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

    « Amazon Kindle: A New Experience Channel | Main | Designing Today for a Very Different Tomorrow: Suggestions for the coming Age of Austerity »

    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....)

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