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

    Total Experience on Technorati
    Technorati Profile

    Get Camino!
    In the Pipeline: Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline

    Total Experience

    « "I'm b-a-a-a-c-k!" | Main | DUX 2007: A great conference, but fundamentally off the mark »

    November 5, 2007

    “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.

    200711042337 The plethora of stupid cell phone designs foisted on the public is an observable case with huge consequences. Cell phones come laden with cameras, downloadable ring tones, miniscule web browsers, and banal programming, when what most people want – so the surveys report – is voice phones that are easy to use, with simple directories, good reception, and just maybe the ability to text.

    How many unobservable products and processes – things we cannot see or touch, but things we may depend on – are also designed to fail? It’s a chilling thought.

    … And time for another approach.

    200711042338 John Thackara and Don Norman, leading design theoreticians, have reacted to this professional culture of failure with a different approach: stop thinking of people solely as “users” and don’t try to know, let alone meet their every need. Instead of ethnographically cataloguing every aspect of the audiences for whom we design, Leave some needs unmet. Preserve the unknown in the environment so that people can take delight in discovering objects, information, and relationships for themselves. It’s A risky position, both experts agree, that requires finesse. Designers who adopt this retro mode must ensure that people have or can acquire the skills required to find what they need in the environments in which they live.

    But it’s also a realistic position, because there is not and never will be a reliable, total encyclopedia of human needs, Wikipedia notwithstanding. Every finding is partial. Observers filter everything. And unless a researcher does something to alter the subject’s response – a violation of ethnography’s Rule No. 1 – every finding to a greater or lesser extent is reifying; That is, supportive of the cultural status quo.

    Faced with this reality, Thackara and Norman would argue, the designer’s role is to provide education and tools, including the ability to navigate the environment and discover useful information, and leave it at that.

    200711042339 Norman, who earlier renounced the use of the term, “user experience” (which he invented) observes that everything we perceive, think, and do is the result of prior sets of experiences and the cause of others. Designers should be designing for human experiences, not simply designing to betters serve “users,” he argues.

    200711042340 But because well-read journals like the Harvard Business Review, Business Week, and Business 2.0 have done such a superb job of touting the alleged value of user-experience design, businesses eagerly hire user-experience designers to craft compelling experiences – “user experiences” – for products, productions, places, brands, customers, the Internet, our civic lives, our private personas, how we live in this world and even how we leave it – enclosed in a wooden box, baked in an oven, or exploding overhead as fireworks.

    200711042341 Before this carnival arrived in town, there was already a sizable community of designers working with experience as Don Norman described it and as he prescribed the practice: museum designers, exhibition designers, themed attractions designers, architects, urban designers, landscape architects, industrial designers, environmental designers, media designers … and information designers.

    200711042342-1 Experience designers, the whole lot of them – for whom the entire ambient environment is their canvas – obey canons that may at first blush sound exotic, even otherworldly; certainly not “design-y.” After numerous talks with experience designers in the fields I just mentioned, I can boil these canons down to two: edification and commutation.

    The first canon,
    Edification, means improvement. The result of an edifying experience is that the condition of the person undergoing the experience is noticeably improved, objectively and often subjectively. Perhaps the person knows more, is more empowered, or is more personally satisfied. “Uplifted” is a spiritual way to define edification. Ethical experience designers, through the environmental conditions they create and the experiences they hope to engender, pursue their audience’s edification.

    Commutation, the second canon, in the Middle Ages was a term used by the Church to describe the process of the Communion ritual. The wafer ingested allegedly turned into the body of Christ and the wine drunk became His blood. Via commutation, the communicant literally became one with Christ. Experience designers have returned to this original theme: mutual exchange. Interacting with the audiences for whom they design experiences, experience designers identify with their audiences, become empathetic, and communicate with their audiences more easily. They “co-mutate,” jointly evolving.

    200711042345 A case in point is “transformational design” as developed by Hilary Cottam and her award-winning RED team, formerly the practice branch of the UK Design Council. Hilary, now separated from the Council, is now at work putting together a design firm to work exclusively in the realm of transformational design, design that challenges the designers to change as much as it does the people for whom they design.

    Experience designers share a calling, possibly even a faith. They work using intuition, empathy, and intense communication with their audiences – not via surveys, focus groups, or ethnographers, but firsthand, in the field. I have watched E-D teams struggle for months coming to grips with the problems with which they’re confronted, and then months more arriving at solutions (which sometimes take years to successfully implement).

    200711042346 Experience designers remind me of Renaissance artists employing every available modality – paintings, sculpture, architecture, music, even poetry and theater (that era’s performance art) – to create extraordinary sensory environments in which their audiences can have novel and powerful experiences.

    200711042346-1 Information designers are being drawn into the same future, creating multiple, continuous, multisensory environments: part material, part virtual, and part nouminal. Preparing for this presentation, I perused the website of Pentagram, the UK design firm that invented the term “information design” in the late 1970s. Its practice has broadened to include, in addition to traditional graphics, “products, environments, and buildings.” Environments and buildings? That's new!

    What’s true for Pentagram is for many of today's information design firms. Progressive practitioners of information design are transcending the field’s historical limitations, expanding from two to many dimensions and from graphics to many technologies. Information design is, in effect, becoming experience design.

    200711042347 The last required change in information design’s transformation will be when it shifts focus from the conveyance of information to the result of that transfer, the engendered experience – and designs accordingly.

    Now that I have made my case and perhaps persuaded you to abandon your posters, database designs, and filing systems, and launch yourself into the field of holistic experience design, let share some reservations regarding this emerging practice.

    200711042347-1 Many designers and critics have thoughtfully argued that there is no way to design experiences. experiences occur by definition only in the minds of those who have them, not at a designer’s behest. There is no way to reach into the head of individuals and implant or create particular experiences.

    200711042348 However, the same designers and critics do endorse designing for experience. Designing for experience means creating the conditions by which target audiences can be made, persuaded, or encouraged to have desired experiences – and because design these days is mainly in the service of instrumental political and commercial interests – to take desired actions like heeding a governmental directive, using a public service, buying something, or pursuing more experiences. (Truly good experiences are addictive.)

    The principle obstacle to the successful practice of designing for experience is that we as designers know relatively little about the nature of experiences, except for our own. We don’t study experience. To the extent that ethnographers successfully interpret the behavior of the people they study in designers’ behalf, they are implying experiences that their subjects have had or are having. But except in the tales their subjects tell them, ethnographers are mainly studying only what they can visually record – and experience is invisible. Does our ignorance about experience render us impotent to design for it?

    200711042348-1 No, because we can learn from what others have discovered and written about. For a book on designing for experience that I’m now preparing, I took it upon myself to survey the literature on experience in four domains: spiritual experience, the philosophy of experience, experience as a scientific phenomenon (including perceptual and cognitive science), and design.

    I had no concept of the enormity of the task I had set for myself! The literature on spiritual experience alone, which spans prehistory right up to our own time, is copious. I’m still just skimming the surface. Months of study lie ahead of me. I’m sure this is equally true of the other domains.

    Knowledge about the phenomenon of human experience exists and is readily mined with the necessary investment of intellectual energy. Information designers who choose to evolve into designers for experience will have to allow substantial time to acquire this knowledge and incorporate it into their practices.

    Many structural changes are required in the profession for this to occur: a reformed pedagogy, canons of practice, agencies to employ people, and above all, the education of clients to recognize the value in designing for experience.

    Learning is one thing. Inspiration is another.

    People have been designing for experience from the earliest historical times to today, always with mixed results, which lead me to conclude that even the very best education and training may not result in the ability to successfully design for experience. Knowledge about experience is prolific and available, but knowledge about designing for experience is not.

    200711042350 In a posting to my blog, Total Experience, I identified a dozen books that take have something to do with experience and design, but only two specifically tackle the issue of designing for experience: Nathan Shedroff’s typographically challenging but pioneering Experience Design, published in the mid-90s; and Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore’s bestselling business book, The Experience Economy, also published in the 1990s.

    200711042350-1 Among the few articles on the subject, two stand out: Adam Greenfield’s recent critique of experience design, “On the Ground Running: Lessons from Experience Design,” on his Speedbird blog; and California artist Erik Davis’ chapter in the obscure 2001 Australian anthology, Arcadia: Writings on Techology and Theology. Davis’ chapter, “Experience Design and the Design of Experience,” is possibly the best discussion anywhere regarding the significance, practice, and consequences of designing for experience.

    Earlier, I mentioned the extremely small success rate of the misnamed user experience design profession – essentially, Web, interaction, and service design – even when informed by that new panacea of the progressive design community, ethnography. You would think the intersection of user experience design, which is well understood, and ethnography, which has a long history, would result in a higher rate of success. Instead, their union introduces more degrees of freedom into the solution space than these teams can convincingly handle, at least not with the rational, professional methods that they employ.

    Merely providing designers of experience with more knowledge about experience, necessary though that may be, isn’t sufficient for a solid practice. We need to take a different approach.

    I believe that inspired designing for experience is more akin to architecture and musical composition than it is to conventional design. The variables one must deal with are vast and unknowable in their entirety: the audience’s cultural and experiential legacy, individuals’ past personal histories and experiences, the interplay among design elements and the audience’s interaction with them, the conditions in which experiences are to be had, heuristic filters (how people perceive and evaluate conditions), and so forth.

    In terms of the designer’s capacity to know about and take into account all of these factors, the list might as well be infinite. no designer is omnipotent.

    200711042353 Recently, Adam Greenfield acquainted me with the philosophical concept of the quale (a Latin term, plural, qualia), the basic building block of experience, and its drawbacks. Qualia are locked within our minds: indescribable, immeasurable, and impossible to share. thus, they are inaccessible to the designer.

    So, is there also a theoretical barrier to the totally rationale, systematic approach to designing for experience? Possibly. But I don’t consider it fatal.

    We do have good, even excellent experiences, serendipitously or by someone else’s design: a home, a workplace, a concert, a lesson learned, a spiritual moment, an encounter with nature, a coffee at the shop, a working plan, a keen machine, a friend made, a child saved, a sunrise or a sunset, a policy that works, a film, a theme park, a trip, a moment of repose, a sense of enlightenment … all good experiences constituting, we hope, a good life concluded by an honorable, comfortable death. We know we have good experiences; they happen all of the time. We also have bad experiences.

    The majority of our good experiences do not rise to the level of memorability. But of those that do, we often know their inventors by name or at least affiliation. they are that significant. We cherish Bach, Jobim, and springsteen for the auditory experiences they’ve left for us; Shakespeare, Sappho, and Neruda for their poetry; Michaelangelo, Picasso, and Hokusai for their 2D and 3D visual art; and so on. Many more such luminaries exist in these and other fields; more are on the rise. Each period and culture has its own pantheon of identifiable great creators of great experiences.

    200711042354 There are many other creators of experience whom we do not know them by name, but only by affiliation: for example, the nameless animators and sound designers working for Walt Disney Studios in the 1940s who became the original Disney Imagineers, the inventors of the modern theme park, Disneyland.

    I consider these creators of experience, the great and the less well-known, to be “composers of experience.”

    We remember the experiences the composers create, the great and the less well known. what we do not know is how do they accomplish their feats. How can we understand their compositional methods? We haven’t the language to dissect and analyze the process of creating compelling experiences. In English, we don’t even have a word, other than “experience,” to describe the phenomenon of experience!

    200711042356 For the moment, composing for experience remains more an art than a science. We can teach lessons about composing for experience, but we appear unable, at the moment, to teach how to design for experience. The rules and procedures seem so vague, the conditions so variable, the outcomes so unpredictable. As designers, this rightfully makes us very uncomfortable. design, with a big D or a small one, isn’t the whole answer.

    We know that individuals and teams intuitively, empathetically engender great experiences for others. we know that they don’t do it by procedurally plodding their way to “just okay” design solutions. How can they rapidly, accurately apprehend and comprehend the complex physical, virtual, and social environments in which their audiences live, work, and play, and design accordingly?

    These are questions that beg answering, and they can’t be answered examining conventional design methods. those don’t work. We need to examine what it takes to become a composer of experience. not everyone will succeed at this profession. But more may succeed at composing experiences than designing them.

    Composition means gathering elements of meaning and emotion from the environment, the audience, and in one’s self, applying what one knows and feels about experience, and then expressing not so much a solution as a creation. the process of composing has rules by which it’s conducted, but the actual composition of a work – including an environment that provokes desired experiences – remains a personal feat and something of a mystery.

    200711042359 Cognate to information design, the graphic and industrial designs of Chermayeff and Geismar, Saul Bass, Norman Bel Geddes, Raymond Loewy, and Charles and Ray Eames suggest the process I’m talking about. Composers work from a place of deep meanings, intuitively, with the intention of creating new experiences for their audiences. Passion powered their activity.

    Composers, more than designers, are allowed – no, expected! – To experiment: to make errors, have failures, but also to achieve memorable successes that dramatically enlarge how we experience the world that we live in.

    200711050000 Learning from these notables, we can compose scores of environmental elements to create experiences that satisfy our audiences’ needs, wants, and desires. The work of the American landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who scores his landscape projects, suggests how we can compose for experience, using new languages of meaning and representation. Halprin takes his inspiration from the work of his wife anna halprin, an accomplished choreographer of dance.

    200711050001 in a similar vein, the great Danish information designer, Per Mollerup, has developed “wayshowing” as an evolutionary substitute for the now common practice of “wayfinding,” a methodology to assist people to navigate an environment. Wayfinding identifies landmarks, regardless of their significance to the people using them to find their way. Wayshowing takes a different approach. it presents information that helps people to understand their surroundings as they make their way through them, based on their own discoveries in the place and reflecting on their own prior knowledge.

    The natural next step will be for designers of experience to integrate and apply the methods of scoring and wayshowing concurrently, Thus creating places, not only in the physical world but also in the virtual worlds of knowledge and understanding, that reveal themselves in the same way that a musical composition is heard. this is composing for experience.

    200711050002 Halprin and Mollerup describe a new role for the information designer turned a designer of experience: not a tour guide dispensing partial, predigested information, but rather as a co-explorer of knowledge with the “experiencer” of knowledge, of situation, or of place via the medium of designed experiences. Which is a good place for me to stop, so that we can explore How we might design for the experience together. Thank you.

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


    1. David Armano on November 5, 2007 11:02 AM writes...

    Uhhhh wow.

    OK, it's going to take me a while to wrap my head around this, but suffice it to say that there is some good reading here. I linked to it from L+E. I hope you get some folks talking about this. Also, is there somewhere we can preview the presentation? Do you use slide share?

    Thanks for this post. I will come back to it from time to time.

    Permalink to Comment

    2. ARLAN DEAN on November 5, 2007 3:41 PM writes...

    Maybe I missed it, but the notion of "surprise" didn't seem to be part of the discourse. The idea of information designer as co-explorer comes close. Risky yes, because it seems to imply that the designer of experience isn't enmeshed in the corporate imperative to over-design, leaving nothing (in theory) to chance.

    The apparent high failure rate of over-designed user experience projects tells the tale. Perhaps it's time to re-enter an era of real risk. Who knows? We might even become less jaded and re-capture our capacity to be surprised!

    Permalink to Comment

    3. Brian Frank on November 6, 2007 5:36 PM writes...

    It's great to see people taking risks like this -- trying out new attitudes and perspectives. I look forward to more of your ideas in this direction.

    Permalink to Comment

    4. Bob Jacobson on November 7, 2007 9:28 AM writes...

    1. Thanks, David. The ICID organizers are putting together a DVD and also a book based on the presentations (of which there were six, I believe, the other five having been given in person). I'll keep the readers informed.

    2. Arlan: you have hit a nail on the head. Surprise is an experiential outcome that affects designers and audiences alike. Surprise can be pleasant, especially if our situation is secure and not threatened by the surprise. However, research (and history) prove that human beings are inherently conservative, so people more often than not aren't comfortable with surprises.

    Nevertheless, surprise is a necessary concomitant to discovery and knowledge-acquisition. We can't shy away from its possibility, although thoughtful designers will do what they can to buffer audiences, not from surprise but from the shock that may accompany it (preserving the benefits of surprise). One way to do this, of course, is to educate audiences a priori that surprises may be in the offing. Another way is to encourage leaders among the audience members to act as "translators" and "guides."

    Here's are my favorite takes on the subject of surprise and a whole lot more regarding human experience, decisionmaking, and action:

    Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment by Thomas Gilovich, Dale Griffin, and Daniel Kahneman (eds.) (Cambridge 2002); and Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases by Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky (Cambridge 1982).

    This corpus of knowledge is so on the mark, it's timeless: it only improves with new findings.

    Permalink to Comment

    5. Captain MIRA on November 10, 2007 11:47 AM writes...

    Experience design is simply good design. I can get an experience in restaurant, train station or by looking at a painting. Sometime it Is not by design at all, in nature. I am not a designer, but I am a communicator. The idea or message we are communicating must incorporate into a good design.

    This is our California exhibit at CIFIT 2007 in Xiamen, designed by Cameron McNall and Damon Seeley of Electroland. Additionally:

    QT of MIRA interactive table

    WMV instead of QT of MIRA interactive table

    MIRA Trade Center is located in Santa Ana, California. It is designed for Chinese enterprises outbound to the world market to build their own brands and distribution channels.

    There is an old Chinese tell about these koi like fishes living in the Yellow River, once a year they must swim upstream to a place called the "Dragon Gate" and leap over it. If the fish makes over the "Gate", it will turn into a dragon and fly into heaven; if not, it will fall back into the river and hit the river rock with its head. You can identify the fishes by a black spot on their forehead, so you can tell those that had the courage to try and those without the spot never even tried.

    I am working on another project in Shanghai, seeking good designers willing to take a leap without safety net, but with pay. The project is called "Napa Valley Experience" in a warehouse area, Weigaoqiao FTZ. If you are interested, please contact me or Cameron.

    Permalink to Comment

    6. Bob Jacobson on November 11, 2007 3:26 PM writes...


    Thanks for the links to the MIRA project. Very interesting.

    I don't agree that experience design is simply good design. It has a specific meaning in the lexicon of designers -- or rather, several specific meanings -- and it's those meanings that are subject to debate and refinement.

    Much "good design" has little to do with human experience, except indirectly. (For example, the landing gear on an airliner or the sealant used on a package.) Though we may disagree on the appropriate process of designing for experience, among most self-described experience designers, experience design must deal with human perception, cognition, and action taken as a result of having the experience. It's how experiences are engendered that's up in the air.

    However, one hopes that most experience designs will also be good designs. Otherwise, what would be the point of there being designers?


    Permalink to Comment

    7. Dan Hill on November 12, 2007 7:05 PM writes...

    Hi Bob -

    Interested in your use of 'composing'. I wrote a paper a while back about the analogies between 'composing, arranging' and 'design, planning.' And how they might prove more fruitful, less-controlled approaches to design.

    Interested in your thoughts.


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

    Bob Jacobson, design consultant and editor of the anthology Information Design (MIT Press, 1999), was a keynote speaker last month at the 3rd International Conference on Information Design (ICID), Curitiba, Brazil. His talk which deals with “i... [Read More]

    Tracked on November 5, 2007 11:53 AM

    Composing experiences from tuning slide
    Here is an interesting read by Bob Jacobson, an experience design consultant at Bluefire, and the editor of Information Design. Taken from his keynote at the 3rd International Conference on Information Design (ICID), Curitiba, Brazil, the speech focuse... [Read More]

    Tracked on November 19, 2007 6:27 AM


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