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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    September 26, 2007

    Design Thinking 2007, Dallas

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    DT_07_Fullcolor.png As we try to catch Bob up with conversations already going on in the industry, let me illustrate the significance of having Design Thinking conversations by offering notice of an event planned for the DFW area.

    For those of you in the area October 19th, plan to join us. For the rest of you, this is an experiment for continuing face-to-face annual events in local venues. The idea being that there is much needed energy bringing local companies together and sharing their stories and progress with others (including the press, academia, and generally interested souls).

    Updates will be provided as we see where the conversation goes this first round. Already there are signs of a focus on organizational changes including new roles and new business models, but we wouldn't know these things were happening if we weren't coming together to talk about what we're seeing.

    We hope to challenge participants to return to their own circles of influence with actions to influence change, and seed deeper understanding through related programs throughout the following year in existing local professional organization chapter meetings -- e.g. UPA, STC, AIGA, AMA, PMI, etc. (that's the adaptive/integrative gene).

    Each year we'll convene to share and talk about our progress -- catalyzing latent Design Thinking DNA already floating in the organizational ether.

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

    September 22, 2007

    Our Innovation Nation exploration ends; my conclusions to follow, when I get home.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    My partner Debra and I are nearly at the end of our Øresund Region adventure, meeting and speaking with friends and colleagues in Greater Copenhagen and Malmö, the capital of Skåne, the southernmost region in Sweden. We've had an active two weeks filled with learning and sharing of ideas with a full menu of good thinkers. Our experiences, professional and social, have been memorable.

    Tonight, to add to our collection of exquisite experiences, we're off to see the Royal Copenhagen Ballet, in Denmark, and meet personally with Kirsten Simone, one of the Ballet's outstanding prima ballerinas, whose 1964 appearance in Tucson sent little Debbie off on her own balletic adventures. Theirs will be an emotional reunion.

    On Sunday, having returned to Sweden across the beautiful Øresund Bridge, we'll further explore Malmö, Sweden, which everyone agrees is this region's most exciting, up and coming city in a region already known for its natural beauty. It's where we'd like to live and work, if we have the chance.

    On Monday, I'll have important “summation” sessions prior to departing for home (“home” this time meaning, not the beautiful, green Danish farmstead or the bustling maritime city that have been our home bases for most of this trip, but rather our sunny, cactus-studded Arizona desert homestead).

    We return home on Tuesday, after which I'll share my conclusions regarding the practice of innovation policy and consulting generally, and their specific expressions in Denmark and Sweden, which differ substantially.

    yq_StCRxVLLgtjPEmn4V.gifAlso when I return, in my thread of entries about the “design” of experience, I'll further expand on my notion of composing rather than designing experiences and the consequences that flow from it. Conversations during my trip to Scandinavia strengthened my feelings in this regard. Thanks especially to my hosts, Professor (and occasional DJ) Bo Reimer, and Professor Jonas Löwgren, of Malmö University's outstanding School of Culture, Art, and Communications, "K3" (specializing in interaction design and new media production and studies), and K3 Dean Ingrid Elam, who joined us. Jonas' confirming thoughts on the composition of experience have been especially useful.

    Now sets in the inevitable sorrow at the journey's conclusion. In a couple of days we must make the difficult but necessary cultural tradeoffs: herring on flatbread to beans and burritos, aquavit to tequila, and cool to warm. Ah, if one could but be in two places at once -- and not just quantumly, but forever!...

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

    September 11, 2007

    Innovation Nation: The "Øresund"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    On Monday, I spent 15 hours in the air, the last seven aboard a Boeing 757 “Flying Cattle Car" (perhaps the worst aircraft ever foisted on the traveling public) with a malfunctioning entertainment system. What could compel me to such an act of aerial self-flagellation? The answer: to visit “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen,” capital not only of Denmark but of the larger “Øresund Region”: the Innovation Nation.

    Back in the United States and everywhere in the Blogosphere, designers of various ilk are thrashing around with the concepts of innovation, ideation, strategy, and co-creation. The heated conversation has been led most recently by the Interaction Designers, who are having a run of popularity not seen since the onslaught of the Information Architects, whom the Interaction Designers have displaced in the minds of the design critics. (Can the Service Designers be far behind?) Basically, the issue is whether, as Michael Beirut put it in Design Observer, “Innovation is the new Black,” or whether it is a truly historic evolution of conventional design,, the purest evocation of “design thinking” as described by Peter Morville in a classic Semantic Studios blog entry reprinted on NextD, with contextual remaks by G.K. VanPatter ("Unidentical Twins")

    In the Øresund region comprising Greater Copenhagen and Skåne (Malmö, Lund, and other formerly Danish parts of southern Sweden), where two geographies and national cultures have been joined by a beautiful new bridge after 500 years of separation, innovation consulting isn't an issue. It's for real. Not only is innovation consulting considered an accepted design modality, it's gaining the blessing and support of the Danish and Scanian governments and their larger societies. The Danes in particular have invested literally tens of millions of government dollars each year to resurrect their once glorious national brand -- Danish Design -- and they now seem bent on doing the same for the innovation consulting business, where they stand a good chance of actually getting ahead of the curve and leading the global innovation industry.

    To be sure, innovation consulting is still a relatively small industry, with total revenues hovering around $1 billion. It's also labor intensive, since its main assets are inspired human minds; operating margins are okay but not great. But because the innovation industry's potential to derail conventional management consulting -- getting in there right at the beginning of every management decision process, and thereby controlling it -- has not gone unnoticed. Recently the Monitor Group, a fast-growing, mid-range management consultancy, bought the Doblin Group, a brand management firm in Chicago that made a big deal of its powers of innovation. It then aligned the Doblin Group with its own internal, organically grown innovation consulting practice. One has the sense that many of the small firms growing up on edges of the management consulting industry have the same goal, since nearly every one now styles itself, in one sense or another, as an innovation-consulting provider.

    To get back to the Øresund. Although the Danish government has spent generously to restore Danish Design's preeminence, in fact the emergence of the innovation consultancies in DK and SE has been organic, not dependent on government spending (except for government's business, when its appropriate). This has caught DK's intensely thorough economic planners by surprise. A hot-off-the-press Danish governmental study and report, Concept Design, published by the Danish Enterprise and Housing Agency, directed by agency planner Jorgen Røsted (and employing many internal and external consultants), describes innovation consulting as "concept design," a tenuous semantic bridge. In this ethnography about ethnography (a primary ingredient of concept design, as the authors define it), Concept Design's authors take the word of their industry informants too literally, without sufficient critical distance. Three case-studies among several presented by their informants as unquestioned successes I know personally to be problematic. Overall, however, most of the report's observations appear accurate. Concept Design meticulously describes what's happening structurally within the budding industry. What it doesn't do is explain how innovators and their clients actually solve problems. Instead, reciting the five steps of concept design -- a process pioneered at SRI Consulting and the Institute for the Future in the 1980s and 1990s -- it describes the crucial step of ideation as "this is where the magic happens." This phrase is somewhat lacking in precision. It mystifies the process rather than revealing it. (A follow-up report, InnovationMonitor 2007, due out at month's end (September 2007), will discuss the "biggest challenges facing innovation in Denmark." Should be exciting.)

    So that's why I'm here in Denmark, the per capita national leader (so Concept Design reports) in innovation consulting. For two weeks I'm going to study governmental and private initiatives on both sides of the Øresund. In the process, I hope to be able to accurately characterize what's going on industrially but also in terms of process; what innovation consulting means for the region's economy, culture, and society; and its significance in the world of ideas, including the creation of experience and design thinking.

    My first appointment takes place today at the new Copenhagen Institute for Interactive Design (CIID). Then I'll meet with the Danish Venture Capital Association. On Thursday and Friday, I meet with leading consultancies and government design-policymakers on the Danish side of the Øresund. Next week, I'll travel to Skåne, to do the same. My insights and information that can be made public, I'll share with you here.

    For a personal experience of the field's dynamism, II encourage you to attend ECCI X, the Tenth European Conference on Creativity and Innovation, to be held in Copenhagen, October 14-17, 2007, where these issues will be the subject of intense examination and debate. Over 400 leaders in the innovation business, from Scandinavia, the rest of Europe, and around the world are expected to attend. Wish I could join them. Hey, maybe I will...! From Denmark, this is Bob Jacobson saying, "Med venlig hilsen, ciao!"

    (Images: Light bulb,; Øresund Bridge, Malmö)

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

    The best experiences aren't designed. They're composed.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The most evocative experiences -- those that have lasting power, that alter one's perspectives, apprehension, appreciation, and actions -- aren't designed. They're composed. The distinction isn't subtle. Compositions are easy to identify and remember: everyone can cite his or her favorite composed experiences. Designs, for the most part, aren't so easy to identify or remember. In many cases, they're not even designed to be memorable; they're designed to be imperceptible.

    My brilliant partner Debra Jane, a talented creator of great experiences -- in fashion, dance, art, and story-telling -- sent me down this thought-path when, one night, she announced, “You know, I'm not so smart...but I sure know how to concatenate!”

    “Compose” has many meanings, but the two to which I refer (from are:

    1. To make or form by combining things, parts, or elements.


    2. To create (a musical, literary, or choreographic work).

    Composition is an act of creative combination, working with elements in the environment. The assemblage that results may or may not find an audience or serve a purpose. The composer knows this going in: his or her motivation is simply to compose.

    “Design” also has many meanings, but central to its definition, in the sense that designers use it, are:

    1. To form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan.


    2. To plan and fashion the form and structure of an object, work of art, decorative scheme, etc.

    Design begins with a purpose in mind. Commercial design has as its first purpose to serve a client. The designer must succeed in this purpose.

    Composition draws on inspiration from deep, often hidden emotional, spiritual, and psychological aquifers. Design occurs largely in the mind. The difference in results is profound, especially when it comes to creating experiences.

    The acts of composition and design thus start from different premises and have different intended outcomes. Good experiences may be what each act is intended to engender, but one act is artistry and the other, science and engineering. Increasingly, I'm led to believe that artistry is key to successful creation of the best experiences. The composer may fail, of course; only a relatively few composers achieve excellence; whereas, there are many good designers. But design thinking, although probably more reliable as a methodology, inherently limits the designer's artistry. It places strictures on design in order that a design should work; these strictures include basing designs on reasonably hard data and not deviating too far from audience preferences or too greatly challenging existing behaviors.

    Also, a design's consequences, for that design to be considered a success, must be measurable. Compositions, on the other hand, must merely be memorable.

    My colleague Barry Howard creates exhibitions and museums. He and I are part of a team preparing a plan for the US Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. Barry has a long and successful career in his line of work, beginning with the pioneering Coca-Cola Pavilion at the 1964 New York Worlds Fair. Barry is an artist. Each project begins with a storyline, a visionary narrative, which then is translated into its physical evocation. Barry is a composer of experiences.

    Barry related to me a relevant anecdote. Walt Disney had captured the American imagination on the silver screen when he decided to turn his studio's creations into a physical place, to be called “Disneyland.” There was no one with prior experience creating a theme park on the scale Disney envisioned, so he called upon his studio team -- writers, illustrators, animators, musicians, and so forth -- to come up with the plans for Disneyland. The result was a remarkable collection of experiences, magnificent and small, that remains an icon of creativity and spirit (some would say, chutzpah) to this day. No one on the team considered himself or herself a “designer.” Its members considered themselves artists, the original “Imagineers.” Over the years, the original Imagineers were replaced by individuals with backgrounds in business, technology and social sciences, and design. Imagineering became something of a science. As most of us who experienced the original Disneyland agree, the result has been less than sterling. The new parks created by these Imagineers, for all their splendor, efficiency, and effectiveness as revenue generators, didn't manifest the same excitement as the original Disneyland. The rides were stupendous but numbing and the overall experience of the new Disney theme parks was one of grandiosity, not edification. New management at Disney is now working hard to turn the parks around and restore the creative luster that the second-generation Imagineers' calipers and mechanics almost erased. Composers are back in charge.

    Another of my experience-creating heroes is the landscape architect and educator, Lawrence Halprin. At a landscape architecture conference I attended at the University of Washington, he issued a powerful edict: “Design not with forms, but with forces.” Halprin excels at apprehending deep meanings in the physical environment and then creating compositions -- literally scoring the subject environment and things in it -- to produce wonderful experiences. Anna Halprin, the renowned choreographer, inspired Lawrence's approach. He is a choreographer of environmental experiences. Halprin values design methodology as a means of realizing his visions -- but always, his visions are preeminent.

    It may be somewhat disturbing for you, as it is for me, to acknowledge that artistry, not science or engineering, is the sine qua non for creating the best experiences. (Architects who excel, for example, consider themselves artists of space.) Artistry, sadly, can't be learned. It's an inherent talent that can be improved upon, but not taught. Artists must mingle with designers for designs to be infused with compositional fire. Otherwise, design remains an interesting, challenging, but ultimately mundane process. The best experiences aren't designed. They're composed.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    September 4, 2007

    An odd little book: Everyday Engineering: What Engineers See, by Andrew Burroughs

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Everyday EngineeringEveryday Engineering: What Engineers See, by IDEO engineer Andrew Burroughs (Chronicle Books 2007), is an odd little book -- and I do mean odd, it's almost completely pictorial; and little, about 4“ x 6”. It's now part of my permanent collection of design books worth keeping. Why? Because it's a perfect evocation of, as the subtitle says, how engineers see the world of everyday life: as an assortment of things -- objects, assemblages, and machines -- maintained in relation to one another by unseen forces, both manmade and natural.

    Over time, these relationships are altered -- the objects' purposes are sometimes defeated and at other times improved -- in ways that designers and engineers can't always predict. It's the engineers' responsibility, however, to anticipate these vagaries, to make these arrangements work and keep on working -- or if things go really out of kilter, to shut them down and replace them. One would like to think that designers -- a term I use broadly, to include professional designers but also architects, carpenters, industrialists, and other de facto designers -- are the engineers' equal partners in this pursuit. But as the prolific photographs that constitute the main content of Everyday Engineering illustrate, too often this isn't the case.

    Everyday Engineering is a study in visual literacy. Burroughs' foreword and brief introductions for its 17 chapters are too short to fully explain his meanings in every sense. (Part 1 focuses on Creation, Part 2 on Degradation.) I would have liked more of Burroughs' insights and recommendations for how everyday artifacts, machines and processes, should be created and maintained. Instead, he's assembled hundreds of full-color photographs to make a persuasive case for more advance thought on the designers' part before they foist their inventions on the engineers who must convey them to the public. Some are close-ups of obscure elements, others broad landscapes; most are portraits of things.

    Yet it's the unforeseen forces that most need to be elucidated. These are largely implied in the photographs, not explicit. This may be the nature of everyday environments and the their elements, but the delightful website, How Stuff Works, is a more accessible guide for those whose curiosity about everyday life requires more than Burroughs the engineer's visual lyricism. (HSW is about more than engineering. It ranges across mythology, biology, physics, media -- you name it, it lives up to its title.)

    Published by Chronicle Books, at $29.95, Everyday Engineering is pricey. ( currently discounts it to $19.77.) The cover is stylish but impractically constructed of black paper that doesn't resist stains. The pages, however, are substantial. I liked very much the press kit that accompanied Everyday Engineering: it provides a context that increases the reader's appreciation for Burroughs' accomplishment. Perhaps Chronicle Books or IDEO will see fit to incorporate the press kit in a website that allows Burroughs and his readers to more fully explicate their take on everyday engineering and its future.

    I'm placing my copy of Everyday Engineering next to my copy of the 25th-Anniversary Edition of Vintage Books' Tao Te Ching, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and illustrated with photographs by Jane English. The two books' classy illustrations are yin-yang representations of the manmade world and the natural world, respectively. The contrast is remarkable. “Designing with nature” has a long way to go.

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