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
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    January 21, 2008

    Davos 2008: Collaborative Innovation at the Global Country Club

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    As it does each year at this time, the World Economic Forum is happening in Switzerland, holds its annual intellectual funfest for the high and the mighty. The WEF, a nonprofit institute officially dedicated to “improving the state of the world” -- and funded accordingly -- stages this annual meeting, more commonly known as the “Davos Conference,” for the city where this event takes place. Attending Davos costs tens of thousands of dollars -- and you have to be invited. In evidence are CEOs and investors (first and foremost), political leaders (including Presidents and Prime Ministers), and cultural leaders (ranging from the Pope to Bono). In short, Davos is a temporary global country club, with skiing takes the place of golf or sailing mega-yachts. In WEF's defense, it does host a whole lot of interesting sessions at Davos, with titles that wet one's whistle -- but for the 99.9999999% of us without invitations, they hardly matter. Just a lot of fizz and fizzle.

    Davos' theme this year is “The Power of Global Collaboration” (described in a “We Are the World”-like video), in this case as applied to solving the world's problems and not just building better mousetraps or Internet social networks. Bruce Nussbaum, Business Week's Design Editor, sagely reports this week that Davos 2008 is really about three things: officially, innovation as a source of solutions (to what seem to me puny problems, when seen against a backdrop of environmental catastrophe); unofficially, heading off the coming “world economic recession” (which, should it be truly on that scale, will probably rate being called a “depression”), a feat that Davos' PR terms “ensuring growth in 2008”; and most importantly, reaffirming the attendees' co-membership in Davos' exclusive global country club. Side issues that will be discussed, but predictably not solved, will include terrorism, climate change, and water scarcity. How statesmanlike. How safe. How status quo.

    What's fascinating to me, and what prompted me to blog about Davos -- which otherwise merits the attention paid to the Cannes Film Festival, which it resembles -- is the juxtaposition of collaborative innovation, a process of management, with world economic recession and a massively messed-up global ecosystem -- graphic testimonials to how badly things have been managed so far and continue to be, Davos notwithstanding. Is collaborative innovation (which I teach) up to solving the world economic crisis? Only if the right conditions for innovation to take place are met.

    The first of those conditions is to eliminate all mental constraints at the get-go and allow creativity free reign, at least during the run up to developing concrete solutions. It's important (a) not to set one's future event horizon too short, lest you merely reify the present; and (b) consider every possibility, lest an unexpected solution escape notice. The second of these conditions is to include all stakeholders in the innovation process, and not merely CEOs, political leaders, and Popes.

    So how real is the Davos commitment to innovation?

    First, what options and alternative are permitted to be discussed at Davos? Is creating and funding a global economic safety net, as the UN has proposed, on the table? What about a more equitable distribution of global wealth? How about rich nations taxing themselves for their disproportionately enormous economic and environmental demands on already terrifically strained physical and social environments, then putting the revenues in a global fund to deal with real global problem-solving? Is unbridled immigration from poor nations to rich an open option? A world government? A universal social democracy? Corporations devoting 25% of their income (not just five percent of their profits) to fighting climate change? Not surprisingly, these options are non-starters at Davos.

    Second, who gets to participate? Is the Davos collaborative innovation space full of people including representatives of the global population that this collaborative innovation is out to effect? Are you kidding?

    Collaborative innovation, as its described in Davos own PR and as represented by the speakers invited to discuss innovation, looks a lot like innovation talked about in corporate boardrooms, political smoke-filled rooms, and media situation rooms: how to get out a better product, a more compelling service, make people work harder but happier, etc., etc.

    Not that global crises are going unnoticed. In addition to many, many niche meetups on the pressing sidebar topics mentioned above (terrorism, water, how we understand our bodies, dealing with global poverty, etc.) which the avant-garde can attend, if you're at Davos you can buy offsets and drive hybrids, thus salving your conscience after traveling first class by air (a huge CO2, ozone-killing activity) and while being waited upon like a modern mogul, eating as perhaps 1% of the world population does regularly, and if you're an expert guest, sit at the feet of economic and political satraps like intellectual court jesters.

    (Image: Global Warming, Climate Change, Greenhouse Warning)

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Innovation & Concept Design

    January 6, 2008

    Designing Today for a Very Different Tomorrow: Suggestions for the coming Age of Austerity

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    1836 200 150Yesterday I wrote despairing that most designers are busy designing products intended to promote consumption and that end up as waste, while all objective indicators signal the need to start designing for a very different future of limits, constraints, and parsimony. Then I came across “Designing Behavior,” a video presentation on on Fora.TV, the outstanding website that features videos of intelligent discourse. The panelists share my concern and describe ways that designers can and are helping people to get ready for the coming Age of Austerity.

    “”Designing Behaviour“ was produced at the 2007 Battle of Ideas conference hosted in October by London's Institute of Ideas. Here's the Program Preview. It says it all:

    Nowadays, even before designers have put pen to paper, there are growing concerns about the consequences of their work and its effect on society. They are accused of everything from creating too much waste (excess packaging) to fuelling excessive consumption (producing unnecessary gadgets, luxury goods). We are told designers need to rethink their role, ensuring 'products' make a responsible contribution toward the common good, solve social problems, even promote responsible behaviour. Many designers have gone ethical; every designer wants to produce their version of 'I'm not a plastic bag'.

    While design has traditionally been about making life better by designing better things, many now argue it also has a duty to promote wellbeing, responsible behaviour, and to make people think rather than just consume. Today there are calls from government, local authorities and policy advocates that designers need to rethink their role, ensuring that 'products' make a responsible contribution toward the common good, by tackling issues from health awareness and rebuilding community to reducing consumption and global warming. -- Institute of Ideas

    Okay, so now I'm not quite so despairing. But I remain cautious. The tale will be told in the solutions' execution.

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

    January 5, 2008

    Designing Today for a Very Different Tomorrow: The coming Age of Austeriy

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Chinese Happy New Year It's another New Year. According to the Chinese calendar, which begins anew on the 7th of February, 2008 is a Year of the Rat.

    Rat years are fertile for new beginnings:

    A Rat Year is a time of hard work, activity, and renewal. This is a good year to begin a new job, get married, launch a product or make a fresh start. Ventures begun now may not yield fast returns, but opportunities will come for people who are well prepared and resourceful. The best way for you to succeed is to be patient, let things develop slowly, and make the most of every opening you can find. (

    So what new beginning should designers pursue in 2008? Try, planning realistically for a very different future.

    The last few weeks I've been researching and analyzing trends for a prominent European manufacturer of home goods. I was charged with describing current trend that characterize lifestyles in the industrial world (and elsewhere) over the next five years -- but as with most true trends (and not just fads), the trends I found most significant have a trajectory lasting well into the next two or three decades. No aware person will be surprised to read that the most significant trends include:

    • Climate change and global warming, leading to environmental stress
    • The scarcity of petroleum as a basis for gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil, and plastic products, curbing travel and encouraging recycling
    • Rising prices for health care specifically, but also for any products and services based on petroleum -- in other words, almost everything
    • A credit crunch followed by a money crunch, leading to reduced consumerism, market declines, and job losses
    • Greater reliance on intentional communities, physical as well as virtual, for personal well being
    • Greater economic globalization accompanied by devolution of national structures
    • An overarching need for parsimony, the husbanding of resources and extreme care in their deployment

    (On the plus side, dwindling energy probably means an end to the war economy, late in the game.)

    So are designers planning for for this rapidly approaching future of limits, constraints, stresses, and new behaviors? Not many, and not much.

    Recently, Cooper-Hewitt, the US National Design Museum, hosted “Design for the Other 90%.” (The exhibition closed in September, but its website remains -- and it's a good one.) The website opens with this quote from Dr. Paul Polak of International Development Enterprises,

    "The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%."

    Most people will read this, as have many reviewers, as a cliché: "Once again, designers are neglecting the developing world." But that's not what Dr. Polak's saying. At least half, if not more, of the world's customers don't live in the developing world. They live here, in the advanced and advancing industrial nations. In other words, 90 percent of the world's designers are designing to serve only a tiny fraction of customers...everywhere.

    And in the future, the situation could get worse. One of the megatrends resulting from the trends listed above and others (including falling stock markets and incipient economic recession or depression) is a noticeable bifurcation of advanced societies, particularly the United States and other “free market” economies, as the middle class is absorbed -- a small proportion into the genuinely rich class and a much larger proportion into the genuinely poor class.

    (Even designers are feeling the pressure: young designers are mainly just getting by and older designers are discovering that seniority brings no security.) Given the easy foreseeability of this future, one might expect more designers to begin identifying with “the other 90%” and restructuring their design practices for future survival and prosperity, such as can be accomplished in a society under extreme pressure.

    But with the exception of designers who explicitly design for the developing world -- and designers in the developing world, who are used to economical design (though not necessarily designing economically) -- there appears to be no groundswell of realism among designers. Most continue working on interfaces for electrical gizmos, expensive medical technology, furniture for mansions, fashions for consumption, food that contributes to obesity, homes and cars that queer the air, and all the many other environmental and energy sinks that promise to drag down the quality of life for “everyone else.” Caught up in their professions and determined to get ahead of the rest of the pack, designers, ethnographers, marketers, and brand managers all seem caught up in the same lemming race. Not this time, Horatios. We're all in this together. Nor will “designing green” or “living simply” suffice. The are merely affectation, luxury options for the rich. They will not buy dispensation in the real world to come.

    Bill Calvin, a well known mind scientist at the University of Washington, was one of a hundred-plus very smart people asked by the Edge Foundation its World Question for 2008: how have you changed you mind? Bill replied that the evidence of rapid global warming changed his mind, and it should change others:

    "...We're not even back paddling as fast as we can, just drifting toward the falls. If I were a student or young professional, seeking my future being trashed, I'd be mad as hell. And hell is a pretty good metaphor for where we are heading if we don't get our act together. Quickly."

    The same goes for the design profession. Especially for designers of experience, whose creative inventions won't survive the extreme trauma of new experiences foisted on all of us, rich and poor, in a world under harsh stress: environmental, economic, and social.

    Happy New Year.

    (But wait! "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." Check back next week....)

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

    January 3, 2008

    Amazon Kindle: A New Experience Channel

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Amazon%20Kindle.jpgWhile the likes of the iPhone expand our access to online, Amazon embraces our changing states of online and offline by synthesizing them in an experience-specific device, the Kindle, for wireless reading. Amazon reinforces the synthesis by using the term “electronic-paper”. With a pricetag of almost $400, the fact that they’ve had to post the following statement, says something for the market response since its November 2007 debut, and its potential:
    Kindle Availability Due to heavy customer demand, Kindle is temporarily sold out. We are working hard to manufacture Kindles as quickly as possible and are prioritizing orders on a first come, first served basis. Please ORDER KINDLE NOW to reserve your place in line. We will keep you informed by email as we get more precise delivery dates. Note that Kindles cannot currently be sold or shipped to customers living outside of the U.S.

    The Kindle even has its own Wikipedia post (maybe offering full access to Wikipedia offline is related? Oh, and did I mention a full version of the New Oxford American Dictionary?). The post reports that the initial offering resulted in a sellout in 5.5 hours. Sure beats standing in line for hours on the street only to end up empty-handed. While the device was announced well over a year in advance, and even though I’m on Amazon weekly, it’s never caught my attention until this week. That suggests to me, that there’s a lot more upside to this product. [Gosh and I’ve already spent my $400 buying a pair of XOs – I got as far as charging it up, but haven’t had the time to power it up. More later…]

    Here’s where the total experience gets more specific to a focused scenario: If you look very carefully above main contents of the Amazon Kindle product page (bottom of the page header) you’ll see a series of links related to the Kindle Store. Select “Kindle Books” and you get a collections of book ‘products’ different than their non-electronic brethren. These SKUs will download, on purchase, to your Kindle device, in 2 minutes. Not sure if you really want that title, and thinking of going to a retail store to flip through the pages? Grab the first chapter for free. That, my friends, now differentiates the offering by the experience — an experience that spins endless new offerings for the brand.

    When you specialize the experience to the product and the products to the experience, how quickly can the competition respond? [Repeat again, “The experience IS the product.”]

    Amazon is a market maker. When some companies waste valuable cycles building walls against the competition, Amazon goes out embraces theirs. By expanding their model to include used and second-market books Amazon capitalized on a larger portion of the demand chain, and expanded the total market (just ask the many used book vendors who liberally leverage Amazon’s online storefront) – recognizing as Bill Gates did, that when the pie gets bigger so does their slice of it.

    Amazon does this one better by creating the Kindle Edition of major newspaper subscription content. Bear in mind that these publishers have already had to grapple with the transition of their identity from newspaper to content provider. I wonder how long it will be before the section label will change to drop the “newspaper” reference? [I’d sure like to hear the debates that went on around the division of product collections and how to label them.]

    And while there’s been some whining about the cost of the newspaper subscriptions being the same as the newspaper stand versions for content that is more frequently being offered for free online, Amazon is likely looking to capitalize on the long tail of economics. Don’t think that they’re not going to experiment with the elasticity of pricing for these offerings over time. In the meantime, they capture the small slice of the market that finds reason for this offering to most closely match their specific scenario needs. [I know I’d want to be doing some ethnographic work to identify a potential Kindle-factor on BART, WMATA, and MTA (amateur sightings welcomed).]

    How many more dots can Amazon connect?

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Experience Design & Technology