATION, published in 1981. In it, he travels with a sojourner who meets in the same short period of time, Zoroaster, Socrates, the Buddha, and Confucius. In real life, these figures were almost contemporaneous, as were various Native American codifiers of Indian religions; Lao-Tzu, father of Taoism; and Judaism was reasserting itself in its homeland after the Babylonian Exile. For some reason, around the Fifth Century BCE (Before the Common Era, also known as “B.C.”), people's experience of themselves and their relation to the infinite underwent a massive change, globally.

    I then began reading (and still am) about the evolution of spirituality and religion (two parallel, sometimes complementary, sometimes competing social phenomena) as they have evolved to our modern time. To do a thorough job would take more than a lifetime, so my own quick study won't earn me a divinity degree. But it may prove useful in identifying themes, events, and experiences common across sectarian boundaries and even among individuals.

    There are four types of relevant spiritual experience -- according to me, not necessarily the authorities -- each with its own defining characteristics. For convenience, I've referred here to Wikipedia entries that do a good job of summarizing accumulated knowledge and also presenting links to specific resources for deeper reading:

    • Ecstatic experiences -- Personal epiphanies and “callings”
    • Ritualistic experiences -- Tribal and cult experiences often derived from oral tradition
    • Formalized experiences -- Highly structured experiences often adhering to a doctrine
    • Spiritual living -- Spirituality as a constant, day to day experience

    Ecstatic experience. Before it became the name for a puny drug, ecstasy was more commonly known as a state of enlightenment and bliss associated with extreme physical deprivation (wandering in the desert would do it), the ingestion of psychotropics, frenetic physical activity, or simply encountering some “perfect” visual, aural, or haptic sensation. Another, quieter type of ecstasy is the “calling,” a direct communication with a perceived “higher” entity. Callings often result in dedication of a portion or all of one's life to service in the higher entity's behalf. Prayer for some can be an ecstatic experience, until it becomes formalized.

    Ritualistic experience. When shamans and priests invoke specific modes of belief and behavior, the outcome is a ritual often intended to promote a shared experience -- and beliefs -- among more than one individual at a time -- a group of devotees, a tribe, or a cult (a group of devotees within a tribe). (Individuals can practice rituals, too, but these are usually prescribed by a shaman or priest and then adapted to personal expression, like a Buddhist shrine ceremony.) Rituals, also known as rites, employ standard methods for invoking altered states, some of which may be ecstatic but all of which are intended to produce a sense of spiritual unity with a greater whole.

    Formalized experience.
    Over time, especially as the numbers of adherents to a particular suite of rituals and belief grows, doctrines and canons evolve into religions, structures that approve some methods for attaining spiritual awareness and exclude others. In effect, experiences themselves become subject to religious provisions. For example, most Christian sects advocate prayer and formalized rituals -- events that largely take place within the confines of a cathedral, chapel, or church -- but discourage reliance on drugs, alcohol, or sexual activity as the path to enlightenment. The exceptions are notable. Other religious doctrines, however, incorporate practices forbidden by the Christian sects. The Native American Church's use of peyote as a path to enlightenment -- a natural drug claimed to be endowed with its own spiritual identity and powers -- is a well-known case, upheld as a legal practice by the US Supreme Court. The current contention between Western religions and Islam has as much to do with regional politics as spirituality, but the methods by which their respective adherents express their spirituality is also a source of conflict that in the past has resulted in no less than religious wars. Even the use of music to celebrate spirituality, or the roles of the genders, can lead to serious theological disputes.

    Spiritual living. The last of the categories of spiritual experience with relevance to the designing of experiences I call “spiritual living,” an attitude and approach to day to day existence that emphasizes spirituality as the key to living “the good life.” In my own Taoist practice, spiritual living means living with an awareness of the greater whole, The Tao or Way, that governs how things work but that itself has no personality or interventionist intent. In its purest form, Taoism requires simply acknowledging and respecting the spiritual commonality of all things. There are also ritualistic versions of Taoism that invoke ecstatic experience in order to attain immortality, but these experiences I would classify as ritualized or even formalized, since the methods of doing so are rigorously prescribed. Other self-defined spiritual traditions have their own spiritual-living variations, but the large numbers of individuals (for example, on online dating sites) who proclaim to be “spiritual but not religious” is testimony that everyone from hard-core religionists to atheists, even people who convention deems mentally unbalanced, can live a spiritual life. In fact, the odd exception is the individual who claims not to have any spiritual experience. Nevertheless, in our time and culture, spirituality of this type is often subordinated to material -- i.e., matter-based -- experiences. A great deal of influence to engender experiences is lost in this process.

    In Part 2 of this discourse, I describe how spiritual experiences of various types interact with “designed” experiences; and how designers can (positively) exploit spiritual experiences and what they must look out for when invoking (or ignoring) them.

    (Image: Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto)

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    July 6, 2007

    Toward the Total Experience

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Synthesis.png I loved Bob's cute image in his June 28th post. I think I was so taken by the imagery and his personal story that I missed the significance of his incidental mentioning of the Adam Greefield piece. Just for diversity, I'm linking here to the original version as a contribution to Adobe's Think Tank series.

    Of greatest significance:

    ...the time would appear to be ripe for a new kind of designer to take center stage...neither a "graphic" nor a "Web" nor even an "interaction" designer.

    Over the past few years, the domain of practice known (if only briefly) as "user experience" has begun to accommodate the new realities...recasting itself as "experience design."

    Adam then suggests why the transition is relevant:

    ...our technosocial practices have transcended the rather limited model of the "user" ultimately derived from old-school human-computer interaction studies...

    One of the challenges with the piece, is that Adam makes sweeping assumptions as to what he believes Experience Design has resulted in. Indeed, there are always malappropriations of any discipline. But good Experience Design is flexible. Indeed, the primary focus is to recognize that not every scenario can be accounted for, so the design needs to be flexible enough to not rule out possiblities. The true focus of Experience Design is to design out barriers. We're the engineers of facilitating individual progress.

    The examples Adam selects are very narrow in focus and his perspective of "Experience Designer" appears to be more in line with that of Joseph Pine's perspective (one that I have always taken issue with, as a predominant focus), where the goal is to 'create' an experience. My definition of Experience Design is to 'facilitate' an experience. Fortunately, Adam is effectively arguing for the same thing, but doesn't realize it. [I can also see how this 'disconnect' could have occurred as he got his inspiration from AIGA perspectives of the space/practice, which are often in line with the 'creationism' theory (e.g. reference to theatre).]

    He specifically states the architectural goals I have been defending for over a decade, that the ultimate design goal:

    ...ought to allow people to swap their own desired components in and out at will, to pull data out in a useful format...

    The latter was a point I tried to make to Bill Gates, face to face, in 1990 when I asked, "When are you going to separate your applications from the data they create?" The former was the point we made to a collection of vendors at an internal MCI data warehousing conference in 1996, when we asked them to break their applications apart into component functions and allow us to assemble them at will and put our own interface on the front. While akin to the SOA efforts going on, I have IBM architecture diagrams from the '80s that purport the same thing.

    Both of these concepts are fundamental to 2.0 thinking. But they're not specific to just digital -- digital just happens to provide a great platform upon which to effectively exchange stuff and facilitate open conversations, with recall.

    In the end, it's not about designing 'in' an experience it's about designing 'out' barriers to end goals (intents). It's about tying together things that are often considered in isolation from one another. And fundamentally it IS about the whole (contrary to comment 2 from the blog post suggesting that "holistic never ever works"). The disconnect comes to play in various ways that want to focus on the parts (budgets aligned to a piece of the whole, breadth of responsiblity/influence limited to a part of the process, akin to Seth Godin's 7 Reasons This Is Broken, the first one being, "Not My Job").

    Experience Design is fundamentally a practice of synthesis, not analysis.

    Image Credits: L!NA, Flickr

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    July 5, 2007

    Relationships Are About the Total Experience

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    UPDATE: I've added several postscripts to the bottom of this. Combined with today's information makes this worthy of a republish. Today I got a phonecall from AT&T (ok, what part? no clue...) to personally 'clarify' my concern and escallate this issue to management. At least there 'is' a mechanism and it's active enough that this case made it into the pipeline. What surprised me was that I had to paint a picture for the caller. They don't personally have an email account like this..."here's your sign".

    Orignially published June 18, 2007
    ATTYAHOO.png I'm still on hold as I'm writing this...such is the beauty of the 'channel of one' that blogs afford.

    Companies need to begin paying attention to something besides the bottom line. They're missing 98% of the reason that dollars show up there in the first place...relationships.

    If people paid as little attention to their relationships that most 'big' businesses do...we'd solve the population explosion. There's a lot of 'lip service' out there to customer-centric, but it's all a checklist, "Yep, I've got someone working on that." Forrester even has shown the progress over the last 3 years in 'doing' anything about those great intents.

    So, here I am on the phone stuck between two call centers: one that is supposed to help me with my 'issues' (but only the ones they have scripts for), and the other one that can close my entire relationship with AT&T...and there is not a single business executive in the mix to realize what is going on or why. So I'm telling them here.

    It's not like I haven't tried (and oh-by-the-way...this costs me time and money too...multiply that by even 100,000 customers and that's a lot of time and money). I wrote an went to Yahoo! My question was, according to them, something that AT&T needed to handle.

    Weeks later (who has time to waste like this, going nowhere fast?) I was online again. I opted into the online chat...I was 56th in line and it was moving about 1 a minute -- you do the math. I was able to find a phone number. I called. The support line, mentioned before, could only address 'real' problems...mine didn't qualify.

    I insisted that I be escalated. They didn't even have an escalation proceedure. So I gave them one..."Escalate this so that I can close my ENTIRE relationship with AT&T."

    Now I'm on the phone with account close. They're asking me for information only available on my bill...never mind that I do all my billing online (so can you wait for 5 mintues while I go through your interactions to bring up a bill so I can look at it? -- who tests these rediculous scenarios anyway?).

    What's the big deal anyway? Paying for a free service.
    Anyone can sign up for a free Yahoo! email account. It comes with advertisement banners on every page. Until recently 'not' getting those banners was the benefit of paying for my AT&T | Yahoo! account. Not any more. My paid account now has advertisement all over it. So why do I need to pay for this experience?

    Someone has made the decision to 'add' this to the experience without considering the implications. Maybe I'm a lone voice...I hope that I'm not [apparenly not]. We shouldn't allow our relationships to be prostituted in this way (as it is, this email account was originally owned by was sold 3 times before it got to AT&T...I didn't change, they did).

    I am looking for AT&T to take accountability for the products/services and corresponding experiences that they are selling...otherwise, the field is white with competition. Anyone ready for a new client?

    I realize this is not world hunger...what it is, is companies being irresponsible in their decisions and their impact to customers...the whole reason for their existence. Ok, maybe for someone like AT&T, commercial accounts are worth a lot more...but if we can get 100,000 voices to stand up as a collective...they'd carry a little weight.

    The beauty of 'online' is the nature by which one voice gains velocity and intensity through the inflection of others. The voiceless now can be heard. Relationships are not humanless processes.

    Black isn't the only color cars can be made in.

    I have continued to raise this 'voice' through any and every channel that I can. I posted a comment through the 'abuse' channel (the options didn't give me too many choices). I received a response dated Jul.03.07, which stated the following:

    We apologize for the inconvenience. The advertising is a needed step
    towards providing world class service at an affordable price.

    If you could see the dancing aliens that come up and take up half the page as I'm trying to read a personal email, I'm not sure you'd classify it as "world class". Call it what you will, it still smacks of prostitution.

    Imagine you've just sent a tender email to your near-delivery pregnant daughter, only to have a 5" ape jumping up and down on your screen pounding his chest. Each time an ad shows up it reminds me how much I hate doing business with AT&T.

    That's the kind of negative relationship equity companies would pay to avoid.
    Instead, we get to pay for the priviledge of being annoyed.

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