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

    October 30, 2007

    "I'm b-a-a-a-c-k!"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I've been absent from Total Experience for several weeks. Here's why....

    Movable Type,'s server software, was upgraded in September. In the process, it became incompatible with my Ecto for the Mac blog editor. Having worked so long with Ecto, I can't go back to MT. Ecto's that much better. After a lot of hard work on their part, übermeister Hylton Jolliffe and tech wiz Reeve Jolliffe got the softwares working together again. Mighty thanks to both!

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

    A thoughtful personal reflection on a boring cultural recursion.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    MoebiusAs a teenager and a young man, I was totally current on the theoretical and hypothetical aspects of existence and experience, as those were known in the 1960s and 1970s. I read books and listened to the newly available FM radio, partaking of high-falutin' “discourses” about beautiful phenomena: social change, collaborative problem solving, advertising, classical music and the Beatles, Zen and Taoism, being in the moment, social milieus, poetry, media, politics, environmentalism (very avant-garde), even Space Shuttles.

    Then, in the early 80s, I got sucked into the world of affairs. Government. Business. Research. Cable TV. The Internet. Cellular phones. HDTV. MBO, Six Sigma, and Co-Creation. Making money. Living large. I turned my truest loves, System Thinking and Media Theory, into instrumental chum to lure work my way. I had wandered off The Path and driven onto the Highway.

    A cliché: it's dangerous in the fast lane. Mostly, your childish wonder is at risk.

    Since resigning from my last startup in 2003, between episodes of consulting, I've had time to think broadly again. I've been able to revisit the high falutin' stuff again. Plus, today, besides knowledge found in books, there's the Internet. I've read quite a few websites, blogs, newsletters, and emails. I've watched my share of Fora.TV,, the yin and yang of online video. I've listened to my favorite media friend, the radio, again. And I realized: a whole, whole lot of what now's passed off as lofty new insights, intellect, and innovation, particularly in the fields I love -- among them, phenomenology, design, and media -- is really not very new at all. A lot of it boils down to that old saw, “The customer's always right,” in various permutations (co-creation, ethnography, customer experience design, etc., are some of the better known variations -- at least, those most chattered about).

    A friend of mine whose opinions I value confided during a one-on-one that he couldn't understand what I did. Maybe it's because what I do is what I've done before, not repackaged in new jargon in order to appear inventive and fresh. I create things. Themes, Ideas. Products. Services. Events. Organizations and companies to make them real. I hire people and I discharge managerial responsibilities, including building and leading teams, encouraging multilateral communication, and getting things done. That kind of boring stuff.

    But a lot of people don't do those things, or maybe they do them, too -- but mainly, they strive to reinvent the wheel. And you know, they do a good job of it. In universities, think tanks, research labs, and at professional retreats. The jargon, now “the buzz,” is sometimes deafening. ...continue reading.

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

    October 24, 2007

    When You Want Results...

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    ...hire the best.

    Apparently that's what the U.S. Government believes -- at least the Department of Homeland Security. In an unlikely pairing, they've engaged Disney to create messages to welcome visitors to the United States:

    The film and still portraits feature the diversity, friendliness and optimism of the American people. The film will be shown in the Federal Inspection Areas of U.S. airports, and in U.S. embassies and consulates overseas, while the still portraits will be incorporated in posters, banners and other imagery welcoming visitors to the U.S. The first airports to feature the images will be Washington Dulles International Airport and Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas, to be followed by the nation's other international airports.

    Source: MediaPost, Marketing Daily, "Homeland Security, Disney Team For Welcoming Film"

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

    October 23, 2007

    True Cross-Channel Experience

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Don't know if you've tried this yet. Amazon offers a great example of a true cross-channel experience.

    Cross-Channel 1: Online to Real Time
    I had some books to return. I filled out the return information online and a return label was provided for me to print, tieing the box to my online entry. It made the return easy (which with my schedule is a critical barrier for entry).

    Cross-Channel 2: Email to Online to Phone
    I got an email today indicating that the box had been received on their end. The details of the return had an 'issue' (I was charged for return postage when I should not have been). I clicked through the email (I wanted to reply -- which I couldn't, but that's a different issue) to online and saw the option to contact Amazon by phone. A small window pops and asks for my phone number. I barely had pressed return and my phone was ringing! The item was resolved in 5 minutes.

    Cross-Channel 3: Phone to Email
    Back into my email, and there's already an inquiry asking me if my issue was resolved to my satisfaction. Even better, there were two separate links: one to click if I was satisfied, a different one if I was not. [and there's a closing of the loop]

    That's a Total Experience!

    Now, if they could just do something simple like offer me a complete inventory (list) of all the titles of books I've ever ordered (instead of asking me to open hundreds of orders to uncover that data -- and then do what? make my own list?).


    Something I hadn't really noticed (reinforcing this message), is that Amazon no longer really has a header with their logo prominently featured. Their logo is only one of the tabs...taking up miniscule real estate. Thanks to Luke Wroblewski for capturing this entire visual evolution. Apparently this change has been in place for 2 years.

    See, evolving design really does work!

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Innovation & Concept Design

    October 7, 2007

    Successful Brand Experiences?

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    The Design Council site features "Thirteen examples of successful brand experiences".

    This piece exemplifies my issues with brand experience definitions of those who engage the phrase most often: embodied by an inherent element of 'staged event'. Our paths of understanding diverge.

    Rubber%20Bands.jpg Experiences happen. When they happen to include inference to a brand, the brand owner better hope that the experience is a positive one, or at the very least, not a negative one.

    Each experience is framed by the fundamentals of economics. Consider the concept of elasticity. "Behavioral elasticity" and "elasticity of substitution" both come to play in brand experiences. Indeed, they help define a key element Marketers often rely on: affinity.

    My throat is parched and I open my refrigerator. As my eyes identify a can of Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, a positive brand experience begins as I imagine the taste of the Coke, satisfying my thirst. The reality is, if the formula is not quite 'right', my experience will be impacted. If the can contains "Classic Coke" instead, my personal experience will be quite negative. In all cases I have engaged in a brand experience. The latter, impacted by a breakdown in quality control, results in a negative experience. Repeated too often, brand trust is eroded. My affinity is weakened.

    Severity depends on current elements that can impact my elasticity of substitution. If there is another brand with which I can have a similar positive experience, I will likely switch to that brand. If my perception of cola is only filled by a Caffeine-Free Diet Coke, then I have lower elasticity and will tolerate the variability as long as I can occasionally encounter the familiar experience that I prefer.

    The impact of changing a preferred brand experience is readily illustrated in Coke's historic error in abandoning the "Classic Coke" formula, rather than creating a different product to expand consumption.

    Consumer control over brand experiences, good or bad, is significant. In today's market, their voice is stronger. With lowering barriers to entry, there are many waiting to rush in and capitalize on the mistakes of others.

    Please. If you're going to engage in a brand experience conversation, do it in a deeper, meaningful way. Do it in a way that truly increases understanding of the many dimensions of brand experience and its direct impact on relationships. Those who focus on entertainment or event aspects (e.g. Chuck E. Cheese), limit the types of products/services to which they can apply their principles. They are more subjected to the shifting whims of tastes, preferences, and clever competition. And they are less likely to account for significant variables that can impact product affinity, and therefore, sales.

    Which definition do you embrace?


    Image Attribution: Getty Images

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

    October 6, 2007

    Delta Embraces Experiential?

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    A tease to content elsewhere...

    Delta Air Lines is bringing its in-flight experience to the streets of New York City with a temporary lounge.
    Visitors can drop by the 3,500 square-foot space at 101 West 57th St. called Delta SKY360 to test some of the airline’s newest features, including refurbished seats, new menu items and route information.

    The following comment is a bit disheartening as it seems to imply an oversimplification as to the potential of real relationships and real still implies an elitist business perspective to relationships with customers:

    It’s an opportunity for us to engage with our customers outside of the airport.

    It makes me want to ask, "What's wrong with engaging with them where they already are? Um, in the airport?"

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    October 2, 2007

    SRI "Discipline of Innovation" Express Workshop, St. Petersberg, FL, Oct 10

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    0a0476be642b4d54b301624da3790d96.jpgSRI International, for whom I worked as a futurist and commercialization expert in the late 1990s and 2000s, is presenting a "Discipline of Innovation" Express Workshop for the Tampa Bay (FL) Technology Forum in St. Petersberg on October 10, 2007, at the Poynter Institute.

    I'm glad to see SRI coming out. SRI, located in Menlo Park, CA, is the original home of scenario planning and the Mother Ship to such better-known spinoffs as the Global Business Network. Long before "innovation" was a household word and "ethnography" the darling of the business set, SRI was plugging along developing tools like the unmatchable VALS (Value & Lifestyles System) and SCAN to track new technology and social trends. Perhaps because it's nonprofit, SRI maintains a relatively low profile -- but its social and technology innovations are impressive. They often get implemented because the organization cultivates a sterling client list of Global 100 corporations and governments, long-time clients here and abroad. When SRI comes up with a good idea, there's money to move the idea forward to prototype and implementation.

    Presenting at this event are William W. Wilmot, Co-Creator, SRI Discipline of Innovation Workshop; Co-Author, Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want; and Peter Marcotullio, Director, SRI Business Development of Engineering and Systems. Innovation comes to Florida. Sounds tasty.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events and Happenings | Innovation & Concept Design

    Innovation Nation 3: The Transformation Gap

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    hands.jpgAs regular readers will know, for the last two weeks, I've been interviewing technology policymakers, VCs, government investment agencies, incubators, and innovation/concept-design consultancies in Denmark and southern Sweden (Skåne) -- the new, high-tech “Øresund Region” -- to explore how ideas and concepts are born and how they then are converted into usable products and services.

    The two nations, and especially Denmark, have garnered a lot of kudos in the press for their innovation initiatives. They execute better than almost anywhere else on earth.

    But even in these societies where a large portion of GNP is strategically reinvested in innovation, product development, and new company formation, often no spark crosses over from innovation to product or service, as it does from God's hand to Adam's in Michaelangelo's fresco. A fatal gap remains that separates the innovation process from the development process. Innovations often fail to become IP because no investor who will fund the transformation of the idea into its usable embodiment. The result is that there is no demonstration of the innovation's worth and hence, no way to argue for investment in innovation services or activities.

    One solution is to extend the innovation consultants' responsibility to include guidance and assistance regarding how to valorize and promote the innovation to investors, and then helping to find investors -- but this solution costs time and money. Few innovation consultancies can afford the stretch. Most seem happy to diddle in the innovation zone anyway, leaving their clients to fend for themselves once the brain games are over, a self-defeating strategy that devalues the consultancies' own work. There aren't enough incubators to go around -- and these mostly enter the fray after a company has a product at least in prototype, too late for the moment of creation. Business angels aren't many nor are they able to make large investments. And local VCs, like VCs everywhere, have taken the uptown route, preferring to fund companies that have made it at least to mezzanine stage. In Denmark, the state-funded Vækstfonden attempts to fill in, but like the early-stage VC that it is, VF has limited resources and can only support a handful of innovators. The situation is more dire in Sweden, where angels are almost completely absent and VCs, including the state established (but self-financed) Industrifonden and its subsidiaries, must adhere to the bankers' rules that govern most VC activity.

    Within many companies and public agencies, similar processes play out that result in lack of internal funding for transforming innovations into IP.

    This flaw isn't unique to the Scandinavian economies, where at least it's recognized and solutions are being sought. It's evident on a larger scale, and is more damaging, in Silicon Valley, a place familiar to me. The proportion of unrealized opportunities in the Valley must be huge. Given the dynamism of invention in the Valley, funding announcements are relatively few and far between. A few VCs, like Charles River Ventures with its QuickStart program, have tried to help out, but they're a drop in the bucket. The only place this problem isn't pronounced, I suspect, is China, where investment capital is copious and investments are available for almost any buildable product/service idea (although the inventor may not hold on to his or her rights very long).

    I'll have more to say about this in a following entry. I'm still catching up and getting over jet lag. Thanks for your patience.

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