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
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.
| Contact Bob
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."
| Contact Paula
CALENDAR OF EXPERIENCE DESIGN EVENTS
(Courtesy of Mark Vanderbeeken
, Experientia SpA, Torino)
Experience Design Websites
Core 77 Website & Forum
InfoD: Understsanding by Design
The Wayfinding Place
L-ARCH (Landscape Architecture Mailing List)
DUX 2007 Conference
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
Experience Design Blogs
Adam Greenfield's Speedbird
Experience Designer Network (Brian Alger)
SmartSpace: Annotated Environments (Scott Smith)
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
MIT Culture Convergence Consortium
Luke Wroblewski, Functioning Form|Interface Design
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
LRA Worldwide, Inc.
BRC Imagination Arts
Cooper Interactive Design
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
Total Experience on Technorati
In the Pipeline:
Don't miss Derek Lowe's excellent commentary on drug discovery and the pharma industry in general at In the Pipeline
April 4, 2007
On the improbably named blog, Asia Carrera Videos (which mysteriously has nothing to do with the adult film star or her videos), marketing executive Jeff Bader makes an impassioned appeal about “Designing Websites That Appeal to the Senses.” He coins the term “SenEx” to mean the full range of human sensory and experiential phenomena.
Bader starts out,
We read the newspaper, we watch television, and we listen to the radio, but we experience the Web; this is what makes “The Website” one of the most powerful marketing tools available to today's marketing executives.
This casual observation reveals a common bias and self-interest among online advertisers and the Web designers and developers who serve them. The Web is actually a pretty thin “user experience.” Bader doesn't tell us how or why the Web is an experience while other forms of media are not. One can easily argue that watching TV or listening to the radio are more profound experiences, because they are collective acts (whether the collectivity is friends and family gathered around the tube, or the background awareness a radio listener has that he or she is one of thousands or millions simultaneously engaged in listening). For most users most of the time, using the Web is a solitary, mute experience. For that matter, using the phone, which is more interactive than reading, watching, or listening to Web artifacts, may be a richer experience than surfing the Web.
In closing, Bader acknowledges that Web “user experience” designers have only two senses to work with: sight and hearing (although one add “interaction,” a kind of meta-sense). He puts this in a good light.
The power of Web-audio and video is their ability to illicit experiences by presenting information in a linear narrative that appeals to the senses of sound and sight. This ability attracts and focuses an audience's attention on the material you want highlighted; it presents that material in an easily digestible format; it clarifies the meaning and significance of critical details; and it penetrates viewers' consciousness so that the information is retained.
Is this true? I don't believe so. The power of the Web, such as it is, is its non-linearity. The now famous YouTube video, Web 2.0: The Machine Is Using Us, argues that non-linearity is the Web's defining characteristic. Hyperlinking defines the Web. It's a way to quickly relate information in the context of other information.
This information, however, isn't in a new form: it's invariably visual or aural and presented in two dimensions. (Second Life and similar on-screen worlds are disparaged as “2-1/2D” by developers who work in true “3-space," like those who design themed environments or product simulations. For them, it's a trompe l'oeil, a “trick of the eye.”) It's difficult to harness this interactivity for narrative purposes. It's too fluid, mentally quantum.
Now that the Web labor market is saturated and Web design a static profession, it's not surprising that “user experience” designers and researchers who've spent their careers online are looking for new worlds to conquer. Some are returning to the “old media” as directors and producers. More are now doing offline consulting (service experience design, social policy design, exhibition design, and so on) under the "user experience" aegis. They argue that the lessons they've learned on the Web can be applied to phenomena in the physical and social worlds.
But there are enormous differences -- perceptual, cognitive, and material -- between watching a computer screen or listening to an iPod headset and navigating the holistic environments -- enveloping, unpredictable, objective and subjective, entertaining, and often risky -- in which we live our lives.
When you're a hammer, however, the world is a nail. When you're a “user experience” designer, the world is the Web writ large. Welcome to Thin Universe.
What do you think?
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March 29, 2007
The last three weeks have been hectic, a perfect storm of convergent deadlines. Four projects that have been germinating more than six months (one of them, for two years), plus a couple consulting opportunities, finally erupted, ripping me away from Total Experience. Now I'm back, with lots of catching up to do....
By far the largest of the projects, in sheer scope and size, is planning for the US Pavilion at the forthcoming Shanghai 2010 World Expo, possibly the most important and certainly the grandest World Expo since the New York World's Fair, in 1964. Nearly 200 nations and NGOs are expected to participate -- in other words, the whole world. The Chinese and Shanghai governments are pouring nearly $4 billion into developing the Expo, and that doesn't include new maglev train lines, a new airport, new docks, new traffic metering systems, a regional 4G wireless system, untold amounts of commercial and residential construction, and the wholesale relocation of entire neighborhoods from what will soon become a highly congested area to new communities elsewhere in Shanghai. It does include $100 million in subsidies for developing nations. Over 70 million visitors are expected to visit the Expo between May and October 2010, just two years after the Beijing Olympics. There's a not-so-subtle competition between the two cities: one is China's political capital, the other its economic capital. This Expo means a lot to China, but even more to Shanghai and the rest of the industrial South. The Expo's theme is “Better City, Better Life,” which translates into progressive urbanism and lively communities, a healthy and stable environment, “green tech” and a sustainable economy, and a higher quality of life for everyone. This is the first Expo to take on such a global theme, and one so timely. The US Pavilion will have a lot of important storytelling to do.
Toward that end, the BH&L Group, an impromptu consortium of Expo veterans -- world-class designers, architects, and builders -- has gathered, led by legendary Expo designers Barry Howard and Leonard Levitan, and I'm a member (but only an Expo apprentice). The BH&L Group's noble purpose is to create a great US Pavilion for Shanghai, one that speaks eloquently of the American people's desire, in common with the other peoples of the world, for better urban environments, globally, and better lives in them. We submitted our Proposal to the US State Department in February, as required by a November 2006 RFP from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). One of the Proposal's most creative innovations is the prospective creation of an "Expo corporation" in which any American can invest, an entity with longevity that can acquire assets to fund not just this Expo -- to the tune of $100 million -- but also, Expo's to come. We hope we get the nod; we're still waiting to hear. In the meantime, I'm continuing to build BH&L's Advisory Board. The Board already boasts an impressive collection of experts to help us grapple with the Expo's theme, the Pavilion's design, and China's cultural and international trade issues. But I keep searching for potential new members. We're going to rely a lot on our Advisors once things really get rolling!
In the process, I meet interesting people. An interesting person I met today is Nina Simon, author of the excellent Museum 2.0 blog, subtitled, “From visitors to users. From artifacts to social networks. What's good, what's bad, what's possible?” Nina is one of the principal designers for "Operation Spy," a new attraction -- and quite an experience -- soon to open in this, the "Year of the Spy," at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. Founded in 2001, the Spy Museum offers a fascinating exposition -- or should I say, exposé? -- of the international spy business. It's “Spy vs. Spy" all over again, only this time for real. The Spy Museum investigates how intelligence communities are formed, the trade's startling technical evolution, and the confounding social issues associated with covert activities. The Spy Museum's website is a virtual embodiment of the Museum, clever, mysterious, and highly interactive. Nina describes "Operation Spy" in an email:
I'm the project lead for Operation Spy, a 3,800 sq ft new immersion experience that is set to open at the Spy Museum in June of this year. I'm the “experience development specialist,” which means I was the creative director, and now have slid into managing the construction and build-out. It's a really unique museum experience --a narrative, guided immersive mission in a highly-themed environment. Guests will enter in small groups and spend an hour trying to find a missing nuclear device in a (fictitious) foreign country. There are motion simulators, safes to crack, and agents to polygraph. There are branching endings that reflect the guests' actions and decisions throughout. It's been a blast to design and I'm enjoying watching it come together ... hopefully these last few months will send it out into the world with a bang!
So when a shady eye peers at you through the Museum peephole, and a raspy voice inquires, “Psst...who sent you?” you'll know what to reply: “Nina sent me.” Then the eye will draw back, the door will creak open, and the raspy voice will whisper, "Enter...Operation Spy." (I think I'm channeling Edgar Allen Poe.)
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March 16, 2007
Earlier, I posted an invitation to readers, to make me aware of exemplary experience design projects for possible inclusion in my book-in-progress.
I forgot to add an important category:
• Pageants, Festivals, Rituals, and Spiritual Places and Experiences
Please keep this one in mind, as these phenomena are often the most intense expressions of intentional design for experience. Thank you, and special thanks to those of you who've already submitted very interesting prospective cases. I'll review them and get back to you over the weekend.
(Illustration: Festivals in India)
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: ED Projects of Note | The Practice of Experience Design | Theories of Experience
March 15, 2007
On my end of year list of recommended gift books about experience design, I included the fabulous Atlas of Experience, by Dutch cartographer-philosophers, Jean Klare and Louise van Swaaij. I thought it incomparable. But now it has friendly competition: Strange Maps, a remarkable blog
The Atlas of Experience is a beautifully illustrated collection of maps and text depicting, as places and features on an fantasy globe, states of mind -- Elation, Panic, Loneliness, the Swamps of Sloth, and The Long Road Home. It shares my reference shelf with a dictionary, a thesaurus, and a traditional atlas of the world.
“Strange Maps,” on the other hand, features fantastic maps of our real globe -- truly strange maps. The blog first appeared in late 2006. Its author, not identified on the blog, has assembled an outstanding collection of strange maps from different times and geographies (including our own), and keeps discovering more. The editorial notes that accompany each map are informative and warmly written.
It's difficult to convey in words the magic of these strange maps and how addled, propagandistic, mistaken, or clever each one is. Reading Strange Maps, one comes to appreciate the ingenuity, craziness, or both of simple people trying to portray the complex worlds in which they live and often revealing more about themselves, their cultures, and their times than their actual environs.
Sometimes, however, it's not the cartographer who's off-axis, it's the geospatial “reality” that a strange map portrays: bizarre realpoliticks, theological mythology, empires that endure only days, territories claimed by multiple nations, and especially the virtues of regions as proclaimed by their inhabitants -- and the evils of surrounding people and places.
How strange the maps of our time will seem to future geographers. Given the obvious ecological interdependence of all systems on our planet, the arbitrary divisions known as cities, nations, regions, and other human constructs may seem extremely odd. Ursula Le Guin put it well in her portrait of a future, re-ruralized California, Always Coming Home: they are places in an historical epoch when the “people-with-their-heads-on-backwards” lived.
The atlases of our interior selves and of our geography co-exist and intermingle, each equally real and fantastic.
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Despite the cellular industry's uninspiring (in fact, sickening) plan to saturate the mobile environment with advertising, hope lives eternal in the hearts of mobile experience designers that there is another way -- in fact, many other ways -- for the medium to develop.
Next week, the Mobile Nation international conference, hosted by the Mobile Digital Commons Network and the Canadian Design Research Network, will offer participants a chance to explore deeply the emerging field of mobile experience design. The conference theme is “Creating Methodologies for Mobile Platforms.”
Participants will share expertise with WiFi, Global Positioning System (GPS), Bluetooth, Radio Frequency ID tags, intelligent garments, ambient media applications, and geo-locative gaming. The conference features keynotes, live demonstrations and hands-on workshops.
It will take more than better platforms to avoid the advertising onslaught, but certainly, better platforms will make possible other uses of mobile technology other than those constrained by arbitrary, self-serving industry limits. And then truly creative design for the mobile experience can take place.
The event takes place at the Ontario College of Art & Design, 100 McCaul Street, in Toronto. The speakers and sessions are knockout. Highly recommended. (Nice website, by the way.)
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March 12, 2007
As I wrote earlier, I'm working up a book about experience design -- also called, “designing for experience.” I met with my publisher and it looks like a go. As cases that can be featured in the book, I welcome your suggestions of exemplary experience design, applied to the following:
- Architecture and urban designs (intended to produce identifiable experiential outcomes)
- Cross-media environments (e.g., so-called “real-world games” employing various media )
- Customer experiences (processes as well as physical artifacts)
- Exhibitions, museums, and learning centers
- Experiences for education
- Experiences for entertainment
- Games and simulations (in the “real world,” not just on-screen)
- Haptic environments (acoustic, tactile, scent, motion, etc.)
- Immersive environments (virtual and physical)
- Integrated marketing (synergistic scored experiences)
- Landscape architecture and interpretive environments
- Longiitudinal experiences (single or multiple related experiences that occur over time)
- Themed attractions, theme parks, and themed destinations
- Workplaces and “third places” (places that are social, apart from the workplace and home)
These categories overlap. It doesn't matter at this time precisely into which category a case falls, or whether it's for a client or experimental. Also, if you have an example of experience design that doesn't fit within the categories, send it along anyway. Our field is growing like Topsy: there are always new expressions and formats. Also, I'm interested in instances where research methodologies, like usability and ethnography; and application methodologies, like interaction design, wayfinding, and corporate narrative, have contributed to successful experience designs.
As for the much-debated “user experience,” I'm interested in on-screen presentations and discrete products if they were integral parts of more complex experiences (for example, integrated media campaigns, the interior of a vehicle, or exhibitions).
Please be sure to include with each case suggestion a point of contact (email and phone if you have them). The POC should be an individual associated with the case project, with whom I can arrange the case's submission for review. Send your suggestions to my Gmail address, please. Please include in the Subject Line, “Experience Case:” and the case's working name. I'd appreciate it also if you'd share this invitation with your friends and, if you're a blog author, your readers. Thank you!
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: ED Projects of Note | Odds and Ends: Random Observations | Theories of Experience
March 8, 2007
Lest anyone's missed the news, CHI 2007 -- the annual conference of the ACM's Computer-Human Interaction Special Interest Group, SIGCHI for short -- will take place next month at San Jose University (California). It's a worthwhile event for those who make their livings studying and applying lessons learned about how people connect with technology (and vice versa).
SIGCHI has long been a mainstay for those interested in how computing and information technology generally have altered human experience. Throughout the 1990s, SIGCHI was poor cousin to the more glamorous SIGGRAPH, the SIG devoted to computer graphics and glitzy, entertainment/defense-driven conferences. But SIGCHI's finally come into its own with the recognition that UX (“user experience”) is a central and important factor in the success of online and device-driven environments. Just how important is indicated by CHI 2007's registration fees -- at this point in time, north of $1,000 (not including travel and accommodations) for everyone but students -- and its roster of A-tier corporate sponsors. I suspect that this and the full week required to attend all of the events, including tours of local interaction labs, may discourage many people from attending. But CHI 2007's roster of talks is fascinating, as always, and this is a great opportunity to recruit UX researchers and so forth to keep the wheels of digital commerce turning. Also, day registrations are available. So no doubt the halls will be full.
So which conferences will you attend this year? I count at least 25 that get my attention, with topics ranging from expo design to ethnography to digital technology to landscape architecture; even children's emotional development. If I had a cool $100,000 to invest in my education and edification -- for my readers' and clients' benefit, as well as my own -- where would I best put the money? I hope to read in your Comments good suggestions.
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March 7, 2007
Sometimes good experiences get taken for granted. Here are two projects that deserve commendation.
The US Passport Office has issued a new passport dubbed the e-Passport. It's an unfortunate name, because it puts the focus on the passport's inclusion of an RFID chip and not the excellent look-and-feel of the passport itself, which is what most impressed me and will impress most passport holders. The RFID chip has drawn a lot of controversy. It's supposed to make it easier to screen returning Americans and more difficult to counterfeit by ne'er-do-wells (as always, terrorists come first to mind, followed closely by drug dealers and gun runners) -- and already, the chip's own vulnerability to cloning has been demonstrated. But that's not what got my attention.
What got my attention, however, was the e-Passport's excellent graphic design (Flash version) and textual contents of the e-Passport. Yes, textual content. In the past, US passports have been uninspiring examples of bureaucracy-speak -- don't get in trouble, don't volunteer to serve in foreign militaries, don't import cigars from Cuba, etc. -- hardly the stuff to instill pride in Americans overseas. The e-Passport is different. It feature beautifully rendered two-page portraits of American landscapes coast to coast. (Pictures of actual Americans, glorious in their diversity, would have been equally welcome; but what can you expect from a nation that still adorns its drab currency with pictures of old white men, dead now for centuries?) The multicolored engravings are complemented by inspiring quotations on every page. And not just patriotic cant. One quote that will stay with me forever, now that I've seen read it in my daughter's new e-Passport, is Dwight Eisenhower's sage advice:
"Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America."
Whether jaded border guards and customs officers in foreign nations will appreciate the beauty of the e-Passport, whose pages they will besmirch with their inky stamps, is unimportant. What is important is that Americans, now traveling overseas in record numbers, can proudly display their passports to friends, family, and business colleagues and so help to tell an American story -- an idealized story, but one to which we can aspire. And the e-Passport, in addition to the standard English and French diplomatic greetings to foreign readers, finally includes one in Spanish: “El Secretario de Estado Unidos de America....” It's about time. Kudos to the anonymous civil servants who put this together.
Of purely domestic importance but ubiquitous and collectively beneficial is Folger Coffee's new HDPE coffee cannister. This is an easy to handle, air-tight canister that allegedly keeps coffee fresh longer than conventional coffee in metal cans and hard-to-reseal plastic bags. It features a “peel-away” AromaSeal with a built-in air valve (which critics have attacked as being essentially useless, but that's another story). The main benefit of the canister is that it's ergonomically convenient, unbreakable, rust-proof, and recyclable. It even won an award from the Arthritis Foundation for its ease of use. Lastly, the canister's bright color is useful early in the morning when you're too bleary-eyed and grappling for that first cup of coffee (as I can testify). Kudos to P&G for this good idea that could have been mundane but which isn't, and which can be experienced and enjoyed on a daily basis.
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February 28, 2007
Nathan Shedroff, a good friend and author of the first (and so far, only) book on holistic experience design -- aptly entitled, Experience Design 1-- is interviewed by Bay Area ethnographer Steve Portigal on the ever informative design portal, Core 77 (link here for the MP3, 47MB). From the Core 77 introduction:
Nathan Shedroff, experience design guru, author of the seminal Experience Design 1 and co-author of Making Meaning: How Successful Businesses Deliver Meaningful Customer Experiences, sits down with Steve Portigal in San Francisco to talk about the experience and design of experience design. Seriously.
Shedroff's definition gets things started: “Experience design is an approach to design, and you can use that approach in pretty much any discipline—graphic design or industrial design or interaction design, or retail design. It says the dimensions of experience are wider than what those disciplines normally take into account. And if you think wider—through time, multiple senses and other dimensions—then you can create a more meaningful experience.”
And he follows it up with the 5 levels of significance:
1. Function (“Does this do what I want it to do?”)
2. Price (“There are lots of cars out there to get me from point A to point B”)
3. Emotion (“That's where lifestyle is engaged. How does this make me feel?”)
4. Identity or Value (“This is subconscious: ”Would I be caught dead with this?; am I a Nike fan, or an Adidas fan?“)
5. Meaning (Not ”Is this me?“, but ”Does this fit my reality?“ ”Does this even fit inside the world as I perceive it?“)
Nathan addresses his talk mainly to commercial designers, but it has universal application to all design disciplines and practices. I understand from Nathan that he's contemplating republishing his book online, in an easier to read format. Nathan: please do!
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Experience Design & Technology | The Practice of Experience Design | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts
February 7, 2007
ERSATZ Notwithstanding the imminent Second Coming of Authenticity to the experience economy, where all the world's a stage, a long line of modern philosophers, from Husserl and Nietsche through Heidegger and Sartre, have had a lot to say about what true authenticity is all about -- and it's not about pushing product, making sales, collecting votes, gathering converts, or creating good vibes. It's about being in the world, authentically. Which is harder to do than it sounds, especially as one tries to navigate among all the clever invention and meanings passed off as the real thing.
But slogging through their work on ontology and phenomenology may be difficult for a generation of marketers -- self-designated “user experience designers,” “customer experience designers,” and just plain “experience designers”-- raised on Truth as revealed by TV anchormen and NY Times columnists; or more recently, rap music, the Internet, and the wisdom of the crowds (i.e., bloggers like me).
So I was delighted to discover an article on Hermenaut, the Digest of Heady Philosophy, by Joshua Glenn, “Fake Authenticity: An Introduction.” It appears in Issue 15 of the Hermenaut, which explores Fake Authenticity in the context of the writings of science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick, whose short stories inspired such iconic films as Bladerunner and Minority Report. Glenn's easy to read essay sets the tone for the coming Age of Ersatz.
The editors designate Dick as Hermenaut of the Month, posthumously. Glenn in an insightful biography of the foresightful author, reports that Dick was fascinated by the “semi-real” -- another term for manufactured authenticity. Realistic fakery, which is apparently what's in store for us all.
Parenthetically, although I'm skeptical of many premises regarding intentional authenticity, I do like experience-economy evangelist (or “E3,” an interesting coincidence) Joe Pine's article on “Architecture in the Experience Economy” on DesignIntelligence -- if you discount the possibility of there being an “authentic architecture,” a concept Glenn destroys -- makes a lot of sense. Designed places aren't necessarily authentic, but they're a hell of a lot more fun to co-create and inhabit than the designed buildings, architectural ego trips, in which most of us must spend most of our time.
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February 1, 2007
We live in a fearful world. We also live in a world beset by marketing pollution.
Yesterday's stupid marketing stunt in Boston, conducted by “youth marketer” Interference (I won't dignify them by publishing their link) in behalf of Turner Broadcasting (another Bozo organization), exploited both conditions to create worry, expense, and disgust. Little electronic dolls representing a loathsome character from an asinine, late-night TB cable show were placed everywhere: attached to poles, fastened to bridges, placed in alley ways -- if there was a public device or vista, it was graced with one of these dolls. The dolls were mistaken for bombs. City police and Homeland Security went nuts, mobilizing to shut down the city in case terrorists were afoot.
No doubt, despite the furor, the campaign almost certainly will attract new viewers to Turner's cable show -- an adult Romper Room, complete with talking toys (that crap on you) -- thus validating the assault in the name of numbers. What's amazing is that the same campaign was conducted in eight other cities without any repercussions at all because the dolls were seen as "just dolls, not bombs." Oh yeah, that's how I like to wake up: walking down the street, with electronic dolls for unlikable characters now added to the mix of billboards, wallboards, bus signs, newspaper stands, and the local "solicitor," all with the same commercial proposition: "Gimme!"
Public places are now fair game not only for traditional advertisement littering, but also for non-traditional, skirting-the-edge-of-legality, all-out trashing. The individuals who perpetrated this outrage against the commons and their apologists in the marketing industry should themselves be made a public spectacle: bound and pilloried in a public place, targeted with rotten tomatoes, mocked and reviled -- then branded with a Scarlet Letter (how about "A," twice, for "advertising asses"?
The GenYs for whom these insults allegedly are conducted, and the GenXs that arrange them, will long rue the absence of noncommercial space in the cities that they’re going to have to live in for the next 60 or more years. They’re fouling their psychosocial nest. I won’ t even get into the business issue of marketing saturation and consumer fatigue resulting from every street corner becoming branded with someone’s BS advertising for yet another trivial product.
If this and similar incursions against public space produce "good results” that in turn give license to further (and worse) predations, then the marketing profession had best start examining itself to find out if it still has a soul or whether it’s all about Mammon. (lllustration: Canada's excellent counter-marketing This Magazine)
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January 29, 2007
This is zhuanji, the Chinese word for “a stroke of good luck!" As you may have noticed, I've been absent from this blog for the last week. I'm engaged in probably the most important experience design project of my career, and this phase of it has an early February deadline that I absolutely must meet. I can't talk about this project now: it's what the current generation of money-chasers call “stealth.” I promise to tell all, once this mission is accomplished. Thanks for your patience and thanks also to Paula Thornton, who continues to post provocative entries worth your while. (For a much-needed caution on the frequent but incorrect use of the Chinese word for crisis, weiji, to mean “opportunity," as I almost did, see “Danger Plus Opportunity Does Not Equal Crisis,” on Pinyin.info. Weiji is actually a situation to be feared: the unknown abyss.)
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January 19, 2007
I hope I'm not a Cassandra. Only months after I praised the advertising industry for acknowledging the value of full-featured experience design, Interpublic Group, one of the world's largest advertising combines, dissed its pioneering Consumer Experience Practice. MediaPost's Joe Mandese broke the news(“Interpublic Shutters New Media Practice”).
While the eight-person unit was beginning to generate genuine insights, it was also incurring significant costs without a clear revenue stream back to Interpublic, pitting it in a political quagmire with other operating units doing similar research tied directly to client business. Under [Nick] Brien's helm, Universal McCann in particular has amassed an array of new research techniques and products that one insider termed “duplicative” with those of the Consumer Experience Practice. Universal also has been rebuilding a formidable communications practice and is getting close to announcing some of the fruits of those labors.
The full story remains to be told. No doubt corporate politics and power plays had something to do with it: within IPG, CEP executives Stacey Lynn Koerner and Lydia Loizides were intellectually avant-garde. Koerner was with IPG for a decade, always pushing the envelope. Loizides was a relative newcomer, from the new-media world. But more indicative is the issue of ROI. Old line marketers and ad agencies still have a problem with developing new knowledge that can't be sold, unlike Google and other new-media leaders that correctly perceive in knowledge a currency more valuable than dollars. Knowledge can be exchanged for more knowledge, which in turn creates generative value (nearly infinite). IPG told Mandese that it intends to press on with innovations like its LA-based Emerging Media Lab -- which, for the life of me, looks like a sparsely-equipped college research lab -- and more client-linked research initiatives like those of its main competitors, Publicis (click at your own risk, the Flash crashed my Powerbook) and Omnicom. Bon chance.
Meanwhile, while we wait for the other shoe to drop, you can read Loizides' ever-interesting and provocative observations on her blog, Media Technology Futures. I do and either learn something new, or gain a new insight, with almost every posting. Her postings from CES were great.
I hope CEP's closure isn't a trend, but with so much breathless “new research” taking place, much of which is useful, but much more of which is duplicative, I sense a bubble bursting.
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January 17, 2007
While I'm on a rant about marketers -- who are on the verge of replacing politicians as Least-Admired Persons -- permit me to direct you to Louise Story's emperor's-new-clothes article in the New York Times, “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It's Likely to See an Ad.”
Add this to the endangered list: blank spaces.
Advertisers seem determined to fill every last one of them. Supermarket eggs have been stamped with the names of CBS television shows. Subway turnstiles bear messages from Geico auto insurance. Chinese food cartons promote Continental Airways. US Airways is selling ads on motion sickness bags. And the trays used in airport security lines have been hawking Rolodexes.
Explains one marketing executive:
“What all marketers are dealing with is an absolute sensory overload,” said Gretchen Hofmann, executive vice president of marketing and sales at Universal Orlando Resort. The landscape is “overly saturated” as companies press harder to make their products stand out, she said.
Outright advertising is just one contributing factor. The feeling of ubiquity may also be fueled by spam e-mail messages and the increasing use of name-brand items in TV shows and movies, a trend known as product placement. Plus, companies are finding new ways to offer free services to people who agree to view their ads, particularly on the Internet or on cellphones.
More is on the horizon. Old-fashioned billboards are being converted to digital screens, which are considered the next big thing. They allow advertisers to change messages frequently from remote computers, timing their pitches to sales events or the hour of the day. People can expect to see more of them not only along highways, but also in stores, gyms, doctors’ offices and on the sides of buildings, marketing executives say.
And that's just the beginning. Sprays and odors and even physical assaults on our sensoria are in store. How much can our psyches tolerate before we develop “allergies” to this stuff, serious mental asthma? Public space, the last commons, is in the process of being informationally trashed for private ends. It's taken for granted, even praised, so lost has our culture become.
In Europe, there are laws against noise pollution. Why does it sound ridiculous to speak about outlawing marketing pollution? Are we all, as Don Henley sang, just prisoners here of our own device?
Story's article will be archived next week, when it will become available only for a price, so grab your copy now. It's a classic. And a warning.
(Photo; New York Times)
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design
Awhile back on this blog, in “Finding experience in a tube of toothpaste,” I critically considered GlaxoSmithKline's multi-multi-million-dollar investment in the development and promotion of AquaFresh Toothpaste, which it hopes will best rivals Colgate (Colgate-Palmolive) and Crest (Proctor & Gamble). I concluded that despite GSK's sizable investment, Tom's of Maine does a better job at creating the warm fuzzies that make customers seek and stay with its products.
Now it turns out that P&G's back in the fray, reports the New York Times' Louise Kramer. “In a Battle of Toothpastes, It's Information v. Emotion,” Kramer describes P&G's massive $100 million roll out of Crest Pro-Health, which certainly sounds healthy but really doesn't have much more to recommend it than the toothpaste it allegedly betters, Colgate Total. Colgate's counter-punching with its own nine-figure advertising campaign.
Like most consumers, I can't keep all of these shelf space-stealing brands in my head, so pardon me if I observe that the billion-plus dollars going into North American toothpaste advertising have basically one function: to make the owners of Saatchi & Saatchi and Young & Rubicam (Publicis and WPP, respectively) and their counterparts a lot richer, and the rest of us a lot more confused. The ad agencies like to pin the blame on the consumer, that intrepid seeker of facts about toothpaste who demands more, more! I doubt it.
Much ado about nothing. A billion dollars is a lot of money to push goo that lubricates your toothbrush, applies meager amounts of medicinal material, and most importantly, tastes good. These companies can't find anything better to do with it? How about educating kids (and adults, a tougher mission) to eat less sugary foods? Or initiating programs to train people how to use floss, which would be infinitely more valuable to dental hygiene? Oops, I forgot, there's no shareholder ROI in that!
What Brooke Shields, whose white-capped smile graces the Colgate ads, has to do with dental health is beyond me.
Oh yeah, she's a mother as well as an occasional actress. She knows what kids need.
I prefer to get my toothpaste advice from Colgate's original spokesthing, Happy Tooth, from my Howdy Doody days. Happy Tooth knows: It's been there.
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January 10, 2007
Harry Shearer on “Le Show” (a highly recommended alternative radio program) brought to my attention the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) plan to offer advertisers a chance to assault a captive audience -- travelers waiting to be screened for airline flights -- with more marketing gook. The plan is described in full on Aviation Week's Commmercial Aviation website:
“TSA plans to launch a one-year pilot program where airport operators may enter into an agreement with vendors, who will provide divestiture bins, divestiture and composure tables, and metal-free bin return carts at no cost to TSA,” said spokeswoman Amy Kudwa. “In return for the equipment, TSA will allow airport operator-approved advertisements to be displayed on the bottom of the inside of the bins.”
(“Composure tables,” as Shearer wryly notes, are those metal slabs where TSA agents -- beneficiaries of the Bush Administration's main “make-work” policy -- dump out your personal belongings and sort through them if you trigger one of the metal detectors. Composure is one thing the TSA does not offer its unlucky victims.)
SecurityPoint Media supplies the ad-festooned security devices. This fascinating company puts a smiling face on social despair, in the form of advertising revenues. It calls the program “A Better Checkpoint Experience.”
Talk about government welfare! Now airport administrators and advertisers can benefit by the long compulsory wait that everyone is subjected to when they want to fly, whether to Baghdad or Baltimore. The program is one more of the commercial benefits made possible by the campaign of fear-mongering that's been the mainstay of this Administration's political marketing.
So far, reports Forbes, Rolodex is the only advertiser to have signed up for the program, being beta-tested at LAX:
For the advertisers, the program is a chance to reach a wealthy demographic: Frequent flyers. According to a 2004 study of frequent flyers by market research company Arbitron, airline travelers are 80% more likely to have an annual household income over $100,000. They're also more often household or business decision makers.
“It fits well with the Rolodex position of clean and organized,” says Doug Kruep, the company's director of brand development office solutions.
TSA claims that the program has saved $250,000 in the six months it's been running, Probably just a drop in the TSA's overflowing welfare bucket. Airports want to get in on the largesse too, of course, reports Forbes:
Airports believe ads will equal profits. “We are always looking for creative ways to increase nonairlines revenue to help us keep our operating costs down,” said Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Wendy Abrams.
I always thought advertising on buses was an outrageous expression of agency greed. But bus advertising pales in chutzpah before the coming security checkpoint onslaught. TSA is holding an "Industry Day" tomorrw, on January 11, at its headquarters in Arlington, VA, for those interested in participating in the program.
Of course, billions have been wasted already on thousands of unimpressive attempts to make Fortress America a safer place, but most have been invisible. This one is right out there for all of the flying public to experience. What will be the reaction? A lot of grumbling, for sure, but maybe, just maybe, an upwelling of angry public opinion that refocuses Americans' consciousness on how 9/11 has been exploited to make money for commercial interests. I can think of few government enterprises less crass than this one.
I wrote earlier about the yucky experience of waiting in line at Albertsons supermarkets having to endure the ridiculous Avenu advertising videos. Most commenters agreed. Apparently the TSA has taken a cue from Albertsons and is going it one better. You can always shop somewhere else, but if you're going to fly, you're going to endure the TSA-hosted advertising, damn it!
What's your take? Are you looking forward to more force-fed marketing messages? Or will you take the train instead?
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January 8, 2007
My colleague Paula and I tend to publish Total Experience in spurts. A week or even two will go by without a blog entry -- and then three, four, or more explode out of our minds and onto the screen. Maybe that's because we don't have brilliant thoughts every day, at least not ones we deem worthy of taking your time to share. Real insights come of their own accord, on their own schedule. Not each day when we wake up.
This defies the laws of media, best exemplified by television with its mostly empty content, but content nonetheless, continuously broadcast, cablecast, or netcast so that the viewers won't tune out. Media colleagues, they've already tuned out. They sit passively, thankful for the experience of a mental void. (See my preceding article, Stress and the Internet.)
I have more faith in our readers, that you prefer to look in when something's significant and not be bothered the rest of the time. RSS notwithstanding, it's the policy with which we'll sit tight.
However, we are cooking up some pretty good new stuff. I promised earlier a state of the art discussion of experience design. It'll be here later this week. Turn on your newsreader and when you get the call, do read up.
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A year ago this week, Krysta Tippett's excellent Speaking of Faith (on public radio) featured a conversation with rheumatologist Dr. Esther Sternberg, author of The Balance Within. The episode, entitled “Stress and the Balance Within,” examined the mind-body connection, especially the effects of continuous stimulus on the human nervous system and the consequences thereof. (The show is archived for streaming, downloading, or podcast listening, along with related music and other audio materials.) We swim in a sea of concerns that technology has made more turbulent of late, deeper and darker, and pay for it with our well being.
Sternberg describes how our brains manufacture biochemicals when we're faced with “fight or flight” situations. When we perceive a threat, our brains go into action and start secreting hormones: putting the body on notice, stepping up many of our autonomous processes. Being able to anticipate and react to crises in this way has been a key to human survival, especially in primordial days when prowling saber-tooth tigers were the issue. The animal predators have largely been replaced by human predators and environmental threats, so having our awareness heightened is still essential.
The problem is, the primitive parts of the brain that secrete the biochemicals can't discriminate between a genuine threat and a mere sensory excitation. So, the more inputs we endure -- particularly those to which we can't respond, to gain closure -- the more likely that the biochemicals will begin to overwhelm the body's normal chemical balance. That's when we experience stress, an imbalance that is physiologically based but which, because of the mind-body connection, affects us psychologically as well.
When stressed, we easily sense the emotional danger, becoming edgy, insomniac, or distracted. But we don't correctly assess stress' impact on our bodies -- that is, until we suffer cardiac arrest or become chronically ill, two scientifically established (among many) effects of stress.
I reflected on this while cleaning out a couple thousand emails from my laptop's collection of many thousands more, emails that are complemented by untold numbers of phone calls -- my monthly phone bill is scary -- and assorted unbidden communications, like TV news, crazy “user experiences” on the Web. There's a general digital hum of alarm that afflicts all Americans (and, I guess, people everywhere) whenever wars are raging, economies are out of control, and products are on sale. The more we know, the more we feel the need to act but are prevented from it by power hierarchies, scarce time, and trivial obligations. Our personal life crises, in this Information Age, are also abetted by digital communications. This daunting, vast, stress-inducing melange has grown exponentially with the expansion of the Internet and its assimilation and distribution of more and more and more information. Users of this all-consuming utility are “always on.”
Tony Perkins, editor of the original Red Herring, has celebrated the positive aspects of being “Always On” with his eponymous, blog-based, venture-business community. Perhaps being always on is a good thing, for those with resources to buffer the info flood: professional minions, administrators, technological filters, and so forth. Maybe it's like the gallons of ocean water that wash through the gills of a baleen whale, leaving behind plankton for consumption. But for the rest of us, we're the unaware victims of stress that addles the mind and endangers the body. We just factor this invisible mental pollution into our general experience of being slightly out of control, a common theme of popular films. Paradoxically, the welter of information doesn't seem to have increased our understanding of our predicament; our problems multiply. First there was smog; now it's global warming.
Knowledge isn't power, it's merely awareness. Awareness without the power to act produces stress.
Those of us who are Internet-dependent for work and pleasure know the majority of our acquaintances primarily as presences on the Internet. Our friends and family have their own 24/7 networks of online relationships that indirectly impact us. And almost everyone watches TV, reads newspapers, goes to movies, or all three -- not to mention riding roller coasters at theme parks, gambling wildly, or engaging in reckless recreational activities. Therefore, most of the people with whom we deal are probably suffering from stress, too. Maybe they're not clinically crazy, but if we knew them more intimately, what tales of woe would emerge. I now consider every online and media celebrity as probably half-cocked. And not copping to this fact I take as a blatant demonstration of neurosis, at the least. That's okay. Like the Firesign Theater, I think we're all Bozos on this bus. There's a certain pleasure having faith in Digitalism as our epoch's Great Leveler. (I don't apply the same easy acceptance to kids who are multitasking beyond human comprehension, and who have been this way since early childhood. They're not so much “born free” as born crazy, infomaniac crack babies.) I take great deal of pleasure in siimply raising a child.
For a long time there have been individuals who've proudly refused to watch TV, read newspapers, or use computers. Their resistance has been commonly attributed to petulance, political consciousness, romanticism, and eccentricity. Now it turns out that these Luddites may be more sane than we are, if less well-informed. Maybe ignorance is bliss. Too bad that for most of us, we've been banished from the pre-digital Garden of Eden by the mighty Archangel Internet, who now bars our way home.
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Theories of Experience
December 29, 2006
Like many in Southern California, last week I contracted a trilogy of viruses that took me out of action until now.
Thanks to TE> co-author Paula Thornton for holding down the fort with her provocative postings. For the New Year, I'll be jumping back on the horse, bareback, with a critical review, "The State of Experience Design."
Meanwhile, I hope you're having a happy holiday season. Out here, we celebrated the Winter Solstice and Santa Lucia, two Scandinavian occasions of spiritual import I experienced in Sweden; personal experiences never to be forgotten. And already, it's the Baby New Year knocking at the door!
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December 19, 2006
'Tis the season for holiday extravagance, and not just in the Western world. People of every persuasion (even atheists) accord the Winter Solstice great importance, whether experienced in its pure form or as an institutionalized religious ritual. For many of us, this season is an opportunity to exchange gifts and thus reinforce important social relations. Gifts given at other times probably have more significance and power, but giving during Year's End is a de minimus requirement. Staying with the prevailing norms, here are the handful of books, the most memorable among those that have helped me to understand experience. You might want to give one or more to someone special, to explain what you do -- or simply give them to yourself, for your own enjoyment.
Each of the books in my small sample have a common property: none is a how-to book, nor (in my opinion) even specific to a discipline. Each has reached far, across space and time, to talk generally about experience. I've linked them to Amazon in most cases, but often the authors' own websites and smaller online booksellers offer comparable or better prices. Publishers and dates may be for reprints.
* * *
Education and Ecstasy, George Leonard (Delacourte 1968). Reading this book changed my life forever. It placed in a much broader context the naive understanding of experience I was accumulating through my empirical work as an advertising creative director and public-access video producer. Experience design is all about how technology, physical and emotional experiences, and education interact to produce learning, creativity, and edification. For Leonard, deeply associated with the human potential movement, creating meaningful experiences on the personal level became his life's work. I'm more into cultural enhancement -- but Leonard's motivations and goals have become my own.
The Atlas of Experience, Louise van Swaaij and Jean Klare (Bloomsbury 2000). “Welcome to the Sea of Possibilities, the Ocean of Peace, the Stream of Inspiration, the Volcanoes of Passion....” This is the ultimate wayfinding book, depicting in cartographic form the essential experiences that come with being human. It's fascinating (and thought-provoking) to see how the authors, Dutch cartographers, arrange emotions, aspirations, conditions, etc., clustering them into continents of meaning, and then use the conventions of mapmaking to call out the details. The maps are utterly compelling.
A Natural History of the Senses, Diane Ackerman (Vintage 1991). Diane Ackerman, poet, naturalist, crisis advisor, provides a memorable tour of the human sensorium. Not just about science, Ackerman's lyrical essays delve into the everyday consequences of having five senses (and maybe more), including the personal, professional, and commercial. Her descriptions are insightful and themselves extremely sensuous. Whenever I need an uplifting experience, I pull this book down from the shelf, randomly choose a sense, and see what Ackerman has to say about it. She's never disappointing.
The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard (Beacon Press 1994). Bachelard, a phenomenologist, examines our relationship with space as an experience of “knowing.” From Wikipedia: “Bachelard applies the method of phenomenology to architecture basing his analysis not on purported origins (as was the trend in enlightenment thinking about architecture) but on lived experience of architecture. He is thus led to consider spatial types such as the attic, the cellar, drawers and the like. This book implicitly urges architects to base their work on the experiences it will engender rather than on abstract rationales that may or may not affect viewers and users of architecture.” Indelibly within me are the images Poetics paints with words.
Cosmicomics, Italo Calvino (Harvest 1976). Epochal accomplishments in the history of the Universe, built entirely on problematic science, beginning with the invention of matter (learn the significance of rust in Australia). Each is magically told in Calvino's uniquely naive, uniquely philosophical voice, speaking through the being Qfwfq, who seems an awful lot like God with more questions than answers, and who's all intellectual thumbs. I have a collection of Calvino reprints, including Imaginary Cities. They form a combined encyclopedia-gazeteer of the world seen and related at its most weird and wonderful.
The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch (MIT Press 1960). This landmark volume marks the beginning of wayfinding's application to modern architecture. Lynch presents a taxonomy of elements that comprise the visual urban environment related to the haptic, cognitive, and emotional responses each engenders. His human-centric approach set the stage for modern urban design, including novel ways of mapping urban form and formations. Lynch avoids stating preferences in this volume, but is more explicit in the later Good City Form.
What-If, Could-Be: An Historic Fable of the Future, Richard Wurman (Self-published, 1976) A portrait of Wurman the young visionary, this is Wurman's first publication and he says, his favorite. Illustrated by R.O. Blechman in comic book format and printed on scratchy grey paper, WICB follows the Commissioner of Curiosity as he explores the urban milieu, reviewing foibles we take for granted and revealing radical ideas for making life better. “Everyone spoke of an information overload, but what there was in fact was a non-information overload,” the Commissioner sighs. WICB was prescient in 1976 and remains true today. If you find an online copy, let me know. Mine is dog-eared.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll (Signet Classics 2000). Everyone knows Alice, but relatively few have actually read this surrealistic pair of stories. The movie about the books focused on Carroll's relationship with the girl he imagined as Alice, but as works of art, they are totally coherent -- if you're willing to go with it. Carroll is a pre-Jungian: his archetypes speak not only to people we know, but about the state of the nation and the state of the world, as Gaia-esque über-realities with lives of their own. We can participate so long as we believe.
Image and Environment: Cognitive Mapping and Spatial Behavior, Roger M. Downs and David Stea (Transaction 2005). David Stea was a valued advisor and mentor at UCLA's renowned, late-Graduate School of Architecture & Urban Planning, where eclecticism was encouraged. Using maps drawn by inhabitants of Los Angeles who reside in different parts of the city (circa 1970s, when the book was published), David and his colleague Roger Downs demonstrated that every place has many faces. With each wave of new residents and technological complications, the number of kaleidoscopic facets increases. The city is in our heads as well as under our wheels and feet.
A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander (Oxford University Press 1977). When Alexander challenged his Berkeley architecture students to collect and organize impressions of the built environment, it's likely no one knew in advance, and probably only Alexander suspected, that the result would be a surprisingly consistent “pattern” of forms and relationships. This book can be read as a reference describing elements of the built environment at every scale -- from the region to the cubbyhole -- or as a collection of poetic statements about space itself, and the meanings that we give to the things that fill it, natural and synthetic. The Pattern Language is a physics of spatiality.
The RSVP Cycles: Creative Processes in the Human Environment, Lawrence Halprin (George Braziller 1970). Famed for his innovative, organic developments -- notably, Sea Ranch on the Northern California coast -- Halprin went one step further when he borrowed his wife Anna's choreographic methods to describe how architected landscapes can be collectively planned, created, and evolved. The RSVP Cycle itself has four stages: mustering of Resources, composition of Scores that describe the coming performance, determination of Valuactions (actions based on values), and the actual doing of the Performance -- in this case, crafting the architected landscape. The RSVP Cycle has become popular beyond landscape architecture, but the concept of scoring -- of immense potential value to experience design -- remains sadly unexploited.
Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-Fu Feng, photos by Jane English (Vintage 1997). Some people keep a Bible or Qu'ran at bedside; I keep the Tao Te Ching -- not for heavenly guidance, but for its wisdom. A contemporary of Confucius, the monk Lao Tsu, sick of the turmoil that characterized his China, penned this volume, then mounted his ox and rode off into the hills, never to be seen again. The notion of cosmic balance, of justice tempered by compassion, of non-resistance as the source of strength -- these and many other essential understandings are best expressed in the Tao Te Ching. The book itself features elegant Chinese text, resonant translations by Feng and reflective photography by English.
Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, Yi-Fu Tuan (University of Minnesota Press, 1977, Edward Arnold 1979). A proponent of “humanistic geography, Tuan's prose is clear and down to earth, without losing a sense of wonder at how ingeniously human beings organize their physical world. In a subsequent book, Tuan terms this relationship in its ideal form as topophilia -- love for the physical world -- ”defined widely so as to include all emotional connections between physical environment and human beings.“ Space and Place is more commonplace (no pun intended), but also more universally appreciable. It's the prism through which I see the world.
Expanded Cinema, Gene Youngblood (E.P. Dutton 1970). I remember when ”multimedia“ meant a spool of slides fed through a classroom projector to the accompaniment of a 78 RPM phonograph record. Not that long ago. Then film and portable video started intruding themselves on our consciousness which was simultaneously being raised by exposure to new ideas and altered consciousness, which form the basis of Gene's thinking about the future of multimedia. Today's raves are loving, nostalgic tributes to the psychedelic happenings that framed Youngblood's work. (He and I taught a memorable, highly subversive class at UCLA's film school one semester. No one came out the same.) Rereading EC today, I'm struck by how much of it relates to the new media, in ways that current theorists can't. Gene's in New Mexico teaching away.
The Whole Earth Catalogue, 30th Edition, Peter Warshall and Steward Brand, editors (Whole Earth 1998). Its appearance in 1968 foretold today's rampant eclecticism, but the WEC itself was a masterpiece of taxonomy. The most amazing objects, culled from catalogs around the world -- remember, this was before the Internet made collecting information something that three-year-olds can do -- were combined in categories with stories told by witnesses to history, visionaries, world travelers, and just plain folks with tales about living a good life. The WEC was illustrated mainly in pen and ink, with a plentitude of charts and rough photographs on recycled paper. The editors come as close to putting the whole Earth into a single volume as ever's been done.
An Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, James Jerome Gibson (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 1987). J.J. Gibson coined the term ”affordances“ to describe how people get a handle on their environment and what's possible within it. This is what has stuck with interaction designers who use Gibson's theory to support their practice. Fair enough. But for Gibson, perception and cognition are universal, fluid properties of being, the flux of individuals and groups interacting with and within holistic social ”ecologies.“ Gibson's philosophical invention, ecological psychology, became the basis for a more formal environmental psychology invaluable to forming critical perspectives on design, experience design in particular.
Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, George Lakoff (University of Chicago Press 1990). At an international gathering of geographers I attended in 1994, Lakoff was the guest and Queen Bee. He related linguistic metaphors -- encoded meanings and archetypes -- to geographical understanding in ways that tripped out the geographers. This book, whose title refers to tribal metaphors, ignited the controversy. (Lakoff has since published many more books that delve more deeply into linguistics in other realms, like politics.) If my memory serves me, George told us that cultures have in common 80 percent of their metaphors and that most of these are spatial -- ”over the hill,“ ”around the bend,“ ”slippery slope,“ and so forth. It's the remaining 20 percent of unique differences that create all the trouble. Why can't we get over them?
Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment, Thomas Gilovich, Dale Griffin, and Daniel Kahneman, eds. (Cambridge University Press 2002). Despite the obsession for analytics displayed by scientists, engineers, software developers, managers, and marketers, in fact most people make decisions on far less formal grounds. Not that they aren't logical, it's just that their logic is different. Intuitive judgment isn't about mysticism, it's about how the human mind shortcuts analysis to arrive at decisions that often are superior to analytically formed conclusions -- but not always. This collection is the reference text for understanding heuristics based on the latest, best research at the time of its publication.
The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell (Dutton, 1962; Faber & Faber 2001). Reading the Quartet aloud to one another night after night for nearly six months, living the dream, my partner and I bonded. Durrell, painting panoramas in his matchless poetic prose, directs a cast of heroes and heroines, villains, and events in the 1940s leading to today's tormented Middle East. He centers his vision on backwater Alexandria, once the capital of the Eastern Mediterranean. Durrell called the Quartet's volumes -- Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea (all characters in the story) -- an experiment in post-Relativity storytelling: the first volume is told in first person, the second in second person, the third in third person, and the fourth again in first person, each with new revelations. Nothing is quite what it seems as one perspective gives way to another. Life as experienced.
And of course, the story of gifting itself:
The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, Lewis Hyde (Vintage 1983). Recycling gifts is one of the strongest bonds among members of a tribe or a community. Hyde begins this classic work with a review of art as property and gift, but then verges widely into discussions of anthropology, economics, and communications, describing the role of gifts in sustaining tribal relations necessary for survival -- and pleasure. (The Native American potlatch, outlawed by the conquering Europeans until recently, was secretly practiced by its adherents at great peril because it was so essential to their sense of self-worth and possibility.) Hyde thoroughly examines the concept of the ”gift economy“ and finds it more capable than capitalism as glue that can hold a society together. Read him and then happily give your gifts, knowing that you are in close communion with one of the oldest and most human tendencies: the need to share.
| Category: Commentary | Odds and Ends: Random Observations | Theories of Experience
December 13, 2006
'Tis the season to be merry: If you want peace on earth, especially at home, Leah McLaren, in “Why online should be off limits in the bedroom,” published in Saturday's Globe & Mail, makes a good case for unplugging the wireless over the holidays. She writes (in part):
There is a new gender war brewing in the salty trenches of heterosexual relations, and it centres, as so many skirmishes do, on the bedroom.
It's about men who bring their laptops into bed with them. And I don't mean once in a while, to Google up a bit of porn or do a lick of work while convalescing with a life-threatening illness (both of which are obviously perfectly reasonable reasons to bring a computer to bed).
I mean men who use their laptops whenever they are in bed, provided they are not sleeping or having sex . . . or dead. From the moment they put on their jammies and snuggle up at night, and then again in the morning with the first eyelid's flicker, the laptop is there. Bluish screen a-glow, battery a-purr, the tippity-tap of the keyboard sounding out a grim, Morse-code lullaby, entitled The Death of Pillow Talk.
It's welcome news for men, of course. I know it's rude to generalize and probably bad for my relationship too, but what the hell. Men -- whether they admit it or not -- avoid pillow talk. The reason is simple: While snuggling and giggling and chatting in bed often leads to sex, more often than not, it also leads to more in-depth talk. And more in-depth talk leads to serious talk, which quickly gets converted into serious plans, which leads to making choices, which leads to not choosing other things, which leads to a feeling of vague, unshakable entrapment, which leads to misery, which leads to death.
So as any rational, emotionally actualized contemporary male knows, it is therefore a perfectly reasonable and acceptable practice to bring an electronic digital communication device into bed with you, right?
Okay now, seriously. We need to talk about this. Not just me and my (admittedly technologically addicted) bed companion. We all collectively need to put our computers down and have a Serious Talk. I know, it's stuff like this that drove you to cling to your laptop, your hot, rectangular teddy bear, in the first place, but hear me out.
I'm not sure exactly when or why reading e-mail, watching video clips, checking sports statistics, downloading pirated music or, in the case of one female friend's nerdy husband, downloading 30-page essays on Spinoza at 4 in the morning, became normal bed practice, but it's got to stop.
I offer no defense for my gender-mates, but merely point out that this malady certainly is not limited to heterosexual couples. It afflicts same-sex couples too, and polygamists. Frankly, there are times when, alone in bed, I resent my own use of the computer. If not pillow talk, at least sleep deserves equal consideration!
(Photo by Zela, on Stock.Xchng)
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Odds and Ends: Random Observations
Too few companies get customer experience right. “Customer experience” is a hidden component of experience design, how an organization -- governmental, commercial, or membership -- employs social processes, standards for employee interactions with customers and the like, to enhance and deepen relationships with its customers, constituents, or members. It's common these days for organizations to rely on market researchers, ethnographers, communication experts, and CRM (customer relationship management) technology to develop complex systems for improving the customer experience. But often, a simple phone call or email communication with a customer is more effective and easier to implement on a continuous basis. This simple method requires a motivated staff that knows its customers inside and out.
But some companies do get it right. A case in point: Time Warner Cable (TWC). In this regard, in the past, large communication companies have been no one's favorites. The The phone companies', TV networks', and early cable TV operators' past poor management of customer experience -- a vice of which cellular phone companies are now most guilty -- has tainted the image of all communication providers. But my recent experience with TWC was definitely heartening.
My lovely city and hometown, Santa Monica -- now often referred to as “Hollywood West,” for all the media that's moved here in the last decade -- used to be served by Adelphia Cable, a company that provided high-quality service for its customers but not enough profits for its shareholders. (Its owners were convicted of various crimes having to do with financial mismanagement.) Adelphia declared bankruptcy. Recently, it was purchased by TWC. According to all accounts, the switchover strained TWC to the limit. The company did well alerting customers to the coming customer handoff, including telling us about future inspections to ensure proper infrastructure. It did less well, however -- in fact, it did terribly -- preparing us for outages and downtime associated with actual technology porting of its cable TV and Internet services. Also, the changeover of billing and service-order methods confused customers who had little or no warning about the changes. Lastly, the cantankerous but user-friendly Moxi boxes provided by Adelphia to cable TV viewers were swapped out for generic Motorola DVRs, with a loss of navigation and content on which Adelphia customers had become accustomed. All of these taken together resulted in a tidal wave of customer inquiries and complaints that even the City of Santa Monica's telecom officers were unable to staunch. The transitional staff's answer: voicemail and endless waits online, which added fuel to the blaze, not just here but in many cities where TWC was assuming ownership of cable TV systems.
Cherie and I were two among thousands of TWC's unhappy new Santa Monica customers, many of whom are media industry influentials. A new California law allows telephone companies to provide video service, and many of us, forgetting our past experiences with the phone companies, were seriously considering them as providers. Imagine customer service so bad that it made TWC's inept phone-industry competitors like AT&T (the former SBC) and Verizon (the former General Telephone) look good!
imagine my pleasure, then, at receiving a personal call from TWC's VP of Community Affairs, Patricia Fregoso-Cox. (The call was arranged by Kate Vernais in Santa Monica's City Manager's Office, to whom I personally complained.) A former Adelphia corporate officer, Patricia told me she was proud of the service Adelphia had maintained despite its stressed financial circumstances and alarmed at the state of affairs as TWC took over. Her answer wasn't to call in consultants. Instead, she seized the bull by the horns and start talking with city officials and their constituents about improving TWC's service in Santa Monica and Southern California generally -- not just the technical service, but the customer experience, too. Patricia told me about TWC's plans to cut response time on the phone and online, explain how the new system works, and even implement a new service that will replace the now-missing navigational assists that Moxi boxes formerly provided for cable TV viewers. Once having done that, it was time to engage technical staff in creating the necessary CRM.
Patricia was even open to discussing an idea I've had for a long time, since my days as a telecom analyst for the California Legislature: to use the company's cable TV and Internet assets to alert consumers of each when one or the other service was going down. An email to cable TV customers or a visual state-of-the-system on a cable TV channel and the TWC website, informing us of planned maintenance and outages, would go a long way toward dampening dischord among customers (now, almost all of us) who rely on their cable TV for entertainment and information, and their Internet service for conducting business. Patricia further referred a specific problem we were having to a task force empowered to deal with problems, all part of TWC's customer-experience learning process.
Everything's not fixed yet, but it's getting better. I suspect that most customers who now know the score, like me, will cut TWC some slack, even look forward to coming service improvements. Thanks, TWC and Patricia.
If you'd like to stay informed of developments in the customer experience arena, check out Karl Long's avant-garde blog on the subject, Experience Curve, and Mark Hurst's always thoughtful Good Experience.
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December 11, 2006
I had an unexpected experience while tooling around in my dad's car, which bears Disabled Person plates (like the one illustrated) that allow you to park in marked blue slots.
Drivers around me were taking notice, but not with any special solicitousness or care. Instead, they were tailgating, then speeding to pass, then slowing down; or in other ways being reckless. It's as if my DP plates identified me as a person unfit to be on the road, someone to be avoided, even scorned. Note, I'm an excellent driver. I haven't had an accident or received a citation in a couple of decades -- and I drive relatively fast and decisively, as I learned to do in driver education courses, to avoid vague situations that lead to accidents.
People in wheelchairs often report similar experiences of disdain, although pedestrians (drivers without wheels) tend to be more forgiving, maybe because they couldn't walk any faster even if they pushed the wheelchair passenger out of the way.
It makes me wonder: do we do disabled persons a favor by having them bear these plates, for the small return of having supposedly easier parking? (It never seems easier to me.) Or do we do it to assuage social guilt, all the while resenting the travel friction that disabled persons allegedly impose on the rest of us (and taking it out on them when possible)? Or to warn other drivers away? My sensitivity has been raised. Every driver should be required to get behind the wheel of a DP-plated vehicle sometime.
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December 8, 2006
In few other fields is so much reliance placed on first-hand, insider accounts as a source of knowledge, as in the various fields of experience design. The one exception, historically, has been the built environment, including architecture and landscape architecture. Otherwise, most of what we learn we learn from design practitioners, even if they have no personal agenda, is subject to their biases that inherently come with the job: idiosyncratic points of view, client pressures, career aspirations, ego, and so forth. We lack an objective perspective to measure the success of our work and commentaries to improve upon it. We need theories of experience design.
This realization came to me during an intense luncheon discussion with museum and exhibition designer Barry Howard, who practices in Marina del Rey, a suburb of Los Angeles. Barry is my ideal of an experience design. His self-effacing demeanor belies an incredible lifetime of accomplishment. Barry's career dates back to the highly regarded Coca-Cola Pavilion at the 1964 Worlds Fair (where Pepsi-Cola competed with “it's a small world,” now immortalized as a Disneyland attraction). Since then he's created attractions with a cumulative value of over $500 million. Barry is notably rare among experience designers in that he applies a reflective perspective to his work. (He calls it “academic,” although his training was as a fine artist.) I'll be doing a future interview with Barry, in which I'll get deeper into his experiences and insights. But one of lunchtime topics was worth separate mention: the lack of formal criticism in our field.
I was sharing with Barry my plans for a forthcoming book on experience design. In it, I'll be highlighting best practices drawn from case studies in a variety of experience-design disciplines. My goal is to extract certain overarching principles and methodologies that can be synthesized as theories of experience design. Theories are important: they're tested short-cuts to knowledge that can be shared widely within the experience design community, including with new designers just setting out. If you think about it, it's pretty difficult to state a theory of experience design. Theories are rare in every design discipline, but in those where theories exist -- like the theory of taxonomical structure in information design or wayfinding theory in environmental design -- they're reliable guides to practice. Experience design is still considered mainly an art, because (in my opinion) of a radical disconnect between those who study experience (cognitive scientists, environmental psychologists, etc.) and the designers who create experiences. Sometimes I think that designers' ignorance of the pertinent science is almost willful, because science imposes constraints that require more than shoot-from-the-hip creativity to succeed. On the other hand, it may just be that designers are practicing remarkable heuristic feats, doing the science in their heads. (All of this goes for the ancillary professions marshalled to support designers, too, like ethnographers and market researchers.)
In any case, Barry made the astute observation that if I lined up these case studies side by side and compared them, what would be most interesting would be, not what was common practice, but what wasn't common practice -- that is, the designs that didn't get done because Designer A didn't consider, or perhaps even know about, the experiences of Designers B or C; and vice versa. Everyone is so heads down pondering solutions and cranking out work -- strictly within disciplinary silos -- that whatever synthesis might take place or transcendent solutions found, doesn't take place or aren't found. Experience designers need a broader, interdisciplinary knowledge, but they haven't time or resources to gain it. This isn't news: I wrote about it in an unpublished article for the AIGA Advance for Design magazine, in 1999, when the now-defunct Advance was striving to become an experience design community. The article wasn't published because, I think, it was critical -- and because I really had no answers for providing that broader point of view, at the time. Now I think I do. Our field needs outside observers, formally trained critics who can remark on what we do without the burden of being a practitioner per se.
I know, it sound pointy-headed to advocate formal criticism. Mark Hurst, in an email exchange, argued that first-person accounts by “do-ers” are inevitably more informative than critiques by non-practitioners. To a certain extent, he's right: if you want to practice as an experience designer, you need to learn how to hold your pencil from someone who knows. But if you want to practice highly effectively, you need to see things kaleidoscopically, including from the perspective of individual “experiencers” and society collectively. Formal critics provide this context for films, TV shows, product reviews, Web experiences, theater, architecture, advertising, musical performances and recordings, and innumerable other outcomes of cognate activities; and they're better for it. Why not experience design?
Barry said that his exhibition designs are his art. Never do we want to give up the power of personal expression. But if we can alloy it with a deeper understanding of what experiences are and how they are invoked, how much smarter experience design will be. It's still not a popular cause. No one's getting hired by experience design firms to criticize their work. But one day, they will be. And that's when experience design will fully come into its own.
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