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

CO-AUTHORS

  • 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 ) >
    EXPERIENCE DESIGN:
    THE METAVERSE....

    CALENDAR OF EXPERIENCE DESIGN EVENTS
    (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
    NetDiver.Net
    DesignBoom
    Digital Thread
    Archinect
    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
    FutureLab
    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
    Nokia
    Herman Miller
    Steelcase
    IDEO
    Cooper Interactive Design
    Gensler
    Doblin Group
    Fitch
    Fit Associates
    Jump
    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
    AIGA DUX
    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

    Total Experience on Technorati
    Technorati Profile

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    Total Experience

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    November 19, 2007

    Confronting the authenticity conundrum: A review of Authenticity, by Gilmore and Pine

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    ImgbookauthenticityAuthenticity: What Consumers Really Want, by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine II, Harvard Business School Press, 2007

    Authenticity is an ambitious volume by Jim Gilmore and Joe Pine, authors of the 1999 marketing classic, The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage. Authenticity is an important, simultaneously prescriptive and cautionary addition to the rapidly growing corpus of literature on experiential marketing. Much of this literature is trivial. This book is first-rate. But also challenging. Despite its business-book style, it's not an easy read: you have to pay attention.

    Authenticity, as other reviewers have noted, features an impressive encyclopedic review of corporate attempts to create good experiences for their customers. Gilmore and Pine also proffer copious advice on how to assess a company's current authenticity; the art of “placemaking,” creating unique sites for the expression of authenticity; and most scientifically, how to become measurably authentic. But Authenticity's importance isn't as a how-to book: the more concrete its recommendations, the more speculative they feel. That's because pedagogically, Authenticity is a collection of truly interesting hypotheses, the proofs for which are anecdotal, not scientifically tested theories. (Gilmore and Pine may possess testable data and actual scientific proofs; but if so, they're only accessible to paying clients, a universal problem for consultants touting theoretical insights.)

    In their largely observational The Experience Economy, Pine and Gilmore describe the evolution of product-marketing embodiments in this way:

    Commodities -> Goods -> Services -> Experiences -> Transformations

    In today's sophisticated business environment, commodities, goods, and services are virtually indistinguishable as competitive offerings. Marketers must now generate experiences by in order to reach customers jaded by too many marketing claims and information overload.

    Their message in
    Authenticity is more directive. Transformations, which bond companies and customers irrevocably, occur only when authenticity -- customer self-identity and the brand experience -- are total. They're beyond intentional design. But at the highest level of manipulable reality, the generation of experiences, the higher the degree of authenticity, as perceived by customers, is the critical differentiating factor in the quality of experiences that companies offer to their customers.

    Authenticity, however, is a fluid quality, difficult to acquire and even more difficult to retain. Every situation is unique and requires special treatment. To establish overarching principles and rules, the authors' arguments range far afield, involving quantum physics, existentialism, psychology, heuristics, and architecture and design. Highly complex, these arguments rely on pages of footnotes set in small type (which most business readers will ignore -- but which I found evocative and insightful). It will be tough for most lay persons to apply Authenticity's methods. Which is why this book will probably be more popular among the consultants who are hired to turn its dictates into practice.

    It's Authenticity's subtext that's makes it a must-read for everyone else. Ultimately, and not surprisingly, even as clever as Jim and Joe are, they hit a logical wall when they try to make marketing and authenticity compatible -- a project comparable to mixing oil and water. This constant contradiction troubled me from the book's first page to its last. If the authors were writing science fiction, a story requiring the heroes to exceed the speed of light would be fine. But Gilmore and Pine's prescriptions in
    Authenticity are meant for marketing managers who can barely manage brands, let alone contradictory logical types and confusing syllogisms. (In The Experience Economy, the authors took a simpler line, making their principal argument in considerably fewer pages. I wish they'd done the same in Authenticity.)

    For most readers, this book will serve as a significant historical marker in an age of commerce when, as the authors observe, the “real” and the “fake” have become completely transferable, substitutable, and indistinguishable. It's an energetic, intellectual, neo-Aristotelian romp through the land of make-believe concocted by marketers, designers, creative directors, retailers, real estate developers, and by a public only too willing to believe the unbelievable. The authors' argue among themselves as often as they do with the charlatans and mediocre impresarios of experience. Their sincere attempt to come to grips with the authenticity conundrum is moving.
    Authenticity is a manifesto for our time that can't be ignored.

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

    November 15, 2007

    'Fill 'er up!“ as a customer experience, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Oil

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Red Gas PumpThe price of sweet crude oil futures is nearing a $100 high-water mark that will inevitably result in social sticker shock, followed by resentment everywhere except among the OPEC nations. Marketers and brand managers of gasoline and other consumer petroleum products will be busier than ever. My best guess: Big Oil's customer-experience sycophants will portray Big Oil, a closed, self-serving global cartel ready and willing to use any means to defend its economic privilege and political power, as "people like us." "We're all in it together!" "Like the rest of us, Big Oil is a victim of circumstances beyond its control." "Big Oil's members are good citizens doing their best to maintain our accustomed lifestyle AND protect the environment." Watching the flood of corporate TV ads, I sense the din's already begun. (But where's the tiger? Where's the Happy Engine?)

    Downstream oil companies long ago understood the value of positive and negative “customer experiences.” In the post-WWII America, they joined with the then-Big 3 automakers to promote unbridled driving (“See the USA in a Chevrolet!”) as a positive customer experience. Simultaneously, with help from the automakers and tire manufacturers, they worked hard to make the use of public transit as unpleasant a customer experience as possible -- ultimately, by getting cities to tear out the efficient tramways that once got commuters to work without driving. This dual strategy successfully (a) equated driving a car with personal freedom, turning the phrase, “the open road,” into a kinetic metaphor for the First Amendment; and (b) made transportation policymaking a wholly inter-corporate process (except for the taxes collected by a villainous government to finance necessary infrastructure: the highway, roads, and parking).

    Today, however, Big Oil's customer experience people must be working overtime. First, there's the visceral experience we have of crude oil's skyrocketing price, leading to our future experience of rapid, continuous, unprecedented price hikes at the pump. Second, there's the physical experience, conveniently camouflaged by TV ads filmed in scenic national parks, that most time spent in automobiles, in the US, is dead time. (Over on The Oil Drum, the best blog about Peak Oil -- our historical era, in which demand for petroleum exceeds supply -- I read a quote that Americans spend literally billions of hours each year idling at red lights and in traffic jams.) Third, there's our uneasy awareness, fed by scientists and our own environmental experience, that automobiles run on oil account for nearly a fourth (or more) of all CO2 emissions and thus, cataclysmic global warming. Fourth, there's the knowledge, the cognitive experience, that American policy and policymakers, from the President and Congress at the top, down to local traffic planners, are enslaved by the Big Oil/Automobile & Trucking/Highway Construction Establishment -- and that there's no escape in sight. These are pretty negative customer experiences.

    Big Oil, to preserve its leading role in our society, is working hard to generate more positive customer experiences. “Empowerment”: pump your own fuel, at your own convenience. (Bonus: it costs less in labor.) “Green”: Standard Oil, a multi-multi-billion-dollar a year global oil enterprise, proudly announces it's generating enough eco-energy to power a city of seven million. (About a third of LA County.) “A Better Future Through Big Oil”: BP is proud of its plan to invest in eco-energy. It's plan. Sometime. Funny, I haven't yet heard anything from Big Oil's customer experience experts about walking or riding a bike, taking public transit, or simply driving less.

    Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore in their fascinating new book, Authenticity (which I'll be reviewing here later this week), decry this sort of bleating as “Fake/Fake authenticity” -- in other words, inauthenticity, worse than not saying anything at all. The pitches are false and they're perceived to be false. The problem is, Big Oil doesn't really care. Perhaps its silence would be taken as the most inauthentic thing of all, so used have we become to the oil industry's blaring self-promotion and take-no-prisoners attitude in terms of getting its way.

    I thought I might carry out a collective exorcism and call out all those strategic marketers, ethnographic and market research firms, and customer-experience designers who lend their expertise and earn their livelihoods (and a good deal more) from this in-vain effort to turns sows' ears into silk purses. Shame them into renunciation of their wage slavery. (I too once fed at the teat of Big Oil myself, leading a startup whose software products Big Oil coveted. But as I've learned, there's life after Big Oil.) The task proved too immense. It would be a lot easier to list the relatively few professionals who refuse to serve the Petro Beast.

    But what's the point? It's just one more customer-experience racket we endure for the sake of denial, like Big Media, the Military Industrial Complex, and The National Exceptionalism Myth. When the oil's gone, it's gone. And that will be the end of it. And us?

    (Image: Big Red's Place)

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

    November 8, 2007

    The (ever more painful) Dow of Experience, Redux

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    WA little over a year ago, I published an entry here, “The (ever more painful) Dow of Experience.” I was critical of the frequently recurring, almost unavoidable repetition of a rising Dow Jones index as a feel-good economic mantra. I wrote:



    We take reports of the Dow for granted. They flicker on tickers on during the TV networks' evening newcasts, on CNN, Fox, and Bloomberg, and are part and parcel of almost every radio station's news broadcasts. For a long time, the Dow's ups and downs were taken to be synonymous with the strength of the nation's economy, all boats rising and falling with the Dow. But investment income and wages have become disconnected, radically. A rising Dow no longer means good times for the working class (which comprises that 80 to 90 percent of the American people who do not receive substantial investment income). Each time Americans hear about the Dow's climb, it reminds them that things are getting worse for the majority in terms of falling purchasing power, rising household indebtness, and a general decline in their quality of life. The American Dream vies with a nightmare reality.

    I also wrote,

    According to critical theorists, people can indulge in hopeful thinking for only so long before their objective living conditions start to breed intolerable dissonance, dismay, and resentment. That's when societies experience dramatic tensions, often resulting in political upheaval and even revolution.

    Now things are different. Today, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that the economy's rotten and that things are likely to get worse -- much worse -- before they get better. Gas prices will go up. Buying during the all-important Christmas season will go down. More banks will be in distress. More people will lose their homes and their jobs. (Yet, according to a report on public radio's Marketplace business-news show, investors in hedge funds -- the few individuals who are already the richest in our society, those who can afford multi-million-dollar investments -- are doing very well, better than ever before, some earning as much as 10% on their investments.) The last week has been hell for the Dow. But there's not a hint of domestic political upheaval, let alone revolution. People are in shock and denial rather than rebellious. Probably, because they have no past referents.

    What's the experience of living in a down economy? Most young adults never had the experience. What's the experience of living in a recession? Only the Boomers remember. What's the experience of living in a depression? I had to ask my Dad, who's in his 80s, to get an answer.

    The answer? Harsh. Very, very harsh.

    It's difficult for me to understand how people go about their day-to-day lives, minding the store, designing products, innovating ideas, going to conferences, chattering on the Web, watching their iPods and plasma TVs, making love, raising families, commuting to work and (via a corps of official spokespersons) reassuring themselves with forecasts of better times to come and better lives. Few, it seems, are preparing for the coming crisis -- crises -- in any substantial way, except perhaps for the survivalists, who don't look so stupid anymore. Oh yes, and the hedge fund investors, who are sharpening their claws in expectation of fresh meat, dining off the carcasses of dead and dying enterprises and their employees. It's not just an American problem, either, although for many reasons, the consequences of the crises are likely to be felt here first and foremost. It's a world problem. So who's working on preserving global stability? Certainly not the American government, which is out raising havoc and planning for more. Not the United Nations, already wracked and worn by a million demands on its limited resources. The people of the world? You and me?

    It's difficult also to escape the impression that we are wearing the sandals of the Romans just before the collapse of their Empire, only this time with universal repercussions. Religious and political mania will no doubt continue to manifest, more severely with time, before reason reasserts itself and solutions are proposed and implemented. So how do people get on? How do they deal with the sense of impending doom, now reinforced for them every time they hear the Dow -- this time, going down, down, down....

    How do we live with unremitting crisis, the social equivalent of psychological stress? What are its consequences, personally and collectively? Who's doing research on this most important aspect of our experience? As usual, there are far more questions than answers, though you'd hardly know it from all the smiling faces going places.

    (Image: Yahoo! Finance)

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings

    November 5, 2007

    DUX 2007: A great conference, but fundamentally off the mark

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Dux07 The DUX 2007 conference begins today in Chicago. Thematically, content-wise, and in terms of approach, this is the consummate conference on cutting-edge design. The speakers are top-notch, too. If I could, I'd be there. But ideologically, DUX is discomforting. For all its virtues, DUX embodies a set of values that, while commendable, are incomplete and off-kilter.

    Despite its aspiration to be universal, DUX remains user-centric, not human-centric. And experience, inherently and essentially, is human and thus, holistic.

    DUX stands for “Designing for User Experience.” It's the "user" part that continues to annoy me, while others seem blithe to its portent. According to Wikipedia, (quoting sage designer Don Norman's 1999 book, Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex and Information Appliances Are the Solution):

    "User experience design is a subset of the field of experience design which pertains to the creation of the architecture and interaction models which impact a user's perception of a device or system. 'The scope of the field is directed at affecting all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product: how it is perceived, learned, and used.' "

    200711051709 Designing for experience is about holism, understanding and working with the totality of human experience. “A user's perception of a device or system” seems a peculiarly narrow niche in which to ply one's experience design skills. Of course, it's important: devices and systems are what drive the machinery of commerce and government, and even how we as consumers conduct ourselves at home and in leisure time. But so mechanistic a conception of the human being is antithetical to our knowledge of how people holistically perceive, think, act, and experience their lives. Maybe that's why Don himself on more than one public occasion has eschewed the term he invented, “user experience design,” advising that we'd be better off without the “user.”

    DUX could more realistically portray the challenges facing experience designers, and champion their successes, by replacing “user” with “human” and thereby symbolically and practically opening the conference to a wider audience of designers and composers of experience.

    (BTW, I'm not reactive to the use of “user” in all R&D contexts: I'm about to take part in a multiyear, overseas study of “user-driven innovation” that aims to understand and enhance this innate human capacity. In this context, "user-driven" makes sense. Innovation by design is instrumental and goal-oriented. Innovation serves. But experience happens.)

    This isn't a trivial matter. Many of the presenters at DUX are willing to generalize beyond the scope of device and system development. This attempt to apply mechanistic theories best suited to things and systems to the larger world of human affairs can and likely will breed skepticism and perhaps even resistance to design for experience. The backlash against “social engineering,” a counterpart to DUX once advocated by structural-functionalist social scientists in the 1950s and 1960s could easily be repeated in our own time, especially since so many designs for experience fail in important settings at crucial moments.

    A potential reason why DUX and its organizers and participants haven't grasped this relationship may be that they haven't a long history in the work they do or sufficient familiarity with the scholarly study of experience. Perhaps it's a function of the organizing process, but it appears to me that with only a few exceptions, most of the speakers and workshop leaders -- and I suppose, attendees -- appear to be shy of 40 years of age. That means they would have been born sometime after 1967, when systemic thinking was king and every person was treated as a cog in some larger device; and that they came of age in the mid-80s or later, as information technology was replacing systems as the predominant archetypal metaphor. The inclusion of Harper's and The Huffington Post's
    Thomas de Zengotita within DUX, as an invited speaker -- a man who wears his years proudly and who's the antithesis of a “user-experience designer” -- is a welcome breath of fresh air. More like him would leaven the persistent technophilia that many other speakers manifest.

    It feels to me that the concern for audiences as human beings present in the work of such great designers of the past as, for example, Chermayeff, Bel Geddes, and the Eames, has evaporated in the fiery breath of Moloch aka The Machine (per Lewis Mumford's 1967
    Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine). Even those presentations at DUX that sound wonderfully focused on human fancy -- art and dance and travel to strange places -- seem prone to converting that fancy into factors that are part of technical solutions: making products and services. They don't really depict or serve edifying human experiences, although they may well fit the interests of those seeking to exploit experiences. This dog won't hunt.

    Dott_07_Med.jpg
    Doors of Perception's Designs of the Time (Dott07), a 23-month participatory project that will continue through year's end, is an illustrative counterpoint to DUX. Dott's slogan is, “Why our design festival has no things in it.” Besides being overtly human-centered, Dott's participation ranges more broadly by age and is geographically more diverse. Its participants are as often involved in public as they are in commercial projects. DUX's youthful audience, by contrast, comprises a bucket-load of North Americans, a moderate serving of Brits, and a dash of Dutch and German presenters mostly working in the world of business and academic/brain-trust institutions serving that world. Pragmatic instrumentality, the dominant ideology in North American, British, and Germanic cultures driven by economic, thing-maker philosophy, pervades most of what DUX is about.

    Transformation designers tell us that in order to change constituent experiences, one has to first change the constituents themselves. Broadening DUX and its focus requires broadening its base of its participants, and vice versa. Here's my call for “Designing for Human Experience” in 2008. To preserve the delightful waterfowl homonym, use the acronym, DhUX. Or continue to call it DUX -- but for gosh sakes, at least make the "U" mean ... “hUman."

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design

    “From Information Design to Designing for Experience”: Keynote at 3rd International Conference on Information Design (ICID), Curitiba, Brazil, October 8-10, 2007

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I gave this presentation on October 8th by Skype, speaking before the 3rd International Conference on Information Design (ICID) that took place in Curitiba, Brazil, 8-10 October 2007. It sums up well my current thinking about information design, user experience design, designing for experience, and the composition of memorable experiences. My thanks to event organizers Carla Spinelli and Stephania Padovani, and technical helpers Tiago Maia, Re-nato Bertão, and Charles Costa. Your comments are welcome. © Robert Jacobson 2007

     Archives Img1 BOM DIA! It’s a pleasure to join you this afternoon, albeit by digital communications and not in person as I would have preferred. Thanks to organizers Carla Spinelli and Stephania Padovani, and media men Tiago, Renato, and Charles, for making this presentation possible. Our plan is to have me make a short presentation and then for us to interact via Skype. You may see me working at the keyboard occasionally, to keep the connection running smoothly. In the film, the Wizard of Oz, the Mighty Oz loudly tells Dorothy, with great blasts of fire, “Ignore the man behind the curtains!” That’s me.

    200711042321 This is an interesting study in information design. I’m speaking to you from the living room of my home in Tucson, Arizona, in the heart of the Sonora Desert. The video you are watching today was edited in the camera, harkening back to the early days of the 1970s-era, worldwide “Radical Software” movement, when activists around the world used portable video cameras to elicit honest communication in a formerly media-dominated information environment. Theirs was authentic video, without embellishment. So, 35 years later, here is my authentic video, no frills….

    200711042328 I was invited to speak to you as the editor of the anthology, Information Design, a collection of essays by world-class designers, published by the MIT Press in 1999. In the eight years since, there has been no satisfactory revisiting of the issues we raised in ID – especially the questions: what is information design and what will it become?

    Today, I’d like to talk to you about why and how I believe information design will evolve into a new practice, “designing for experience” or, as I prefer to call, it, “composing for experience.”

    200711042328-1 Experience is the proper center of the design universe. An environmental outlook comes next. Conventional design in many ways is pre-Copernican in this regard and new approaches to conventional design, like user experience design (about which I’ll speak later), only add more epicycles. I’m optimistic that information design will more quickly adopt the new paradigm.

    200711042329 In eight years, a lot has changed, not least the quantity and quality of the information environments in which we live and work. Today, technologies of communication and information are abundant, and networking computing is more pervasive than ever – many would say, invasive – changing how we live, work, play, educate, and communicate.

    Despite information designers’ high aspirations, the sheer volume of informational activity has nearly overwhelmed their ability to design for it.
    (Image: Artem)

    Our anthology anticipated this future. Our collective concern was not for better construction of representations and artifacts. Instead, unanimously, we called attention to the ever more complex information environments into which people, individually and collectively, are plunged almost at birth and through which they must navigate their entire lives. We agreed, on this if on nothing else, that information design, as it had been practiced for 25 years – rationalizing the presentation of information, usually in graphical form – must grow conceptually as well as technically, even epistemologically: information design must become experientially and environmentally wise.

    200711042332 Eight years later, the concept of information environments is no longer exotic. We are more cognizant of the systemic relationship between information and the environments – physical, social, and personal – in which information is produced, shared, and acted upon. There is a change in orientation among information designers from the particular to the global, even universal context. (Image: David Armano)

    In the name of informational environmental awareness and holism, all sorts of recipes are being promoted for messages that are more easily assimilated.

    200711042333 Apparent is the intrusion of the market: information is now more often than not treated as a commodity that must be designed for consumption. One narrow but broadly applied variant of information design, perhaps responsible for the majority of information designs these days – on the Web and incorporated in products and services – is called “user experience design” or more baldly, “customer experience design.” Say it loud and say it proud, its practitioners have one purpose: to get people to use things and to buy things.

    200711042335 Over the last decade, “interaction” has been added to the stew as a necessary element of instrumental design, a way to draw “users” into the purchasing process. Dan Saffer of Adaptive Path in san francisco has written a pretty good how-to book on Interaction Design and IDEO co-founder Bill Moggridge has published a mighty tome of interviews with “interaction designers.”

    200711042336 BJ Fogg, a professor of design at Stanford, whom I admire, has the gumption to call this branch of information design captology, the science of persuasive technology that captures and keeps an individual’s attention. (Image: Cache Creek Casino)

    But technology can’t do the job alone.

    200711042336-1 Vast armies of ethnographers, anthropologists who study culture, have been deployed to observe, describe, and annotate the lives of those whom their mainly business and occasional government clients wish to affect via “user experiences.” These costly cultural explorations are justified by the unique insights that ethnographers can supposedly provide to designers. (Image: Business Week)

    In these circumstances, however, for these insights to be acted upon, they have to relate to business, and so does the design that results from these insights. Ethnography and design thus form a neat little tautology that offers employment for ethnographers, validation for designers, and comfort to the business executives who pay for each.


    What’s remarkable is that the success rate of designed user experiences, even those informed by ethnography, is anecdotally reported to be a sparse five to ten percent. It might even be less. The vast majority of products and services designed according to the tenets of user experience, supported by ethnographic findings, do not achieve their goals.

    ...continue reading.

    Comments (7) + TrackBacks (2) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design