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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    December 20, 2007

    Shine Doesn't Matter

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Shoes.jpg ...well at least not nearly as much as comfort. It's amazing what a company can discover when they actually do deep research about their products from the customer's perspective. Discovering such facts is fairly significant to your business model when you're in the shoe 'shine' business, like Sara Lee is (gosh, I thought they made great frozen deserts).

    The Wall Street Journal reported today about customer research done two years ago. So what do you do when 'shine' is 17th on the list of 20 related values? You focus on satisfying higher-valued attributes, like comfort.

    If I'd been the WSJ writer I would have questioned Sara Lee about Kiwi's brush with comfort products in 1992: "Kiwi to Market Comfort Insoles to Consumers." I'd want to know more about why they decided on the range of products they're now marketing (what did they throw out?) and how/why they hoped to differentiate these from existing comfort offerings like insoles.

    I'd also want to determine how much they really valued the results of research by asking what they've learned about the adoption of the new products so far (from the consumer's perspective) -- that is, what's been the feedback? I'd ask this, because the original research was initiated and conducted as part of a media/campaign budget, suggesting that ongoing Design Research has not be adopted as a key strategic contributor to their business planning.

    Having continuous access to such facts is critical to adjust a strategic business model: "Today's footwear is made less from leather and more from canvas and synthetic materials. Even the military, one of Kiwi's best customers since World War I, had been moving away from leather, partly because so much fighting now takes place in the Middle East, where desert sand makes canvas more sensible. Most consumers today are more likely to toss out worn shoes than work to keep them in good condition." This is critical information to prepare for a shift in demand for products.

    Amazing that a company's web site can be read like tea leaves, to infer critical things about a business and their agility: Sara Lee doesn't leverage the Kiwi site as a strategic component of their business. How do I know?

    1. Limited content
    2. More importantly, knowing all of the above for 2-years, why are products still organized by: Leather, Suede & Nubuck, Outdoor, Sport, Multi-Purpose?

    I'm buying comfort. Are you selling any of that today?

    Hmmm...the new products are not ON the web site. Wouldn't you want them there first -- particularly since retailers need to know about them to want to order them INTO the stores? Did they miss the obvious when it stared them in the face?

    "And when the Sara Lee sales representatives who call on big retailers like Wal-Mart and Tesco were told they'd have to sell the new products, "they looked at their sales directors like they were mad," Mr. Casa says. "They said, 'Kiwi is a round tin, mainly for men, and now you're coming to us with colorful products called smiling feet. It's not serious.'"

    Indeed, wouldn't you want to 'feature' your new products (and the stories about why they were developed) on your main page as a teaser, particularly on the same day that you've made the pages of the Wall Street Journal?

    What better position to be in than as a writer from WSJ to ask Sara Lee what percentage of their revenue is allocated to the online channel (seems like a reasonable business question). There's got to be a model we could come up with to 'guestimate' a range of investment based on the evidence of the channel as it speaks for itself.

    Doesn't seem to me that Kiwi was ever in the 'shine' business after all -- just polish, and only for shoes.

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

    December 17, 2007

    Prisoners in the Digital Panopticon: The Experience of Constant Surveillance -- Or, When Bad Things Beckon to Good Designers

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    PanopticonThe Panopticon was 18th-Century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham's concept of the ideal prison. It consists of two components: a central tower in which the jailers reside, invisible to the prisoners; and a ring of cells around the central tower in which the inmates toil, behind bars that do not, however, obstruct the view of the jailers into each and every cell. We live in a Digital Panopticon.

    French social critic Michel Foucault based his theory of self-censorship as a means of social control on the Panopticon. Commenting on Bentham, he wrote:

    ...The major effect of the Panopticon [is] to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so. In order to make the presence or absence of the inspector unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, cannot even see a shadow.

    Foucault then observed that in contemporary society, the media, our means of communication, have become a modern form of the Panopticon, with most of us in the prisoners' ring. Foucault died before the Internet became a reality. Had he lived to see the excesses of personal revelation and voyeurism associated with Internet use, he would have considered his theory proven a million-fold. The Internet has become our Digital Panopticon. Powerful interests can invisibly record and analyze our every conversation, domestic and international -- and without the force of law to restrain them or, as in the case of the Bush Administration, with active encouragement to violate the law -- they do so, often.

    Today, a filibuster took place in the U.S. Senate, led by Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd. You probably didn't hear about it watching TV, reading the or listening to the radio this weekend. If you had, you'd have known that what was at issue was a request by President Bush to grant AT&T neé SBC and Verizon -- two oligopolists that control most of this nation's telecommunications links, including the Internet's “backbone” fiber -- legal immunity from charges that they conspired with the National Security Agency to illegally supply the NSA with real-time and archival access to telephone calls, email, and all other forms of digital communications. Only Qwest, the third oligopolist, resisted the urge to collaborate without a judicial warrant. Those familiar with SBC (formerly Southwestern Bell, which acquired the shell of AT&T and then took its name), will not be surprised: it's long enjoyed playing sheriff, ever eager to participate in law enforcement, sometimes almost without being asked. Verizon's capitulation is no surprise, either: as General Telephone, junior partner to the Bell System, it always toed the prevailing Bell line. Now it's AT&T's line. Nothing's changed.

    Dodd's filibuster succeeded! When time ran out and the Senators began wanting to go home for the holidays, Senate President pro tem Harry Reid pulled the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) with the offending provision. The President says, if you're a huge corporation -- a more powerful element of the modern industrial state than the government that supposedly regulates it -- you can illegally collaborate with giant spy agencies to deprive Americans and those with whom they communicate, here and abroad, of their privacy...the essential condition of free and honest speech. What will the Senate say when it eventually gets to vote, after the New Year?

    Speaking with colleagues and friends here and overseas, I'm made aware more frequently than I'd like that we share a Dark Secret: we're being snooped, we know it, and sheepishly, we live with it. We are being snooped by corporations, we are being snooped by government, and in a figurative way, we are being snooped even by each other. It's become big business for startups to devise ever better ways of disrobing oneself in public view and conversely, being able to spy on one another. Many technologists and interaction designers are making careers of creating ever more invasive technologies and enabling their ease of use.

    Our every utterance and writing, even our very ideas, can be swept up by a giant vacuum cleaner wielded by private interests and an oppressive government, working in collusion, apparently without fear of prosecution. Nothing can be done about it if the law cannot prevail. What's the effect on free speech and honest discourse of being surveilled, geospatially tracked, and represented by thick, information-rich dossiers kept secret from us? We all know the answer...and it isn't pretty, democratic, or much of a future. The new American experience of constant surveillance is deadening. And it will take only one insane President, someone out of touch with America's democratic ideals or enthralled by religious quackery, to put the machinery of surveillance to truly evil use. For all we know, it's already our reality. Why did I disconnect from Twitter and Spock? Maybe because, even if I'm as vulnerable as before, I don't want to aid, abet, or encourage others to exploit my personal information in untoward ways. I'm protecting my property and their souls. Plus, I'm not a techno-lemming.

    Stealthy surveillance makes a mockery of our best designs. Take the iPhone, an icon of innovation: sold by Apple, that paragon of freedom, into the monopolistic grasp of AT&T, snitch to the most powerful. How can you design for a better tomorrow when the very things you design are put to such terrible use today? The Nazis had good design, too.

    Where, today, were the voices of the web developers, designers, technologists, ethnographers, and other technologically smart and socially sophisticated individuals and their professional organizations as our communication birthright went on the auction block? There will be more votes in the Senate and the House. Live your life like you design for it. Speak out for corporate accountability, for privacy, and for freedom of speech. It's your turn now.

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

    December 5, 2007

    Paranoia and recklessness among national leaders: what role do events play?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Several recent political events will test the hypothesis that national leaders become paranoiac and rule recklessly when their worldviews dramatically part company with reality.

    Bush-1Capt.Sge.Btu85.010307160229.Photo00.Photo.Default-373X512-2Take two cases of radical disagreement (also known in politics as “betrayal”). In the US, the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate exonerating Iran from charges that it's developing nuclear weapons flies in the face of the Bush-Cheney duet's years-long warmongering against Iran. Is this the revenge of the US "Intelligence Community" -- 16 different government agencies -- as neo-cons claim? Or just a more objective conclusion than offered by prior NIEs?

    Coincidentally, in Venezuela, populist President Chavez' plan to undergird admirable social equity gains by extending his tenancy in the Palacio de Miraflores was set back by the votes of former loyalists who joined the CIA-enhanced opposition.

    Bush appears to have lost his grip. Whether Chavez similarly retreats into delusional thinking or engages with his erstwhile supporters to find a better solution will serve as a partial proof or a refutation, coming as it does from the other end of the political spectrum. Of course, many more cases need to be collected and studied.

    In politics, the proof is in the pudding. So far, only the case in the U.S. supports the Crazy Leader hypothesis. I feel confident, however, that with additional research around the world and throughout history, enough proofs will be found.

    So then, what about the A Crazy Leader creates a Crazy Nation hypothesis? In this regard, I refer you to Tom Friedman's excellent and very funny column in today's New York Times, “Intercepting Iran's Take on America.” After recounting the factors that have rendered Bush's America a toothless giant, crazy in its own right, the mock Iranian intelligence memo quoted by Friedman concludes:

    First, 9/11 has made America afraid and therefore stupid. The “war on terrorism” is now so deeply imbedded in America’s psyche that we think it is “highly likely” that America will continue to export more fear than hope and will continue to defend things like torture and Guantánamo Bay prison and to favor politicians like Mr. Giuliani, who alienates the rest of the world.

    Second, at a time when America’s bridges, roads, airports and Internet bandwidth have fallen behind other industrial powers, including China, we believe that the U.S. opposition to higher taxes — and the fact that the primary campaigns have focused largely on gay marriage, flag-burning and whether the Christian Bible is the literal truth — means it is “highly unlikely” that America will arrest its decline.

    Third, all the U.S. presidential candidates are distancing themselves from the core values that made America such a great power and so different from us — in particular America’s long commitment to free trade, open immigration and a reverence for scientific enquiry wherever it leads. Our intel analysts are baffled that the leading Democrat, Mrs. Clinton, no longer believes in globalization and the leading Republican, Mr. Huckabee, never believed in evolution.

    U.S. politicians seem determined to appeal either to the most nativist extremes in their respective parties — or to tell voters that something Americans call “the tooth fairy” will make their energy, budget, educational, and Social Security deficits painlessly disappear.

    Therefore, we conclude with “high confidence” that there is little likelihood that post-9/11 America will, as they say, “get its groove back” anytime soon.

    Who needs nukes when you have this kind of America?

    God is Great. Long Live the Iranian Revolution.

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