Corante

TOTAL EXPERIENCE explores designing for experience: its theory, its practice, and how designing for experiences affects us socially and in our personal lives.

CO-AUTHORS

  • 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 ) >
    EXPERIENCE DESIGN:
    THE METAVERSE....

    CALENDAR OF EXPERIENCE DESIGN EVENTS
    (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
    NetDiver.Net
    DesignBoom
    Digital Thread
    Archinect
    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
    FutureLab
    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
    Nokia
    Herman Miller
    Steelcase
    IDEO
    Cooper Interactive Design
    Gensler
    Doblin Group
    Fitch
    Fit Associates
    Jump
    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
    AIGA DUX
    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!

    Total Experience

    Category Archives

    January 21, 2008

    Davos 2008: Collaborative Innovation at the Global Country Club

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

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

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

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

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

    So how real is the Davos commitment to innovation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

    January 6, 2008

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

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

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

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

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

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

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

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

    January 5, 2008

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

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

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

    Rat years are fertile for new beginnings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy New Year.

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

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

    December 17, 2007

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

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    December 5, 2007

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

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Who needs nukes when you have this kind of America?

    God is Great. Long Live the Iranian Revolution.

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

    November 19, 2007

    Confronting the authenticity conundrum: A review of Authenticity, by Gilmore and Pine

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    ImgbookauthenticityAuthenticity: What Consumers Really Want, by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine II, Harvard Business School Press, 2007

    Authenticity is an ambitious volume by Jim Gilmore and Joe Pine, authors of the 1999 marketing classic, The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage. Authenticity is an important, simultaneously prescriptive and cautionary addition to the rapidly growing corpus of literature on experiential marketing. Much of this literature is trivial. This book is first-rate. But also challenging. Despite its business-book style, it's not an easy read: you have to pay attention.

    Authenticity, as other reviewers have noted, features an impressive encyclopedic review of corporate attempts to create good experiences for their customers. Gilmore and Pine also proffer copious advice on how to assess a company's current authenticity; the art of “placemaking,” creating unique sites for the expression of authenticity; and most scientifically, how to become measurably authentic. But Authenticity's importance isn't as a how-to book: the more concrete its recommendations, the more speculative they feel. That's because pedagogically, Authenticity is a collection of truly interesting hypotheses, the proofs for which are anecdotal, not scientifically tested theories. (Gilmore and Pine may possess testable data and actual scientific proofs; but if so, they're only accessible to paying clients, a universal problem for consultants touting theoretical insights.)

    In their largely observational The Experience Economy, Pine and Gilmore describe the evolution of product-marketing embodiments in this way:

    Commodities -> Goods -> Services -> Experiences -> Transformations

    In today's sophisticated business environment, commodities, goods, and services are virtually indistinguishable as competitive offerings. Marketers must now generate experiences by in order to reach customers jaded by too many marketing claims and information overload.

    Their message in
    Authenticity is more directive. Transformations, which bond companies and customers irrevocably, occur only when authenticity -- customer self-identity and the brand experience -- are total. They're beyond intentional design. But at the highest level of manipulable reality, the generation of experiences, the higher the degree of authenticity, as perceived by customers, is the critical differentiating factor in the quality of experiences that companies offer to their customers.

    Authenticity, however, is a fluid quality, difficult to acquire and even more difficult to retain. Every situation is unique and requires special treatment. To establish overarching principles and rules, the authors' arguments range far afield, involving quantum physics, existentialism, psychology, heuristics, and architecture and design. Highly complex, these arguments rely on pages of footnotes set in small type (which most business readers will ignore -- but which I found evocative and insightful). It will be tough for most lay persons to apply Authenticity's methods. Which is why this book will probably be more popular among the consultants who are hired to turn its dictates into practice.

    It's Authenticity's subtext that's makes it a must-read for everyone else. Ultimately, and not surprisingly, even as clever as Jim and Joe are, they hit a logical wall when they try to make marketing and authenticity compatible -- a project comparable to mixing oil and water. This constant contradiction troubled me from the book's first page to its last. If the authors were writing science fiction, a story requiring the heroes to exceed the speed of light would be fine. But Gilmore and Pine's prescriptions in
    Authenticity are meant for marketing managers who can barely manage brands, let alone contradictory logical types and confusing syllogisms. (In The Experience Economy, the authors took a simpler line, making their principal argument in considerably fewer pages. I wish they'd done the same in Authenticity.)

    For most readers, this book will serve as a significant historical marker in an age of commerce when, as the authors observe, the “real” and the “fake” have become completely transferable, substitutable, and indistinguishable. It's an energetic, intellectual, neo-Aristotelian romp through the land of make-believe concocted by marketers, designers, creative directors, retailers, real estate developers, and by a public only too willing to believe the unbelievable. The authors' argue among themselves as often as they do with the charlatans and mediocre impresarios of experience. Their sincere attempt to come to grips with the authenticity conundrum is moving.
    Authenticity is a manifesto for our time that can't be ignored.

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

    November 15, 2007

    'Fill 'er up!“ as a customer experience, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Big Oil

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Red Gas PumpThe price of sweet crude oil futures is nearing a $100 high-water mark that will inevitably result in social sticker shock, followed by resentment everywhere except among the OPEC nations. Marketers and brand managers of gasoline and other consumer petroleum products will be busier than ever. My best guess: Big Oil's customer-experience sycophants will portray Big Oil, a closed, self-serving global cartel ready and willing to use any means to defend its economic privilege and political power, as "people like us." "We're all in it together!" "Like the rest of us, Big Oil is a victim of circumstances beyond its control." "Big Oil's members are good citizens doing their best to maintain our accustomed lifestyle AND protect the environment." Watching the flood of corporate TV ads, I sense the din's already begun. (But where's the tiger? Where's the Happy Engine?)

    Downstream oil companies long ago understood the value of positive and negative “customer experiences.” In the post-WWII America, they joined with the then-Big 3 automakers to promote unbridled driving (“See the USA in a Chevrolet!”) as a positive customer experience. Simultaneously, with help from the automakers and tire manufacturers, they worked hard to make the use of public transit as unpleasant a customer experience as possible -- ultimately, by getting cities to tear out the efficient tramways that once got commuters to work without driving. This dual strategy successfully (a) equated driving a car with personal freedom, turning the phrase, “the open road,” into a kinetic metaphor for the First Amendment; and (b) made transportation policymaking a wholly inter-corporate process (except for the taxes collected by a villainous government to finance necessary infrastructure: the highway, roads, and parking).

    Today, however, Big Oil's customer experience people must be working overtime. First, there's the visceral experience we have of crude oil's skyrocketing price, leading to our future experience of rapid, continuous, unprecedented price hikes at the pump. Second, there's the physical experience, conveniently camouflaged by TV ads filmed in scenic national parks, that most time spent in automobiles, in the US, is dead time. (Over on The Oil Drum, the best blog about Peak Oil -- our historical era, in which demand for petroleum exceeds supply -- I read a quote that Americans spend literally billions of hours each year idling at red lights and in traffic jams.) Third, there's our uneasy awareness, fed by scientists and our own environmental experience, that automobiles run on oil account for nearly a fourth (or more) of all CO2 emissions and thus, cataclysmic global warming. Fourth, there's the knowledge, the cognitive experience, that American policy and policymakers, from the President and Congress at the top, down to local traffic planners, are enslaved by the Big Oil/Automobile & Trucking/Highway Construction Establishment -- and that there's no escape in sight. These are pretty negative customer experiences.

    Big Oil, to preserve its leading role in our society, is working hard to generate more positive customer experiences. “Empowerment”: pump your own fuel, at your own convenience. (Bonus: it costs less in labor.) “Green”: Standard Oil, a multi-multi-billion-dollar a year global oil enterprise, proudly announces it's generating enough eco-energy to power a city of seven million. (About a third of LA County.) “A Better Future Through Big Oil”: BP is proud of its plan to invest in eco-energy. It's plan. Sometime. Funny, I haven't yet heard anything from Big Oil's customer experience experts about walking or riding a bike, taking public transit, or simply driving less.

    Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore in their fascinating new book, Authenticity (which I'll be reviewing here later this week), decry this sort of bleating as “Fake/Fake authenticity” -- in other words, inauthenticity, worse than not saying anything at all. The pitches are false and they're perceived to be false. The problem is, Big Oil doesn't really care. Perhaps its silence would be taken as the most inauthentic thing of all, so used have we become to the oil industry's blaring self-promotion and take-no-prisoners attitude in terms of getting its way.

    I thought I might carry out a collective exorcism and call out all those strategic marketers, ethnographic and market research firms, and customer-experience designers who lend their expertise and earn their livelihoods (and a good deal more) from this in-vain effort to turns sows' ears into silk purses. Shame them into renunciation of their wage slavery. (I too once fed at the teat of Big Oil myself, leading a startup whose software products Big Oil coveted. But as I've learned, there's life after Big Oil.) The task proved too immense. It would be a lot easier to list the relatively few professionals who refuse to serve the Petro Beast.

    But what's the point? It's just one more customer-experience racket we endure for the sake of denial, like Big Media, the Military Industrial Complex, and The National Exceptionalism Myth. When the oil's gone, it's gone. And that will be the end of it. And us?

    (Image: Big Red's Place)

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    November 8, 2007

    The (ever more painful) Dow of Experience, Redux

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    WA little over a year ago, I published an entry here, “The (ever more painful) Dow of Experience.” I was critical of the frequently recurring, almost unavoidable repetition of a rising Dow Jones index as a feel-good economic mantra. I wrote:



    We take reports of the Dow for granted. They flicker on tickers on during the TV networks' evening newcasts, on CNN, Fox, and Bloomberg, and are part and parcel of almost every radio station's news broadcasts. For a long time, the Dow's ups and downs were taken to be synonymous with the strength of the nation's economy, all boats rising and falling with the Dow. But investment income and wages have become disconnected, radically. A rising Dow no longer means good times for the working class (which comprises that 80 to 90 percent of the American people who do not receive substantial investment income). Each time Americans hear about the Dow's climb, it reminds them that things are getting worse for the majority in terms of falling purchasing power, rising household indebtness, and a general decline in their quality of life. The American Dream vies with a nightmare reality.

    I also wrote,

    According to critical theorists, people can indulge in hopeful thinking for only so long before their objective living conditions start to breed intolerable dissonance, dismay, and resentment. That's when societies experience dramatic tensions, often resulting in political upheaval and even revolution.

    Now things are different. Today, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress that the economy's rotten and that things are likely to get worse -- much worse -- before they get better. Gas prices will go up. Buying during the all-important Christmas season will go down. More banks will be in distress. More people will lose their homes and their jobs. (Yet, according to a report on public radio's Marketplace business-news show, investors in hedge funds -- the few individuals who are already the richest in our society, those who can afford multi-million-dollar investments -- are doing very well, better than ever before, some earning as much as 10% on their investments.) The last week has been hell for the Dow. But there's not a hint of domestic political upheaval, let alone revolution. People are in shock and denial rather than rebellious. Probably, because they have no past referents.

    What's the experience of living in a down economy? Most young adults never had the experience. What's the experience of living in a recession? Only the Boomers remember. What's the experience of living in a depression? I had to ask my Dad, who's in his 80s, to get an answer.

    The answer? Harsh. Very, very harsh.

    It's difficult for me to understand how people go about their day-to-day lives, minding the store, designing products, innovating ideas, going to conferences, chattering on the Web, watching their iPods and plasma TVs, making love, raising families, commuting to work and (via a corps of official spokespersons) reassuring themselves with forecasts of better times to come and better lives. Few, it seems, are preparing for the coming crisis -- crises -- in any substantial way, except perhaps for the survivalists, who don't look so stupid anymore. Oh yes, and the hedge fund investors, who are sharpening their claws in expectation of fresh meat, dining off the carcasses of dead and dying enterprises and their employees. It's not just an American problem, either, although for many reasons, the consequences of the crises are likely to be felt here first and foremost. It's a world problem. So who's working on preserving global stability? Certainly not the American government, which is out raising havoc and planning for more. Not the United Nations, already wracked and worn by a million demands on its limited resources. The people of the world? You and me?

    It's difficult also to escape the impression that we are wearing the sandals of the Romans just before the collapse of their Empire, only this time with universal repercussions. Religious and political mania will no doubt continue to manifest, more severely with time, before reason reasserts itself and solutions are proposed and implemented. So how do people get on? How do they deal with the sense of impending doom, now reinforced for them every time they hear the Dow -- this time, going down, down, down....

    How do we live with unremitting crisis, the social equivalent of psychological stress? What are its consequences, personally and collectively? Who's doing research on this most important aspect of our experience? As usual, there are far more questions than answers, though you'd hardly know it from all the smiling faces going places.

    (Image: Yahoo! Finance)

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    November 5, 2007

    DUX 2007: A great conference, but fundamentally off the mark

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Dux07 The DUX 2007 conference begins today in Chicago. Thematically, content-wise, and in terms of approach, this is the consummate conference on cutting-edge design. The speakers are top-notch, too. If I could, I'd be there. But ideologically, DUX is discomforting. For all its virtues, DUX embodies a set of values that, while commendable, are incomplete and off-kilter.

    Despite its aspiration to be universal, DUX remains user-centric, not human-centric. And experience, inherently and essentially, is human and thus, holistic.

    DUX stands for “Designing for User Experience.” It's the "user" part that continues to annoy me, while others seem blithe to its portent. According to Wikipedia, (quoting sage designer Don Norman's 1999 book, Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex and Information Appliances Are the Solution):

    "User experience design is a subset of the field of experience design which pertains to the creation of the architecture and interaction models which impact a user's perception of a device or system. 'The scope of the field is directed at affecting all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product: how it is perceived, learned, and used.' "

    200711051709 Designing for experience is about holism, understanding and working with the totality of human experience. “A user's perception of a device or system” seems a peculiarly narrow niche in which to ply one's experience design skills. Of course, it's important: devices and systems are what drive the machinery of commerce and government, and even how we as consumers conduct ourselves at home and in leisure time. But so mechanistic a conception of the human being is antithetical to our knowledge of how people holistically perceive, think, act, and experience their lives. Maybe that's why Don himself on more than one public occasion has eschewed the term he invented, “user experience design,” advising that we'd be better off without the “user.”

    DUX could more realistically portray the challenges facing experience designers, and champion their successes, by replacing “user” with “human” and thereby symbolically and practically opening the conference to a wider audience of designers and composers of experience.

    (BTW, I'm not reactive to the use of “user” in all R&D contexts: I'm about to take part in a multiyear, overseas study of “user-driven innovation” that aims to understand and enhance this innate human capacity. In this context, "user-driven" makes sense. Innovation by design is instrumental and goal-oriented. Innovation serves. But experience happens.)

    This isn't a trivial matter. Many of the presenters at DUX are willing to generalize beyond the scope of device and system development. This attempt to apply mechanistic theories best suited to things and systems to the larger world of human affairs can and likely will breed skepticism and perhaps even resistance to design for experience. The backlash against “social engineering,” a counterpart to DUX once advocated by structural-functionalist social scientists in the 1950s and 1960s could easily be repeated in our own time, especially since so many designs for experience fail in important settings at crucial moments.

    A potential reason why DUX and its organizers and participants haven't grasped this relationship may be that they haven't a long history in the work they do or sufficient familiarity with the scholarly study of experience. Perhaps it's a function of the organizing process, but it appears to me that with only a few exceptions, most of the speakers and workshop leaders -- and I suppose, attendees -- appear to be shy of 40 years of age. That means they would have been born sometime after 1967, when systemic thinking was king and every person was treated as a cog in some larger device; and that they came of age in the mid-80s or later, as information technology was replacing systems as the predominant archetypal metaphor. The inclusion of Harper's and The Huffington Post's
    Thomas de Zengotita within DUX, as an invited speaker -- a man who wears his years proudly and who's the antithesis of a “user-experience designer” -- is a welcome breath of fresh air. More like him would leaven the persistent technophilia that many other speakers manifest.

    It feels to me that the concern for audiences as human beings present in the work of such great designers of the past as, for example, Chermayeff, Bel Geddes, and the Eames, has evaporated in the fiery breath of Moloch aka The Machine (per Lewis Mumford's 1967
    Technics and Human Development: The Myth of the Machine). Even those presentations at DUX that sound wonderfully focused on human fancy -- art and dance and travel to strange places -- seem prone to converting that fancy into factors that are part of technical solutions: making products and services. They don't really depict or serve edifying human experiences, although they may well fit the interests of those seeking to exploit experiences. This dog won't hunt.

    Dott_07_Med.jpg
    Doors of Perception's Designs of the Time (Dott07), a 23-month participatory project that will continue through year's end, is an illustrative counterpoint to DUX. Dott's slogan is, “Why our design festival has no things in it.” Besides being overtly human-centered, Dott's participation ranges more broadly by age and is geographically more diverse. Its participants are as often involved in public as they are in commercial projects. DUX's youthful audience, by contrast, comprises a bucket-load of North Americans, a moderate serving of Brits, and a dash of Dutch and German presenters mostly working in the world of business and academic/brain-trust institutions serving that world. Pragmatic instrumentality, the dominant ideology in North American, British, and Germanic cultures driven by economic, thing-maker philosophy, pervades most of what DUX is about.

    Transformation designers tell us that in order to change constituent experiences, one has to first change the constituents themselves. Broadening DUX and its focus requires broadening its base of its participants, and vice versa. Here's my call for “Designing for Human Experience” in 2008. To preserve the delightful waterfowl homonym, use the acronym, DhUX. Or continue to call it DUX -- but for gosh sakes, at least make the "U" mean ... “hUman."

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

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I gave this presentation on October 8th by Skype, speaking before the 3rd International Conference on Information Design (ICID) that took place in Curitiba, Brazil, 8-10 October 2007. It sums up well my current thinking about information design, user experience design, designing for experience, and the composition of memorable experiences. My thanks to event organizers Carla Spinelli and Stephania Padovani, and technical helpers Tiago Maia, Re-nato Bertão, and Charles Costa. Your comments are welcome. © Robert Jacobson 2007

     Archives Img1 BOM DIA! It’s a pleasure to join you this afternoon, albeit by digital communications and not in person as I would have preferred. Thanks to organizers Carla Spinelli and Stephania Padovani, and media men Tiago, Renato, and Charles, for making this presentation possible. Our plan is to have me make a short presentation and then for us to interact via Skype. You may see me working at the keyboard occasionally, to keep the connection running smoothly. In the film, the Wizard of Oz, the Mighty Oz loudly tells Dorothy, with great blasts of fire, “Ignore the man behind the curtains!” That’s me.

    200711042321 This is an interesting study in information design. I’m speaking to you from the living room of my home in Tucson, Arizona, in the heart of the Sonora Desert. The video you are watching today was edited in the camera, harkening back to the early days of the 1970s-era, worldwide “Radical Software” movement, when activists around the world used portable video cameras to elicit honest communication in a formerly media-dominated information environment. Theirs was authentic video, without embellishment. So, 35 years later, here is my authentic video, no frills….

    200711042328 I was invited to speak to you as the editor of the anthology, Information Design, a collection of essays by world-class designers, published by the MIT Press in 1999. In the eight years since, there has been no satisfactory revisiting of the issues we raised in ID – especially the questions: what is information design and what will it become?

    Today, I’d like to talk to you about why and how I believe information design will evolve into a new practice, “designing for experience” or, as I prefer to call, it, “composing for experience.”

    200711042328-1 Experience is the proper center of the design universe. An environmental outlook comes next. Conventional design in many ways is pre-Copernican in this regard and new approaches to conventional design, like user experience design (about which I’ll speak later), only add more epicycles. I’m optimistic that information design will more quickly adopt the new paradigm.

    200711042329 In eight years, a lot has changed, not least the quantity and quality of the information environments in which we live and work. Today, technologies of communication and information are abundant, and networking computing is more pervasive than ever – many would say, invasive – changing how we live, work, play, educate, and communicate.

    Despite information designers’ high aspirations, the sheer volume of informational activity has nearly overwhelmed their ability to design for it.
    (Image: Artem)

    Our anthology anticipated this future. Our collective concern was not for better construction of representations and artifacts. Instead, unanimously, we called attention to the ever more complex information environments into which people, individually and collectively, are plunged almost at birth and through which they must navigate their entire lives. We agreed, on this if on nothing else, that information design, as it had been practiced for 25 years – rationalizing the presentation of information, usually in graphical form – must grow conceptually as well as technically, even epistemologically: information design must become experientially and environmentally wise.

    200711042332 Eight years later, the concept of information environments is no longer exotic. We are more cognizant of the systemic relationship between information and the environments – physical, social, and personal – in which information is produced, shared, and acted upon. There is a change in orientation among information designers from the particular to the global, even universal context. (Image: David Armano)

    In the name of informational environmental awareness and holism, all sorts of recipes are being promoted for messages that are more easily assimilated.

    200711042333 Apparent is the intrusion of the market: information is now more often than not treated as a commodity that must be designed for consumption. One narrow but broadly applied variant of information design, perhaps responsible for the majority of information designs these days – on the Web and incorporated in products and services – is called “user experience design” or more baldly, “customer experience design.” Say it loud and say it proud, its practitioners have one purpose: to get people to use things and to buy things.

    200711042335 Over the last decade, “interaction” has been added to the stew as a necessary element of instrumental design, a way to draw “users” into the purchasing process. Dan Saffer of Adaptive Path in san francisco has written a pretty good how-to book on Interaction Design and IDEO co-founder Bill Moggridge has published a mighty tome of interviews with “interaction designers.”

    200711042336 BJ Fogg, a professor of design at Stanford, whom I admire, has the gumption to call this branch of information design captology, the science of persuasive technology that captures and keeps an individual’s attention. (Image: Cache Creek Casino)

    But technology can’t do the job alone.

    200711042336-1 Vast armies of ethnographers, anthropologists who study culture, have been deployed to observe, describe, and annotate the lives of those whom their mainly business and occasional government clients wish to affect via “user experiences.” These costly cultural explorations are justified by the unique insights that ethnographers can supposedly provide to designers. (Image: Business Week)

    In these circumstances, however, for these insights to be acted upon, they have to relate to business, and so does the design that results from these insights. Ethnography and design thus form a neat little tautology that offers employment for ethnographers, validation for designers, and comfort to the business executives who pay for each.


    What’s remarkable is that the success rate of designed user experiences, even those informed by ethnography, is anecdotally reported to be a sparse five to ten percent. It might even be less. The vast majority of products and services designed according to the tenets of user experience, supported by ethnographic findings, do not achieve their goals.

    ...continue reading.

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

    October 30, 2007

    A thoughtful personal reflection on a boring cultural recursion.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    MoebiusAs a teenager and a young man, I was totally current on the theoretical and hypothetical aspects of existence and experience, as those were known in the 1960s and 1970s. I read books and listened to the newly available FM radio, partaking of high-falutin' “discourses” about beautiful phenomena: social change, collaborative problem solving, advertising, classical music and the Beatles, Zen and Taoism, being in the moment, social milieus, poetry, media, politics, environmentalism (very avant-garde), even Space Shuttles.

    Then, in the early 80s, I got sucked into the world of affairs. Government. Business. Research. Cable TV. The Internet. Cellular phones. HDTV. MBO, Six Sigma, and Co-Creation. Making money. Living large. I turned my truest loves, System Thinking and Media Theory, into instrumental chum to lure work my way. I had wandered off The Path and driven onto the Highway.

    A cliché: it's dangerous in the fast lane. Mostly, your childish wonder is at risk.

    Since resigning from my last startup in 2003, between episodes of consulting, I've had time to think broadly again. I've been able to revisit the high falutin' stuff again. Plus, today, besides knowledge found in books, there's the Internet. I've read quite a few websites, blogs, newsletters, and emails. I've watched my share of Fora.TV,, the yin and yang of online video. I've listened to my favorite media friend, the radio, again. And I realized: a whole, whole lot of what now's passed off as lofty new insights, intellect, and innovation, particularly in the fields I love -- among them, phenomenology, design, and media -- is really not very new at all. A lot of it boils down to that old saw, “The customer's always right,” in various permutations (co-creation, ethnography, customer experience design, etc., are some of the better known variations -- at least, those most chattered about).

    A friend of mine whose opinions I value confided during a one-on-one that he couldn't understand what I did. Maybe it's because what I do is what I've done before, not repackaged in new jargon in order to appear inventive and fresh. I create things. Themes, Ideas. Products. Services. Events. Organizations and companies to make them real. I hire people and I discharge managerial responsibilities, including building and leading teams, encouraging multilateral communication, and getting things done. That kind of boring stuff.

    But a lot of people don't do those things, or maybe they do them, too -- but mainly, they strive to reinvent the wheel. And you know, they do a good job of it. In universities, think tanks, research labs, and at professional retreats. The jargon, now “the buzz,” is sometimes deafening. ...continue reading.

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    October 2, 2007

    Innovation Nation 3: The Transformation Gap

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    hands.jpgAs regular readers will know, for the last two weeks, I've been interviewing technology policymakers, VCs, government investment agencies, incubators, and innovation/concept-design consultancies in Denmark and southern Sweden (Skåne) -- the new, high-tech “Øresund Region” -- to explore how ideas and concepts are born and how they then are converted into usable products and services.

    The two nations, and especially Denmark, have garnered a lot of kudos in the press for their innovation initiatives. They execute better than almost anywhere else on earth.

    But even in these societies where a large portion of GNP is strategically reinvested in innovation, product development, and new company formation, often no spark crosses over from innovation to product or service, as it does from God's hand to Adam's in Michaelangelo's fresco. A fatal gap remains that separates the innovation process from the development process. Innovations often fail to become IP because no investor who will fund the transformation of the idea into its usable embodiment. The result is that there is no demonstration of the innovation's worth and hence, no way to argue for investment in innovation services or activities.

    One solution is to extend the innovation consultants' responsibility to include guidance and assistance regarding how to valorize and promote the innovation to investors, and then helping to find investors -- but this solution costs time and money. Few innovation consultancies can afford the stretch. Most seem happy to diddle in the innovation zone anyway, leaving their clients to fend for themselves once the brain games are over, a self-defeating strategy that devalues the consultancies' own work. There aren't enough incubators to go around -- and these mostly enter the fray after a company has a product at least in prototype, too late for the moment of creation. Business angels aren't many nor are they able to make large investments. And local VCs, like VCs everywhere, have taken the uptown route, preferring to fund companies that have made it at least to mezzanine stage. In Denmark, the state-funded Vækstfonden attempts to fill in, but like the early-stage VC that it is, VF has limited resources and can only support a handful of innovators. The situation is more dire in Sweden, where angels are almost completely absent and VCs, including the state established (but self-financed) Industrifonden and its subsidiaries, must adhere to the bankers' rules that govern most VC activity.

    Within many companies and public agencies, similar processes play out that result in lack of internal funding for transforming innovations into IP.

    This flaw isn't unique to the Scandinavian economies, where at least it's recognized and solutions are being sought. It's evident on a larger scale, and is more damaging, in Silicon Valley, a place familiar to me. The proportion of unrealized opportunities in the Valley must be huge. Given the dynamism of invention in the Valley, funding announcements are relatively few and far between. A few VCs, like Charles River Ventures with its QuickStart program, have tried to help out, but they're a drop in the bucket. The only place this problem isn't pronounced, I suspect, is China, where investment capital is copious and investments are available for almost any buildable product/service idea (although the inventor may not hold on to his or her rights very long).

    I'll have more to say about this in a following entry. I'm still catching up and getting over jet lag. Thanks for your patience.

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    September 22, 2007

    Our Innovation Nation exploration ends; my conclusions to follow, when I get home.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson


    My partner Debra and I are nearly at the end of our Øresund Region adventure, meeting and speaking with friends and colleagues in Greater Copenhagen and Malmö, the capital of Skåne, the southernmost region in Sweden. We've had an active two weeks filled with learning and sharing of ideas with a full menu of good thinkers. Our experiences, professional and social, have been memorable.

    Tonight, to add to our collection of exquisite experiences, we're off to see the Royal Copenhagen Ballet, in Denmark, and meet personally with Kirsten Simone, one of the Ballet's outstanding prima ballerinas, whose 1964 appearance in Tucson sent little Debbie off on her own balletic adventures. Theirs will be an emotional reunion.

    On Sunday, having returned to Sweden across the beautiful Øresund Bridge, we'll further explore Malmö, Sweden, which everyone agrees is this region's most exciting, up and coming city in a region already known for its natural beauty. It's where we'd like to live and work, if we have the chance.

    On Monday, I'll have important “summation” sessions prior to departing for home (“home” this time meaning, not the beautiful, green Danish farmstead or the bustling maritime city that have been our home bases for most of this trip, but rather our sunny, cactus-studded Arizona desert homestead).

    We return home on Tuesday, after which I'll share my conclusions regarding the practice of innovation policy and consulting generally, and their specific expressions in Denmark and Sweden, which differ substantially.

    yq_StCRxVLLgtjPEmn4V.gifAlso when I return, in my thread of entries about the “design” of experience, I'll further expand on my notion of composing rather than designing experiences and the consequences that flow from it. Conversations during my trip to Scandinavia strengthened my feelings in this regard. Thanks especially to my hosts, Professor (and occasional DJ) Bo Reimer, and Professor Jonas Löwgren, of Malmö University's outstanding School of Culture, Art, and Communications, "K3" (specializing in interaction design and new media production and studies), and K3 Dean Ingrid Elam, who joined us. Jonas' confirming thoughts on the composition of experience have been especially useful.

    Now sets in the inevitable sorrow at the journey's conclusion. In a couple of days we must make the difficult but necessary cultural tradeoffs: herring on flatbread to beans and burritos, aquavit to tequila, and cool to warm. Ah, if one could but be in two places at once -- and not just quantumly, but forever!...

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    September 11, 2007

    Innovation Nation: The "Øresund"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson


    On Monday, I spent 15 hours in the air, the last seven aboard a Boeing 757 “Flying Cattle Car" (perhaps the worst aircraft ever foisted on the traveling public) with a malfunctioning entertainment system. What could compel me to such an act of aerial self-flagellation? The answer: to visit “Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen,” capital not only of Denmark but of the larger “Øresund Region”: the Innovation Nation.

    Back in the United States and everywhere in the Blogosphere, designers of various ilk are thrashing around with the concepts of innovation, ideation, strategy, and co-creation. The heated conversation has been led most recently by the Interaction Designers, who are having a run of popularity not seen since the onslaught of the Information Architects, whom the Interaction Designers have displaced in the minds of the design critics. (Can the Service Designers be far behind?) Basically, the issue is whether, as Michael Beirut put it in Design Observer, “Innovation is the new Black,” or whether it is a truly historic evolution of conventional design,, the purest evocation of “design thinking” as described by Peter Morville in a classic Semantic Studios blog entry reprinted on NextD, with contextual remaks by G.K. VanPatter ("Unidentical Twins")

    In the Øresund region comprising Greater Copenhagen and Skåne (Malmö, Lund, and other formerly Danish parts of southern Sweden), where two geographies and national cultures have been joined by a beautiful new bridge after 500 years of separation, innovation consulting isn't an issue. It's for real. Not only is innovation consulting considered an accepted design modality, it's gaining the blessing and support of the Danish and Scanian governments and their larger societies. The Danes in particular have invested literally tens of millions of government dollars each year to resurrect their once glorious national brand -- Danish Design -- and they now seem bent on doing the same for the innovation consulting business, where they stand a good chance of actually getting ahead of the curve and leading the global innovation industry.

    To be sure, innovation consulting is still a relatively small industry, with total revenues hovering around $1 billion. It's also labor intensive, since its main assets are inspired human minds; operating margins are okay but not great. But because the innovation industry's potential to derail conventional management consulting -- getting in there right at the beginning of every management decision process, and thereby controlling it -- has not gone unnoticed. Recently the Monitor Group, a fast-growing, mid-range management consultancy, bought the Doblin Group, a brand management firm in Chicago that made a big deal of its powers of innovation. It then aligned the Doblin Group with its own internal, organically grown innovation consulting practice. One has the sense that many of the small firms growing up on edges of the management consulting industry have the same goal, since nearly every one now styles itself, in one sense or another, as an innovation-consulting provider.

    To get back to the Øresund. Although the Danish government has spent generously to restore Danish Design's preeminence, in fact the emergence of the innovation consultancies in DK and SE has been organic, not dependent on government spending (except for government's business, when its appropriate). This has caught DK's intensely thorough economic planners by surprise. A hot-off-the-press Danish governmental study and report, Concept Design, published by the Danish Enterprise and Housing Agency, directed by agency planner Jorgen Røsted (and employing many internal and external consultants), describes innovation consulting as "concept design," a tenuous semantic bridge. In this ethnography about ethnography (a primary ingredient of concept design, as the authors define it), Concept Design's authors take the word of their industry informants too literally, without sufficient critical distance. Three case-studies among several presented by their informants as unquestioned successes I know personally to be problematic. Overall, however, most of the report's observations appear accurate. Concept Design meticulously describes what's happening structurally within the budding industry. What it doesn't do is explain how innovators and their clients actually solve problems. Instead, reciting the five steps of concept design -- a process pioneered at SRI Consulting and the Institute for the Future in the 1980s and 1990s -- it describes the crucial step of ideation as "this is where the magic happens." This phrase is somewhat lacking in precision. It mystifies the process rather than revealing it. (A follow-up report, InnovationMonitor 2007, due out at month's end (September 2007), will discuss the "biggest challenges facing innovation in Denmark." Should be exciting.)

    So that's why I'm here in Denmark, the per capita national leader (so Concept Design reports) in innovation consulting. For two weeks I'm going to study governmental and private initiatives on both sides of the Øresund. In the process, I hope to be able to accurately characterize what's going on industrially but also in terms of process; what innovation consulting means for the region's economy, culture, and society; and its significance in the world of ideas, including the creation of experience and design thinking.

    My first appointment takes place today at the new Copenhagen Institute for Interactive Design (CIID). Then I'll meet with the Danish Venture Capital Association. On Thursday and Friday, I meet with leading consultancies and government design-policymakers on the Danish side of the Øresund. Next week, I'll travel to Skåne, to do the same. My insights and information that can be made public, I'll share with you here.

    For a personal experience of the field's dynamism, II encourage you to attend ECCI X, the Tenth European Conference on Creativity and Innovation, to be held in Copenhagen, October 14-17, 2007, where these issues will be the subject of intense examination and debate. Over 400 leaders in the innovation business, from Scandinavia, the rest of Europe, and around the world are expected to attend. Wish I could join them. Hey, maybe I will...! From Denmark, this is Bob Jacobson saying, "Med venlig hilsen, ciao!"

    (Images: Light bulb, Newton.Typepad.com; Øresund Bridge, Malmö)

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design | Theories of Experience

    The best experiences aren't designed. They're composed.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The most evocative experiences -- those that have lasting power, that alter one's perspectives, apprehension, appreciation, and actions -- aren't designed. They're composed. The distinction isn't subtle. Compositions are easy to identify and remember: everyone can cite his or her favorite composed experiences. Designs, for the most part, aren't so easy to identify or remember. In many cases, they're not even designed to be memorable; they're designed to be imperceptible.

    My brilliant partner Debra Jane, a talented creator of great experiences -- in fashion, dance, art, and story-telling -- sent me down this thought-path when, one night, she announced, “You know, I'm not so smart...but I sure know how to concatenate!”

    “Compose” has many meanings, but the two to which I refer (from Dictionary.com) are:

    1. To make or form by combining things, parts, or elements.

    ...and...

    2. To create (a musical, literary, or choreographic work).

    Composition is an act of creative combination, working with elements in the environment. The assemblage that results may or may not find an audience or serve a purpose. The composer knows this going in: his or her motivation is simply to compose.

    “Design” also has many meanings, but central to its definition, in the sense that designers use it, are:

    1. To form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan.

    ...and...

    2. To plan and fashion the form and structure of an object, work of art, decorative scheme, etc.

    Design begins with a purpose in mind. Commercial design has as its first purpose to serve a client. The designer must succeed in this purpose.

    Composition draws on inspiration from deep, often hidden emotional, spiritual, and psychological aquifers. Design occurs largely in the mind. The difference in results is profound, especially when it comes to creating experiences.

    The acts of composition and design thus start from different premises and have different intended outcomes. Good experiences may be what each act is intended to engender, but one act is artistry and the other, science and engineering. Increasingly, I'm led to believe that artistry is key to successful creation of the best experiences. The composer may fail, of course; only a relatively few composers achieve excellence; whereas, there are many good designers. But design thinking, although probably more reliable as a methodology, inherently limits the designer's artistry. It places strictures on design in order that a design should work; these strictures include basing designs on reasonably hard data and not deviating too far from audience preferences or too greatly challenging existing behaviors.

    Also, a design's consequences, for that design to be considered a success, must be measurable. Compositions, on the other hand, must merely be memorable.

    My colleague Barry Howard creates exhibitions and museums. He and I are part of a team preparing a plan for the US Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 World Expo. Barry has a long and successful career in his line of work, beginning with the pioneering Coca-Cola Pavilion at the 1964 New York Worlds Fair. Barry is an artist. Each project begins with a storyline, a visionary narrative, which then is translated into its physical evocation. Barry is a composer of experiences.

    Barry related to me a relevant anecdote. Walt Disney had captured the American imagination on the silver screen when he decided to turn his studio's creations into a physical place, to be called “Disneyland.” There was no one with prior experience creating a theme park on the scale Disney envisioned, so he called upon his studio team -- writers, illustrators, animators, musicians, and so forth -- to come up with the plans for Disneyland. The result was a remarkable collection of experiences, magnificent and small, that remains an icon of creativity and spirit (some would say, chutzpah) to this day. No one on the team considered himself or herself a “designer.” Its members considered themselves artists, the original “Imagineers.” Over the years, the original Imagineers were replaced by individuals with backgrounds in business, technology and social sciences, and design. Imagineering became something of a science. As most of us who experienced the original Disneyland agree, the result has been less than sterling. The new parks created by these Imagineers, for all their splendor, efficiency, and effectiveness as revenue generators, didn't manifest the same excitement as the original Disneyland. The rides were stupendous but numbing and the overall experience of the new Disney theme parks was one of grandiosity, not edification. New management at Disney is now working hard to turn the parks around and restore the creative luster that the second-generation Imagineers' calipers and mechanics almost erased. Composers are back in charge.

    Another of my experience-creating heroes is the landscape architect and educator, Lawrence Halprin. At a landscape architecture conference I attended at the University of Washington, he issued a powerful edict: “Design not with forms, but with forces.” Halprin excels at apprehending deep meanings in the physical environment and then creating compositions -- literally scoring the subject environment and things in it -- to produce wonderful experiences. Anna Halprin, the renowned choreographer, inspired Lawrence's approach. He is a choreographer of environmental experiences. Halprin values design methodology as a means of realizing his visions -- but always, his visions are preeminent.

    It may be somewhat disturbing for you, as it is for me, to acknowledge that artistry, not science or engineering, is the sine qua non for creating the best experiences. (Architects who excel, for example, consider themselves artists of space.) Artistry, sadly, can't be learned. It's an inherent talent that can be improved upon, but not taught. Artists must mingle with designers for designs to be infused with compositional fire. Otherwise, design remains an interesting, challenging, but ultimately mundane process. The best experiences aren't designed. They're composed.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    September 4, 2007

    An odd little book: Everyday Engineering: What Engineers See, by Andrew Burroughs

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Everyday EngineeringEveryday Engineering: What Engineers See, by IDEO engineer Andrew Burroughs (Chronicle Books 2007), is an odd little book -- and I do mean odd, it's almost completely pictorial; and little, about 4“ x 6”. It's now part of my permanent collection of design books worth keeping. Why? Because it's a perfect evocation of, as the subtitle says, how engineers see the world of everyday life: as an assortment of things -- objects, assemblages, and machines -- maintained in relation to one another by unseen forces, both manmade and natural.

    Over time, these relationships are altered -- the objects' purposes are sometimes defeated and at other times improved -- in ways that designers and engineers can't always predict. It's the engineers' responsibility, however, to anticipate these vagaries, to make these arrangements work and keep on working -- or if things go really out of kilter, to shut them down and replace them. One would like to think that designers -- a term I use broadly, to include professional designers but also architects, carpenters, industrialists, and other de facto designers -- are the engineers' equal partners in this pursuit. But as the prolific photographs that constitute the main content of Everyday Engineering illustrate, too often this isn't the case.

    Everyday Engineering is a study in visual literacy. Burroughs' foreword and brief introductions for its 17 chapters are too short to fully explain his meanings in every sense. (Part 1 focuses on Creation, Part 2 on Degradation.) I would have liked more of Burroughs' insights and recommendations for how everyday artifacts, machines and processes, should be created and maintained. Instead, he's assembled hundreds of full-color photographs to make a persuasive case for more advance thought on the designers' part before they foist their inventions on the engineers who must convey them to the public. Some are close-ups of obscure elements, others broad landscapes; most are portraits of things.

    Yet it's the unforeseen forces that most need to be elucidated. These are largely implied in the photographs, not explicit. This may be the nature of everyday environments and the their elements, but the delightful website, How Stuff Works, is a more accessible guide for those whose curiosity about everyday life requires more than Burroughs the engineer's visual lyricism. (HSW is about more than engineering. It ranges across mythology, biology, physics, media -- you name it, it lives up to its title.)

    Published by Chronicle Books, at $29.95, Everyday Engineering is pricey. (Amazon.com currently discounts it to $19.77.) The cover is stylish but impractically constructed of black paper that doesn't resist stains. The pages, however, are substantial. I liked very much the press kit that accompanied Everyday Engineering: it provides a context that increases the reader's appreciation for Burroughs' accomplishment. Perhaps Chronicle Books or IDEO will see fit to incorporate the press kit in a website that allows Burroughs and his readers to more fully explicate their take on everyday engineering and its future.

    I'm placing my copy of Everyday Engineering next to my copy of the 25th-Anniversary Edition of Vintage Books' Tao Te Ching, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and illustrated with photographs by Jane English. The two books' classy illustrations are yin-yang representations of the manmade world and the natural world, respectively. The contrast is remarkable. “Designing with nature” has a long way to go.

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

    August 31, 2007

    Design Thinking

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    I was attempting to edit the abysmal entry for Design Thinking on Wikipedia. I began to doubt the appropriateness of what I was writing – not for its validity but for its style. I finally decided to simply put what I would have wanted for an entry there, here.

    Design Thinking leverages implicit elements of design practices, as a means to approach problem solving. It is a critical factor for innovation.

    "Design thinking is a term being used today to define a way of thinking that produces transformative innovation." [1] The term has gained significance as it is being embraced outside of the normal realm for which it might have traditionally been applied.

    Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, suggests that Design Thinking is central to value creation in the 21st century (see "Design of Business"). It is not a matter of gaining an understanding of design, it's a matter of embracing design – a way of operating. Martin further suggests that success in the 20th century was defined by an ability to move through a continuum, from mystery, to heuristic, to algorithm, to binary code. In this way things are identified, a pattern is made, and exact replicas are generated. For a mass production economy this is an ideal model for operating success.

    But as barriers to information are lowered (less expensive, more readily available/shared), the economics of competition change dramatically. The value of intellectual capital is now often greater when it is shared and allowed to evolve openly (a lot of lawyers suddenly become irrelevant). Fundamental business models rely on minimizing risk. Getting to binary code was an ideal way to lock down fluctuation and variance – both associated with risk.

    New economic models embrace risk as reality, requiring a move back up the continuum to 'heuristic'. Roger Martin specifically suggests: "I would argue that to be successful in the future, businesspeople will have to become more like designers – more ‘masters of heuristics’ than ‘managers of algorithms’." For classic business models this is uncomfortable. The idea of managing something squishy is foreign. Design Thinking is required to operate in squishy-mode.

    It's not to be confused with a method – it's fundamentally a culture, a genotype to reshape methods of operating. Contemporary organizational structures are antithetical to this culture. Martin elaborates,

    Whereas traditional firms organize around ongoing tasks and permanent assignments, in design shops, work flows around projects with defined terms. The source of status in traditional firms is ‘managing big budgets and large staffs’, but in design shops, it derives from building a track record of finding solutions to ‘wicked problems’ – solving tough mysteries with elegant solutions.

    Whereas the style of work in traditional firms involves defined roles and seeking the perfect answer, design firms feature extensive collaboration, ‘charettes’ (focused brainstorming sessions), and constant dialogue with clients.

    Design Thinking is critical to and at the same time relies on emergent structures. As such, it is central to all aspects of 2.0 design.

    Design Thinking is a specific concept (the significance between specific and general use of a term is illustrated in the reference to complexity). While common methods of thought include deductive and inductive reasoning, Design Thinking embraces these but adds abductive reasoning. Abductive reasoning is effectively embracing a posture of "Why not?", but with a layer of rationale.

    Random trial and error is expensive. Rationale is too often replaced by random opinion. While predominantly driven by profit-motivation (e.g. search engine optimization, transactional growth), there is clear professional growth in the discipline of web analytics. To be most effective, Design Thinking must be informed by Design Research (transactional analytics, behavioral analytics, feedback loops, usability studies, and ethnography). I call this evidence-based design, Jeffrey Pfeffer calls it evidence-based management.

    Another differentiating element of Design Thinking is a focus on synthesis rather than analysis. Claudia Kotchka notes:

    Designers problem-solve holistically, not in a linear fashion. While the scientific method for problem solving uses problem focused strategies and analysis, designers use solution focused strategies and synthesis. They start with a whole solution rather than break it down into parts.

    Good Design Thinking is the ability to see things not readily apparent to others (that's where market differentiation can occur). Thus my favorite Schopenhauer quote:

    “Thus the task is
    not so much to see
    what no one yet has seen,
    but to think
    what nobody yet has thought
    about that which
    everybody sees”

    It's the ability to see the 'edges' of something, to find shape and form in a mass of stuff. It's the ability to see things differently – to see the implicit and make it explicit.

    Additional References

    Comments (6) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: Commentary

    July 5, 2007

    Relationships Are About the Total Experience

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    UPDATE: I've added several postscripts to the bottom of this. Combined with today's information makes this worthy of a republish. Today I got a phonecall from AT&T (ok, what part? no clue...) to personally 'clarify' my concern and escallate this issue to management. At least there 'is' a mechanism and it's active enough that this case made it into the pipeline. What surprised me was that I had to paint a picture for the caller. They don't personally have an email account like this..."here's your sign".

    Orignially published June 18, 2007
    ATTYAHOO.png I'm still on hold as I'm writing this...such is the beauty of the 'channel of one' that blogs afford.

    Companies need to begin paying attention to something besides the bottom line. They're missing 98% of the reason that dollars show up there in the first place...relationships.

    If people paid as little attention to their relationships that most 'big' businesses do...we'd solve the population explosion. There's a lot of 'lip service' out there to customer-centric, but it's all a checklist, "Yep, I've got someone working on that." Forrester even has shown the numbers...no progress over the last 3 years in 'doing' anything about those great intents.

    So, here I am on the phone stuck between two call centers: one that is supposed to help me with my 'issues' (but only the ones they have scripts for), and the other one that can close my entire relationship with AT&T...and there is not a single business executive in the mix to realize what is going on or why. So I'm telling them here.

    It's not like I haven't tried (and oh-by-the-way...this costs me time and money too...multiply that by even 100,000 customers and that's a lot of time and money). I wrote an email...it went to Yahoo! My question was, according to them, something that AT&T needed to handle.

    Weeks later (who has time to waste like this, going nowhere fast?) I was online again. I opted into the online chat...I was 56th in line and it was moving about 1 a minute -- you do the math. I was able to find a phone number. I called. The support line, mentioned before, could only address 'real' problems...mine didn't qualify.

    I insisted that I be escalated. They didn't even have an escalation proceedure. So I gave them one..."Escalate this so that I can close my ENTIRE relationship with AT&T."

    Now I'm on the phone with account close. They're asking me for information only available on my bill...never mind that I do all my billing online (so can you wait for 5 mintues while I go through your interactions to bring up a bill so I can look at it? -- who tests these rediculous scenarios anyway?).

    What's the big deal anyway? Paying for a free service.
    Anyone can sign up for a free Yahoo! email account. It comes with advertisement banners on every page. Until recently 'not' getting those banners was the benefit of paying for my AT&T | Yahoo! account. Not any more. My paid account now has advertisement all over it. So why do I need to pay for this experience?

    Someone has made the decision to 'add' this to the experience without considering the implications. Maybe I'm a lone voice...I hope that I'm not [apparenly not]. We shouldn't allow our relationships to be prostituted in this way (as it is, this email account was originally owned by MCI...it was sold 3 times before it got to AT&T...I didn't change, they did).

    I am looking for AT&T to take accountability for the products/services and corresponding experiences that they are selling...otherwise, the field is white with competition. Anyone ready for a new client?

    I realize this is not world hunger...what it is, is companies being irresponsible in their decisions and their impact to customers...the whole reason for their existence. Ok, maybe for someone like AT&T, commercial accounts are worth a lot more...but if we can get 100,000 voices to stand up as a collective...they'd carry a little weight.

    The beauty of 'online' is the nature by which one voice gains velocity and intensity through the inflection of others. The voiceless now can be heard. Relationships are not humanless processes.

    Black isn't the only color cars can be made in.

    Postscript:
    I have continued to raise this 'voice' through any and every channel that I can. I posted a comment through the 'abuse' channel (the options didn't give me too many choices). I received a response dated Jul.03.07, which stated the following:

    We apologize for the inconvenience. The advertising is a needed step
    towards providing world class service at an affordable price.

    If you could see the dancing aliens that come up and take up half the page as I'm trying to read a personal email, I'm not sure you'd classify it as "world class". Call it what you will, it still smacks of prostitution.

    Imagine you've just sent a tender email to your near-delivery pregnant daughter, only to have a 5" ape jumping up and down on your screen pounding his chest. Each time an ad shows up it reminds me how much I hate doing business with AT&T.

    That's the kind of negative relationship equity companies would pay to avoid.
    Instead, we get to pay for the priviledge of being annoyed.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | This Is Broken

    June 30, 2007

    Prelude to a discussion of Spiritual Experience

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Burning%20Car.jpgI sat down to write about the varieties of spiritual experience, only to be confronted by news of the Glasgow Airport car bombing; and earlier, the discovery in London of two Mercedes filled to the gills with explosives and nails that failed to detonate, prepared for jihadist purposes.

    Meanwhile, also in the name of religion, violence continues in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, and who knows how many other locations, each time with faith in a deity as its rationale -- something all parties to these conflicts,"good" and "bad" alike, have in common. In other places, depredations against the earth itself -- for example, the burning down of the rainforests, the clear-cutting of the Southeast Asian jungles (for chopsticks), the sweeping clean of sea life from the oceans, and the promotion of urban sprawl at the expense of nature -- are sanctioned as humankind's holy destiny. In the West, the Bible, written by all too human authors, elevates humanity to the role of über-species, demigods (in the form of the all-powerful God Himself), giving human predators great license. They not only can but must remake the earth, profiting by it in the process. The world is “Man's Dominion” -- or so we've been told by generations of boosterizing preachers. One branch of Christianity promotes the belief that you get what you deserve based on heavenly intervention, but it's not alone in sanctioning behaviors that result in incredible unevenness of wealth and opportunity within and among cultures and nations. Elsewhere, other religious traditions share the biblical authors' ambitions and promote their own forms of exploitation and reward in the name of the Divine. Buying things comes in No. 1 in some cultures.

    It's difficult under the circumstances to write about experience and spirituality, which by definition is not about death and destruction sanctified by totalitarian religion, but the opposite: connection with the Infinite, cohesion with the physical world, empathy and compassion, a sense of cosmic responsibility, and deep awareness within. For the moment, the egotistical religious zealotry that terrorizes people and the environment (as it has for millennia) holds the winning hand in terms of forming our contemporary consciousness. Sometimes, things seem to be changing. One hopes....

    As i delved into the history of spiritual experience, I discovered that over the millennia, spirituality has run on two paths. On the first path, the pursuit of transcendence and integration with the universe continues as the determined pursuit of an enlightened fraction of the population. On the second path, however, spirituality -- deliberately corrupted and misapplied -- has been transformed from a powerful force for good into a motivator of heinous acts and trivial behaviors (like rampant consumption) based on a coarse understanding of humanity's place in the world, as its Master.

    This misappropriation of the most fundamental human experience, spiritual identity, using it to serve evil -- venal and banal -- purposes, may have been the first deliberate act of experience design. It took real chutzpah to seize what was most profound and make it profane. Our challenge as ethical experience designers is to redeem our profession: in this regard, to reinstitute spirituality as a force for improving the quality of life on earth.

    I need to meditate on this tonight. Tomorrow, I'll tackle spiritual experience, as promised earlier....

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Theories of Experience

    June 28, 2007

    “Back in the saddle and ready to ride!”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    111936073 C8136Ec32FThe last two weeks have been glad and sad.

    Glad to be in a new place, see old friends, and be free of the last year's emotional burdens. Sad to have left Santa Monica and my dear friends there, the relationship that was my family, and the fabulous little girl I came to love as my own. Sad, too, that my destroyed Mac G4 Powerbook rendered me unable to blog here, to experience the catharsis of creation.

    These too shall pass. The memory to upgrade my Mac G3 Powerbook, the best machine I own for writing and blogging -- a work of ergonomic genius, as subsequent Macs have not been -- finally arrived. I installed it a couple of days ago and have been testing it. It works. As you can see, I'm “back in the saddle and ready to ride!” (to quote local rodeo lore). Thanks to Paula for her continuing postings of interest in the meantime.

    Tomorrow I'll pick up again where I had to leave off: exploring the varieties and qualities of spiritual experience, and their relation to the experiences that we seek to understand and for which we design. I'll also open a conversation about my future plans, which include a total immersion in innovation, and invite your comments....

    Over on Speedbird, Adam Greenfield has penned one of the best essays on experience and experience design ever to grace a blog. It's a modern take on philosophy and general systems thinking as applied to experience design, and what we can and cannot design for, experientially. Thank you, Adam, for a smooth exposition.

    (Image: Odd Items)

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

    June 11, 2007

    Spirituality and Experience: The universe intervenes....

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    For those anxiously awaiting my scribblings on spirituality and experience, and for those who wrote so many outstanding Comments regarding past entries (all published this evening), thank you for your patience.

    No, I did not have a desert epiphany and get singed by a Burning Bush, ascend to heaven on my steed, or assume a solitary perch atop a column to contemplate the world. (I did have a run-in with a scorpion on the back step, however. Contrary to Carl Stephenson's classic short story, "Leiningen Versus the Ants," in this case the skinny arachnid won, chasing me back indoors.)

    The universe intervened, but not in such dramatic fashion. First, I contracted an enormous cold in Santa Monica that fully bloomed only after I landed in Tucson. What an irony, to be sneezing and snuffling in such a sunny place. Then, on leaving the airport, my G4 Powerbook took a tumble and ended up completely whacked. (I'm using a borrowed laptop, a PC [holding nose], to post this entry. It doesn't have Ecto on it and so is unfit for blogging.) Fortunately, I brought along my G3 Powerbook as a precaution. Once new memory for it arrives, giving it the semblance of a modern Mac, I'll share with you the first installment of what is turning out to be a complex and highly entertaining story of humankind, spirituality, soul food -- I mean, food for the soul, and experience. It's more than I bargained for.

    In the meantime, my cold's gone, we've had our first seasonal lightning storm -- Tucson is the world's Lightning Capital! -- and I'm thinking seriously about exporting my experience-design practice and me to the Oresund region, where Denmark and Sweden are connected by the new Oresund Bridge. It's like Silicon Valley all over again, only with better food, real seasons, and an information economy at least a generation ahead of "Web 2.0": one based solely on innovation and creativity. Ah yes, and did I remark on the natural beauty of the inhabitants?

    All this and more when the chips show up and I return. See you online...!

    (Image: Weather Underground)

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    May 28, 2007

    Don't touch that dial! “About Experience” is coming right up (this week)...

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Images-3My weekend plan to describe Experience as that term has been used in different traditions -- spiritual, philosophical, scientific, and so forth -- was set back by a surprise assignment that requires me to temporarily relocate out of state.

    I'll be moving next week (to Arizona, for the month of June). I used this weekend to decide what I'll take with me and what I'll let go. As an itinerant scholar and consultant -- a peddler of ideas -- I like to pare down with each bend in the road.

    But I'm on the case. Please stay tuned: the promised blog entries will appear this week.

    (Image: Peter Horvath, 6168.org)

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | TE Blog

    May 24, 2007

    My goal for the weekend: describing Experience

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    CryssphThis long Memorial Day weekend, I've set myself the goal of describing Experience.

    During the last year, searching for a deeper understanding of Experience, I've intensively read, in articles, on blogs, and in exchanges of email, how designers of experience speak about experience. Almost universally, when experience designers -- whatever their medium, in the material or synthetic worlds -- speak of Experience, they do so in behavioral, almost clinical terms. Just as automotive engineers mostly concern themselves with cylinders and pistons, rather than the wonder of combustion and the production of power -- a marvelous alchemy -- experience designers typically conceive of Experience objectively. They usually begin designing with an idea of the outcomes that they seek already in mind -- some thought or action they hope to catalyze. To serve these purely instrumental goals, the designers needn't engage in subjective discourse with their audiences. They don't share their audiences' subjective gestalt. The designers just "get it"; then they design. They wax eloquent on the subjectivity of Experience, however, when describing their own experiences.

    Why are experience designers' conceptions of Experience -- the first as an instrumental goal to be enacted by others, the second as an inviolate personal asset -- so separate and even at odds? The reason lies in our field's tendency not to consider Experience as something that needs comprehension. Like the followers of a deity in worship, designers accept Experience's salience and form on faith. The result is an unintentional dichotomy in our practice: we design for others' experiences differently and less passionately than we seek out experiences for ourselves.

    My goal over the next five days is to characterize Experience as other than an instrumental endgame. Because there are many categories of experiences and different modalities for experiencing them, my description of Experience won't be as a monolithic phenomenon but rather as a mosaic of phenomena. As I write, I can think of four paradigmatic domains in which Experience is a central topic: philosophy, spirituality, cognitive science (including environmental psychology), and design (especially interaction design and the design of virtual worlds). There may be more. Each understands and applies Experience within a different framework of meanings, interpretations, and traditions. I don't expect to find easy correlations among these domains and their traditions, but I believe that at a high enough level of abstraction, the concept of Experience becomes transcendent and unifying. If this is true, then the lessons learned designing experiences in a domain of greater subjectivity (for example, philosophy or spirituality) will be applicable to the design of experiences in domains less obviously so.

    That's my goal. Check in over the weekend to see how close I come.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Theories of Experience

    May 23, 2007

    Design News goes ga-ga over Boeing's new 787 -- but what's left to “fill 'er up”?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Design News 787If you can't get enough juice about jet planes, then Design News special edition on Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner is right for you! Its a masterful collection of articles, interviews, photo albums, and videos -- enough to keep even the most rabid aerophile enthralled late into the night.

    When I was a kid, my Mom, then an executive secretary to Air Force generals, used to bring home photos and illustrations, paeans to flight -- F86s, F101s (the Scorpion!), the F-15, Redstone rockets, Nike missiles, the first satellites, and artist conceptions of Missions to Mars -- with which I papered my bedroom. I've been hooked on aviation ever since. The appearances of the Dreamliner and, eventually one hopes, Airbus' mega-liner, the A380, bring chills to my spine.

    But I have an abiding question made more acute by revelations that we've reached Peak Oil: that petroleum production is now all downhill from here. And that question is, where are we going to get fuel for all these big planes? Even assuming that their engines become super-efficient (which they aren't yet), these new benzine-guzzlers are only creating additional demand for which there is no supply.

    Davis-MonthanAnyone who's visited the airplane boneyard at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Arizona, knows what I'm talking about: acre upon acre of old, rusting aircraft, acquired at the cost of many hundreds of billions of dollars, going nowhere and serving no purpose. Is this the future of aviation as we know it? I fear so. So even though I'm thrilled by the announcement of new and better-designed airplanes, there always lingers in the back of my mind a worry that we're all living in a fairy-tale world of cheap and plentiful oil, a world that ended decades ago. Now we're just mopping up what's left of our earth's petroleum heritage with these bigger and better metal birds.

    Maybe we'll learn to take solar-powered trains and get around in other sustainable vehicles, but how are our kids going to feel when they're grounded, literally, never to fly as we once did? Like the characters in Ursula LeGuin's novel, Always Coming Home, set 50,000 years in the future, I wonder if only a generation from now our generations will be known as “the people with their heads on backwards,” always living falsely in the past....

    (Images: Design News and Archaeography Photo Collective)

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    May 21, 2007

    Cooper-Hewitt's National Design Awards for 2007: where's experience design?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Nda Logo 07Cooper-Hewitt, the National Museum of Design at the Smithsonian Institution, has announced the National Design Awards for 2007.

    Without taking away anything from the wonderful designs and their designers, whom Cooper-Hewitt has justly honored, it's still rather amazing that all of the awards are for discrete physical, environmental, or media artifacts. There is no category for design that incorporates all of these elements to create an holistic designed experience. This year's awards reify our conventional notions of design and ignore the emergence and importance of integrated design in the service of experience.

    The Design Mind Award for Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi comes closest. Brown and Venturi, practitioners and theoreticians of full-fledged experience design (in the guise of architecture) have labored long and hard to promote an holistic approach to design from the standpoint of “experiencers.” Cooper-Hewitt's appreciation of their advocacy is overdue but welcome at last.

    The National Design Awards, by the way, are sponsored by the retailer Target, one of the arch-proponents of customer experience design. Target's take on the importance of holistic design is worth reading.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note

    May 20, 2007

    Effective design of experience requires the application of constraints

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Cacophony1I was at a street fair today and fairly overwhelmed by the cacophony: so many sights, sounds, and -- yes -- smells! I was immersed in the celebration. But if you asked me to poiint out one or a few things that really stood out for me, I would be hard pressed to respond.

    Maybe while my attention was focused on a particular object in a particular booth, or someone caught my eye and held it for more than a few seconds, I formed a memory. But most of what I experienced was in the moment, stream of consciousness: I was at a street fair, plain and simple.

    What differentiated this street fair from so many others I've attended? I couldn't tell you that. The street fair held no more significance than that it happened and I was there. After a nice afternoon, I left, not edified in any particular way.

    It occurred to me that a well designed experience, one that leaves its mark, that changes my way or thinking or acting, is one that has benefitted from applying constraints to its composition. Like the sculpting of the David by Michaelangelo described in Irving Stone's The Agony and the Ecstasy, designing a memorable experience is a process akin to removing the excess marble that occludes the living statuary presence within it.

    Effective design of experience is a process of applying constraints: paring away, focusing on the essentials. In management parlance, this is known at the Theory of Constraints.

    ConstraintsThe Theory of Constraints runs counter to the prevailing practice of experience design, which too often has to do with adding features, over-endowing the experiential environment, and creating spectacles that are themselves memorable at the expense of the meaning or sensations they're intended to convey. This is a consequence of designers not having theories to work from in the first place; therefore, they don't know what elements to constrain to produce the desired experience. In the absence of this knowledge, the safe thing is to pile it on. From cellphones to websites to trade-show exhibitions, the methods are loose, the designs employed are overblown, and the results are as cacophonous as my street fair: satisfying in the moment, but ultimately not worth remembering. And if that's so, what's the point of experiencing them in the first place, other than as sensory escapism? But the theories of experience do exist, even if too many designers aren't knowledgeable about them. It only remains to apply them and the constraints they require.

    (Images: “Cacophony,” Ebb & Flow: A Meditation, an excellent rumination on experiences;“Constraints,” National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center)

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Theories of Experience

    May 2, 2007

    MySpace's “Cool New People” -- aren't

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Myspace "Cool New People"Over at MySpace, the welcome page now features supposedly attractive new subscribers: “Cool New People.” The feed changes frequently, but I perceive a pattern...

    Today's Cool New People include Drea, a male-female hipster pair; Jay, a goateed dude with his young family; and Senator Chris Dodd.

    Chris Dodd? “Cool”? Maybe when he was first elected, many, many decades ago. But then, are US politicians John McCain, Dennis Kucinich, Mitt Romney, or Hilary Clinton, who also are Cool New People, any cooler?

    MySpace's struggle with its identity crisis couldn't be more obvious. It's trying to be everything to everyone, socially commendable but in practice, unfocused and bland -- like mainline network television.

    It's not surprising: cool MySpace is owned by decidedly uncool Rupert Murdoch, the ultra-conservative, multi-billionaire septuagenerian, whose largest asset is his global TV network featuring local versions of Fox News, Fox Sports, and FX. It's the newest business model for MySpace.

    I like MySpace's greater focus on its customers. It's become responsive. But who does it see as its customers, ultimately: the advertisers that MySpace is encouraging to take over its virtual community, or the legions of members who are starting to notice that they're being set up for targeted advertising and leaving for smaller, less congested, less commercial, and better-focused social networks?

    (An excellent analysis of Murdoch's News Corp.'s online strategy, ambitions, and ups and downs can be found on the current Forbes Online.)

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    April 23, 2007

    The Experience of Homelessness

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

     Hlla Rw Images Rw Rw0606 Images Lh3R060601You don't read about homelessness on the Web very much, and certainly not from the standpoint of the homeless. They don't have standing because they don't have access. They're simply absent. In the millions.

    As someone whom circumstances once came that-close to rendering homeless -- circumstances that could befall any of us -- I can tell you: it's a terrifying possibility. You realize that if you become homeless, not only will you not have a physical home, or any shelter at all, but you'll also completely lose your identity in the all-encompassing virtual world that is the Internet, a consequence devastating to those of us who've spent a good part of our lives online, in social networks and virtual communities. You'll become a non-person. [Please read the Comment below the fold by Johnny Allen Shaw for an antidote: Shaw, a homeless person, has filmed his experiences and posted them to Indie Flix and YouTube, and made the film available for purchase.]

    Marx called the homeless and those without paying work “the reserve army of the unemployed,” a phenomenon socially manufactured to scare workers into compliant, silent wage slavery. One slip, one outburst, and you'll join its ranks -- a very disadvantageous position in modern capitalist society. In the US, homelessness received its most decisive recent impetus from Reagan's anti-social policies and now it's an endemic, also epidemic condition of American life. (Sorry, he's not one of America's great Presidents in my book.) Next on the list to go: millions of holders of sub-prime mortgages about to be foreclosed.

    I was reminded of the absence of the homeless on the Internet by a couple of audio articles on today's broadcast of the Pacfica Radio News.

    The first article described the recent anti-homeless legislation adopted by Las Vegas and Orlando, municipalities that criminally defy every law of sustainability, outlawing the distribution of food to the homeless. Can you imagine the gall of these environmental travesties and their political leaders preventing people from eating? Here, in the United States, where the Constitution begins reciting every individual's right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? While the Congress -- forget President Bush -- worries about the plight of Iraqis and the still-comfortable American middle-class, right here at home, people are being denied food (and shelter) simply because they're unable to afford a residence. What's wrong with this picture?

    Indicative of Las Vegans' care-free -- or shall we say, uncaring? -- attitude, in April they overwhelmingly reelected as mayor Oscar Goodman whom the Guardian newspaper describes as “a former mob lawyer and self-proclaimed 'happiest mayor in the world,''' whose top priority is yet-more upscale, downtown development; and elected to the city council a barber over an advocate for the homeless. Welcome to America's Fastest-Growing City.

    ...continue reading.

    Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary

    April 22, 2007

    Out of step with the times: Most writing about the Internet, on the Internet, favors more consumption

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Do Not Idle SignMy last post about measuring online communications' effectiveness begs a larger question: why, given our now sure knowledge that unbridled consumption leads to resource depletion and climate change, is so much writing on the Internet about digitally inducing greater consumption?

    It's assumed by most websites, blogs, and forums dedicated to commerce on the net -- about 75% of the sites I can think of, sites that deal with web design, ecommerce, marketing, wireless web, cross-media messages, online video, fulfillment, CRM, etc., etc.-- that making it easier for consumers to buy things online is inherently good thing, beyond question.

    Yes, a case can be made that buying online saves a trip to the mall; but really, when you consider the costs of producing, distributing, and selling things, including to online buyers, the savings in resources and pollution from buying online rather than in-person is lost in the noise. Each online sale means more consumption to be added to the catastrophic national and global totals, totals that are swamping the earth's ecosystem.

    In the real world, “going green” is almost a mantra. We all hope it gains traction and becomes a lasting reality. In the online world, we're not even there yet.

    Fascinated by our medium, and how well we can make it work to our and our employers' advantage -- mainly corporations and public agencies into selling one thing or another -- most Internet professionals are still into hawking stuff at the expense of all other considerations, including the environment that sustains us as mortal beings.

    I wonder: Did early car makers share the same wondrous, self-referential images of their achievements?

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary

    The Uncertain Web: comScore reports huge disparities in the measurement of online activity

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Question Mark.Last week a friend confidentially shared with me the salaries of the online account managers, strategists, and designers at his digital-marketing firm. (If any of my clients are reading this, no, it's not one of you.) I was startled: most of the experienced individuals were earning six-figure salaries; even the juniors who did most of the execution were making high five-figure salaries. Among the vast majority of American workers, only corporate executives; professionals like investors, doctors, and lawyers; and blue-collar workers like plumbers and truck drivers, have comparable incomes. And they do demonstrably productive labor. The same may not be as true of the online workforce.

    A report recently issued by comScore, a respected and widely employed website-rating service, suggests that a lot of claimed online “effectiveness” is smoke and mirrors, supported by cookie-based measuring techniques that are highly suspect. According to comScore's research,

    Frequent cookie deletion by 3 out of 10 U.S. Internet users leads to overstatements in audience sizes by a factor as high as 2.5.

    Website owners commonly rely on cookie-based, server-log records to measure numbers of unique visitors. A miscalculation of those visitors by “a factor of 2.5” is jaw-dropping. It means that a website claiming 5 million unique visitors a month may actually have only 2 million unique visitors a month. Conceivably, advertisers on those websites are being charged on the basis of technically inflated numbers (what in other industries might be called fraud). The same applies to companies that run their own websites, too: they may be paying their digital teams for results that are, well, more hopeful than real.

    Some critics -- not surprising, digital workers whose ox comScore apparently has gored -- have remarked that comScore's report is self-serving, since comScore uses consumer panel-based surveying techniques, rather than cookie-based techniques, to measure website visits. comScore's research was designed to recommend comScore's product, they contend. I don't think so. comScore's methods appear statistically sound and its findings, valid.

    If comScore erred, it was in publishing results that it may have thought beneficial, but which pack a bigger punch, one that throws into doubt everything we “know” about online behavior.

    The report's larger implication is that ALL online measurement techniques may be suspect as indicators of desired consumer perceptions and behavior. What really matters is what website visitors do, not merely that they visit. Do they actually buy online, or are they just “lookie-loos”? And the fact remains, most consumer behavior, even that provoked by website visits, takes place offline, in the real world. The current meshing of online and offline marketing statistics requires reexamination. In fact, the entire digital marketing proposition deserves a second look, to rule out conspiracies of misinformation that are totally misrepresenting what's happening online, and to answer the inevitable question: are all those large salaries being paid for results that are real or fraudulent?

    (Image: Pittsfield, MA, Public Schools Help Desk -- nice logo!)

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    April 17, 2007

    The emerging ubiquitous Internet challenges experience designers to literally “get real”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    (Sorry about my delay getting back to this blog. My various projects culminated at the same time. I've caught my breath and here goes my first new installment....)

    Art06 3 470X470About 10 days ago, in my last entry, I noted that current online “experience” is highly constrained to two senses, vision and hearing -- a timid palette with which to paint persuasive, memorable experiences. I argued that most people want to spend less time online, not more (regardless of their actual behavior) -- and that Flash animations, a favorite tool of web designers, is not favored by most visitors. (It takes substantial time to load and then uses huge chunks of active memory.) It wasn't a satisfying tete-a-tete for my readers: the article I criticized was simplistic, and so was my criticism. (Thanks to the commenters for their indignation. They got me to thinking.)

    In retrospect, I believe that while the Web is and will remain relatively static as a designed environment, the Internet will bloom in new and often surprisingly novel ways, in the real world beyond the computer. The ubiquitous Internet will drive all of the changes formerly forecast for ubiquitous computing, and more. Ubiquitous computing in a networked universe is a powerful idea whose time is nigh. (Click here for a video of Bruce Sterling's take on the possibilities, delivered as a keynote at the Ubicomp 2006 conference.)

    Xperex1An article in Internet Retailer, “Webby Stores” by Paul Demery, foretells a sea change in the Internet and computing that will require a much broader perspective and substantial retraining on the part of information architects, web designers, and online marketers, who practice the limited discipline of “user experience design.” But that's hardly its greatest significance. As the Internet is deployed off the computer, in the material world where we spend most of our time -- as it becomes ubiquitous -- our lives will be dramatically altered.

    This change, the Internet's integration in offline environments, has been happening for sometime, including such instances as:

    ...and so forth. (You might have a few bellwether favorites. Please share them with me in a comment or email.)

    In each of these applications, the Internet's content and interactivity take on new aspects, and project greater experiential power, because they are perceptually melded with environments less narrow and isolating than a personal computer. These applications don't require 100 percent of the participant's attention, as do most computer-presented web creations. Instead, they complement other things going on. Multimedia multitasking, when Internet content is included, is similarly involving.

    The “Webby Stores” article is indicative. It may have “Webby” in its title, but it's not about the Web: it's about the store environment and how this environment assimilates and wraps around the Internet. The two components do a synergistic dance that, it's claimed, produces strong customer loyalty and a propensity to buy things. The applications it describes -- Internet-enabled kiosks -- contextualize the Internet as part of a process in which human beings regularly engage, like buying products in a store. These simple kiosks may be trivial in their operations and purpose, but their implications for web design, interaction design, multi-platform marketing, and design for experience is profound.

    ...continue reading.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    April 4, 2007

    Disrobing the Emperor: The online “user experience” isn't much of one

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    emperors_new_clothes.gif On the improbably named blog, Asia Carrera Videos (which mysteriously has nothing to do with the adult film star or her videos), digital 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 quietly disparaged as “2-1/2D” by developers who work in true “3-space," those who design themed environments and develop product simulations. For them, the SL-genre is a trompe l'oeil, a “trick of the eye.”) It's difficult to harness interactivity for narrative purposes. It's too fluid, mentally quantum.

    I note too that here are now popular browser add-ons for killing Flash presentations. Developers like Flash. In this, they may be alone.

    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 the coming of Thin Universe.

    What do you think?

    (Illustration: Mashby.com)

    Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Theories of Experience

    March 10, 2007

    Forthcoming: the cellphone industry's customer-experience debacle

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

     It Wp-Content Photos AdvertisingThe icky experience of cellular telephone service is about to get ickier. “The Ad-Free Cellphone May Soon Be Extinct,” laments an February 24 article in the New York Times by Eric Sylvers.* The last non-advertising communications medium. An endangered species.

    For all that's been written about the ethics and aesthetics of cellphone design -- cellphone user interfaces, mobile interaction design, the on-cellphone “user experience,” and “user-centricity” -- and the many investments in and careers built on this engrossing pastime, commercialism, not design, ultimately rules the cellular service roost. Cellular customer experience is about to undergo a momentous transformation, not for the better.

    ...continue reading.

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

    March 7, 2007

    The Give-Credit-Where-Credit-Is-Due Dept: Kudos to the US Passport Office and Folgers Coffee

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Sometimes good experiences get taken for granted. Here are two projects that deserve commendation.

    EpassportThe 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.

    0903Np350Of 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.

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note

    February 28, 2007

    "Making Meaning": Nathan Shedroff interviewed by Steve Portigal on Core 77

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Broadcasts ShedroffNathan 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!

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Experience Design & Technology | The Practice of Experience Design | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    February 23, 2007

    Kaizen Meets Ethnography

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Just keep finding ways to introduce the principles. Check out this example, excerpted here from a manufacturing publication:

    ...won over by a Kaizen demonstration that stressed the importance of videotaping. Seward was inspired enough to purchase a video camera on his way back to the plant. On his return, he made a 10-minute video of an assembly/packaging process that he sensed incorporated too many duplicated steps. He then invited three operators, an engineer and an operations manager to watch the video with him. Their curiosity about Seward's plan turned to active involvement when he then asked the workers to describe problems they were having with the process. "The flood gates opened," says Seward. "I filled many pages. When they finally slowed down, I asked what they thought we could do to improve the process."
    The team quickly noted the wastefulness of having expensive process machinery sit idle while the operator assembled parts. Then automation was discussed, which led an operator to ask if Seward's experiment would mean the end of his job. "I assured them they would never lose their job at this company because of this process," says Seward. "I said it will make their job easier and allow them more time to get involved with additional work as we bring it in, which is good for growth."
    Seward's impromptu Kaizen session led to a new, partially automated machine the company designed and built in-house. "It paid for itself in five weeks," says Seward, by enabling more units to be built in less time.

    Now maybe someone should point out to them why it works...

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    February 7, 2007

    Fake Authenticity: Ersatz Experience, The Next Big Thing

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    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).

    Hermenaut LogoSo 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.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | The Practice of Experience Design

    February 1, 2007

    Turner's Boston Marketing Party: GenXY's historic trashing of public space

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    T A T Sponsorship 220X277We 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)

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

    January 29, 2007

    A stroke of good luck!

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    ZhuanjiThis 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.)

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | TE Blog

    January 19, 2007

    Maybe ad agencies don't get it, after all

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Closed SignI 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.

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

    January 17, 2007

    Quick, read this article before it's branded!

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Nyt Urban Advertising GraphicWhile 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.”

    Story begins:

    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.

    Story observes:

    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)

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

    Much, much, MUCH ado about nothing: “Billions for toothpaste advertising, but not a penny for floss!”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    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.

    17Adco.1901Now 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!

    HappytoothWhat 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.

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

    Other TV Experiences to Change

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    When I posted my HDTV comments earlier this week, I'd forgotten that I'd previously shared my dilemma of finding the right HDTV equipment. In that post I noted the opportunity to bypass programming schedules and avoid the necessity to store programming yourself, but to rely on the source for the programming.

    It only came to my attention today that the BBC is specifically addressing this issue, as a public entity. An "on demand application with the working title of MyBBCPlayer".

    Of significant note is this quote from the Director-General: "Quite quickly we expect many more households to adopt a range of solutions for moving media from PC to TV and vice versa and from fixed devices to mobile ones and back again."

    I'm ready for it...

    Footnote: It's obvious from additional comments why we can find some of our best practitioners coming out of this organization. We'd all love to work in an environment where at the highest levels this was the focus of the work:

    This picture of a possible on demand future is part of a bigger story – which is the BBC's response to what is often referred to as Web 2.0.
    The second chapter in the web's history requires other changes from the BBC: a much greater focus on content management and supported metadata to allow for sophisticated search and navigation, a shift of gravity from text towards rich audio-visual content across the piece, an engagement with user-generated content, user-recommendation and personalisation which goes beyond anything I've touched upon this evening.
    And it requires a different kind of BBC

    To our colleagues at the BBC, don't let us get in your way...

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    January 10, 2007

    TSA and SecurityPoint Media's “Better Checkpoint Experience” capitalizes on fear

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Tsa LogoHarry 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.)

    FlashSecurityPoint 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?

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note

    January 8, 2007

    Stress and the Internet: Why “always on” may be always off

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Munch.ScreamA 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.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Theories of Experience

    December 24, 2006

    CRM: Can't Remember Much

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Having come through the ranks of CRM activities before becoming 'more enlightened', I wanted to compare and contrast the difference in thinking between the disciplines of CRM and Experience Design. As a caveat, I still firmly believe that the fundamentals of CRM are sound -- the problem is in the way it has been spun by so many vendors and blindly adopted by too many people who are in over their heads in their job roles.

    With due respect and gratitude for the level of effort it takes to put together an event, the comparison has been framed around a replayable webinar "5 Keys to Customer-Driven Marketing". Also, there are many sound principles introduced here, and should these principles help influence anyone to 'better' thinking, this is to be celebrated. The intent here is to point out, as is an element of their presentation, the gaps which leave significant opportunity untapped. It isn't that CRM (customer relationship marketing) is wrong in any way; it's that it is only a piece of the overall puzzle. The concern is that too many companies are not connecting the pieces of the puzzle.

    There is a fundamental 'flaw' that comes up repeatedly in most CRM initiatives or even in CRM principles: they forget more than they remember. Case in point, one classic CRM initiative (pre-CRM evolution) was MCI's Friends & Family. Through this program MCI rapidly gained large segments of the long-distance market. But there was a problem: The standard telecom business model could not sustain a customer focus. All data was keyed against a BTN: billing telephone number. That is, to the business model, the center of the universe -- the thing to which everything else was tied -- was the billing telephone number. It's all well and fine to willingly accept from customers information about the people they want to maintain relationships with, but if the first time they change phone numbers (ala. "move") all of this information is lost, what value have you provided to the customer?

    Worse, the relationships were valuable information to MCI, but there was other valuable information that customers often shared on customer service calls, but the agents had no means by which to capture all of this 'free' data. Instead, MCI spent millions each year on data from which they would 'extrapolate' what people wanted and/or might desire.

    Unfortunately, this is the primary focus of most CRM initiatives -- trying to predict what people might do, with less attention paid to what they're already doing. The "5 Keys to Customer-Driven Marketing" presentations attempts to rectify some of this, but here again, it's the 'marketing' term that musses up the intent. The principles of marketing as a discipline have come to rely on certain mechanisms for insight: surveys are one of them. While surveys can be useful, they are but one piece of a huge puzzle. The focus of this webinar relies on surveys as a primary input mechanism.

    1. To Know What Customer's Think -- Ask Them
    Notable quote: "We want to do more listening than talking."
    My retort: If you really wanted to listen, as was the case with MCI, you'd be looking at the touchpoints where people are already telling you plenty, but you're not capturing any of it.

    Building upon Peter Senge's principles of continuous learning, and the fundamentals of optimizing life models through feedback loops the goal is to engage in continuous listening. One company which readily embraces this term, iPerceptions, indeed engages in a similar business venture as does the sponsor of the webinar. They are a sharp group of people. But their product approach fails to embrace one critical truth: what people say and what people do are often not congruent. The data gathered from these listening mechanisms has limited value until it is mapped against actual behaviors. [Interestingly, Stanford University has a new field of study related to influencing behaviors called Captology.]

    Lastly, people answer questions within a specific context. Too often, these answers are extrapolated to other contexts for which they may or may not apply. Without additional measures to ensure the 'transferability' of certain data to other contexts, questionable decisions will be made.

    The true value of such data is to help identify what might need deeper research, which then leads to their second point...

    2. Make Customer Feedback Actionable
    Notable Quote: "Understand the 'why'"
    It would fascinate me to see the measurable negative contribution made by surveys to the GNP because of the time wasted by all parties involved (the designers, the implementers, the analysts and the consumers themselves) because the questions asked are either a) not actionable or b) never acted on.

    Surveys cannot answer 'why'. A 'why' is deeply imbedded both in intent and a myriad of variables that play into the economics of decisions. What is disturbing is how many well-heeled companies spend millions on meaningless data or who ignore (take no action) on the most telling data (because either no one is listening or someone is 'hiding' the tell-tale evidence of poor performance).

    3. Understand the Gap Between Importance and Performance
    Gap analysis is recommended along 4 continuums: Customer Service, Product Quality, Salesperson's Knowledge, Timely Delivery.

    Study each of these labels very carefully. Which of them are in the language of the customer? Would any of them directly hold the answer to 'why'?

    I consider such measure important in the same way that you might check a person's blood pressure. The attribute "high" blood pressure is a relative measure based on certain norms. There are conditions in which those norms may be irrelevant. Each company has to use this data to determine what their own 'norm' is. They also have to determine what the elasticity of their norms are. Does attempting to make small changes in a gap, throw the results to another extreme that are more deleterious?

    Such measures are only relevant in trends over time: rates of change. And they are single data points that will prove to have specific correlations to any variety of other valuable variables. What those relationships mean will vary from business to business. They are data points which suggest other research to be conducted.

    4. Make Feedback an Ongoing Activity
    When you look at all the supporting activities which the presentation suggest here, there is a huge correlation made between "Feedback" and "Survey" as if they were one in the same. A survey is a week feedback mechanism, at best: it is neither timely nor contextual.

    It is at this point in the presentation that it is suggested that 'trends' are important in data gathering. It is difficult to gain any significant value from 'trends' of questionable data.

    5. Incorporate Feedback Back into the Business
    Notable Quote: "...it is about getting the information and creating a continuous learning environment."
    This is the point at which CRM and Experience Design take the biggest divergence. To successfully draw conclusions from the feedback and to determine which actions to take from the feedback require principles of design. There are no inherent principles of design embodied in CRM disciplines.

    Additionally, I have found that when I've looked at the same data as others in a marketing role, we will focus on different points of 'relevance'. Their first instincts will often lead them down a path that is neither substantiated or truly relevant to the customer.

    Lastly, in none of this does it suggest that specific new activities are needed or resources that might be 'differently' trained or have a different perspective than their existing resources -- even if it were just to bring in a resource to help reframe the current way of thinking, for a brief period of time.

    Case Study: Golden Key International Honour Society
    The second part of the webinar is a case study of a non-profit. It is a great example of how good things can come from limited models. They are doing a lot of the right activities in spite of the limitations of above-noted models.

    Notable Quote: "As a new Chief Operating Officer...I asked to see the last survey...what was done with it?...nothing...what did it cost?...somewhere in the neighborhood of $20K...I thought...what a waste."

    To which I thought: Why by repeating the same action would different results be expected? Certainly, there were a lot of improvements made -- there are a lot of improvement opportunities. But as people get better at all of this, the opportunity gaps will diminish. Value will rely on design principles to be applied for true differentiation, principles which rely on a variety of data points carefully positioned to set a more-stable foundation from which to build upon.

    That said, the case study did just that: apply design thinking to the problem space. It showed how surveys can best be implemented in an overall research strategy, but didn’t point out the limitations or the other efforts required. This was all clearly a situation that had potential for ‘more’ should it embody more design principles.

    Closing the loop on the original premise of this piece, one critical principle is a stronger focus on 'memory'. All truly phenomenal experience models are those which either shift or embody the memory of the individual into the relationship, and do so as seamlessly and as unobtrusively as possible. One more notable term raised was “customer intimacy” – truly intimate relationships are those which have deep knowing.

    P.S. LOLOLOL....at the end of the webinar there was a 3-question survey that came up. The first question asked for a rating from 1 to 5, only no context was given as to the scale for the rating (was 1 or 5 high?). Such is a classic example of why surveys are so fraught with problems and how the data from them can lead to bad decisions.

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    December 19, 2006

    Books about experience for your holiday gifts

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    '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.

    * * *

    7673030-0-LEducation 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.

    1582341001.01.LzzzzzzzThe 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.

    0679735666.01.Lzzzzzzz-1A 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.

    Poetics Of SpaceThe 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.

    C991Cosmicomics, 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.

    0262620014The 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.

    Richard Saul Wurman-ThumbWhat-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.

    0375761381.01.LzzzzzzzAlice'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.

    0202307662.01.MzzzzzzzImage 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.

    Alexander Pattern LanguageA 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.

    13172The 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.

    0679776192Tao 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.

    SpaceplaceSpace 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 CinemaExpanded 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.

    1892907054.01. Sclzzzzzzz Sl160 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.

    116An 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.

    0226468046Women, 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
    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.

    Alexandria QuartetThe 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:

    ThegiftThe 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.

    Comments (0) | Category: Commentary | Odds and Ends: Random Observations | Theories of Experience

    December 13, 2006

    “Why online should be off limits in the bedroom” (Globe and Mail)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    539091 Computer Love'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)

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    Time Warner Communications gets customer experience right

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    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.

    Time Warner CableBut 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.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | The Practice of Experience Design

    December 11, 2006

    My unexpected experience as a “disabled driver”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    DpautocomlI 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.

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

    December 8, 2006

    We need theories of experience design

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    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.

    64Worldsfair 12This 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.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design

    November 30, 2006

    For whom the bell tolls: “A Timeline of Timelines” and “Clash of the Time Lords”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Nuremburgbig-1Our experience of time is indivisible from our experience of living. Two recent sources indicate how thoroughly intertwined our notions of time are with our other perceptions, and how therefore they can be intentionally reshaped by others working on our perceptions (so to speak, from time to time).

    Thanks to information designer and friend Stuart Silverstone, in Santa Monica, for turning me on to “A Timeline of Timelines,” featured in Cabinet Magazine Online. Authors Cabinet associate editor Sasha Archibald and University of Oregon history professor Daniel Rosenberg, Timeline features snippets describing timelines created over the last 1,700 years, beginning with Jewish scholar ben Halafta's calculations of the earth's history in the 2nd Century CE, but really taking off with the first “modern” timeline by physicist Joseph Priestly in 1765. The article contains numerous graphics that illustrate the almost infinite ways by which people can conceive of and represent time and history, and persuade others to think alike. In his introduction to an earlier, shorter version, Rosenberg explains;

    ...Priestley argues that although time in itself is an abstraction that may not be “the object of any of our senses, and no image can properly be made of it, yet because it has a relation to quantity, and we can say a greater or less space of time, it admits of a natural and easy representation in our minds by the idea of a measurable space, and particularly that of a LINE.”

    After Priestley, the form of the timeline caught on. In addition to its visual effectiveness, the timeline amplified conceptions of historical progress that were becoming popular at the time. The relationship was mutually reinforcing. As Priestley himself suggests, the timeline filled in as a kind of fantasized visual referent for an object without material substance. In its simplest form, it appeared to guarantee the simplicity and directionality of past and future history. But Priestley's commentary points to a problem too. History had never actually taken the form of a timeline or of any other line for that matter. And simplicity, the great advantage of the form, threatened also to be its greatest flaw. The timeline could function as “the most excellent mechanical help to the knowledge of history” because it could impress the imagination “indelibly.” For the same reason, a century later, Henri Bergson would refer to the “imaginary homogeneous time” depicted by the timeline as a deceiving “idol.”

    0062199Messing with our experience of time can happen through less visible, but even more fundamental means -- by controlling the clocks, specifically the atomic clocks that now keep world time. In “Clash of the Time Lords,” in the current (December) Harper's (not yet online), Michelle Stacey explains why the usurpation of responsibility for telling the time, formerly the domain of astronomers observing objects in the sky, by physicists who measure the decay of radioactive matter, has radically reshaped our concept and actual measurement of time. A corollary is that the United States, which owns the most atomic clocks, is able to formally nominate its own US Naval Observatory to be the world authority on time for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the UN entity that defines the UTC Time Scale that controls all telecommunications, all telecom-dependent activities, and thus all of our lives.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Experience Design & Technology

    November 22, 2006

    Thanksgiving, the Harvest Festival

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    PumpkinTomorrow is Thanksgiving, the American harvest festival, rich in traditions...and contradictions. Like most things in life.

    Whether you're an American or not, I hope this season that you'll enjoy community, reflection, and liberties that are the American ideal, whatever the reality.

    Over the long holiday weekend, I'll be blogging, blogging,and blogging. No. 1 among my pent-up entries:

    “If experience design is such a hotbody, why is information design a truer love?”

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Bring in the crops.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings

    November 20, 2006

    Rude is the new Black.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    While CRM vendors are falling all over themselves to create “360-degree,” multidimensional, cross-platform, all-encompassing ways for companies to stay connected with their customers, countervailing experiences increasingly characterize our private lives.

    In Japanese culture, it's considered the height of impropriety to ignore a third party present at a meeting (even in an elevator or on the street). In American culture, ignoring someone, while no less rude, is considered essential to displaying and preserving one's position of power, however trivial that power might be. It happens more and more these days: as CNN reported a couple of years ago, rudeness in America is on the rise.

    Rude was less noticeable in the days of earlier media, when the best one could do, short of buttonholing someone at the market, was to send a letter via messenger or packet boat. If the messenger was waylaid or the boat sank, the missive disappeared with it. And if it didn't, the recipient could choose to refuse the mail or actually move to another address and establish another identity -- neither of which reflected poorly on the sender. The invention of the telegraph and then the telephone collapsed the time loop, making it easier to send multiple inquiries. Those with personal secretaries could dodge phone calls, but until caller ID became widespread, the average person answered a phone call because he or she never knew how important the call might be.

    Now, with email, IM, cellphones, PDAs, and similar accoutrements of modern living, it's easy to know who's trying to make contact and to exercise one's power of denial and exclusion. Being rejected in the virtual world is common, my friends tell me. Commercial institutions like our cable TV company, Time Warner, do it all the time. (We were on hold for more than 60 minutes, last time.) But so do more and more individuals, just by refusing to acknowledge email or return phone calls. Deal with it, the technologists tell me.

    This is wrong, my sense of community tells me -- but it's in fashion. Rude is the new black.

    • • •

    Despite my misgivings about the abundance of rudeness in our culture, this has been a wonderful week of connections and opportunities, personally and for the experience-design community at large. This afternoon, I'm going to post a number of entries that have been burning a hole in my figurative designer's pocket.

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

    November 9, 2006

    Finding experience in a tube of toothpaste

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Aquafresh ImageGlaxoSmithKline's Aquafresh toothpaste comes in five varieties for as many types of toothpaste consumers (identified by GSM's marketing). Its recent sales success, rising from No. 3 to at least No. 2 among the top contenders (Colgate Palmolive's Colgate and Proctor & Gamble's Crest) -- makes for good press. Aquafresh has been written up in FastCompany, trade magazines, and market research reports. Hub magazine's blog features a lengthy interview with GSM VP of Innovation Donna J. Sturgess (available as a PDF file), in which Ms. Sturgess describes a thorough -- and expensive -- development process that resulted not only in the toothpaste (including novel foaming and color agents used in its composition) but also its packaging, positioning, promotion, and after-sales reinforcement. Most toothpaste is boring, Ms. Sturgess observed. “There was an opportunity to to appeal to people based on the brand's sensory attributes.” “People” meaning mostly women, to whom Aquafresh is pitched as a cosmetic, “a shower for your mouth,” not a personal-hygiene product. The Aquafresh website was redesigned, too, but I'm not linking you to it because it uses Flash in a most uncomfortable way that makes you wait and wait, while your processor is tied up translating.

    What caught my attention about Aquafresh was its Extreme Clean version's sublogo, “Original Experience.” My partner, Cherie, likes Aquafresh because it claims to whiten teeth and freshen breath. Finding myself one day without toothpaste, I gave Extreme Clean a try. It cleaned my teeth well. Maybe it freshened my breath. But I'm still trying to discover what about it is an Original Experience. To me, it's just another odd-smelling, odd-tasting mix of chemicals. The German-designed twist-shut cap is nifty (and retro) and the tube is made of shiny silver plastic...but these don't really improve the toothbrushing experience, unless your obsessive-compulsive about toothpaste ooze. What exactly can GlaxoSmithKline say about itself that makes me feel warm and cozy? It's just another cosmeceutical conglomerate. Buy its product and its shareholders get rich. All in all, I found Aquafresh to be a very unoriginal experience. Except for all that development spending and marketing!

    Cinnami   754 Medium
    I'm a Tom's of Maine natural toothpaste user, not attracted to commercial toothpastes with their undisclosed melange of ingredients (almost always including saccharin or some other sugar substitute, and all of those Aquafreshesque industrial coloring agents). Toms' toothpastes' tastes and aromas are subtle. Tom's lists all of its ingredients, informs us of their organic sources, tells us that they're not tested on animals, offers flouride and non-flouride varieties, and provides a recyclable metal tube. It also manufacturers its boxes from recycled paper, printed using biodegradable soy inks. Taken together, those factors make for a very original experience. Just as importantly, when I buy Tom's, I'm invited to join a community. Tom's includes with its products various newsletters that bio its customers and describe the company's enlightened manufacturing, employment, and philanthropic practices. I'm encouraged to offer feedback not only on the product's quality, but also on the company's operations and extra-curricular activities. Tom's provides its buyers with a lot of collateral meanings, identities, and satisfactions. Tom's toothpaste (like its other cosmetic products) is pricier than conventional toothpastes (including Aquafresh) and it has a harder time getting shelf space. But I hunt down Tom's products with a vengeance, almost never buying anything else. When I use Tom's, I feel good -- emotionally, knowing I'm taking care with what I'm ingesting; and spiritually for supporting Tom's positive engagement in the world.

    Oh, and about those five types of toothpaste consumers to which GSM allegedly pitches Aquafresh? Maybe they exist. I don't see buyers pondering the varieties when they shop, however. They just pick what's available. What I do know is that GSM, matched against Colgate Palmolive and P&G, is a victor in the shelf-space wars, commonly won by buying off the retailer with a larger share of revenues. In the rough-and-tumble world of supermarketing, that's what really counts. And why I have to hunt for my Tom's!

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

    November 8, 2006

    The Lifting of a Great Weight

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    LeverAmericans awoke today to a changing of the guard in the US House of Representatives and perhaps the Senate, followed by the resignation of Iraqi war “strategist” and soon-to-be-former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. People of all political persuasions, here and abroad, are experiencing a sense of new possibilities: The Lifting of a Great Weight. Anxieties about the future haven't yet been assuaged, but the prevailing expectation of change is a pervasive psychological factor, one that may elude traditional market researchers. Experience designers would do well to factor it into their plans.

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    November 7, 2006

    The experience of voting

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    1099417908 1139The occasion of mid-term elections in the United States -- a fateful election on which many critical issues turn -- is a fit time to examine the experience of voting.

    In California, where I live (and in most other American jurisdictions), elections always happen on the first Tuesday of November, a day hardly conducive to getting working people to the polls. (This election, fewer than 40 percent of eligible voters are expected to cast ballots.) Voting polls, our Shrines to Self-Rule, are tables and booths and boxes stuffed into schools, churches, social clubs, and shopping malls. There's always a big American flag out front, conveying civic sanctity to these otherwise mundane locations. Polls are staffed by volunteer workers, nice people, usually retirees; lightly trained, they may even be paid (though it's likely they're not). As an alternative to voting at the polls, a citizen can choose to submit an "absentee ballot" that's prepared at home and mailed to the County Clerk. Absentee ballots are convenient all right -- I've used them -- but they negate the collective esprit that voting at the polls instills. I guess it depends on how time-pressured or agoraphobic you are, which method of voting you choose. Or like a vast number of cynical or uncaring Americans, neither.

    Why is voting such an ambiguous experience? Subjectively, it's lauded as the citizen's highest calling. Objectively, the process is generally taken for granted and underfunded, on top of which we now have to deal with the controversy surrounding expensive, unreliable, and insecure digital voting systems. For months, citizens have been bombarded with political ads, direct mail, and opinions learned and lame, in print and online. From that noise we're expected to distill wise (I hope) choices, little smudges on a ballot.

    After all that effort, I'm left with contradictory feelings: “Mission Accomplished!” versus “Is that all there is, my friend?”

    The electoral privilege/chore/complicity of voting is the iconic way in which political decisions supposedly are made in democracies. Sometimes they are, sometimes they're not. But standing before the God of Choice is always empowering -- and humbling. The poet Henry David Thoreau observed, “All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong.” Perhaps one day our political culture will mature and politics, with its deadly serious outcomes, will no longer be played as a game. In that better future, Americans, like their counterparts in parliamentary democracies, will become politically aware and active all of the time, not just every two or four years when an election rolls around.

    Following are some design-relevant references to voting that I found informative and entertaining, each raising as many questions about the experience of voting as it answers:

    • WQusability, “Voting for Usability: Background on the Issues.” In the aftermath of the botched 2000 general election, Whitney Quesenbery examines issues of usability associated with ballots and casting votes; candidate identification; how measures are presented to the electorate; and the sad inattention given to the voting process in most regimes, democratic and otherwise, as a way of reliably deciding the direction a society should take.

    • LouiseFerguson.com, “Resources: voting and e-voting user experience.” Louise Ferguson compares conventional voting (using the ballot or a voting machine) with e-voting (conducted via a touch-screen or online). Her website includes over 200 references dealing with the voting experience.

    • The Smithsonian Institution, “Vote: The Machinery of Democracy.” An attractive, comprehensive, multipage compendium of graphics and texts relating to voting. It contains among many other things voting trivia (the word “ballot” comes from the Italianballota, for the “little ball” that citizens in earlier democracies dropped into boxes to "cast a vote"), descriptions of the voting process past, present, and future -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- and “Design for Democracy,” a Chicago-based project to redesign the entire voting experience.

    Commission on Federal Election Reform (CFER). Not that anyone in government paid it any attention, but CFER, chaired by former Democratic President Jimmy Carter and Republican Secretary of State James Baker, in September 2005 issued an extensive report containing 87 recommended reforms to voting as it's conducted in the US. As I write this entry, few of the reforms that CFER recommended have been implemented despite hundreds of millions of dollars having been allocated for this purpose. You can download the Commission's report in PDF format and view streaming interviews with Carter and Baker on the CFER website.

    Victorian Electoral Commission (Australia), “A Virtual Voting Experience in 19 Languages.” “Enter into a virtual world of election day voting.” Very charming; you'll need Flash. The Cambodian version is the most lyrically graphic, though I couldn't read a single word. If only real, inane initiatives could wear such smiley faces. Hey, wait, here in the US they do: just turn on your TV!

    * * *

    The poet Robert Frost has the last word:
    “Thinking isn't agreeing or disagreeing. That's voting.”
    So go vote.


    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings

    November 1, 2006

    Lydia Loizides' Media Technology Futures Weblog: "Consumers and The Value Exchange"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Headshotsmall LydiaMedia researcher and strategist Lydia Loizides, on her Media Technology Futures weblog, has some interesting things to say about “Consumers and the Value Exchange.”

    Lydia begins,

    It all started with this question that someone asked me last week: is there a way to express the value of a technology to the consumer who has had no previous exposure to the product or its features? I pondered it for a moment and then answered, in a quiet voice, “I don’t really know.” And as I thought about it over the next few days, I stumbled upon this idea that maybe the question that was being asked was wrong. Not because of how it was phrased, but more how it was developed in the first place.

    She goes on to describe the “value exchange” as an ephemeral relationship that links (or delinks) people and technology, based on perceived as well as real values that the technology has or lacks. She follows with an attribution to an October 2006 Harvard Business Review article by Clay Christensen et al about “tools for cooperation and change,” in which an interesting graphic appears:

    newnewsletter.jpg
    Lydia concludes,

    So here it is, a matrix if you will, outlining some tools that can be employed to engage with a consumer – based on the perceived value exchange of the relationship that consumer will have with a particular technology. I invite you to think about this and see if it applies to you and your process of expressing the value of a particular product or service as well. If there is merit in the construction, it would be interesting to apply it in practice. The question then becomes, where can it be applied? In what categories should it be applied? And is there value in understanding the nature of “value” overall from the consumer’s point of view? I would argue yes, but you tell me.

    Visit her blog to tell her.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Theories of Experience

    October 31, 2006

    Ah, Halloween! The experience sublime.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    610Px-Jack-O'-Lantern 2003-10-31Halloween is here! How it became an American holiday is a mystery to me, since our British cousins don't celebrate it, but it's the best! And now, retailers and cultural observers report, it's not only my, but also most Americans' favorite holiday experience (Christmas being too obligatory).

    Halloween -- originally, the Celtic Samhain (“sow'-whain”) -- is the day when the material and numinous worlds conjoin. When people and spirits cross over.

    Sure, now it's mainly about kids and candy, and partying and costumes. Nothing wrong with that. Just remember, though: there's more happening on Halloween than meets the eye...!

    For some Otherworldly fun tonight, check out Ghost Studies. "Hey...did you see THAT?"

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    October 30, 2006

    Digital Hollywood LA Report (complete)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    290X50La06Fall-1If it's one thing they should tell you when you assume the mantle of a not-for-profit blogger is not to promise anything with a deadline attached. Lots can happen (and did this week) to retard this blog-in-progress.

    But my delay in publishing this entry is a direct result of my lingering inability to get my head around Digital Hollywood LA, until now.

    http://totalexperience.corante.com/img/Victor%20Harwood-thumb.jpgThe conference is one of the best of its type. Few publicly-accessible conferences in any domain or at any cost (let alone DH-LA with its modest registration fee) bring together so many high-level executives, technologists, academics -- all do-ers -- and the press to talk about their subject. Even fewer conferences examine as topical and shifting a target as the morphing media in their multiple roles of information channels, places to sell things, political soapboxes, an infinity of forms of entertainment, and cultural events; and for most of the people at Digital Hollywood, also their livelihoods. The Loew's Hote provided an intimate, personal setting. Everyone was approachable. DH-LA was a kaleidoscope of ripe meanings just waiting to be plucked. Congratulations to Victor Harwood, Digital Hollywood's founder, who persevered in his vision of a conference populated equally by people in media, entertainment, and technology, before convergence was cool.

    DH-LA was so rich in meanings, however -- overt and subtextual -- it could also be confusing. Several smart people told me they were bewildered by DH-LA and “what it all means.” For many participants, the conference is a stage on which to play out the part of New Hollywood types, characters you'd cast in a 2006 remake of The Day of the Locusts or Sunset Boulevard. For others, high level executives who didn't “get it” before, it's a chance to hop on the digital-media bandwagon before it leaves town. Technologists are there to pitch their latest “enabling” products while the producers, big and tiny, use lots of video to hawk their products for mobile, locational, in-the-workplace, at-home, while-you're-out-having-a-good-time, and morning-after-edification purposes. A few press types like me, fairly low-key at this conference (perhaps because so many attendees are bloggers themselves and can publish a thing or two about too-intrusive inquisitors), are checking it all out, trying to capture the infinity of announcements -- some made off-hand during panels -- and spotlight what they consider the most salient points about this gathering.

    As you readers will know, I covered the Preview Day in an earlier posting and the rift it revealed between those who see the Internet as a service to the Broadband Nation and those who see it as something to be sold. I missed Day 1 due to my own affairs. Day 3 was pretty much a repetition of Day 2 and I used it to cruise the exhibition hall. (So I didn't attend the panel on adult entertainment, “The $10B Opportunity”? I didn't think the thesis, that adult fare drives technological innovation, needed further defending.)

    I'm going to concentrate on Day 2, because the three panels I attended together tell the story most of interest to experience designers: the errant, often-unclosed loop joining technologists, media monetrizers, and the people whose sensoria and pockets they're trying to reach -- known respectively as the “users,” “consumers,” and “us.” Media's ability to shape our society and cultural values is immense. Yet, it turns out, there's no Invisible Hand working to ensure that anything turns out right. The disconnects among the actors who are deciding the future form of our media environment, and between them and the rest of us, whose quality of life will be enhanced or diminished, are dramatic -- which all readily admit. For all the learned dissertations churned out by media scholars and visionary forecasts dispensed as corporate white papers on glossy stock (or now as podcasts), theirs is not The Media Future that actually will be. Personal agendas may be partly at fault, but there's more than a little Heisenberg Principle at work here, too. Speak the Next Big Thing and suddenly it's not, it's Something Else. No wonder they pay people so much to worry about what comes next, and how to plan for it. It never stops.

    The first panel I attended on Day 2 was “The Networked Entertainment Home -- the PVR/DVR -- the Set-Top & PC Entertainment Server,” to see what the technologists had to say, the people building the pipes and devices. It turned out that the panel, smartly chaired by Strategic's Gary Price, was about a lot more than just media centers. I took copious notes, but the bottomline was that the scientists and engineers who are responsible for developing the technological infrastructure that make possible today's and tomorrow's media wonders don't get much guidance from the media people who guide their work -- and when they do, it's often contradictory within and among the industry sectors and the companies and agencies they comprise. The complexity of working on a global basis, Motorola's Nick Chakalos reported, makes vendors slow to roll out services because of all the different markets, strategies, and channels that now must be served. This affects technologists' planning and development activities, emphasized Nvidia's Scout Vouri, right down to the level of the microprocessor: the “chip.” There was a vigorous debate about how to deal with security in the Net. Many panelists and attendees side with individual user, whose identity must be kept secure, thus requiring all sorts of interoperability bridges (and opportunities for them to fail) between standards-setting and solutions. Others, like Sun's Bill Sheppard, believe that identifiable personal devices are our best bet to create the “Open Media Commons” (an open DRM -- digital rights management -- regime) that provides equal open access to services.

    During the Q&A, I questioned whether the industry, while the FCC dithers about decency, is taking its own steps to learn what it is that users want, need, and will use. It turns out, it is, but in a somewhat indirect manner, through its own technology councils and standards groups. These IBM's Stephen Mannel advocated as worthy of greater industry participation. CableLabs' Frank Sandoval noted that TV (particularly as cable) is now the entry point for most new media -- largely, TV shows and movies, and gradually, interactive experiences -- suggesting that their success on cable, because of its large audience, is a reliable de facto metric for their success. (Now and in the future?) He also made the trenchant observation, seconded by the other panelists, that “the distinction between devices, service vendors, even content providers, will disappear.” Disney's Phil Lelyveld, in the audience, had several important things to say; two stayed with me as relevant to media designers. First, interoperability, as much as it may be the technologists' Holy Grail, is a danger to artists' rights in a environment that's universal, where content can flow without regard to the artists' wishes. If one repository is cracked, they all can be. Second, Phil lamented that none of this is very sexy and thus it's not large in the public's consciousness.

    But all of this reconnoitering among the technologists left my question still unanswered: why is the infrastructure segment of the media industry still disconnected from its end users? Perhaps because the middle-men and -women, the media vendors, are as benighted as anyone else.

    This was the impression I got from the second panel I attended, “TV & Interactivity: Evolving Content & Business Models: Content, Commerce, and Branded Entertainment.” It's not that the self-moderated panel (four interactive TV executives and one advertising researcher) didn't appreciate the environmental changes taking place. They do. But most of their employers don't.

    The four interactivists -- FOX Reality's Ed Skolarus, A&E's Jim Turner, Showtime's Chris Lucas, and NBCi's Jon Dakss -- were strong, proponents for the case that the established broadcast and cable media should embrace interactivity as a way of more closely aligning with their audiences. The examples they gave were really stunning, particularly NBCi's exciting interactive promotions that spice up some very uninteresting shows; Showtimes' portal art forms, employed most recently exemplified by the Dexter and Weeds websites; and Turner's videogames, prepared in collaboration with Kuma Reality Games, that will allow viewers to simulate historic battles depicted on The History Channel's “Shootout!”, debuting November 3. (I intend to download my share). The problem is that, for all their successes, these imaginative folks' work is hamstrung by enormous inter- and intra-organizational bureaucracies -- once again centering on who owns properties and who earns from their reuse -- and budgets that, in my opinion, limit their scope. Sure, as with any Internet offering, it's possible to measure various aspects of an interactive audience and its opinions. But the interactive audiences, though growing, remain barely representative of the larger TV-viewing population. Through lack of vigor in funding and promoting the interactive services, it remains distressingly disinterested in them.

    More broadband access is one solution that doesn't require voluntary media transformation; in fact, it's driving transformation, involuntarily. (FOX's Ed Skolarus predicted the emergence of virtual channels online in the next year.) Still, what's it all about? Lydia Loizides, VP for Consumer Experience in Interpublic Futures Marketing Group, disconcerted everyone with her unit's survey research that found that for all the hoorah, most people still haven't warmed to mobile media forms, let alone more sophisticated inter-media packages. As a result, a good deal of her time is spent brokering relationships among advertisers, media, and technology vendors in order to create a more hospitable business environment. Her goal is to realize potential alternative media synergies -- which she characterized as “permission-forming,” gaining viewers' acceptance -- especially in underexploited markets.

    Following on her comment, I speculated during Q&A that if the panel had been titled “Interactivity & TV,” rather than the other way around, it might have revealed a very different point of view. Interactivity would properly be seen as the potential growth market, rather than stagnating TV for which the demographics are declining. Obviously, that's why the TV moguls have brought all of these very bright people onboard (most of whom, BTW, were experienced, of middle-age, and not post-teenyboppers) -- to stem the bleeding. Yet few TV executives are making the necessary investments to find out how to grow this market and then support it. They hardly know their audience. No wonder the technologists are baffled.

    The third and last panel I attended on Day Two, “Venture Funding and Leadership in the Entertainment and Technology Space: Games, Wireless & Broadband, decisively tipped me toward my conclusion that the technology-media-entertainment circle is broken. The panel, moderated by spunky business consultant Joey Tamer, consisted of three well-known VCs, two investment bankers, and a corporate VC, all with strong histories of media investing -- Charles River Partners' George Zachary, ComVentures' Roland Van der Meer, Spark Capital's Todd Dagres, UBS' David Higley, Oppenheimer's Sun Jen Yung, and Intel's Mike Buckley. Although all trek to “Hollywood” occasionally, only Higley, so far as I know, lives and works in Southern California. In fact, This weak link in relations between those who fund the development of new media and those who will deploy it is only one of the impediments that afflicts the cutting-edge of media innovation. Another is the unspoken tension between the traditional investment community and the media industry -- the production houses and producers, not the product technologists trying to sell into the industry. Venture investing is big on risk reduction and high on reliable growth and earnings, two factors that make non-entertainment investors skeptical of working with the industry, where risk is abundant and growth/earnings are a binary deal: they briefly skyrocket before descending or, more often the case, vacillate and then plummet.

    As for coordination between the media industry and the investors whose money defines the media environment five or ten years out, it's a little thin. Roland Van der Meer cuttingly commented, “When it's hot, it's already not.” He meant that whatever is currently in the public's eye, or the eye of media executives, is already passe from an investment standpoint. MySpace, GooTube, and their ilk regardless of their merits, held little interest for investors for most of this year and generate less now. George Zachary told us: like the others, he's investing in “do-able, innovative Web services that haven't been done yet.” Taking George at his word (and knowing him well, I do), the results of most early-stage technology investments will manifest over the horizon, well beyond the state-of-the-art technology and services currently deployed or about to be. A cognitive gap separates them. It's not actually a disconnect. The VCs are pathfinding; but the medial industry will be able to follow only a few of the paths that the investors are breaking, and then only slowly. Which ones will they tread? Why, of course, the one's the users -- us -- want them to. And there's the rub. No one knows which they are.

    I respect investors. VCs, made had my last company, also visionary, possible. Investors, like designers, rapidly suck up and process information, maintaining real-time situation awareness about the sectors they care about. Their limited partners, large pension firms and the like are often less intuitive and sometimes exert pressures that result in unwise investments. Investment bankers and corporate VCs tend to be more conservative, but those in the media/entertainment domain are likewise more intuitive than their mundane counterparts. All successful investors -- those who survive -- develop a sixth sense about what will work and what won't based on many factors. They may write and speak prolifically about the orderly manner in which they do this, but the sagest among them will admit that experience, heuristics, and a hyper-sensitive business radar, plus a wise personal network, have more to do with their success than lessons learned in management school. In the same way that designers often turn up good designs without knowing why, smart VCs and other investors make guesses about the future that are right more often than wrong. Most of their portfolio companies fail, but usually from poor management, not misdirection. Trusting to investors, however, we're consigning our media future to a tiny handful of men and women whose personal judgments, no matter how informed, are a weak substitute for “what the people want, need, and will use.”

    One of the reasons for ferment on the leading edge of media invention is the fact that “too much capital is flooding the domestic market,” several of the panelists agreed, motivating investors to take chances that share characteristics with investments made during the Dot-Com Bubble. “Too many successful companies today are blood-soaked ticks that arbitrage services carried on others' infrastructure,” Todd Dagre sneered. “And I support them. That's capitalism. But it doesn't build a future.” Eventually the free-flowing capital will dry up and investors will retreat. The legacy they leave behind will be the companies that are tomorrow's new media. For now, there's a glut.

    Nevertheless, as David Higley pointed out, “Two years ago there were all these tech types at Digital Hollywood, and the media guys just watched from their offices down the street and smirked. Now it's changing. Suddenly it's all media types, and the tech guys are in the minority.” Is that good? Is that bad? Does it mean more on-target media in the future, or more of the same? Digital Hollywood brought the players together, once in a very long time. Whether it achieves the melding of visions and interests that remains Victor Harwood's goal remains to be seen. I know, as an experience designer, that I'd be a lot happier if there was a discernible common strategy among those creating our new, digital media environment. There's nothing like a road map to know where you're going. But there isn't one. For the foreseeable future, we're driving -- or being driven -- by the seat of our pants. Hand over your A Ticket and buckle up: we're on a Mr. Toad's Ride into the future!

    * * *
    I was proud to see at Digital Hollywood so many members of METal, the Media-Entertainment-Technology Alliance, actively participating on DH-LA's panels and in the audience. METal, a collegial, professional men's group based on LA's Westside, is an organization with possibly the greatest concentration of new-media experts anywhere. Its founder, Ken Rutkoskwi of KenRadio.com leads one of the industry's greatest resources. Thank you, METal Men, it's an honor to be among you.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | Experience Design & Technology | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design

    October 24, 2006

    Digital Hollywood LA, Report No. 1 -- “Two Internets, Coexisting”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    290X50La06Fall
    Digital Hollywood LA on its Preview Day has already proven a very interesting conference. Beyond it's “Hollywood” theme and flavor -- lots of beautiful, politely aggressive people pushing product -- unique among the Internet conferences, DH features a striking subtext. Here more than ever, the Internet Dichotomy separating those who see the Internet as a service from those who see it as a product, has become a yawning chasm. Having worked on both sides of the gap, and intending to again, I make no value judgments. I merely observe: two Internets coexist on the same global network, and which (if either) will be dominant remains to be seen.

    This was revealed most starkly on Preview Day, when I attended two panels that couldn't be more different.

    The first panel, “Citizen Media -- Blogs, PODs, Activist Media & Personalized News,” was one of four dealing with user-generated media. It was a contentious free-for-all on social and personal media, during which eight very sincere people (like AOL Weblogs Jason McCabe Calacanis, Reuters SVP Dean Wright, social media theorist and critic JD Lasica, and moderator and venture capitalist Shelly Palmer -- who did a great job adding fuel to the fire) debated such weighty topics as the pros and cons of the “wisdom of crowds,” collaborative journalism; the role of the professional editor in filtering scurrilous reporting; and those Siamese Twins, truth and opinion. It was taken for granted by most of the panelists that Google's AdSense advertising model is the most efficient way to fund citizen media, and perhaps the best indicator of media quality. As Palmer put it, there are three ways to fund anything: “with your money, with my money, or with someone else's money.” Advertising seems the best bet to conserve the first two.

    Calacanis repeatedly had the most trenchant comments, including two that will remain with me. First, he said, studies have repeatedly shown that bloggers practicing their often lonely craft are motivated by three things: “recognition, affiliation, and a distant third, compensation.” He also noted that “the key ingredient to successful expression on the Web is authenticity.”

    Perhaps, but authenticity had nothing to do with success for the panelists of the second event I attended, a lengthier show-and-tell, “Mobile Video & TV -- The Who's Who of Content.” The secret for these panelists was monetization, turning packaged media, sometimes user-authored, more often professionally produced, into revenue streams. The speakers were representatives at the top of the current mobile-media production and distribution pyramid: Sling Media, HELIO, Sony Pictures TV, Sprint, MobiTV, and a half-dozen others. One by one they promo'ed their fare, short videos intended to be seen on the tiny screens of a cellphone, iPod, or portable computer, presumably while wearing a headset. Some were lyrical, a couple poignant, but most were blaring, edgy, and trivial: try-to-hard humor, sports, rap, and all the other genres that appeal to pre-teens. The future of this panel's Internet will be very different from the first panels, in scale and direction.

    The most memorable comment was an observation by moderator Frank Chindamo of Fun Little Movies, an accomplished teller of five-years-too-soon, arrow-in-the-back pioneer stories, of which he has a admirable collection. (Thank goodness FLM has become successful in his lifetime!) He reported that studies have shown that the length of time a viewer spends with a production is directly proportional to the size of the screen on which its presented. This means, until Bluetooth and its descendants make it possible to point your cellphone at a big wallscreen and gain dimension, we are blessed that most future mobile productions will be short. Hallelujah.

    Pretty much for the entirety of the rest of DH, it's the monetization crowd that will rule the roost, in keeping with the conference's Hollywood half of its moniker. “Monitor, syndicate, and monetize” is a mantra I heard reported frequently.

    After the first panel, a senior participant with years of experience in media, online and offline, turned to me and asked, “So what's it all about?” I could almost hear him add, “Alfie?” “No one really knows,” I replied. “If you took 100 people from the four conferences on the Internet and communications that are taking place simulatenously right now, maybe we could assemble a mosaic. But this is Digital Hollywood, and this is what it's about, now.”

    * * *

    Regrettably, a personal project kept me away from the official Day One, but I'll be back for Days Two and Three. These promise actual insights as to what it may be all about in our multiple futures, online and off.

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    October 19, 2006

    The (ever more painful) Dow of Experience

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Jbe0003News that the Dow Jones index has topped the 12,000 mark, an historical high, adds tinder to a political firestorm in the making.

    In an earlier TE entry, “America's Ideology of Hope,” I noted that while productivity in America is rising, wages are falling (and real wages, adjusted for inflation, falling even faster). The explosion of the Dow, which measures stock value among America's largest corporations, indicates how dramatically corporate profits (and in turn, assets and dividends) have risen, enriching the investor class.

    We take reports of the Dow for granted. They flicker on tickers on during the TV networks' evening newcasts, on CNN, Fox, and Bloomberg, and are part and parcel of almost every radio station's news broadcasts. For a long time, the Dow's ups and downs were taken to be synonymous with the strength of the nation's economy, all boats rising and falling with the Dow.

    But investment income and wages have become disconnected, radically. A rising Dow no longer means good times for the working class (which comprises that 80 to 90 percent of the American people who do not receive substantial investment income). Each time Americans hear about the Dow's climb, it reminds them that things are getting worse for the majority in terms of falling purchasing power, rising household indebtness, and a general decline in their quality of life. The American Dream vies with a nightmare reality.

    According to critical theorists, people can indulge in hopeful thinking for only so long before their objective living conditions start to breed intolerable dissonance, dismay, and resentment. That's when societies experience dramatic tensions, often resulting in political upheaval and even revolution.

    Once people generally championed the Dow's good fortune and news of its unprecedented rise may still be welcome among America's wealthy (as Donald Trump tells Fox Networks). But for the rest, reporters droning on about the Dow have become a constant reminder that things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. And we experience this on the hour, every hour, all of the time....

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    October 9, 2006

    Advertising rediscovers experience design: more of the same, or a sea change?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    As a former advertising creative director (as you may read in my prior entries), I've been giving a lot of thought to the advertising industry, wondering why it hasn't embraced experience design in the same way that the avant-garde design community has -- or at all. But change is in the air.

    Experience design, actually promoted as such, is practiced mainly by individuals and boutique consultancies. As a result, most experience design projects that have been undertaken so far, except for those sponsored by governments or an enlightened corporation, are usually one-offs, invisible to the business world.

    Of course, if you know how to look for it, experience design is taking place all of the time, in virtually every profession. This blog, for example, has featured articles about designed experiences in architecture, product development, exhibitions, customer services, traditional and online communications, landscape architecture and urban design, interior design, and many other fields. But when an experience design project is conducted by industrial designers, it becomes industrial design. When conducted by architects, it becomes architecture. Experience design is cloaked in its practitioners' disciplinary costumes. This has prevented the formation of a formal experience design community large enough to command potential clients' attention or scale practices that can win and execute large projects consistently.

    Because we who style ourselves “experience designers” consider ourselves pioneers, we're prone to look for new developments on the edge of business, not in its mainstream. Though some experience design firms are relatively large -- LRA Worldwide, a customer experience company in Pennsylvania; IDEO, headquartered in the SF Bay Area; and the Design Council's RED, in London, are known to readers of this blog -- but although their projects are emcompassing, even these organizations feel unique, particular, and narrowly focused in terms of their clientele or practice.

    Now the advertising industry is getting into experience design -- baby steps, to be sure, but it's making progress nonetheless, possibly moving experience design into the mainstream.

    Advertising agencies are definitely in the mainstream. They've been designing experiences for large audiences since the birth of the modern advertising profession, 150 years ago. Their media and methods have been limited, however, grown stale over the years. Except for the fact that market research, media, and messages today are more often digital than analog, the business of advertising has remained almost the same since its inception. The modern parade of Edgy, Ironic, and Cute advertising is more impressive for its quantity than for its quality. And people are turning off. Media consumption is at a record high, but attention to commercial messages is low. Advertisers must resort to crude devices like product placements in films and TV shows, information planted on Internet blogs and forums (“buzz”), and guys waving arrows at intersections to compete for the small proportion of their attention that consumers are still willing to share.

    Responding equally to this crisis and to the opportunities brought on by technological and social change, the advertising profession has opened to the possibility of a more systematic approach to experience design. Three new initiatives illustrate the variety of these approaches: Interpublic Group's (IPG) Consumer Experience Practice, Publicis Groupe's Denuo, and the independent Brand Experience Lab. (IPG and Publicis are two of the world's largest advertising combines.)

    Interpublic Logo-1You'd think it almost stealth, so unremarked upon is IPG's Customer Experience Practice (CEP) by IPG itself. CEP, founded in February 2006, is led by IPG senior executive Stacey Lynn Koerner, now president of CEP. It's staffed with a handful of “consumer-centric” experts drawn from within IPG but mainly outside hires including vice president Lydia Loizides, whose Techie and the Media blog provides insights to the unit's interests. Currently, the CEP, among other things, gathers “buzz” about forthcoming media happenings (like new TV shows) and shares that information with its clients (who may include other IPG units, it's not clear) regarding new trends. Located in IPG's Media group, CEP is complemented (I think) by the also new Emerging Media Lab (EML), with a broad mandate to explore the future of media -- but which seems at least temporarily stuck in the online world. Studying popular and online media by no means constitutes a fleshed-out experience-design practice, but it's a start. I think Lydia Loizides' recent blog entry, “Extension Versus Creation: What Does Technology Actually Do?”), sets a direction. Now if only all the oars will pull in the same direction....

    Denuo Logo-1At about the same time that CEP was formed, Publicis was rolling out Denuo, a “futures practice.” Denuo is led by Rishad Tobaccowalla, Denuo's CEO and Publicis Groupe Media's chief innovation officer; and president Nick Pahade, who directs the unit. It has about 15 staff members, approximately equal to the size of IPG's CEP and EML, recruited from the wireless, Web, and videogaming industries. Despite an exuberant (though overly “ad-ish”) mission statement on its homepage (“Denuo gets to the future first, making tomorrow tangible today”), Denuo displays the same fixation on “new media” that characterizes many large communications firms now getting into the futures game. Digital developments rightfully command everyone's attention, as a new phenomenon of unknown dimensions. But it's a strangely asymmetrical fascination for advertisers, because (as experience designers constantly, but obviously so far ineffectually, point out), most people's experience is not digitally mediated, not even as consumers. Nevertheless, dealing with social issues raised by the digital onslaught inevitably will drag Denuo and the others into the larger realm of experience. Expect its team to grow and mutate in an experience design shop when it encounters this irresistible force.

    Brand Experience Lab Logo-1The third model, and the one I find most appealing for its holism, is the Brand Experience Lab (BEL) founded by virtual-worlds pioneer David Polinchock, BEL's founder, chairman, and chief experience officer; and CEO Barry Grieff, an entertainment marketing entrepreneur. It's an unabashedly experience-design firm with some seriously exciting projects underway, like this one described in AdWeek (quoted on the BEL blog, Experience Manifesto (aka The Experience Economist):

    In shopping centers, Mindshare sibling The Wow Factory, a nontraditional ad specialist, teamed with high-tech brand firm Brand Experience Lab to create displays for malls that transmit “sonic blankets” of broadcast-quality audio. Wow president Connie Garrido said that laser-activated motion-detector technology triggers the audio when shoppers pass by the display, but the sound is contained to just within that “blanket” of space, so it doesn't echo throughout the mall.

    It's the first time the technology has been used for advertising, and Sunsilk has an option to retain the technique exclusively through 2007, she said. Some mall operators were concerned it would be disruptive to shoppers, but the feedback so far has been positive, said Garrido. The transmitted voiceovers address hair issues (e.g., “My hair is poofier than my bridesmaid dress”) that reflect the visual message.

    Sex and the City co-star Mario Cantone, who played the sassy, raspy-voiced “gay friend” Anthony, is the voice of the effort. “The audio and the tone of the campaign is very distinctive, and we looked for a way to incorporate that audio into the media in ways that had never been done before,” Noble said.

    Calling BEL a “high-tech brand firm” confuses metaphors and misses BEL's point, which is to deeply understand culture and think creatively about how people use technology in this context. David is a regular contributor to Paula Thornton's Experience Design newsgroup, and based on his posts there and a history in the design of virtual worlds (which he and I share), BEL is squarely among the ranks of experience designers.

    Alas, BEL is yet only a boutique, but it's crossing a chasm to educate and inspire the larger advertising community. This move is not without risk, given the insularity of the advertising profession. In today's posting to Experience Manifesto, Polinchock quotes an editorial that appeared in today's Advertising Age (not available without a subscription). The editors had just attended Advertising Week 2006, a major industry blow-out in Philadelphia:

    Talk about a squandered opportunity: Titans of the media industry turned out to speak at Advertising Week - and had nothing to say.

    There was an all-star lineup for many sessions that offered many worthwhile lessons and tidbits; Tom Schumacher even got the famously private John Wren to open up. But when push came to shove, about the most provocative comment made during the industry's recent confab was Martha Stewart's remark that her lawyer wanted her to waffle.

    It's a regrettable commentary on an industry supposedly on the bleeding edge of popular culture, one that gives a lot of lip service to calls for action and motivating the consumer. And it is by no means limited to Advertising Week; far too many of the usual conferences have served up smart speakers who stick to safe topics and warmed-over case studies.

    Whatever happened to the industry's paradigm-shifters? The advertising world is in the throes of the biggest upheaval since the advent of TV, and the revolutionaries are nowhere to be found. Instead, there are predictable arguments from predictable sources: The old-media mavens espouse the importance of integrated solutions with new media, and new-media moguls chatter politely about spreading the wealth with network TV. Just once we'd like to hear a broadcast-booster bash the whole concept of broadband marketing or the other way around. At least it would get a decent debate going.

    Of course, it takes courage to be an agitator. And that's exactly what's needed to stimulate an industry on the brink of an entirely new, if you'll forgive us, advertising age.

    At this writing, the Association of National Advertisers' meeting hasn't convened yet in Orlando. (It will be wrapped up by the time you're reading this.) Without benefit of hindsight, we are hoping that the reinvention and innovation theme -- and a roster including keynoter A.G. Lafley and big-thinking creative minds such as Russ Klein and James McDowell -- will generate a much-needed provocative spark.

    The industry most certainly needs one.

    Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or do they? One of my favorite Taoist sayings is, “You never step into the same river twice.” Here's to advertising's rediscovery of experience design -- this time around, “consumer-centric” experience design -- with, one hopes, attention paid to the full range of human potential and experience.

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    Advertising spending moves back to the real world

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Erik Sass, in Online Media Post, summarizes a new Blackfriars report that claims companies are “slashing” their Web marketing budgets by a third this year. In the same article, it's revealed that offline marketing budgets have increased by more than 100 percent.

    This change may be a recognition that only so much can be accomplished online: most people still live most of their lives offline, and that's where the action is. It may also signal a shift to advertising directed more to niche-market websites and social networks based on real-world interests, away from large horizontal portals and social networks. The “niches” generally offer access to their more active members (more active commercially as well as socially) at lower prices -- an irresistible bargain.

    Was it a coincidence that I saw a decline in my member network on MySpace today, maybe by a million fewer members?

    Naw, I must be mistaken, MySpace's member network never declines. (Why not?)

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    October 6, 2006

    The Graying Of MySpace: time for adult supervision

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Myspace LogoIn The Graying Of MySpace, Online Media Daily today reports that more than half of MySpace'smembership is now over 35, up 40 percent from last year, while 18-24 year-old membership has declined 50 percent, from 44 to 30 percent. Writer Mark Walsh, summarizing a recent comScore press release, observes:

    While MySpace and Friendster skew older--with people 25 and older accounting for roughly 70 percent of their user bases--more than one-third of Facebook visitors are 18 to 24, as expected for a college-oriented site. Xanga was the most popular with teens, drawing 20 percent of its audience from that age group. The comScore figures encompass all visitors to the sites, not just registered members.

    “While the top social networking sites are typically viewed as directly competing with one another, our analysis demonstrates that each site occupies a slightly different niche,” said Jack Flanagan, executive vice president of comScore Media Metrix, in a prepared statement.

    The initial obvious implication:

    For marketers, the research suggests that MySpace is increasingly becoming a mainstream Internet portal. “The type of advertising it has today is for the youth market,” said Sarah Fay, president of Aegis' interactive ad agency network, Isobar, U.S. “But as we move forward, I'm sure that brands are going to start to speak to other types of audiences on MySpace.”

    For now, however, the middle-aged MySpace users I've spoken with -- those who'll admit to using MySpace -- tell me they turn off the MP3 intros and hold their noses when they log-in. Most use MySpace only for the free profile, which doubles as a website (albeit one that's ruggedly misdesigned), email, and file-sharing. They'd like to use it for other purposes, too, but can't. Amid the promotions from aggressive bands, amateur video producers, and aspiring pornstars, there's not much about MySpace that respects their lifestyles or serves their needs.

    The obvious follow-on implication:

    MySpace (and MySpace wannabees), and the advertisers and the ad agencies who use them, need to integrate their teams with people who share demographics with the majority of MySpace's users: people who are middle-aged or older, with jobs and families, interests more diverse than pop music and social bling, and loads of disposable income. Until they do, they'll fail to create an environment that produces trust and transactions among this mature (but please, not "old") majority. MySpace gets killed by Google and Yahoo in terms of people buying and selling things; and of course, in terms of ecommerce. Now we know why.

    What would a better-aligned MySpace look like, and how would it work? Not like today's MySpace.

    Rupert, perhaps it's time to bring in some gray hairs and incorporate in your team who are more seasoned and experienced, with relevant cultural perspectives. You can then create a product that the majority of your users enjoy: one that respects who they are, provides what they need, and gets them to do more for your pocketbook than click on links.

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    October 3, 2006

    Service as a journey: Doors of Perception weblog

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    I'm compelled to share this from European experience-design sage John Thackara's Doors of Perception. John writes about service design for public entities, primarily in the UK, but much of his commentary applies to commercial service design, also; and in places other than Europe:

    Thackara Portraithome-2SERVICE AS A JOURNEY

    (John reviews The journey to the interface: how public service design can connect users to reform. By Sophia Parker and Joe Heapy. Demos, London, 2006.)

    Is service design the next big thing after e-everything? If the recent surge in books and conferences is a guide, service design is at least a meme – if not yet a mania.

    The trouble is, it can’t possibly be new. Seventy percent of the UK economy is ‘services’, for goodness sake, so someone must have designed them. Service designers look foolish when they claim to be inventing a new profession.

    What’s new is an interest in existing public services as potential subjects of re-design. “All service organisations need to find new ways of connecting intimately with their users and customers” say Sophia Parker and Joe Heapy, in a new booklet. They’ve written down a set of service design principles that offer “fresh approaches to organisations seeking to close the gap what they do, and what people want and need”.

    Do such virtuous organisations exist? The Italians have a great word – “managerialita” – for the obsession with process and targets that so mesmerise politicians and officials. I recently started working with the UK public sector for the first time in thirteen years. The application to what is basically a cultural project (Dott 07) of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), evaluation protocols, and risk assessment has been, to be frank, bizarre. The fact that everyone around me finds this stuff to be normal is almost as scary as the stuff itself.

    ...continue reading.

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    October 2, 2006

    Fashion Today: Less “Project Runway,” more “Corporate Strategy”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    1101060910 400Clothes make the person -- or rather, the persona. Time's Fall 2006 Style & Design Supplement: "Going for Gold, The Art of the Luxury Deal,“ explains why luxury fashion -- haute couture that's increasingly taken from the streets, refined, given elite prices, and then sent back down the social pyramid -- is no longer the exclusive province of fashion designers. Increasingly, corporations are determining what gets absorbed into the luxury fashion melange before being dispensed to the rest of us. In ”Who's Got the Power?“ Marion Hume observes:

    ONCE UPON A TIME, FASHION WAS A BUSINESS defined solely by creative talent. A bubble skirt, a padlocked handbag or any other commercial success was attributed to the ”artiste“ who sketched out his or her dreams and somehow, with just a hemline or a dangly tchotchke, was able to seize the zeitgeist and magically send millions of cash registers ringing. Every six months, newspapers and fashion journals would feature quaint headlines announcing the dictates of those creative types—PARIS SAYS PANTS! Nobody paid much attention to the anxious number crunchers in the back offices studiously poring over sales estimates and marketing budgets.

    That was then.

    Global luxury has wrought billion-dollar businesses and dizzying amounts of dealmaking—which means that today's fashion stars aren't only those manufactured in schools like London's Central Saint Martins or New York City's Parsons. A whole new breed of fashion influencers are formed at hard-core business schools like Harvard, HEC, ESSEC and Bocconi where the syllabus doesn't include patternmaking but rather an altogether different kind of intangible skill set, namely the ability to manage intensely creative talent. Dior president Sidney Toledano, a graduate of the top French engineering school ECP, compares the structure of his company and his role within it to a nuclear power plant: the brand is the sun, the source of raw energy, the designer supplies the radium to set off fusion, and those highly skilled managers run the plant.

    It turns out the managers aren't just managing the talent; they're directing it. Those trendy dresses and rustic jeans we wear as publicly illustrative tokens of our fashion sense aren't necessarily a designer's dream. They could very well be the result of a textile plant manager in China, where much of the world's clothing is produced, recommending -- prior to the designs being drawn up for the luxury crowd -- that knockoffs will be more economically produced if the luxury design conforms to thus and so. What's so luxurious about haute-couture if it's the consuming hoi poloi that's calling the shots via its purchases at Wal-Mart? God Lord, it's fashion socialism, and the global corporations are waving the flag of revolution!

    The Supplement's two-dozen articles are available online, written and illustrated in the esteemed Time tradition but spunked up for a younger breed of readers. They got and kept my surprised attention. Hey, except for adoring Heidi Klum's Project Runway (which I appreciate even more after reading the Supplement), what does fashion mean to me? A lot, I learned. Or it should. Our clothing is the most intimate projection of our personalities that others experience, short of the bedroom. Knowing from whence fashion choices arise is real power. Being able to avoid the banal and achieve a truly authentic presentation of one's self is no mean feat.

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    “Human Directionals” enliven the drive-by environment

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Main LgYou know those guys who flap their arrows to get your attention at real estate developments and corner malls? NPR's Jennifer Sharpe has produced a fascinating audio documentary, “'Human Directionals' Twirling for Your Attention,” that sympathetically portrays this odd breed, the auto generation's equivalent of the street barker. On the same page is a link to the QuickTime movie, Street Moves, about “Active Advertiser” Steven Meyer. For Meyer, who was disabled, human directionalism turned his life around and made him a local celebrity with a sizable clientele.

    BTW, I've witnessed Phil Parks, the human directional captured by Sharpe in the thumbnail above, in action. I pulled over and just watched. He's an arrow with a bullet. I already patronize his client, an online rental exchange -- but if I didn't, I'd certainly motivate in its direction.

    Human directionals. Back to the basics. Designing experience one twirl at a time. (But notice their digital accoutrements!)

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    October 1, 2006

    Niche social networks powered by members' real-world passions are gaining advertising traction

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    After taking a dig at the huge, undifferentiated, and messy “social networks” like MySpace and Facebook, which are the press' and investors current darlings, I was gratified to read two recent articles about smaller, “niche” social networks and their new appeal to advertisers targeting specific audiences. These social networks complement their members' real world activities, things they feel passionately about; many of these networks came together organically, out of need to share knowledge and experiences. You read it here first.

    Librarything“Can Social Networks Sway Shoppers?”in Internet Retailer's most recent issue, describes several strategies for creating and advertising to niche social networks. The research isn't all in yet, but on first blush, the answer is: yes. And more efficiently than by running links indiscriminately on their giant counterparts. IR describes the experience of Abebooks, a seller of new, used, rare, and out-of-print books, which became a part-owner in LibraryThing, an organically grown website that helps book collectors to catalog and share their collections. According to Abebooks COO Boris Weitz,

    We did not first sit down and make a strategic decision to invest in social networking. Like many others we simply were watching this whole new space. But then LibraryThing came to our attention. We asked the network’s president to make a presentation to our senior management team, and that led to our investment.

    DogsterRed Herring, the popular investor-oriented technology magazine, in its October 2 print edition, features an article, “Niche Marketing,” which describes the growing profitability of sites such as Dogster and Catster (dog and cat owners), Boompa (car enthusiasts), Famster (family-oriented fare), Traineo (fitness and weight loss), Tot Jot (parenting), and YouthNoise (teen activists). Each has advertisers (direct and affiliate) or is in talks with advertisers. The article focuses on Dogster, with 250,000 members, which is gathering a portfolio of large, influential advertisers like Disney Entertainment. Says John Squire, analytical software firm Coremetrics' vice president of product strategy:

    Advertisers are beginning to see they can spend very little and still get a big return using niche networks. Last year, people wondered, 'Is [targeted advertising] a wave that is really going to come in? And now they see that it is, and the wave is getting bigger and bigger.

    (An online version of the article isn't available, but you can buy the entire archived edition of Red Herring, in digital format, for $3.99 from Zinio.)

    The niche social networks' individual advertising revenues are small, and they generally require advertisers to carefully integrate their ads with the niche networks' content, lest the ads drive off ardent members who don't see value in them. In the long term, however, the niche social networks probably will exceed the horizontal networks in their lasting appeal, member activity (including recommending and purchasing relevant goods and services), and their revenues.

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    September 27, 2006

    Passenger Comfort and the Flying Wing: human experience trumps engineering

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    One of the most enduring problems in experience design is how to ensure that products designed for efficiency and production economy still provide the requisite degree of personal comfort for those who use them. A case in point concerns the airline industry, which through trial and error has come to the conclusion that future airliners must offer comfort greater than is currently the case. Airline travelers will agree.

    250Px-1Er Vol De L' A380180Px-Airbus A380 Cross Section.SvgIn the md-90s, a design trend favoring jumbo and “superjumbo” aircraft became dominant in response to airline and air-traffic efficiency concerns. One result is the Airbus A-380. Able to carry between 550 and 800 passengers, this four-engine, double-deck superjumbo airliner stretches the limits of conventional airliner parameters. Passenger comfort is assured (Airbus claims) by resorting to time-tested factors: interior layouts and appointments, seating sizes and arrangements, adequate cabin pressurization and air circulation, colors and textures of materials, ease of movement (including evacuation), passengers services (including meals), well-trained flight attendants, and in-flight communications and entertainment.

    Bat-Fk26

    The A-380 is essentially a scaled-up conventional airliner, albeit a leap for manufacturers and airlines alike. Its paradigm is the same that was used by Dutch airplane designer Frederick Koolhoven to design the first commercial airliner in 1919: engine, fuselage, landing gear, wings, tail, and adjustable flight surfaces, with the passengers sitting in a cabin behind the cockpit. All very linear.

    Airbus, testing early passenger acceptance of the A-380, reports that it

    ...went to huge lengths to find out what passengers themselves wanted. Vast cabin mock-ups were taken to eight major cities on three continents and the views of 1,200 frequent travellers – male and female and from a range of cultures and nationalities – were listened to.

    This typical prototyping practice (described in IDEO's downloadable paper, Experience Prototyping (PDF)) produced no surprises, just a very nice, conventional -- though somewhat splashy -- interior design. No doubt, flying First Class among 500 passengers will be a different experience from flying Economy among 800. (That is, when Airbus gets around to delivering the A-380. Aviation history's only superjumbo is over a year late due to manufacturing challenges.)

    Nasa Flying WingReacting to the A-380's early announcements, Boeing Commercial Airplanes began a daring experiment to create a non-conventional airliner based on the radical “flying wing” paradigm. Flying wings have enormous lift and carrying capacity, but inherently are difficult to fly and thus more suited to high-stakes military applications (like the B-2 Stealth Bomber) than commercial air travel. Boeing, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force in the late-90s embarked on a plan to introduce a new paradigm, the “blended-wing” aircraft (BWA) combining the flying wing's cargo-carrying efficiency with traditional aircrafts' ease of control. “How Flying Wings Will Work,” in HowStuffWorks.com, describes these advantages. Like the A-380, the Boeing superjumbo would carry up to 800 passengers, but it would do away with the typical fuselage and place the passengers in the center of the aircraft, enclosed within the wing. This design is clearly depicted in an article on The Wing Is The Thing. As for passenger comfort, Boeing relied on the tried and true factors: color, texture, and spaciousness, as described in a Boeing article, “The Psychology of Comfort in Airplane Interiors.”

    bwb8.jpgEverything went swimmingly until passengers were confronted with mockups of the BWA interior. (This may have happened at the Teague Customer Experience Center operated by Boeing's Seattle-based design partner, Walter Dorman Teague & Associates.) According to sketchy reports (the only ones available to the public), the passengers revolted. Besides the auditorium seating, passengers resented the lack of windows to see outside. No matter that windows on conventional aircraft are barely useful when a plane is in flight (especially at high altitudes, at night, and in inclement weather). Passengers wanted to be able to see “out.” In a recent article, “The Sky's The Limit,” The Economist reported:

    Boeing once toyed with a blended wing-body, a sort of flying wing, to produce dramatically better aerodynamics and fuel efficiency. Passengers would have sat in a wide cabin, rather like a small amphitheatre. But tests with a mock-up produced such a negative reaction that the company dropped the technology, except for military refuelling aircraft.

    AirplanewindowSomeone at Boeing must have known about passengers' vision fetish, because when airliner windows first shrank with the introduction of jets (larger windows being difficult to seat and seal in highly pressurized environments, not to mention being more fragile), means were employed to make smaller windows appear larger. These include the curving interior “frames,” lighting, and even dual windows with the window on the inside being larger than the actual exterior window. (Today, we take these features for granted and hardly notice them, except when we have to twist and turn to see the Grand Canyon or Eiffel Tower below.) Boeing apparently tried to fix things by offering passengers video images of the outside world on seatback displays, but the tryout passengers were not mollified.

    There are two other problems with BWA aircraft: (1) the proprioceptive organs that provide passengers' with a sense of balance would be taken on a roller-coaster ride because of the steep turns these planes must make (a condition sure to be exacerbated by the lack of external visual references); and (2) evacuation procedures for airplane amphitheater seating have yet to be developed.

    The project was scrapped (“Boeing dumps plans for super jumbo,” BBC News) and Boeing turned 180 degrees, staking its future on the more intimate but largely conventional 787 Dreamliner, with its flying efficiencies and a plethora of interior amenities. “Smaller is better” has become Boeing's design mantra (James Fallows, “The Future of Flight," TravelAndLeisure.com) despite the increase in air traffic that smaller airliners will impose on an already teetering air traffic control system. Perhaps Boeing and its partners believe that new technology can fix what already ails air traffic control and that new airports will be built (at considerable cost) to handle the load. If so, it's a race against time.

    X-48B Schematic-2X-48B Windtunnel-1Boeing, therefore, isn't done with the BWA design all together. Boeing Phantom Works is leading development of the X-48B, a new BWA, with NASA and Boeing's research partner, Cranfield Aerospace Ltd. The 8.5-percent scale model is of a larger aircraft that purportedly could have commercial application, though the X-48B's purpose is purely for research. The scaled-down but flyable aircraft doesn't carry passengers, so they're not part of its initial design equation. If it does in the future, however, perhaps Boeing and other manufacturers will want to spend more time delving more deeply into the factors that make for passenger comfort in unconventional environments. They'll need to take a more holistic point of view when describing ”passenger comfort,“ something other than ”colors, textures, and spaciousness.“ I haven't seen signs of this development yet, but even engineers have to fly. Their subjective experiences today, and those they can imagine for future passengers, must take precedence over the more objective engineering factors that traditionally have guided aircraft design and manufacture, even before the first mock-up is experience prototyped.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | ED Projects of Note

    September 25, 2006

    Mark Vanderbeeken of Experientia interviewed on the practice of experience design (IIT Institute of Design's engageID)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Mark Experientia Colleague Mark Vanderbeeken of the Torino-based experience-design firm, Experientia, is interviewed by Enric Gili Fort on engageID, the student newsletter of the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The extensive interview covers many topics salient to practitioners of the emerging discipline, including the leading role of European governments in promoting experience design. At one point, Enric asks Mark about the challenges facing experience design firms (and design firms in general), to which Mark replies:

    Challenges are always opportunities. The question is how to make them work for you, how to define yourself within the context of these challenges. Let me describe a few we have come across.

    First of all, people still often think of design as an aesthetic activity that makes a good product look great. Italians for instance have a very important tradition in that and are known for it globally. The experience design approach is of course much more about a way of thinking a problem, doing research and then solving it, rather than about making something look good. The “design as a methodology” approach is still fairly new here, but also quite logical, once you explain it to it. But the leap is not so big either. Many product designers have architectural training, especially in Italy. Architects are trained in a methodological approach. Many younger firms are now actively engaged in participatory design.

    A second challenge we are facing with some companies, but definitely not all, is a short-term financial logic, where usability can be perceived as an added cost, rather than an investment into a strong product. This is changing though.

    A third challenge is the structure of European companies, who are not always used to combine their R&D work with their marketing activities. Experience design addresses both, or better transforms both. Unlike the typical R&D department, experience design is not technology driven, but people driven, and unlike the typical marketing department, it is based on what people actually do, rather than what they say they do. Sometimes we work with the top management.

    Fourth, technology is often seen as the territory of engineers, and this is not just the case in Europe. There are many excellent engineers but they do not always have a people-centered or design minded professional methodology. Companies and public institutions can sometimes spend much energy on technologically splendid projects that people for some reason do not want to use. The step to a more people-centered approach might seem obvious, but is not always straightforward. If we want to change that, we need to know how to best talk with engineers, we have to understand the 'engineer' way of thinking, but also not be afraid of setting out a human-centered vision.

    In fact, all these challenges are cultural challenges. Part of our role as experience designers is therefore helping to bring about a new culture of innovation, not just through our work but also through our public engagement in the social role of design. At Experientia we communicate a lot, run seminars, and organize lectures. We organized last year the first World Usability Day event in Italy (www.worldusabilityday.org), which was very well attended, and we are doing it again this year. And we are editing an entire issue of UX Magazine (the members publication of the Usability Professionals' Association) on usability and governance.

    Our main challenge as experience designers is how to define our new role within the society we are part of. I think we should not shy away from the larger discourse on regional innovation. We are working within a social and economic context and we have to take on our responsibility of helping to change some of that context through a more human-centered approach.

    Well put. Of course, these challenges are not exclusive to experience design firms in Europe. Here in the U.S., where design is being called upon for everything from overall corporate strategy and accelerated innovation to solving issues of communication and brand management, the challenges Mark cites and their solutions are perhaps more profound due to creative turmoil in the field.

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

    September 19, 2006

    Video Democracy Online: Once a Reality, Soon a Dream

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Logo Tagline SmWho hasn't heard of YouTube by now? It's a Web-based video scrapbook cum social network that features thousands, perhaps by now millions of videos submitted by professional producers and marketers, aspiring actors and musicians, parents and children, and the family dog. Many are original, most probably contain copyrighted material. This week it was revealed that while Universal pictures has threatened to sue YouTube for copyright infringement, other leading movie and TV distributors, including Warner, will be offering their properties on YouTube for playing, sale, and incorporation into mashed-up derivative products. Even the Bush Administration is posting ... anti-drug videos. YouTube is the largest of the Web's video scrapbooks, but it's got plenty of company, ranging from iTunes to Atom Films to AOL to Yahoo! 9 to Google Video and more.

    Obviously, there's a sea change happening in the way Internet users are accessing their media. Or is there? I'm not so sure.

    Frontcover1Nr5I was a participant in the Public Access Movement of the late 60s and early 70s (chronicled in its irregular journal, Radical Software, archived online). Its basis was the belief, based on various strands of critical communication theory, that via the media, we know our world -- and to the extent that the media are free for any point of view to be expressed, our individual and collective knowledge of the world, and our ability to act in it, is enhanced. Unable to penetrate the television establishment, public-access media activists used the first portable video cameras -- Sony Portapaks and Hitachi hand-helds, recording on narrow-gauge videotape -- to document local people, places, and events, hoping to distribute them over then burgeoning cable TV networks. The Movement's purpose was the democratization of the media, beginning with cable TV, which appeared vulnerable to local pressure. Most of the time, however, Movement “productions” showed mainly offline, in lofts and warehouses, not on cable. Cable operators fiercely defended their “right” to restrict access to their networks, especially those who wouldn't pay for the privilege. Over time, their position softened thanks to federal, state, and local regulation that opened a few channels to public producers. But not in time to save the Movement. Without broad public awareness or support, it evaporated. Many activists went on to careers in the media, but most, I suspect, couldn't bear to abet America's Funniest Home Videos posing as the legacy of public access.

    Given my background, you'd think I'd be head over heels about the success of YouTube et al. Doesn't it signal the triumph of media democratization after all? Hardly. For several reasons, I remain skeptical and even concerned about the future of media on the Internet. These factors are, in serial order:

    21. Video publishing is a fad, visual “long-tailism.” Yes, millions are publishing video content on the net. Some is original, most is not. Some is exquisite (so far as can be told from a three-inch image on a four-inch window on a 15“ screen). Most is not. Some is funny, most is banal. What are the motivations of those who publish the ”most“ stuff? Novelty is a leading cause. They do it because it can be done. Rank self-promotion is another. There are those who use the Internet for artistic expression, though art per se will only come off well when Apple's mythical iTV or some other device for easily sending video from the computer to the TV becomes available. Probably millions of parents are using YouTube like they used their wallets in the past, or Flickr more recently, to show off their kids. Kids are using it to show off their vacations, friends, really good rock shows, and the family dog. (We won't talk about the soft porn that consumes petabits of bandwidth.)

    Wow. That's a lot of video. Try plowing through it sometime for something truly informative or edifying, or exceptionally entertaining, and you'll realize just how much. One's only recourse are the recommendations of colleagues, friends, and family, who -- according to the network Power Laws, first enunciated by Clay Shirky right here on Corante.com -- are drawn to that which is already best known. Blogs are still going strong even though only a fraction of a fraction ever have a readership, so maybe video publishing could continue indefinitely as the global community's video scrapbook and broadsheet. Probably not. We may never find out, because other forces are at work.

    Images-12. Multitasking leads to the demise of attention. Recent research indicates that the more individuals multitask -- the more things they try to accomplish simultaneously -- the less able they are to focus their attention. Follow-up tests and surveys almost always indicate reduced awareness and memory of experiences had while in a multitasking situation, compared to the results when individuals attend to only one thing at a time. Implicit in this diminution of experience is finding joy in it. I don't mean momentary hah-hah, as when the guy juggles balls to Jimi Hendrix, or a soccer match in Manchester makes it to the Little Screen. I mean something that would bring one back repeatedly, not just to the production, but to the genre of production. Call me old school, but I see a lot of fall-off as people grok that more video doesn't necessarily mean better video, or even good video. It's just video, probably better when seen without an iPod impairing one's hearing, the cellphone urgently texting, and business or school homework -- homeWORK? -- waiting to be done. Unless we're evolving into homo mediocritus.

    3. Professionalization of the medium. As a result of the aforementioned banality of most online video, professionals are stepping in in hopes of elevating themselves and their work above the fray. I enjoy many of the shorts on Atom Films. The ones I like best are produced by professionals, ad agencies, indie producers, and similarly skilled individuals. The computer monitor doesn't do their work justice, but at least it can be seen. Gradually, it's noticed. Over time, word gets out. The Power Laws kick in. In no time we have a cadre of media producers, larger than the one that serves broadcast and cable, but vastly smaller than the total audience of publishers who are now blasting the numbers -- postings and pageviews -- into the stratosphere. Video viewing is Newtonian, not quantum: what goes up must come down. The other consequence of professionalization is that real money starts to get necessary as the ambitions of producers and artists is fueled by the celebrity of public attention. Can Procter & Gamble, Chevron, and Target be far behind?

    Itv2005 44. Invasion of the corporations. BMW pioneered major-corporation videos online, first with excellent 3D product graphics, then with engaging short stories featuring Beemers for sale (now beamed straight to your iPod as "vodcasts"). Amazon.com now hosts features with big name stars and full production quality. Little by little, branded novellas are showing up on proprietary websites and on the scrapbook sites. As is said in Hollywood, money talks, everything else walks. YouTube is furiously cutting deals with big distributors in anticipation of an IPO. (YouTube as a public company? More like TheirTube.) Apple can't get enough high-quality product from Disney to fill the l iTunes Store, so it's after big money too, this time from its customers, to pay for the best. What remains to be seen is which corps win and which lose in the new ratings game.

    5. The total valorization of online visual experience. Not wanting to play Cassandra more than I already have, I was reluctant to include Reason 5. But it's the honest truth. With the rise of total monitoring comes total marketing and in its wake, total merchandising. The end of Net Neutrality as a policy option, the edict of a Republican Congress hypocritically for the little guy (”having it out for the little guy“ is more like it), means that additional, invisible infrastructural pressures will soon be brought to bear on those who produce and distribute the most video content, raising its price. Within the decade, virtually everything online that's truly watchable -- pleasurable, memorable, edifying, and attractive -- will have a price (extracted in dollars and cents or time spent dully watching mandatory ads). That price will go up, and up, and up, reducing the amount of time people spend watching, in the same way the rising price of oil is gradually constricting commuting and leisure driving alike.

    ImagesSo, sorry: no democratization of media this time around. It shouldn't be a surprise. Each time a new medium struts onto the proscenium, the hopeful audience shouts ”Freedom!“, ”Democratic communications!“, and ”Information just wants to be free!“ For a little while, it is. But as happened before with the printing press, photography, radio, TV, and cable, over time the numbers of content producers and controllers of distribution ceases to be proportionate to the volume of material available over the medium. I'm not saying this is wrong or conspiratorial, though the hegemonists do do their darnedest to preserve their advantages. It's just human nature. Only, this is about more than human nature. It's about messing with the media by which most of us come to know the world and our place in it, and to learn from others what their places are. When organic, democratic expression ceases to be free, what we're left with is paid expression. And paid expression...well, you get what whoever pays for it wants it to be. The new media is the old media. Good night, and good luck.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Experience Design & Technology | Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    September 18, 2006

    The Cultural Web: “Social Networking Ties the Knot” (in India)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    240169031 C6C5420D6DOn Taulli.com, Ash Kumra, a member of the METal professional group to which I belong, recently blogged “Social Networking Ties the Knot?”, a brief, fascinating interview with Murugavel Janakiraman, CEO of the family of Indian websites, BharatMatrimony.com. I usually don't write about the Web per se, but in cases like this one, where the real and virtual worlds conjoin to produce concrete results, the Web becomes a lively environmental element. Janakiraman describes BharatMatrimony.com as a “matrimonial,” not a dating website:

    The entire concept and origin of a matrimony site is entirely different from that of a dating or relationship site. Our model has been strongly triggered by cultural connotations of specific regions where factors like compatibility, horoscopes, and family backgrounds play a key role. Our target audiences are very serious about marriage as an institution and hence it would be inappropriate to compare ourselves with such relationship portals.

    One glance at the BM.com website and you begin to understand the complexity of the challenge. BM.com has 7.5 million registered members and 15 sibling websites each catering to a different Indian region or religion. Since 30 percent of its users are NRIs -- “non-residential Indians” -- its reach is actually truly global. (BM.com now includes job listings and product links, including real estate: the complete domestic package.) The company maintains an offline presence through its Bharat Matrimony centers, which it plans to expand in India from 38 to over 300 locations in the next few years, with investments from Yahoo! and Canaan Partners. (Three hundred may seem not enough for India's middle class of 150 million, but the websites support the network of connections.)

    Vertically focused relationship social networks are nothing new. Hundreds are organized around personal persuasions, occupations, and hobbies. There's been a long-standing debate in the social networking industry regarding the efficacy and financial viability of vertical social networks vis-a-vis horizontal, “mass” social networks like Match.com, Yahoo! Personals, or the behemoth MySpace, on which everyone's a member; but on which also, no member can be easily found. In America, social networks reflect well the fact that we are a society of individuals, constantly reinventing our identities and affiliations. In Indian society, cultural norms require verticalization: despite the invasion of India over the last 500 years by some Western values, the value of self-identity and communal membership, shared with a partner, remains a central life experience.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    September 12, 2006

    The Experience of 9/11

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    When asked why there have been no attacks on the U.S. since 9/11, a counter-terrorism expert interviewed on NPR remarked, "We have been attacked every day since 9/11. Our panicky reactions, resulting in wild aggression overseas and the diminution of civil liberties at home, is a daily victory for the terrorists."

    Let's vow not to lose ourselves by default. Rememberance, without fear.

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    September 11, 2006

    Book Review: Design for Interaction -- one of the best books yet about contemporary design

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Showcover Design for Interaction (New Riders/AIGA, 2006) is one of the best books yet about contemporary design. Read it!

    Dan Saffer, whose online persona is Danny Boy, has crafted the most accessible and instructive book I’ve read about interaction design – and more. Dan deals handily with interaction design, which he characterizes in a Venn diagram as a subset of experience design. There are issues regarding experience design that discussions of interaction design inherently can’t reach, as I’ll discuss later; but having set out primarily to explain interaction design, Dan’s done a superb job. Indicatively, the book is co-published by the AIGA in recognition of the “revolutionary transformation” for “ordinary people to influence and design their own experiences.” Dan's exposition of design thinking is as important as is his fine job of explaining the how-tos of interaction design.

    Many recent bestsellers popular in the design community have featured cosmic themes: “the long tail,” “the wisdom of crowds,” “the tipping point,” and so forth. They describe social phenomena that the individual designer can only observe.
    Designing for Interaction is about things the designer can do to make life better, increasing what we might call the “liveability” quotient. To quote Dan,

    Interaction design is the art of facilitating interactions between humans through products and services. It is also, to a lesser extent, about the interactions between humans and those products that have some sort of “awareness” – that is, products with a microprocessor that are able to sense and respond to humans.

    (Calling design of any type an “art” – even an “applied art” – is bound to be controversial, especially as science increasingly is applied to the task. This is even more the case with interaction design based on digital technology. But unavoidably, there is an artistic dimension to any discipline in which human beings ultimately are responsible for making decisions.)

    Headshot SafferDesigning for Interaction is practical and action oriented. It provides the reader with a comprehensive history of interaction design, contexts for the application of interaction design, and tools for interaction design. It also contains numerous examples of interaction design and wonderfully informative, personal sidebar interviews on specific topics with leading interaction and experience designers including Brenda Laurel, Marc Rettig, Hugh Dubberly, and others of equal accomplishment and insight. Finally it gets down to the “craft” of interaction design, presenting categories of problems and solutions (with the caveat that the field is still new and all rules for practice are provisional).

    Dan’s chapters on “Smart Applications and Clever Devices” and “Service Design” indicate how interaction designers are expanding their field of focus from interactive objects to include customer services and in the future, robots, wearable computers and devices, ubiquitous computing, and digital toolsets.

    The 230-page book, small enough to easily tote around, is beautifully designed. The graphics complement the text and convey complex meanings in visually memorable ways. Designing for Interaction also has a dedicated website to continue the interactions between the author and his readers, and among the readers. The only dissonant note is the blurry and iconically unclear front cover. It doesn’t represent the rest of the book and its contents well. Don’t be put off by it. This is a great read.

    Dan’s concluding chapter, “The Future of Interaction Design” and his epilogue, “Designing for Good,” extend the discussion into new realms and propose canons for the ethical practice of interaction design. These provocative peeks into a larger realm indicate where interaction design reaches its limit. The goal of interaction design is a better product or service, and who can fault these goals? But experience design, as Dan initially pointed out, is the superset of which interaction design is only a part. What about the environments in which human beings interact with products and services? Who designs these? Or the vast number of experiences that condition how people come into contact with discrete objects and processes, and that determine indirectly, but decisively, how they react?

    Of equal significance are experiences that don’t fall under the purview of an interaction designer working for an organization with narrower goals – like the experience of power in the workplace or the sense of security one has, or lacks, in day to day activities. There remains to be written the full story of experience design. But
    Designing for Interaction goes a long way toward setting the stage for a deeper conversation. He’s described the craft and laid out the tools for an approach to design that can be applied on a larger canvas. You must at least start here.

    You can share an interview with Dan in the July 2006 Business Week's Innovation.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    September 10, 2006

    Experiencing Chabad: a delightful fusion of tradition and techno-savvy

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Faf Template BannerI was directed to tonight's Chabad Telethon by Rabbi Yossi Marcus with whom, while living in San Mateo, I enjoyed a weekly debate on issues great and small. Tonight, Chabad commandeered local TV channels in several large markets and in five hours of music and testimonials, raised $5 million for its operation and good causes. Chabad, a religious community, is well-known for its aggressive encouragement to other Jews to live according to Biblical precepts. It also provides services for the disabled, elderly, children, and the less fortunate around the world, regardless of religious persuasion. For Chabad, every time a Jew does a Jewish thing, it's a “mitzvah,” a blessing, bringing the world one step closer to the arrival of the Messiah.

    So much for the theology. It's Chabad's use of social technology that amazes and delights -- one of the more paradoxical social phenomena I've experienced.

    MosesChabad is culturally bidextrous. One one hand, it's an Orthodox stream of European Judaism that emphasizes the mystical (like the Kabbalah) and the charismatic as pathways to knowledge. It dates from the 16th through the 19th Centuries, when most European Jews lived in the Pale of Settlement, a kind of mega-ghetto in between Poland and Russia. Chabad carries on an oral tradition that it claims has coexisted with more legalistic Judaic traditions since the origins of the Torah, the Bible's first five Books. Chabadists believe in the literal meaning of the Bible, separation of men and women during worship, and strict observance of biblical laws governing everything from eating Kosher to child-care. On the other hand, Chabad is one of the savviest users of modern media. Chabad's website, though complex, is wonderfully designed. For its telethon, Chabad not only secured the use of several TV stations -- it also leased two satellite transponders to provide simultaneous national coverage for the LA-produced event. AskMoses.com, Chabad's online rabbinical academy, provides almost instant chat answers to questions posed by Jews and non-Jews about biblical matters and Jewish culture (from a Chabad perspective).

    I'm not Orthodox. My personal philosophy is Taoism, which resists thinking in terms of the miraculous and views technology as merely a standing wave in the river of human invention. But tonight's telethon caught my attention and held it with a clever juxtaposition of tradition, music, testimonials, and high-tech. Plus very good intentions (uncommon to TV).

    Chabad's mix of orthodoxy and state-of-art technology, creating the "Chabad mystique," is one of the better unintended consequences of our information age.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings

    September 9, 2006

    A New Meme: The Experience Design Institute

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Yesterday, I sent the following email note to 20 of the world's leading experience designers:

    Dear Lifetime of Design Friends,

    I'm writing to instill a meme. Yes, I know, it's the end of the week, almost the end of summer. Perhaps the last thing you want to do is think big thoughts. But this is a good an opportunity to share with you my idea and let it percolate. Then it's back to blogging!

    You're on my list of recipients because you are among the most distinguished and capable practitioners of Experience Design, whether you call it that or not. You do it, you write about it, or you teach it. Whatever it is you do in experience design, you contribute to our emerging field's evolution and development. You're ripe for my meme.

    So, here is the meme: there needs to be an Experience Design Institute. There needs to be a real place hosting real events, exhibitions, research, and studies, like Pasadena's Art Center where traditional design is studied; Ivrea, where interaction as a science was studied; and the Design Council and its RED, where transformational design is practiced. The Experience Design Institute will bring together practitioners from various disciplines who share a deep and abiding desire

    • What constitutes experience and good experiences (as defined by...?)

    • How environment, technology, knowledge, and perception interact to produce human experiences

    • How (with greater knowledge) we can systematically design experiences that are edifying, educational, and frequently entertaining for the “experiencers” -- and that produce the result, in terms of awareness and action, that the designer intended

    • How different design disciplines and modalities can combine to create richer and better experiences

    • What experience design portends for other design practices, business, and culture generally

    • Where this is all leading for future experience designers

    The purpose of the Institute would be to give us a place to really get into these issues, other than the workplace, where real sharing across disciplines and approaches could take place on a regular, continuous basis.

    Conferences and seminars are well and good, but they are extremely finite -- and if you miss one, you usually have a year to wait before the next on the same topic. (Of course, most of us miss most conferences.) Plus, conference and seminar audiences tend to be narrowly chosen on the basis of the very divisions that the Institute would bridge.

    Imagine a place -- let's take the Pilchuk Glass School cofounded by Dale Chihuly (http://www.pilchuck.com/default.htm), Esalen (http://www.esalen.org/), and Taliesin in its golden days as models in the US; or the Bauhaus in its prime, overseas -- where experience designers can go to study, learn, and converse with their creative peers. Where practitioners at various points in their careers can share their experiences and learn from one another. Where students can meet with teachers and mentors. And where the public can be invited on a regular basis to learn firsthand what it is that we do. Not just once a year, but continuously.

    Why not such a place for Experience Design, especially now as historical forces push it to the forefront of business, cultural, and social concern?

    How to get there is another matter. If such a place was designed, I'm confident it would be funded. Or conversely, if it was funded, it would be designed. This is a chicken-and-egg problem for which my meme provides no immediate solution. But maybe you'll think of one over time, individually or collectively.

    Thanks for taking time from your leisure to spend a few minutes considering my meme. Now, park it in the back of your cranium and have a restful, restorative weekend. Where did summer go? Please let me know from time to time where the meme has traveled and what's happening as a result.

    Cordially,

    Bob Jacobson


    This morning, on Putting People First, Mark Vanderbeeken replied with a comprehensive list of schools where elements of experience design and related design disciplines taught -- but acknowledges, there is but one small program in comprehensive experience design, at the Design Academy Eindhoven, in Holland. I thank him for his comments and even more, his challenge to our community to do more.

    Even if there were a hundred programs in schools around the world, it would not be the same as a place where practitioners, students, and the public that we serve can come to share and learn: the Experience Design Institute, our community's Mecca.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | The Practice of Experience Design

    September 4, 2006

    America's Ideology of Hope

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Not SharingOn this sixth Labor Day of the 21st millenium, I read a disturbing article that appeared earlier this week in the New York Times Business Section, by writers Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt. It bears this ominous headline: “Real Wages Fail to Match a Rise in Productivity.” America is experiencing the worst mismatch of capital and labor since the statistics were recorded. The result is a fading quality of life for most Americans and greater profitability for those that own the means of production.

    Typically, when productivity rises -- when workers produce more value -- their wages rise. The rewards of an expanding economy are shared, somewhat. Today, there is no sharing. Workers produce more by working harder, working longer hours, and doing it with fewer vacations and benefits -- yet real wages for at least 90 percent of the American workforce are declining. UBS, an investment bank, is quoted in the Times, "[this is] the golden era of profitability.” What it boils down to, according to Greenhouse and Leonhardt, is the loss by labor of bargaining power attributed to globalism, new technology, and a general lack of organization. Some workers do all right: those at the top of a very pointed pyramid. One percent of the American workforce, mainly CEOs, senior managers, and star professionals accounted for nearly 11 percent of all salary increases in the last year. Shareholders also did well. But the middle class, once buoyed by boom market stocks and seemingly infinite elasticity in the price of homes, has seen its share start to slip away as the housing bubble bursts and everything necessary to just living life -- like gas for commuting to work and driving the kids to school -- skyrocket in price. Throw in an expensive, poorly executed, and needless war overseas (costing $10 billion and thousands of lives each month) -- and you can understand how the social services that once constituted a social safety net have been shredded.

    You'd think all of this would make Americans a hardened people, ready to take to the streets. You'd be wrong.

    Yes, there is discontent. The Conference Board's Index of Consumer Confidence is dramatically declining. Polls show that the Republican Party, the party that burnt the Treasury down, is in grave danger of losing control of the House of Representatives and just possibly the Senate. But these are formalities. Even if the parties switch, it's unlikely to change the systemic causes of worker impoverishment. Because we haven't the means to design solutions. As The Economist reports this week, American solidarity and overseas admiration that was at an all-time high following 9/11 has eroded to almost nothing. And the nation is riven.

    So why are the American people still hopeful?

    Hope has been part of the American ideology, growing larger in scale with each quantum leap in the national enterprise. When the first Europeans arrived to confront a seeming wilderness, they hoped to make it through the winter. The Declaration of Independence relied on hope to last for the duration of the Revolution, as its signing portended sure hanging for the signatories had the Colonies not prevailed. There was hope that the Civil War would end animosity between North and South. Hope that U.S. involvement in conflicts overseas would bring an end to imperial wars. Hope that comity might be restored between capital and labor. Hope that a global economy would float all ships. Hope for world peace. Hope in the hearts of each generation of immigrants. And hope in every American's mind that he or she might one day become the next Bill Gates or Angelina Jolie -- and if not that person himself or herself, then that person's children or grandchildren.

    This is America's ideology. Wikipedia defines ideology in benign terms as “a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things”; but also as “a set of ideas proposed by the dominant class of a society to all members of this society.” It's the latter application of the term that worries me.

    Establishing a dominant ideology, like the ideology of hope, of optimism -- some would say, of “irrational exuberance” -- is something that the powerful do well, because it helps them to retain power. How does ideology manifest itself? In canons of belief. Take the nature of the state. In modern times, the integration of government, corporations, cultural institutions, and the educational system into a unitary state is an acknowledged fact. But Americans are taught that it isn't. As one Republican pundit told the Times reporters, “Americans don't blame the government for the current state of affairs. They blame big corporations.” It feels odd to argue the opposite, though the opposite is empirically proven every day. And the notion of classes at war, using the machinery of government -- tax policy, investment policy, global policy, etc., and the law -- to achieve advantages, while obvious to everyone, is not permitted as a topic of conversation in any of the popular media (except some films). In fact, it's not welcome. "Class warfare" is taboo. This situation, which has been written about extensively, harkens back to the singularity of national socialism, state communism, and other forms of fascism that sprang up in Post-WWI Europe. One does not invoke differences of class in America without penalty, and as a result, the nation cannot resolve problems that have their origins in class. Too bad. We almost punched through in the 30s. Then WWII intervened.

    Intentionally designed experiences have a lot to do with the dominant ideology in America. Media experiences, themed experiences, and educational experiences for the vast majority of Americans who never learn to think critically are among the factors that engender America's ideology of hope, even in the face of events that objectively signal alarm. Others are a pubic history that glorifies the state as a bringer of equality and religious faith that preaches the notion of heavenly intervention to alleviate suffering. Distraction with triviality disguised as culture has a place in America's ideology. Lastly, there is the myth of the self-made man or woman, that everyone can be one, despite historical proof that being a scion of inherited wealth and influence is the predominant key to personal financial success and power.

    Americans remain hopeful, not taking to the streets, not speaking our discontent unless they're among a sliver of organized labor or political activists. Moment to moment, sunshine optimism may be preferable to many Europeans' pronounced cynicism, or the despair that grips half of all people living today regarding how they'll survive the next 24 hours. But optimism per se is no solution to pressing, systemic problems; it's simply a condition. Rolling up one's sleeves and engaging in action -- that's what makes change happen. If, however, we wait while ideological optimism keeps a lid on discontent, our problems will get worse and then we may find ourselves as a nation and a society in the grip of cynicism, despair...or, as elswhere where ideologies have failed, bloody anger.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Odds and Ends: Random Observations | Theories of Experience

    August 14, 2006

    Behavioral Economics

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    With lots of good intentions, I've resigned myself to simply share important stuff as I come across it rather than waiting to find the time to comment on it (as illustrated by the many half-written pieces that sit on my desktop).

    I've mentioned repeatedly (on many different 'channels') the importance of economic concepts to our work. If I wasn't able to convince you before, perhaps these will add another perspective. Check out two important pieces: A Perspective on Economics and Psychology and Behavioral Economics: Reunifying Psychology and Economics. [Step gingerly around the highly-academic voice of these pieces.]

    The only commentary I'd want to add is that the flavor of the pieces are still very 'large market, classic economics' in nature. See if you can transpose the concepts to markets of one and individual choice. And lastly, anyone who questions the validity of 'rationality' in behaviors doesn't understand the true meaning of rationality -- it's contextual. The real value to us as practitioners is to figure out what makes certain behaviors 'rational' to those who engage in them. Those values and/or motivators are the hues that define the paint of our designs.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | Theories of Experience

    July 25, 2006

    John Thackara's Power Laws Of Innovation

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    In Power Laws Of Innovation, Doors of Perception's John Thackara offers his thoughts on successful collaborative innovation.

    Thackara Portraithome-1I'm at a Cursos De Verano (summer school) near Madrid. Just down the corridor, a bunch of senior generals are discussing “the Army of the 21st Century”. Next to them, some egg-head priests are discussing “the Church of the 21st Century”. Our lot is doing “Innovation of the 21st Century” and I promised to post the following Power Laws before the Church and State guys leave town.

    Power Law 1: Don’t think “new product” - think social value.

    Power Law 2: Think social value before “tech.”

    Power Law 3: Enable human agency. Design people into situations, not out of them.

    Power Law 4: Use, not own. Possession is old paradigm.

    Power Law 5: Think P2P, not point-to-mass.

    Power Law 6: Don’t think faster, think closer.

    Power Law 7: Don’t start from zero. Re-mix what's already out there.

    Power Law 8: Connect the big and the small.

    Power Law 9: Think whole systems (and new business models, too).

    Power Law 10: Think open systems, not closed ones.

    John is one of my heroes of experience design and collaborative innovation. John's “business website” is just as interesting and in many ways, more personally revealing, than his Doors website. Be sure to visit.

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

    July 21, 2006

    PingMag: “New levels of Experience Design,” an interview with Liisa Puolakka, Nokia's new Head of Brand and Sensorial Experiences

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    PingMag - The Tokyo-based magazine about “Design and Making Things” features Matt Sinclair's probing inteview of Nokia's new Head of Brand and Sensorial Experiences, Liisa Puolakka. The lengthy interview, interspersed with copious visual examples of how Nokia takes to heart the lessons of experience design, is worth careful reading.

    Puolakka offers this observation regarding the deployment of experience design:

    Experiencedesign01You can see it used everywhere nowadays, but I think the main thing is that rather than just designing an object you take a more holistic approach. That means the design language and how it relates to other products; how does it feel to use, both rationally and emotionally; how it’s packaged; what accessories are available; the kind of environment it may be sold in; what services should be targeted to the consumer of that product. And when you start with that kind of approach you end up with something much more purposeful for the user, but not just purposeful, also more pleasurable, so the consumer is surprised, in a positive way, when they use the product. That’s perhaps why experience design is so talked about right now, because those things relate back to the brand, to the way that consumers think about a company’s image. Experience design is about the way a person experiences a brand.

    And how does that translate into a job? Puolakka's is a broad mandate to intervene throughout Nokia's product-design and brand-management activities:

    For the last two months I have been working as the Head of Brand Visual and Sensorial Experiences, and basically that means the way the brand is experienced by the consumer, the ‘look and feel’ of Nokia. That can be in any of the situations where a person touches, or comes into contact with, the brand; it could be online or in a Nokia Flagship store, it could be advertising campaigns on TV or in magazines, it could be events which Nokia sponsors or attends. In terms of execution most of the work is done by agencies, so that means we need a clear view of the brand strategy in order to brief and communicate with those agencies. I’m not really involved in the creation of the product any more, though of course there is a strong link, we need to start at the same point and head in the same direction.

    Liisa Puolakka is inspiring and instructive -- and in her new role, she demonstrates why Nokia continues to rule the mobile devices field despite assaults from its lower-cost (but little-inspired) competitors.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Experience Design & Technology | The Practice of Experience Design

    July 19, 2006

    HGTV's “Design Star” cable series: 21st-Century Rococo

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Hgtv Design StarFor me, interior design is to architecture what “styling” is to industrial design: spiffing up design objects that can't make it on their own. Stylists put fins on automobiles, and now big shiny wheels; interior designers engender “flair” or “adventure” or “personality” in built environments that otherwise are savagely dull or downright uninhabitable. So when the Home & Garden Channel -- HGTV, for non-channel surfers -- recently promo'ed “Design Star,” a new reality/competition show, I gagged. Not only does the show demean “design” (as does interior design generally), it presumes to identify “stars” among the practitioners of this 21st-Century Rococo.

    Extreme Makeover HomeHey, I'm not against reality shows dealing with human habitats: I find ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition entertaining and enlightening. Ty and his team of oddball carpenters and contractors philosophizing are fun and their banter is always grounded in the practical realities of home construction. Interior designers, on the other hand, play with fluff.

    Project Runway

    For fluff, I prefer to watch Bravo's Project Runway, where supermodel-producer Heidi Klum depicts the stressful business of high fashion in a way that makes me want to care for the aspiring fashion designers. At least “star's" meaning is appropriate for the runway, more akin to celebrity than to the important business of designing habitable, comfortable living spaces for human beings.

    Comments (6) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Events and Happenings | Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    July 17, 2006

    July 15, 2006

    A unique future role for design research?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Co-author Paula Thornton posted this insightful comment to her Experience Design newsgroup on June 7, responding to an article in Business Week, June 3, 2006, “The Science of Desire”:

    One quote from the article: “Ethnographers' findings often don't lead to a
    product or service, only a generalized sense of what people want. Their
    research can also take a long time to bear fruit.”

    This is absolutely a “'symptom'”of something that is clearly not specifically
    called out in our disciplines. We always like to think that we need to be
    the ones doing the research (and/or be involved in it). Clearly, that's a
    symptom of our experiences -- where in most cases there is little or no
    background information.

    But imagine a future where there is a specific role dedicated to Design
    Research. A "team support" role that is akin to a Findability specialist and
    a Content Management strategist. While individual projects would engage
    "deeper" research, the work starts by tapping into a base of continuous
    research. Such research informs what additional research would be most
    effective -- it determines which questions haven't been probed deeply enough
    and/or warrant more investigation.

    There are four distinct areas of focus for experience design research:

    . Discovery
    . Continuous Listening
    . Metrics
    . Synthesis and Sharing

    Of course, there are the Centre for Design Research at Northumbria University, in the UK, and its new counterpart at Stanford University, the Center for Design Research.. But these centers' foci are universal, about design, less project-specific. So, Paula -- want to finish your thought? I'd love to see where you go with this.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | Theories of Experience

    July 9, 2006

    July 7, 2006

    Living In (And Learning About) Our Risky World: Toward the World Simulator

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Horsemen-1We live in a risky world. War, disease, genocide, crime, natural disasters, and random violence destroy lives and livelihoods. Political strife, oppression, poverty, and homelessness take a toll, widespread and continuous, on the quality of life for billions of people. We don't know what to do. Even in advanced industrial nations, even within the pockets of prosperity where the wealthy and upper-middle classes live, there is a desperate perception that world events increasingly are out of hand. More often than not, the unexpected consequences of rules and regulations imposed by national governments and transnational institutions (like the International Monetary Fund) exacerbate rather than mitigate risk. High-speed telecommunications, the media, and the Internet accelerate humanity's sense of a world out of control.

    Ciaseal-1Unwilling to deal with the stress, it's not surprising that people, in America especially but also globally, studiously remain ignorant about world events (even bare-bones geography). But businesses and governments can't afford voids in their knowledge. For them, specialized services exist -- often very large and lucrative -- to assess the state of the world and the meaning of things. The best known are institutional, like the CIA and its counterparts around the world; university centers and foundations; and the think tanks (like RAND, SRI International, Global Business Network, and INSEAD) that trade focused intellect for influence and profit.

    More interesting, however, are the private firms that offer informed analyses, scenarios, and forecasts about global processes and world events that most of us may never even know about. This knowledge has commercial value. So the knowledge these firms provide is protected, proprietary, and confidentiality. If you have the means, however, they'll share it with you (usually at a considerable price). Though not always accurate or actionable, the knowledge these firms provide mitigates uncertainty for their clients. Able to see through the fog of world events better than the rest of us, the knowledge buyers can act to abate or exploit real or imagined risk in their own interest. For this article, I took a spin on the Web among the private knowledge providers.

    Zoom-Globe-PressIn the English-speaking world, the best known of these private knowledge providers about world events are publishing houses including Reuters, Pearson's Financial Times Group (Financial Times), and Dow Jones & Company (Wall Street Journal and Barron's). Also publishers, but more deeply vested in consulting, are The Economist Intelligence Unit and Jane's Intelligence Group. I was particularly impressed by Aon, Inc., a global insurance and risk-management firm, that offers on its website downloadable “risk maps” depicting global and regional risks and dangers. A tier of lesser-known companies operates more quietly and privately. These include Oxford Analytica, Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (Stratfor), and Kissinger McLarty Associates (whose amazing website features...nothing!). And then there are the “black” intelligence providers that are so secret, they defy Google itself (or anyone else) to locate them on the Web. Although I knew a few of these dark dealers during my prior professional work, I'm no longer able to say who's in the business today and what they're doing. They aim to keep it that way. C'est la vie.

    There is a moral dimension to informing others, as there is to being informed. No religion condones lying, at least overtly, or refusing to render aid to the endangered and suffering. In most legal systems, withholding vital information that can prevent harm is a criminal offense. And most of us feel it's reprehensible to withhold information that would result in socially beneficial outcomes. That's why the majority of firms engaged in analyzing world events and risk-abatement eventually are open with their findings, albeit after giving first notice (and advantage) to their paying clientele. But this openness comes with blinders imposed by professional and cultural biases, and political and disciplinary boundaries that isolate rather than integrate knowledge domains. These limitations defeat the practical benefit of sharing knowledge, which is to help people generally make better, more beneficial decisions about how to live in the world.

    NationalgeographicThe nonprofit National Geographic Society, is an exception. Its National Geographic magazine's universal content and ever bolder coverage reaches a broad public, making its brand of global awareness (and advocacy for geographic knowledge) available for the price of a mere magazine subscription. National Geographic's topics range the gamut from geophysics to cultural geography, but increasingly, unavoidably, it's editors, writers, and photographers are drawn into geopolitical conflicts and topics that force the magazine's readers to confront the realities of life in a risky world. Happily, new leadership in the Society has abandoned the pollyannish “only good news” philosophy that was conflated with an almost exclusive boosting of Western values. National Geographic has gone “International Geographic” in deed, if not in title.

    Another exception, in blog form, is the excellent worldchanging, whose mission I find perceptive and highly sympathetic:

    Worldchanging-2 WorldChanging.com works from a simple premise: that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together.

    What if there was an open, global system that enabled everyone to learn about, understand, and cope with world events, current and anticipated? It would be revolutionary. To a small extent, today's Internet serves this function, if one has the ability and is willing to slog through swamps of information to discover and organize gems of knowledge that give meaning. However, because most people don't have knowledge about world events in the first place, most of the knowledge available on the Internet is trivial and can't be acted upon.

    Several initiatives may point the way to this System. These include (of course) Google Earth and the online bulletin board, Digg, on which readers direct other readers to the best articles on the Web dealing with pressing problems; and Meople.net, an “attention bazaar” that enables experts to advertise their availability and sell their knowledge in Attention Stores open to all comers at affordable prices.

    200607070015But by far the most ambitious of these initiatives is one in which I'm personally involved, the World SimulatorTM. Fully developed, the World Simulator will be an open-architectured Web service accessible to everyone for learning about world events. Real-time data feeds will keep its world model always up to date. Individuals and groups will be able to easily access the World Simulator to see what's happening and, if they follow the rules of construction, also be able to compose and integrate regional, process, and domain-specific knowledge modules with the world model, making it ever more realistic. People can then run simulations to test hypotheses and scenarios, globally or regionally, depending on the knowledge modules they choose to implement. We're concentrating our first efforts in the domain of geopolitics, because geopolitical events as a class are familiar to most people even if they aren't fully understood or their meanings appreciated. In the same way that Linus Torvald's open-source project resulted in Linux, the software language that drives most Web servers, or as the Wikipedia community is building the world's most comprehensive encyclopedia (caveat lector), we expect the World Simulator to result in a broadly public, heightened geopolitical awareness ( “Gaia consciousness”, in its most enlightened form). In turn, that awareness we believe will enable real-world action with beneficial outcomes, public as well as private.

    I don't want to get ahead of myself while the project is in its early stages, but if you'd like to learn more, write to me. As well as being project organizer, I'm its evangelist. I can't think of a better cause, living in this risky world.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | Theories of Experience

    July 2, 2006

    July 1, 2006

    The Experience of Immobility: Transportation -- or not -- after the oil runs out.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Highway1This week marks the 50th anniversary of the National Defense Highway System, America's multi-decade, multi-billion-dollar building spree, initiated by President Eisenhower, resulting in this nation's massive network of freeways and highways: 47,000 miles worth, enough asphalt to coat the world twice. The NDHS was sold using a Cold War rationale: when the Russian and Chinese armies approach our shores, we need to get American troops and tanks there, pronto. This problematic explanation served as cover for the NDHS's other (and some would say, more realistic) purpose: to encourage high-speed auto and truck traffic; accelerated urban growth, worker migration, and commerce; and the expansion of the auto industry. The NDHS succeeded magnificently on all counts. And each factor increased the consumption of oil.

    The NDHS' growth was paralleled by a succession of Federal aviation laws that resulted in building more airports and establishing the FAA's national flight control system.

    These magnificent government projects produced equally magnificent subsidies for the auto and airline industries and tremendously ramped up Americans' mobility. They also contributed to the decline of mass transit, particularly buses, trolleys, and trains that didn't receive similarly robust subsidies. The same has happened overseas, except that in most countries, trains have survived as part of a larger social contract. Burgeoning business-travel, tourism and hospitality, and telecom industries have been built on the expectation that more and more nations will become mobile societies. And we've come to take for granted a certain ease of motion that is part and parcel of the experience of living in a modern industrial society.

    Instead, we're headed for an Age of Immobility. Not because there are too many cars on the road or planes in the air. Of course, there are. Everyone living in a city has experienced insane levels of traffic congestion and aching, two-hour commutes. The automobile is no longer a net-gain way to travel -- and air travel in the 21st Century? Forget it!

    Graph1The ultimate cause of the Age of Immobility is that we are reaching “Peak Oil-- characterized by the Hubbert Curve -- when the world is producing all of the oil that can be easily gotten, without heroic exploration. From that day forward, our oil stores and production will begin an irreversible decline. Peak Oil, when it arrives, will slowly strangle not only ground transportation, but also movement through the air and on the seas. Easy mobility will become another memory from the Golden Age of Petroleum. There is no escape in turning coal into oil, as some recommend: the process is long, expensive, environmentally catastrophic, and ultimately, requires more energy than it produces. Burning more coal to make coal into oil would only multiply the offense to the Earth.

    OilproductionpercapitaSome say that Peak Oil already is here. In any case, its arrival in the next decades is almost inevitable. What will it mean for most people in the world, including the industrial nations, to experience constant immobility?

    Think back to earlier societies, when the only accessible workplaces were, for serfs, the farm; for traders, the village market; and for small producers, the small shop easily walked to. Most people walked. Relatively few people owned horses or oxen, the only sources of mobility other than walking. There was no petroleum-fueled transportation, so goods and services were acquired locally or not at all. Only the very rich could afford to journey on business or pleasure. The nobility in their coaches, running roughshod through Paris streets before the Revolution, trampling anyone in the way, is a movie cliche that's hard to forget -- because once it was real.

    There were exceptions. Wooden ships used wind and coal for power; and trains for a few brief years burned wood or coal to generate steam; but in those early industrial days, there were vast forests for the taking, and "global warming," to which burning wood and coal contributes, was unknown. Today's steel ships and high-speed trains run on oil, as do the automobiles and aircraft with which they compete, or using electricity generated by burning oil. In our future, ships and trains may join cars, buses, trucks, and planes as relics of an earlier era. Little by little, our roads and airspace will get emptier as cars and planes first get smaller and more fuel efficient, then begin to disappear, except for those owned by large businesses and wealthy individuals. LonelyHighway.jpgFor a short while, these last few will command the highways and airways; then they, too, will be used only for special occasions or cease to operate entirely, starved for petroleum-based fuel. Note that this goes for electric cars, too, at least as they currently are powered: by electricity generated from burning oil and coal. (See Corey Powell's "Black Cloud," a review of Jeff Goodall's new Big Coal in the NYT Sunday Book Review.)

    Our children may live in a very different world. Award-winning author Ursula Le Guin's allegorical Always Coming Home describes a future pastoral society where walking is the main means of mobility; the trains are powered by oxen. Always Pb(In Le Guin's future, cars and planes ceased to exist millenia earlier. What happened to all of the “People With Their Heads on Backwards” -- meaning you and me -- is a mystery. Supply your own unhappy theory.) People take it easy. But also, their ambitions are turned completely inward, toward community, ritual, and the routine. There is beauty, but it is small, personal, unsensational. The Internet, now called “The City,” has become sentient. It's an oracle occasionally consulted, but mainly out of sight and out of mind. What can technology offer these people without synthetic energy, rooted in place, whose furthest journeys are from today's Napa Valley to the San Francisco Bay? Cellphones? Mobile Internet? iPods?

    How quickly scenarios like Le Guin's can become reality. We get a preview every time a shock occurs to the world's oil supply: producer boycotts, a civil war in Nigeria, earthquake damage in Indonesia, politics in Venezuela, fighting or sabotage in distribution choke-points like the Caucasus or Kazakhstan -- wherever there's oil, there's crisis, and then prices rise. But we've learned to live with momentary burdens. It's the larger, more benign events, like the growth of China's and India's economies, that will create disastrous outcomes for the world's supply of petroleum and petroleum-dependent, mainstay industries including manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, defense -- and transportation. Of course, a nuclear war anywhere in the Middle East would hasten the petroleum economy's demise.

    What is the experience of being limited in range to the distance one can walk in a day? Or doing business in terms of mule-miles? What consequences has immobility for sustenance, health, education, commerce, and community? Will we all inhabit villages again, albeit most of us within what used to be integrated cities? Perhaps those living in deprived regions of the world, like Darfur, Afghanistan, or Chad, have something to teach us about our own futures.Fruit Cart 170604

    Barring a miracle, like major governments truly committing resources for developing renewable fuels, or the invention of a device for turning discarded plastic into bio-safe liquid fuels -- still only hopeful visions -- our ability to easily circulate, a freedom we've taken for granted, is in trouble. With the trivial exception of mixed shopping/loft developments, however, you don't see many designers designing for mass immobility. The very notion is taboo.

    Blogs: check out Matt Savinar's Peak Oil: Life After the Crash, for a picturesque portrait of post-Peak Oil civilization; and C. Peppard's Getting There, devoted to “Transportation for the Masses.”

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    June 29, 2006

    Good-bye Magic Mountain? "Mega-Monsters" vanquished by shopping malls.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Top Nav Logo MagicmountainThe impending sale or more likely, closure of one of LA's landmark entertainment venues, Six Flags Magic Mountain, is analyzed by Theme Park Insider's Robert Niles in "Good-bye Magic Mountain? Six Flags puts six parks up for sale or closure.". Faced with declining revenues and more advantageous land-development opportunities, Six Flags, Inc., a holding company, has put six of its properties on the block (including, besides Magic Mountain, Elitch Gardens in downtown Denver, Darien Lake near Buffalo,, Wild Waves and Enchanted Village outside Seattle, Six Flags Waterworld in Concord, and Six Flags Splashdown in Houston).

    D TatsuMagic Mountain is home to six world-class roller-coasters, including the new Tatsu, a so called “mega-monster” ride. What will happen to them if Magic Mountain is closed down remains to be seen. Their fate could be a bellwether of what lies ahead for other highly-engineered roller-coasters and experience rides. While they may be dismantled, finding new homes for them may prove a problem -- for exactly the same reason that Magic Mountain is imperiled: rising land prices in urban regions where theme parks generally are located.

    Pop-Aerial
    I'm reminded of Santa Monica's once-splended Pacific Ocean Park, which when it expired turned into an ugly ruin of rusty pilings a quarter-mile offshore. (No land-development possibilities here!) So far as I know, none of POP's rides survived its demise. Most were kitschy, but some, like the Flight to Mars and the Diving Bells, were unique experiences at the time, strangely immersive and up-close despite their apparent simplicity.

    In the case of Magic Mountain, land economics is in the driver's seat. The park in the past was plagued by gangs, deaths attributed to careless ride maintenance, and an over-emphasis on “youth culture” marketing -- ignoring the fact that families spend far more at theme parks than teenagers. Recently, however, Magic Mountain seemed to have gotten its act together. Although reports of closed rides and inadequate crowd control persist, the park's marketing is definitely more universal than before and the new rides, like Tatsu, are drawing crowds. But it's simply more profitable, as LA expands into Magic Mountain's neighborhood, to turn land in LA into homes and shopping malls. So extreme experiences will give way to mundane ones. Such is life in our Age of Hyper-Commerce.

    Niles offers this tragic observation:

    It'd be ironic if Magic Mountain were sold off for real estate development, given that real estate development is the reason the park was built in the first place. Magic Mountain was not always a Six Flags park. Its builder and original owner was the Newhall Land Company, the developer that built many of the communities around the park. Newhall Land thought it needed a big attraction to lure families over the pass from the San Fernando Valley into the Santa Clarita. So it contracted SeaWorld's designers and built Magic Mountain. How ironic, now, that the park might fall victim to the success of the real estate market it was built to inspire.

    More homes, more homes!

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    June 25, 2006

    MySpace plows the field but leaves it fallow.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    MUCH OF MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE is virtual, existing online via networks. I accord the virtual world the same importance in my life as the material world; and increasingly, so do many others. Thus I thought I'd share with you my impressions of MySpace, the giant online community. (This essay was first published on the mailing list of the LA men's professional group, METal, Media-Entertainment-Technology Alliance.) My conclusion: MySpace broke new ground enrolling so many users to its services, but its unexpected success is mainly the result of unplanned viral marketing. The MySpace experience itself is unsatisfying. MySpace's 85 million users deserve better and someone needs to give it to them -- in a totally different format, in smaller online communities based on real bonds of interest and avocation, not just the thrill of unrequited love. -- Bob

     41320905 Myspace 203IS RUPERT MURDOCK THE WORLD'S CANNIEST BUSINESSMAN because his News Corp. paid merely $580 million for the social-network-based online community, MySpace, or did he buy a pig in a poke, and a skinny one at that? This question is important, because MySpace frequently is held forth as the paragon of social-network-based online communities, a model for similar future endeavors. My conclusion: unless it has secret reformation plans for MySpace that are sweeping and successful, News Corp. paid a lot for a little.

    I've been “social networking” since 1975 when, at USC, I first played Asteroids on the ARPANET against UCLA's Computer Science Department and Cal-Tech's Army of Nerds. I later got involved with BBSs (setting up the nation's first legislative BBS in the State Capitol), The WELL, USENET, and online communities on the Web. Because two of my current clients are in the social-networking business, I decided to join the youth-oriented MySpace, despite my advanced age (57, see below). I wanted to find out for myself, through actual experience, what all the noise and fury was about.

    Some context. MySpace was created by a couple film students at UCLA as a way of getting in touch with their friends for networking; dating; and sharing writing, new music and video, and news about social events. Through word of mouth and online messaging, it became popular among the youth crowd, growing like Topsy. It now numbers (according to MySpace) nearly 86 million users. In dollar terms, when News Corp. bought MySpace, then serving 84 million users, Rupert paid about $7 for each user. Since users pay nothing for the service, this is charity until such time as MySpace starts valorizing its purchase through service fees, advertising, or some other arrangement.

    MySpace is almost a mirror image of FriendFinder, an old (by Internet time) and highly profitable match-making service owned by the mysterious Palo Alto-based
    Various, Inc. To the FF framework, MySpace has added various other functions -- like sharing audios and videos -- thrown in for good measure (and I mean, thrown). I'm surprised that the highly litigious Various, which has a history of suing to protect its properties, hasn't taken action against MySpace. My guess is that Various hasn't done a good job of protecting the specific features and functions that constitute FriendFinder -- providing users with profiles, matching on profiles, making Friends, communicating via internal IMs, forming Groups, and so forth -- and that MySpace merely reverse-engineered the lot. Maybe Various will take action now that MySpace is part of a deep-pockets organization. Or maybe it will avoid a bruising encounter with News Corp. in hopes of doing some sort of future deal. These are just my hunches.

    About a week ago, I browsed over to MySpace and registered -- a simple process obviously susceptible to spammers and imposters -- and was provided with a Profile. A Profile is a personal user home page on which you compose your display page. On the display page is shown a required photograph (a separate page is provided for additional photos, although you can also incorporate personal photos in the customizable page design) and personal information regarding lifestyle, appearance, interests, and activities. This data is collected via questionnaires, some with standard answers and others that invite essays in response. You can also display pictures of your Friends and their comments to you (usually banal and frequently suggestive, one step short of prohibited profanity). Friends are other users who accept invitations you send out asking them to become Friends. Friends, it turns out, are easy to come by, even from famous individuals, because they obligate no one to anything and are a way of extending networks within MySpace that can be used for commercial announcements, previews of musical and video releases, and so forth. MySpace policy prohibits display of commercial information, but enforcement appears lax and would in fact eliminate one of the sine qua non enticements that contributes to MySpace's huge claimed population.

    Other things you can do on MySpace include email and instant messaging to other MySpace users, calendaring of events, bulletin announcements to Friends, joining user-created Groups on thousands of topics, and blog on anything you like. I've observed that the Groups display a long-tail configuration (not surprising), with a very few Groups in each category comprising large numbers of users and most relatively few. Also, email messages and even more, IMs sent among users tend to be chatty, cursory and not very informative. Maybe this is less true of users who have forged long-term relationships, but I also observed in the short time I've been on that there is a mighty churn within MySpace. Ardent use falls off after one has accumulated dozens or hundreds of Friends and discovers that this doesn't produce the desired result, dozens or hundreds of emails or other acknowledgements. In fact, the exchanges tend to be brief and shallow.

    I'd heard a lot about how MySpace users customize their pages, and that this was a big factor in acquiring younger users as well as publicizing music, videos, events, etc. Customization is simple using freely downloadable code provided by many vendors (who also offer other simple tools for MySpace users, including packaged questionnaires for incorporation in a Profile). One look at a fairly large, subjective sample of Profiles convinced me that customization, while fun, isn't MySpace's best feature. The customized Profiles I encountered ran from the cute to the complicated to the incomplete -- but honestly, most were ugly, illegible, or superfluous, distracting from the content (which also was mostly trivial). I tried to use the Networking tool to connect with other professionals in Internet consulting, marketing and design, and movie production/screenwriting. My efforts were unproductive. The search mechanism is too primitive to provide precise results and besides, any user can qualify for inclusion in any category. You'd be surprised how many Lap Dancers there are on MySpace, not to mention Musicians. Most of the Profiles I saw featured photo pages of people doing average things, parties and such. Many of the users, to get dates, enhance their self-esteem, or get dates, provide pictures of themselves scantily attired: I never saw so many bikini and lingerie portraits of women. To be fair, some Profiles are classy productions, but notable precisely because they are classy -- and rew.

    The age distribution of users on MySpace in absolute terms is diverse, as you might expect of any global system with 86 million degrees of freedom. Conceivably, you can find someone fitting any combination of age, gender, preferences, geography, and professional affiliation -- but in fact, most of the users I encountered in my searches turned out to be in the 18-35 age range. A substantial number are younger than that (avoided by the others because of their age); but proportionally, few are older. This may account for the limited knowledge, questionable literacy, and conformity that characterizes MySpace exchanges, most of which revolve in one way or another around sex, drugs, and rock and roll; also, art, trendy philosophy, and the afore mentioned bikini photos and videos. Among MySpace members in our neighborhood, a lot of the exchange centers on getting gigs in show biz as musicians, producers, models, and other high-glamor jobs. It felt as if 95% of it was fantasy and personal ambitions unrealized, although a fair number of the local Profiles feature individuals who work in the industry. I'm stunned by how many display their salaries as “$250,000 or more.” (Displaying your salary is an option. Who in their right mind earning such an income would so lamely alert the IRS?)

    By the time my first week on MySpace had ended, I'd amassed about 36 Friends (including the adult film star Nina Hartley, whom I admire for her literacy, pioneering lifestyle, safe but liberal sex advocacy, and early demonstration that even adult film stars can control their own careers). Tom Anderson, one of the UCLA film students who created MySpace, is the mandatory first Friend of every user (though you can discard if you like: having an exchange with Tom or any identifiable individual responsible for MySpace's operations is a virtual impossibility). I didn't get me much email from my Friends, however, except usually for a first, cordial hello. I did make a local Friend who shares many professional interests in computer graphics. She invited me to accompany her and a friend to see Sergio Mendes at the Hollywood Bowl, which I appreciated. We even made plans to meet in person, over green tea.

    Whether my new friend and I will actually meet is problematic, because one week into my MySpace experience, my graphically correct, literate, and even provocative Profile -- with daily blog entries -- was deleted. I don't know the reason why. I've asked MySpace, through the typical Customer Support form, to investigate. The only thing I did that could have prompted such a draconian act was to post a bulletin announcing this weekend's Santa Monica Main Street SOULstice Festival. In some Broadband Defender's addled estimation, this may have constituted breaking the prohibition against commercial announcements, but the Festival is a community event. Its many “commercial” sponsors include pet shops, an FM station, a local bank, and such other small-time operators as traditionally help community events offset their inevitable losses. Oh yeah, there's also a Sidewalk Sale happening. Whatever the reason, I'm very disappointed that my Profile vanished overnight without any warning from MySpace.

    This brings up a technical issue. Maybe my Profile disappeared because of a bug in the system. MySpace is always reporting maintenance outages of various subsystems. Whenever you invoke an operation, a wide variety of URLs display on your browser's status bar as information is shuttled around what must be history's most kludged network of servers. Often these servers (like YouTube, which many users employ as an archive for linking content to MySpace Profiles) aren't even a part of MySpace. Quality control is abysmal. Undoubtedly News Corp. is sinking millions into improving service and security; but ultimately, if MySpace is going to operate, let alone scale, with any degree of reliability, the entire infrastructure needs replacement.

    So now to the big question: how is News Corp. going to make any revenues from MySpace, recoup its investment of $600 million in a reasonable time, or realize profits? Already there are click-through referrals to other vendors (like Amazon.com) and you can sense the ghosts of advertising hovering. But even the best-designed social-network-based online communities have difficulty targeting their users as advertisers require. And MySpace is hardly among the best-designed: we're talking about a technical operation held together by chewing gum and an heterogeneous population of users in widely separated geographies, cultures, and subcultures from around the world, whose self-identification and personal information (collected via the Profiles) are questionable and, in many cases, downright fraudulent.

    Yes, yes, it's been argued that MySpace is News Corp.'s best effort to gain some ground in the race to go online that almost left it behind for good. And also, that anything that gives you access to almost 90 million users is brilliant, even if 75 or 80 million of them don't actively participate. This logic is specious. For a lot less money, you can buy a smaller but more focused, more active, and lucrative online community. (My partner belongs to
    All Nurses, a simple but functional and active forum that claims tens of thousands of nurses as members. Unless I'm selling iPods, Nikes, or musical recordings in a decidedly youth-oriented genre, that's where I'd put my money.

    In conclusion, from my experience, MySpace provides the proof, taken to the extreme, that vertically organized online communities are more useful and profitable than the horizontally organized mass online communities promoted collectively as “Web 2.0.” Imagine if those 90 million were divvied up and populated online communities that were composed of qualified members, well segmented. That's what I'm talking about.

    I'm only a sample of one, however. Others may have had more edifying experiences. If so, I'd like to hear about them. I republished my MySpace Profile, recreated from scratch, this evening. If there's any way to do it better, I'd like to know it. So would my clients. Your comments, as always, are welcome.

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    June 16, 2006

    The Experience of Work

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Alarm ClockAnyone who's been self-employed knows the terror of time. For the self-employed, there is no time clock, but there are no vacations, either. Because time is endless, it's tempting to put off necessary tasks and do something more enjoyable. There's always time to get the job done, later on. It's even more difficult for those of us engaged in professions with a large social component. A writer I heard on the Marketplace radio program, a self-proclaimed workaholic, tackled the issue after his son moved back home and just sat in front of the TV, not working. Not working? Not working! Then he realized that as a writer about culture, he himself always took time in the morning to read the New York Times. Then listen to the NPR news. Then take a brisk walk. Then check out CNN. After lunch and some modest writing, he listens to Fresh Air. Over dinner, NPR news again. And because he's writing about society, he watches the iconic The Sopranos. There's virtue in not working, he discovered. But little pay. (BTW, if any reader recognizes the book, which was published recently, please tell me the title and author's name.)

    Being self-employed results in spurts of productive activity that are heavily leavened with unaccountability and slackery. In my experience, the spurts result in dramatic creativity and innovation. But slackery is always an issue.

    ChildmillsThe genius of the Industrial Age was the invention of employers who organized people's work lives to gain maximum management control and, allegedly, higher productivity (income from sales/investment in labor, i.e., employees). Mumford believed that this practice had its origins in agrarian Europe, when large town clocks were installed that could be heard in the fields, signalling the serfs when to plow the sod. (For a wonderful iconography of the clock, see designer Christian Hubert's Clock.) Whenever it began, industrial organization results in a continuous stream of tasks being assigned and undertaken. When Henry Ford combined this process of rationalizing workers' time with the assembly line, he invented mass production (an invention that radical sociologist Antonio Gramsci lovingly named Fordism”). It was only a matter of time (there's that word again) until all employees became subject to its dictates.

    Hdr 760 Thurs 930Now almost all companies require continuous labor from their employees, allowing only for lunches, vacations, maternal and military leave (only because they're legislated), and occasional bouts of shopping online. The modest time that workers formerly used for personal purposes is now monitored, in the factory and in the office. The result in the office is a sensation like standing under a waterfall, with reports and phone calls and email cascading down -- and the flow seems eternal. You can step out at day's end, but you're going to get drenched again tomorrow. That sort of monotony ("single-tonedness") is one of the reasons why a show like The Office(in both the UK and American versions) is so successful: its portrayal of the workplace as a modern hell bathed in florescent tedium and spiced with lots of acting out, petty aggression, resignation, and despair, is too familiar. People watch it with a sense of resignation or, if they're still unbowed, ressentiment (the French suggesting a more anarchistic attitude).

    The result of this hyper-management isn't heightened productivity; it's antipathy. The experience of paid work today -- not necessarily the tasks themselves, but the social and material environment in which tasks are carried out -- is not usually a good one. Even the "creative elite" sweats it out on the job.

    LogoMy friends Charlie Grantham and Jim Ware head The Future of Work, a membership organization dedicated to improving the experience of work in America. No easy task. But Future of Work claims it reduces the cost of operations and workforce support -- the costs that employers absorb as a result of their employees' poor working experiences -- by more than 30 percent. Charlie and Jim aren't efficiency experts or union busters (in fact, both are progressives). They focus on the experience of work. Working with employees and employers, they engage in active learning based on dissecting the workplace and then redesigning work according to criteria different from those of industrialism's primitives. Often, this has to do with the physical environment, but the social environment is often more decisive. For more information on Charlie's and Jim's activities, visit their Future of Work Weblog. I suspect they're on to something, but their ambition isn't one shared widely in North America and except for labor oases like Northern Europe, almost unknown everywhere else. Here's to their essential campaign for redesign and reform.

    There's more to be said about work which is, next to sleep, our most frequently recurring experience. What's your experience of work?

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    Don Norman: “Words Matter. Talk About People: Not Customers, Not Consumers, Not Users”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Don Norman
    In “Words Matter. Talk About People: Not Customers, Not Consumers, Not Users,” Don Norman, the Dean of Experience Design, admonishes designers who degrade people by describing (and thinking of them) as repositories -- “customers, consumers, and users” -- who passively accept the riches that marketers, business development types, and too many designers bestow on them. It would be ironic for experience designers to speak of people in this way, for it is people who have experiences, not impersonalized business terminology. Though he doesn't say so explicitly, to extend Don's thinking, speaking of people as personas is another unfortunate and misleading shortcut. Here's an excerpt from Don's important declaration:

    Words matter. Psychologists depersonalize the people they study by calling them “subjects.” We depersonalize the people we study by calling them “users.” Both terms are derogatory. They take us away from our primary mission: to help people. Power to the people, I say, to repurpose an old phrase. People. Human Beings. That’s what our discipline is really about.

    If we are designing for people, why not call them that: people, a person, or perhaps humans. But no, we distance ourselves from the people for whom we design by giving them descriptive and somewhat degrading names, such as customer, consumer, or user. Customer – you know, someone who pays the bills. Consumer – one who consumes. User, or even worse, end user – the person who pushes the buttons, clicks the mouse, and keeps getting confused.

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    June 15, 2006

    Access, a Meta-Experience, is Critical to Global Economic Growth and Improved Human Welfare,

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Logo SriAn article on the SRI International website, Access is Critical to Global Economic Growth and Improved Human Welfare, describes The Power of Access, a recently issued report by the think-tank's Center for Science, Technology, and Development, commissioned by FedEx. According to SRI, it's “the first comprehensive effort in defining, measuring and analyzing access as a driving force of change and progress.” The report and accompanying documents are downloadable from The Power of Access website.

    Access is one of those meta-experiences that are so huge, they escape most individuals' day-to-day attention. According to the SRI researchers, however, access determines much else that we experience in our everyday lives -- even the opportunity to have diverse experiences, and benefit by them. According to the researchers, smaller nations with consolidated societies and uniform cultures fare best when it comes to providing their inhabitants with access.

    Frederick Smith, FedEx chairman, on accepting the report, noted “The power of Access lies in the opportunities it creates for individuals, business, and nations to participate, make choices, and improve their prospects. Three variables define access: time, space and information. For the first time in history we have a low-cost, standardized information exchange available to anyone with a computer, regardless of time or space.”

    SRI established the analytical framework for defining the drivers and benefits of access, and for quantifying access and measuring its impacts. SRI created the Access Index (TM) and provided a numerical ranking of 75 countries based on their “openness” -- the access of a country, its business, and its citizens to physical items and information from the rest of the world.

    The countries with the highest levels of Access are listed below. These rankings suggest that access is particularly important for countries that have small internal markets, limited domestic resources, and/or rely heavily on international trade. For example, the United States and Japan -- with large internal markets and resources -- rank 12th and 19th respectively on the Access Index.

    Top Ten Countries
    in the Access Index

    1 Hong Kong
    2 Singapore
    3 Denmark
    4 Switzerland
    5 Netherlands
    6 Finland
    7 Germany
    8 Sweden
    9 United Kingdom
    10 France

    SRI found that higher levels of access enable higher economic growth, strongly relate to higher levels of personal income (as depicted in the following chart), and are critical for economic survival and growth.

    “Access is a catalytic process that enables interactions, contacts, and exchanges among people, businesses, and nations,” said John A. Mathieson, Director of SRI's Center for Science, Technology, and Economic Development. “Access indicates opportunity -- the opportunity to accomplish a broad range of actions, from attaining physical presence to communicating, and from acquiring to using. The power of Access lies in the opportunities it creates for individuals, businesses, and nations to participate, make choices, and improve their future prospects.”

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Odds and Ends: Random Observations | Theories of Experience

    June 14, 2006

    June 13, 2006

    Waiting for NEXT Generation TVs

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    The reports are true. When the kids move out, you really do change all your furniture and buy nice stuff. We've been looking at TV options for months. Just about ready to hang a purchase over the fireplace (needing to find a new location for our mountain scene serigraphs), we're now going to stare at the serigraphs for several more months. What's changed? The winds.

    Framed by two prominent geographic features of the North American continent, they're blowing east of the Great Salt Lake, across the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the west. Surprisingly, not from the Pacific nor the Atlantic.

    New%20Picture.gif Unfettered by any profit motive BYU-TV offers on-demand TV that plays continuously from my laptop at all hours of the day. Miss something important? Spin it back and listen/view it again. No expensive equipment to 'store and replay' programs in your home. For now, no TV required. And in fact, in preparation for the arrival of a 'new' TV we'd already passed on our console TV to our daughter's apartment. No great loss.

    From my hotel room, the TV no longer goes on, nor do I have to worry about arranging my mornings around 'catching' my favorite programs. Via wireless connections, I watch them as I can, or listen to them and replay them several times. Don't like what's playing right now? Spin back through the programming for that day and find something more interesting.

    Lastly, an interesting 'feature' of the optional QuantumMedia viewer. In capturing the image above I did a simple shift-prntscrn, and pasted it into Microsoft Office Picture Manager. Much to my surprise, as I opened the clip to 'trim' it, the current program continued playing 'live' in the clip.

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    June 12, 2006

    Avenu makes for a really BAD customer experience at Albertsons Market

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    We finally moved into our new place, Cherie, Savanna, Sammy Jo (our dog), and me, in the heart of Santa Monica. It's just up the hill from the local Albertsons supermarket. I descended to buy a bottle of wine and some popcorn -- we really know how to party! -- and had one of the worst customer experiences in my life.

    The checkout lines were characteristically long, as they have been ever since Albertsons bought out the wonderful Lucky Markets and chopped their staffs by at least a third and probably a half. That's not the problem. Long lines, even at 8 PM on a weeknight, were to be expected.

    Imageforavenu BWhat wasn't to be expected was being hammered while a captive in line by something called “Avenu,” a continuous, loud, insulting program of banalities blasted at us from flat-screen TVs and powerful speakers at every cashier's station. It was horrible. I can't remember a single advertisement among the two score or more forced upon us by Albertson's experientially lame but craven management, but I do remember wanting out of there. Avenu is apparently the creation of the Jewel-Osco retail conglomerate. Now both Jewel-Osco and Albertsons are both about to be assimilated into a corporate retail Borg, Supervalu (which resembles nothing so much as a sentient supply chain. It's not your corner grocer.

    Unfortunately, the punishment for Supervalu's captive audiences won't end with the merger. In fact, it's going to be extended to a whole lot more shoppers across North America. Supervalu, the entity acquiring Albertsons and Jewel-Osco, relies on Avenu as a regular part of its armory of tools intended to bludgeon shoppers' senses into submission. What Supervalu gains by heaping visual and aural abuse upon shoppers waiting in line, removing any opportunity for meaningful human chit-chat -- the sole redeeming quality of waiting in line -- is beyond me.

    WfGiven these provocations, our family's shopping at Vons or Whole Foods Market. Say what you will about the Safeway chain (which owns Vons) or the Birkenstock billionaires who charge through the roof for WF's organic fare, they know how to create shopping environments that create a more pleasurable experience, at its best (as at WF) quite enjoyable. Even the warehouses like Costco and its smaller counterpart, Smart & Final, do just fine: they have no pretentions, but neither do they dump virtual garbage on the consumer merely to create another trivial revenue stream, all for the sake of promotions in the marketing department.

    Good bye, Albertsons, we'll hardly miss ye. Supervalu, from our point of view, you're dead on arrival.

    Comments (39) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | ED Projects of Note | The Practice of Experience Design

    May 17, 2006

    The Experience of Living in Our Surveillance Society

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Hamermrch2Mitch Ratcliffe, in an astute article published on his blog, Rational Rants, “Surveillance society: Growing daily?” characterizes America as a “surveillance society.” It's scary and the worst part is, this is no nightmare: it's becoming our daily reality. What price is exacted from Americans in terms of their sense of autonomy, purpose, independence, and entitled rights remains to be seen. Polls expressing majority support for the NSA's telephone surveillance of average Americans are alarming. Ratcliffe cites an article by CNET's Declan McCullagh, Congress may make ISPs snoop on you, revealing a bill in Congress to further extend and legalize the police state. It would require ISPs to turn over their Internet logs to the Feds, thus extending surveillance beyond “mere” telephone calls to the global Internet itself. By the time the civil libertarians and political historians sort this out, the psychic and civic damage may well have been done, here and abroad. We will certainly not be the people we once were.

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    May 9, 2006

    “America in Miniature,” in Las Vegas (and no, it's not another Wynn casino!)

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    UsdecoratorAmericans struggle to make sense of a largely unknown, sometimes hostile world -- but unfortunately, they know just as little about one another. A 2006 Geographic Literacy Study conducted by National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs revealed staggering ignorance about America's geography among 18 to 24 year olds: half of the 510 individuals sampled couldn't find New York State on a map. What goes on in that unknown region no doubt is an equal mystery for them.

    Geo-moronics are not limited to America's youngsters: compared with their overseas counterparts, American adults travel infrequently, except to a relatively few over-visited destinations. Maybe it's time America had a miniature park where Boomers, X and Y Gens, and children can learn something about their nation, their fellow Americans -- and themselves. What's a miniature park?

    Madurodam 2Tricia Vita explains in the April 2006 issue of Funworld, the IAAPA magazine. Miniature parks in Europe -- models of nations, complete with their regions and their historical landmarks -- are highly popular attractions for locals and visitors alike: informative as they are lucrative. Madurodam, in The Hague, is the most famous miniature park, but the International Association of Miniature Parks has 17 other members including parks in Turkey, Israel, the Canary Islands, and Canada. In all, there are 45 miniature parks around the world. But there's not even one in the 50 United States.

    In the Funworld article, American Russell Bekins, who helped to design the new Italia in Miniatura, tells Vita, “Europe looks to its great cities and their architecture as the maximum expression of their culture. The United States still looks to its wide open spaces,” he says. “Perhaps a miniature park of our national parks would fly.”

    Render AerialBetter than that! America in Miniature (user ID and password, “eagle”) is a real-life project led by Edward van de Meer, a former immigrant from Holland where he was a fan of Madurodam. His goal is to create a 10-acre miniature park in Las Vegas...of the United States. I was fortunate to recently speak with van de Meer, who in three years has assembled a powerhouse team able to realize his vision of America in Miniature as a national attraction.

    Like a good businessman, van de Meer can justify his enterprise on the basis of its financial viability. Indeed, his strategy and planning are vastly more sophisticated than many of the startups I've counseled. All he needs to make his dream come true is an enlightened investor. He'll find one.

    What impresses me most about van de Meer's concept is his determination to create a mirror -- not just with the miniatures, but with the crowds of visitors themselves -- in which Americans can see their full diversity. Diversity, after all, is the most notable feature of American life for those who've lived overseas, where societies tend to be less diverse. The American “mosaic” is one of the positive aspects of American culture -- American patriotism in its most benign, humane form. Guests from overseas, who typically take in only one or two American cities in a lifetime, can share in that admiration.

    A 10-acre park may seem a small endeavor in physical terms, but evaluated as a designed experience (with a sophisticated appreciation for haptic learning), van de Meer's vision is anything but small. Steve Wynn, are you listening?

    (This posting is dedicated to my former neighbor Lou, who passed away today from a recurring brain tumor. Lou, a truly gentle man, always dreamed of becoming a Rotary Club Ambassador in charge of creating miniature Americas around the country, to spread understanding and love. Rest in peace, dear Lou.)

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    May 5, 2006

    The Experience of Marginalization

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Inspired by Mark Vanderbeeken's great work over at Putting people first and my coauthor Paula Thornton's ever entertaining accounts of life in the experience design business, written here on TE, I hoped today to write about tangible evidence of ED as an edifying practice in everyday life. Instead, I spent nearly the entire day (other than tending to my clients' needs) prowling the Web, looking for the epicenter of experience design. I couldn't find it. Experience designers are scattered here and there, projects are happening -- a good one is the Organic City urban-storytelling website, a Webby Awards contender put together by the students at Cal State East Bay -- but to tell the truth, we're not at the center of anyone's consciousness except our own. More deserving of online (and offline) conversation are trendy items like keyword search engines, TIVO-defeating technology (“see ALL the ads!”), peace in Darfur (at last), and Brad and Angelina. One out of four that really merits attention: now, that's something!

    My ennui caused me to think long and hard about the truly marginalized: what does it mean to be ignored? The Japanese are formally correct about this: ignoring someone, even in an elevator, is just not right. (But actually, if you're someone big in Japan, you can ignore lessers.) The author Frank Norris' tells the tale in The Octopus of a murdered farmer's wife and daughter, thrown off their farm by California railroad barons and left to fend for themselves in pre-earthquake San Francisco. Looking into plush restaurants where wealthy urbanites dine unaware of the hungry faces at the window, they can only imagine the taste of fresh food:

    And upon those streets that, as the hours advanced, grew more and more deserted, more and more silent, more and more oppressive with the sense of the bitter hardness of life towards those who have no means of living, Minna Hooven spent the first night of her struggle to keep her head above the ebb-tide of the city's sea, into which she had been plunged.

    In our own time, until they marched by the millions this week, immigrants from Mexico enjoyed a similar invisibility. What is it like to be so ignored?

    Truth to tell, it's pretty much what most of us feel. Marginalized. Biologist Desmond Morris, in THE HUMAN ZOO, describes how animals form hierarchies based on desirable traits. Each individual in his or her place, each content. Human beings, unfortunately, are now so numerous, our hierarchies fail us. There's not enough room at the top. Modern corporations, government bureaucracies, and educational institutions driven by the fetish of hyper-efficiency have reduced even further opportunities for individuals to shine. Not that it doesn't happen -- but it happens less and less frequently in proportion to the numbers of people who aspire to be great in whatever it is they do. Yet we are driven to succeed.

    Religionists admonish us not to put our stock in that which we possess, fame and fortune -- but in truth, even in organized religion there are flatter hierarchies with fewer leaders at the top per adherents below. Once there was a movie about a parish priest who rose to become the Pope. Of course, per Church doctrine, there can be only one Pope, but at least in that naive time, there were many contenders. Now there are few. The deal is done.

    In art, the sciences, service industries, education, agriculture, health, human services -- name the domain and you can count its dignitaries on one hand. So what does the experience of marginalization mean for us, and for the species? Can the overwhelming number of addictions, depressions, wild acting out, oppression, and war, not just in the US but globally, be an outcome of the vast majority of human beings' experience of marginalization?

    Books have been written about this, but as the numbers of celebrated books declines and fewer books per writers are read, books that can gain enough public awareness to catalyze change become rarer, too. Even individuals who inveigh against marginalization and for the potential and dignity latent in every human experience -- they too are fewer, harder to hear among the background noise in which most expressions are submerged. Who designs for human potential anymore?

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    April 23, 2006

    Epistemology of Experience: John Dewey on Experience and Learning

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    (Per my comments in "The Experience of...Experience," below.)

    John_Dewey.jpgJohn Dewey, the father of experiential education, has much to say about the nature of experience and how we use it to learn about the world and our place in it. Two short, very good essays on Dewey's rationales, by Gorden L. Ziniewicz, are "John Dewey: Experience, Community, and Communication" and "Experience and Nature, Individuality, and Association in Dewey."

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Theories of Experience

    April 22, 2006

    The Experience of...Experience.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    ChaosIT WASN'T UNTIL PAGE 20 OF MY GOOGLE SEARCH ON THE WORD, “EXPERIENCE,” that I first found a reasonably objective description of its meaning. The preceding 19 pages were filled with commercial claptrap, notices of events, and bloganeering claims to own the term. Too many were advertisements selling ways to create and control experience (often meaning, the banality of Web surfing). The hubris of this foolish cacophony spoke for itself.

    Different traditions have different ways of categorizing experience. For the spiritual and the formally religious, it's the peregrinations of the soul. Professionals of a more scientific bent situate experience in the same realm as perception and cognition, physical and psychic processes built into human beings and other living things that are, even to the scientistis, frankly still a mystery. Then there are the opportunists who take experience for granted and forge ahead with the project of altering minds by tripping people out with “new” and “better” experiences (at least in their own estimation).

    Excuse my candor, but from my perspective, it's incumbent on those who are attempting to engineer new experiences (and even more, those who claim success in this effort), to get down to the epistemology of experience: how we truly can understand what we're doing when we play with people's hearts and minds. Pragmatists in our “experience design” community will dismiss this as so much philosophical noodling: “There are things to be done, we don't have time to count the angels on a pin!” Au contraire. So far the field has been whirling crazily, processing from one axis to another, searching for anchor points that constantly elude it.

    From a market perspective -- and what else matters in capitalist thinking? -- it's enough to create MySpace and let the chips fall where they may, so long as there are subscribers. “The proof is in the pudding.” A pretty thick glop, it appears to me. From a social perspective, getting people off the dime, to take positive action is always an adequate rationale (the alternative being inertia) -- until one set of actions contradicts another, provoking strife, exploitation, social conflict...even war. From a spiritual perspective, edification is sufficient; but so, so elusive and most often, ephemeral.

    I'm writing this provoked by yet another workshop on the design of experience (though that's not exactly what it's called, to fend off potential critics). It's a very hands-on enterprise, this time having to do with mobility and location-awareness. (In fact, there are several occurring that share this trendy theme.) The talk at the event predictably will be hither and yon, spiced with anecdotal evidence for one or another speaker's proximity to the truth about experience -- but it's all alchemy for now, like Ptolemy explaining the complex Earth-centric universe; or how lead can be transmuted into gold.

    Maybe philosophical pondering about experience design wouldn't be a bad thing. Philosophy, after all, is the science of thinking.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Theories of Experience

    April 12, 2006

    The Experience of Protest: The Street, Its Power and Passion

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    French Protest
    THIS MONTH, simultaneous outbursts of public political expression -- street protests -- occurred in France and the United States. The French protests were in defense of France's traditional social contract preventing arbitrary job termination; the US protests attacked plans to implement oppressive anti-immigration laws.

    Latino Marchers-1

    Much about the protests was different, save one thing. In France, labor unions, students, and the unemployed constituted the population of protesters. In the US, although unions and students were involved, most of the protesters were from the unorganized working class: immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, now US citizens. In France, protests became violent (though of course, never as violent as the media portray anti-establishment protests); in the US, they were completely peaceful. The French protests spotlighted France's ongoing class warfare between the employer class and its compliant government, and the employee class and its supporters among a left-learning populace. The US protests were intended to cloak the differences between (mostly Latin) immigrants, legal and illegal, and other citizens.

    The French protesters challenged the state structures that threatened their well-being, especially parliamentary law wielded by those they saw as their class enemies. Perhaps if the Congress had actually gone through with its threat to return the US to pre-globalization Dark Ages, the American protests too would have turned ugly and anti-state. We won't know on this go-round, because the US protests were successful.

    But so were the French protests, though they were so different from the US protests in conception, organization, promotion, and execution. Does this validate the sneaking suspicion of every status-quo, law-and-order type, that “the street” has ultimate power in a political system, whatever its constitution?

    In a way, yes, it does. Activists learn how to construct their protests so that they produce the desired outcome and not its opposite due to public misinterpretation and backlash. In fact, skillful street protest organizers take into account the information environment in which they operate.

    Todd Gitlin, once an activist against the Vietnam War, now a university professor, has written extensively on the ways that the TV networks (dominant at the time) and other media manipulated protests in the 60s and 70s.

    Those days have passed, as the US protesters know. They coopted the TV networks, cable programs, and newspapers by wrapping themselves in the flag, Mexican as well as American. But also, the media is fractured. The protesters relied on alternative channels (Spanish-language talk radio, cellphones, and the Internet) to support their movement's internal communications. The French did it a little differently, as befits a more literate culture in which the written word still commands the attention of intellectuals, politicians, and other opinion leaders. They certainly didn't attempt to put a good face on their protests; the violence was apparent. But they shifted the center of political gravity from the spokespersons of rightwing "reform" to the public arena, thereby thwarting the politicians who have, to put it lightly, a problem communicating with people (including each other). The strategy worked. The new employment bill was withdrawn.

    The one thing that the two street protests shared in common, and with Islamic protests earlier this year against Danish cartoons and Western values (including world domination, a value shared by many of the Islamic activists), is passion. It's impossible to particpate or even just witness a real street protest and not palpably feel the energy of the assembled crowd (and occasionally, the counter-crowd formed by their opponents). Children of the 60s may remember, but no one since then has -- until America's soon-to-be-a-majority Latino population spread its political wings this month.

    Much has been written about “mob behavior” and crowds by conservative social theorists, but the fact is, they work. In the US, it's not so much the street as public functions and parades where the forces of the status quo hold forth. The intended effect is the same. Emotional force translated into political power.

    What leads me to these observations is the realization that it's difficult to discover much passion in in public places, whether they're government buildings, commercial offices, shoppingmalls, or destination resorts (including theme parks) -- and not only in the US, but everywhere. How is it that the deployment of some of the best, brightest, and well-paid professionals -- planners, designers, marketers, ethnographers, PR people, real-estate developers, and the like -- are unable to project, even just once in awhile, the same power inherent to the street protest? With the exception of sports events, where the excitement is highly synthetic, thin gruel, we seem incapable of tapping into the power of the marching crowd even infrequently, let alone on a sustained basis. Maybe it's because the protests really are about something, and not totally synthetic and soulless vanities.

    Fortunately for the politically dispossessed, street protests work. But for most citizens, day to day, there is only blandness, civility, and too often, marginalization and irrelevance.

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    February 18, 2006

    Mark Hurst: “What Makes a Good Experience”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Mark Hurst, author of the Good Experience website/blog and host of the Good Experience Live (GEL) conference, in November 2005 blogged two important entries, “The Over Determined Experience” and “Three Strands of Experience.” They're important elements of a theory of experience of design: what makes a good experience.

    Mark's empiricism is in keeping with his personal focus on the real-world and day-to-day -- but his ideas are broad enough to be of interest to anyone wondering what really goes on when an experience is designed. The comments on Mark's blog that his readers have posted are rich in good ideas.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | Theories of Experience | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    February 16, 2006

    The Future Internet Experience: Spy vs. Spy?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    “National security” is a phrase as malleable as it is powerful, capable of justifying virtually any domestic repression. The future of the Internet is now staked on the pyre of national security, just waiting for a torch to be thrown. The U.S. and Chinese governments are only too eager to oblige.

    The crackdown by the U.S. Congress on American-based Internet companies doing business in China, for allegedly abetting the arrest of Chinese dissidents, contrasts strikingly with the same Congress' supine acquiesence to the U.S. Bush Administration's recent request for search-engine records from the very same companies. The two positions are absolutely contradictory.

    Eager to breach their citizens' personal privacy online, both governments -- the Chinese and our own -- are demanding, with force of law, all significant online vendors to surrender their users' search records. (What happened to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act? Obsolete?) It's really no surprise that American corporations -- supposed paragons of the “new libertarianism,” like Yahoo!, AOL, and Microsoft -- are disposed to do so. (Google hoovers in ambiguity.) They're used to gathering and sharing personal information, often without their customers' knowledge. It's part of their business models. In fact, this is true of most ecommerce companies.

    But now it's all out there, for everyone to see. For anyone who's been the subject of covert surveillance (as I have in a bogus, Ed Meese-engineered sting conducted purely for political purposes), the prospect of the all-pervasive Internet transformed into a machine for spying is chilling. Especially because so many individuals naively believe the corporations' "do your own thing" propaganda, neglecting the fact that, as Pierre de Vries reminds us (see Feb. 4 entry), their records endure forever.

    The future of the Internet experience, despite the good efforts of groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation, looks like it's going to be straight out of George Orwell's 1984. The designers of this online spookiness, public and private alike, have a lot to answer for. Of course, there is no accountability for their systematic perversion of the Internet as an engine of liberty. By the time we're all feeling icky-sticky with suspicion, knowledgeable that we're being looked in on, all the time, the game will be over. It would be poetic justice for Internet use to decline as people feel more and more invaded and manipulated.

    BTW: Congress is ready to pass the Patriot Act into perpetuity. I'm sure there's a Chinese version.

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    February 15, 2006

    The Penumbra Effect: Designing the Bird-Flu Crisis Experience

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    A cosmic irony: in our technological, networked global society, the most immediate danger is migrating birds. The implacable avian or “bird” flu -- influenza virus A, subtype H5N1 -- has flapped its way from Asia to the Middle East, Europe, and most recently, Africa, where containment is virtually impossible. Next stop, the New World!

    Roast Ducks

    Because Nature is the provocateur, we're in deep trouble. People-made environmental threats, like pumping fluorocarbons into the air, belching billions of barrels of chemical waste into the rivers and oceans, or polluting the land with plastic, can be dealt with by changing our behavior. There is no way to curb sick birds in flight, other than to kill them.

    There aren't enough hunters to carry out this grisly task, so in a short time, bird flu will be everywhere. Every bird, wild and domestic, will be suspect. To play it safe, millions of birds will be slaughtered; the process has already begun.

    If bird flu makes a tran-species leap and begins to infect human beings, it will become a pandemic, a global illness afflicting every society, from which no one is safe; everyone is vulnerable. Whole societies shudder at the pandemic's impact. Our fragile global economy may take serious hits from the next pandemic that it may not survive.

    Before a pandemic actually strikes, people may start acting differently when they think it's coming. Or not.

    Some fortify themselves and their communities against the disease, undertake domestic public health initiatives (like those recommended by the World Health Organization), and give aid to already afflicted communities with the aim of curtailing the pandemic before it gains velocity.

    Others run scared. Overcome by fear, they fold up emotionally: give up on the future, become increasingly insular and reclusive, and simply shut down, economically and socially.

    The great majority of us do neither. We don't prepare and we don't despair. We acknowledge and move on. We do what we always have done. That's where most of us are at the moment, almost everywhere in the world. The popular experience of the bird flu is that it isn't yet a crisis; if and when it becomes one, we can deal with it. Life goes on, ooh-blah-dee....

    This is the Penumbra Effect and it varies from culture to culture. We don't perceive the crisis per se: we perceive the social reaction. The Penumbra Effect is the result , in the face of a potential crisis, of interactions among sources of information and our perceptions, cognitions, and behavior. Synergetic, the Penumbra Effect can catalyze a successful response to a crisis; or it can transform a mild crisis into a major crisis, and a major crisis into a catastrophe.

    How we experience a potential crisis, a condition that by definition we haven't experienced before (any of us, experts or laypersons), determines how we respond. This experience is designed through the cumulative interactions of speakers, writers, media professionals, politicians, health professionals, corporations, governments, NGOs, and the public. But no one is designing the interactions to produce positive, proactive results.

    Our experience of the bird flu crisis is the ultimate in poorly designed experiences. The popular press sporadically highlights infestations in places seemingly out of sight and mind: rural Turkey, jungle Nigeria, the vast eastern spaces of China. It tells us just enough to make us think we know about the threat of pandemic, when of course we don't. (An exception is the BBC.) Politicians -- including President Bush in the U.S. -- assure us that everything's being taken care of, again providing partial information. (UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is not so sure -- and Annan's been correct more often than Bush for the last six years, since Bush became President.)

    On the other side of perception, public health professionals tell us that while the situation may not be critical, it needs tending, now. (But their megaphones tend to be smaller.) It's a confusing melange of opinions.

    The public health professionals are swimming upstream against powerful heuristics: the “availability” bias that discounts unimaginable future dangers and the “peak-end rule” that magnifies past successes in overcoming crises. No one wants to imagine ten, twenty, or thirty percent of the people they know as ghosts (least of all, him- or herself)! I've had that experience. When I heard the news from Nigeria, where bird flu most recently alighted, the details of my day receded and one of three persons I encountered became flimsy -- a kind of reverse Sixth Sense.

    I can't find the resources online to build a Flu-Danger Awareness movement. Sure, information about the potential pandemic is available online; so is information about the Oscars and 40,000 great recipes. Perhaps there are chat rooms I haven't heard about, where proactive individuals are making plans to salvage our global society. I don't think so.

    We're in an informational limbo: we know just enough to appreciate the collective dimension of our dilemma. But we're constrained from collectively preparing for the worst, because we're unable to pool our responses except through distilled channels like the news. Experience designers who are busy building better websites and shopping-mall exhibitions might consider how well received their work will be after pandemic sweeps across an unprepared world.

    Failure to get the message right in 1918, when the last flu pandemic struck, resulted in millions of deaths in the United States. Maybe this time, experience designers can do better, helping us to understand and sensible react to our predicament. But who will make that happen?

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    February 9, 2006

    On the Bus in L.A.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Too frequently daily experiences, though significant, are taken for granted or ignored by those subject to them, especially if they don't possess the power to make changes. A case in point: the bus.

    Since moving back to L.A., my hometown, I've become something of a public transportation nut. In part, it's because L.A.'s traffic congestion is chronic; in part, because a consulting client has a solution that requires my being familiar with L.A.'s transportation environment.

    L.A.'s not very different from most larger American cities in terms of its transportation problems. Metro is the amalgamated county-wide entity recently created to provide answers.

    Today I got to ride Metro's Limited 333, a bus that makes the long trip from Santa Monica, on the coast, to downtown L.A., about 15 miles away, through some of the poorer parts of town. (My destination was USC, almost at the end of the line.)

    The Local 333My 333 was a rickety bus from the mid-90s, absent the niceties of more modern buses. It was so old, in fact, that it was noncompliant with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), so that the lone wheelchair passenger had to enter on a hand-slung ramp laid to the rear door. Passengers had to get out of the way for his wheelchair to be strapped safely in place.

    My mid-morning commute downtown was bumpy and noisy, but otherwise unremarkable.

    My afternoon commute, at end of the working day, was something else. The 333 travels through ethnic neighborhoods in which the lower-working class (including L.A.'s many undocumented workers) lives. The bus was packed, like no other bus I've ridden in L.A. ever! The passengers were overwhelmingly Latino, African-American, and elderly Asians; I was one of only two white people onboard. Even the driver was Latino, which makes sense. At least the Spanish speakers on board could get their questions answered....

    So here we were, on one of metropolitan L.A.'s longest bus rides, on the best-utilized bus I've ridden, and the bus was a piece of junk. Fortunately, the air-conditioner worked, sort of. Not a very good experience for those on board, nor a very good advertisement for public transportation generally.

    A RapidI couldn't help but think about those beautiful new European buses that the Metro purchased and was running on the higher-income routes. Some, the “Rapids,” are even equipped with radio transmitters to trip the traffic lights in their favor. But these buses, which run all day, are nearly empty except during rush hours.

    You can imagine some clever planner at Metro HQ -- or the politicians who control Metro's budget, the more powerful of whom represent higher-income neighborhoods -- thinking, “If we offer the better buses to the higher-income drivers, we'll get them out of their luxury cars and SUVs and onto our buses.” They're right on one count: riding those buses is truly a pleasure. But they underestimate the desire not to mingle of those who self-segregate themselves in their cars. So, more empty buses and more bad impressions about public transportation.

    If it would serve the people who ride transit now with better buses, Metro would score on three counts: it would give the growing number of lower-class people who power L.A.'s labor-intensive economy respite while traveling to and from work, making them more productive; it would demonstrate that bus riding can be pleasurable; and it just might recapture a sizable fraction of the public funds it invested in the beautiful, empty buses now available to a population that could care less.

    There were some upsides to riding an old bus with lower-class passengers. There was no “Captivate Network” (no doubt, a play on “captive audience”) video screen displaying trivia and an occasional, annoying, and irrelevant advertisement. My co-riders were awfully polite. No one was playing an iPod at top volume, the tinny sound bothering nearby passengers. Mothers kept their children in check. And the young men and women on the bus unfailingly gave their seats to more elderly and child-caring riders. (I did, too.)

    When will real attention be paid to the experience of riding a bus in L.A.? Or anywhere else in the U.S., where this type of in-you-face, clThings to Comeass-discriminating disregard has become rampant? Our progressive new (Latino) mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, wants to revitalize L.A., in part by solving the transportation conundrum. He also wants to level the income playing field. Redesigning the Metro experience would be a good place to start.

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    February 2, 2006

    Peddling paranoia: the poisoning of public places.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Even a city park can become a place for peddling paranoia. I was enjoying the rare daytime company of my partner, Cherie, and her daughter, Savanna, at a small local park in a wealthy part of town -- well-populated by stay-at-home moms and their playful kids -- when a petition gatherer intruded on the happy scene. A mother herself, she was hawking an initiative to place a law on the books that would extend the circumferences around schools, parks, and libraries in which released sex criminals may not live. The existing circumferences were too small, she argued: "Just look on the Web," she said, "there are 'blue zones' where child molesters live, everywhere!"

    I shooed her away. The petitioner's larger circles would effectively have prohibited released criminals, who have done their time and often submitted to therapies including chemical castration to overcome their tendencies, from living anywhere in the city. There is a bigger problem, however, of which the petitioner and her many pages of signatories apparently were unaware (or maybe, too aware): most sex crimes occur in the family. They're not committed by anonymous strangers lurking in cars with candy or on the Internet. They're committed by nuclear and extended family members. I learned this living with a psychologist whose clients were predominantly abused women and children. Subsequently, I gathered research that verified our experience. Nearly 45% of all young girls in the USA, if the statistics and practitioners' anecdotal experienced are to be believed, have been "molested" -- at home.

    You might think otherwise, given the enormous hype now associated with Internet sex by the Bush Administration. But this sort of paranoia peddling now infects every public place from the smallest to the largest. One day it's child abuse in the parks; the next it's alleged terrorists planning Superbowl havoc (requiring 10,000-plus law enforcers to prevent); and the next it's bird flu circumnavigating the globe, threatening to make every place of public gathering anathema. Even the networks in which we live virtually, our computers and cellphones, are no longer safe from invasive, secretive spyware propagated as a "service."

    The trouble with these intrusions is that (1) they ruin the ambience for which the public places were created in the first place, often turning environments of calm and respite into exactly their opposites; (2) they deflect public attention from the true problems that should be occupying that part of our minds dedicated to solutions, making things better; and (3) like the little boy crying wolf, they eventually desensitize us to problems that need solving. Instead of polluting our parks with sexual propaganda, people out to protect children should be addressing abuse in the home, where most occurs. Instead of turning sporting events into security exercises (not that they shouldn't be safe), sponsors and hosts might spend more time inculcating a sense of pride and respect for the accomplishments of the players and their fans. Rather than creating a general alarm about coming pandemics, champions of public health should be fostering the political will to get lazy or incompetent politicians to allocate resources to stem the tide of sickness -- at the source if possible, at home if necessary.

    Instead, on TV, the Internet, and in the parks, sensation and alarmism are the rule. The worse, the better. It almost makes one want to become a hermit just to reduce the opportunities others have for disrupting one's judgment, balance, and ability to act in the world. We may be a genetically fearful species, but that's no excuse for being fearful ourselves. Every time we indulge in this poison, we generate more paranoid archetypes to pass along to our children and our children's children: the worst abuse of all.

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    January 5, 2006

    The American Experience of Death

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    REGULAR READERS OF TE may have noticed the recent pause, an absence of posts in December. The explanation's simple: Paula's launched into a new job and I've had to confront the death of my mother.

    I'm not morbid about dying and death. I consider them unavoidable consequences of living. More than that: they remind us that our universe is in balance. But hey: can't our institutions of "religion" and "remembrance" do a better job helping us to commemorate a passing?

    My mother, after many years of decline as an Alzheimer's patient, still maintained a good spirit to the day she died. I wanted to remember her as the vital woman she had been. Instead, she became a prettied-up cadaver in a dark wood casket in a somberly commercial mortuary setting. The fake candelabras, recorded organ music, and over-the-top, phony tone of deference by the morticians -- who had the chutzpah to present bills for my grieving father to pay -- was exceeded in grossness only by the noise of the leafblowers wielded by gardeners working the outside of the chapel while the ceremony began.

    Chapel

    The march afterward to the grave site at least provided sunshine and blue sky, which the chapel architects had done their best to obscure. The small crowd gathered under a canopy. We lowered the casket, it was laid in a concrete container (it's the law!), and we shoveled some dirt on top. There was a lot of sniffling and exchange of condolences, and then it was just a matter of scooping up the flowers and heading home.

    That's a typical American death. It might be enlarged, made grander, for people of means who can afford to pay tribute to themselves in this fashion. There might be more or less religious ritual, and cant. But all in all, it's a SIX FEET UNDER experience. (For more grisly detail, see Jessica Mitford's classic updated, THE AMERICAN WAY OF DEATH REVISITED [Knopf 1998].)

    It's not that there aren't alternative models for parting with the dead, more memorable or at least more edifying in the moment. The New Orleans jazz funeral, based on the Celtic wake, comes to mind.

    99199

    The Zoroastrians, dramatically mounting the bodies of their dead on giant towers extending into the sky, for the birds to feed and remove, certainly makes the case for ecology.

    Zor Tower 2

    Funeral pyres in India, the ululating wails of Arabic women in mourning, the putting out to sea in a burning ship of the dead king in the movie THE VIKINGS, taking drugs and going into trance to communicate with the parting spirit as it seeks its heavenly abode: any one of these is a hundred times more heartfelt and lasting way to experience death. ("Skyrockets blasting one's ashes across the night skies!"...well, each to his or her own.)

    Ultimately, from the standpoint of the deceased, none of this matters. The final adventure, if there is one, is his or hers alone. But for those of us who remain, wouldn't we like to get closer to the Source, whether we conceive it as universal energy, dynamic forces, or a holy pantheon in the sky? How does the experience of death, in typical American style, get us there? It doesn't. So, we fear death and in the name of that fear we do all sorts of bad things to ourselves and to others.

    Altar-Rounder

    How would thoughtful designers redesign the experience of death, besides merely coming up with nattier crematoriums?

    Okay, enough with that cheery topic. It's a new year. Onward!... -- Bob Jacobson

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    September 2, 2005

    Survival Mode

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Heartfelt concern and positive thoughts go out to the families whose lives have been disrupted by Hurricane Katrina. [All of my Cajun relatives were all but spared just as Katrina veered east.]

    Hurricane katrina.jpgWithout intent to diminish the dire circumstances of individuals whose lives have been drastically changed by this event, therein lies a great object lesson. Suddenly, there is no 'normal'. Moreso than recent catastrophies, the situation in New Orleans suggests that recovery may not only be long, but may simply not be worth it for some – both for those with little and for those with 'more'. Some have quickly adapted and have used the upheaval to redefine their lives. A distant relative, a restauranteur, has moved his family into an apartment in Baton Rouge and is already pursuing new business plans there, with plans to permanently relocate.

    While our professional goals tend to focus on trying to make things 'better', sometimes there is need to simply focus on survival -- to give singular attention to making basic corrections before adding embellishments, or perhaps to simply switch direction altogether. Often, businesses miss subtle 'survival' opportunities because nothing stops. Nothing draws attention to the situation.

    When an o-ring fails on a rocket booster system, the results are catastrophic. Businesses can often operate for years with many just-ever-so-slightly-impared o-rings that manage to allow them to function — perhaps less optimally.

    And then again, sometimes, just as in the case of the fatal o-rings, someone has spoken the truth of the situation. From the 'inside view' of many companies I've often found an unspoken truth: denial. No one wants to admit anything that might be percieved as failure. Once in my career I discovered that a regularly published report had not been accurately designed (it was mis-reporting data). Once corrections were made, I was prevented from 'celebrating' the report corrections to the recipients (e.g. "We recently discovered and have fixed..."). I was forbidden from telling them that the reports had changed at all -- to do so would have supposedly implicated 'failure' on the part of the Director.

    This is offered as a simple testament that the greatest forces of destructive turbulence are often quiet and unspoken. Our challenge may be a responsibility to infuse greater tolerance for honesty and forthrightness. Change is difficult, but deep pride presents a high hurdle that can trip up the path to a noble goal.

    Where are the business writings on effective ways to mitigate and influence rampant pride? We need insights to relevant approaches to be more effective in our efforts.

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    August 7, 2005

    Rethinking Skyways and Tunnels

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Our buddy, MarK Hurst (of Good Experience fame), recently shared a link to a New York Times article, "Rethinking Skyways and Tunnels" (requires registration).
    NYT_home_banner.gif
    Based on my own experiences with Skywalks, in particular, I take issue with the conclusions drawn from the article. Or, I choose to point out that this is a far more complex economic exchange of tradeoffs such that the 'reasons' for decline in cities with these structures is not necessarily the result of the structures. Indeed, how much 'more personable' is a street-level sidewalk rather than either skyway or a tunnel, especially in extreme weather. Do you find your interactions more frequent with people on the street than in a similar walkway suspended or depressed? Are you looking for interactions or trying to just get somewhere?

    ...continue reading.

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    July 5, 2005

    Attracting Existing Energy

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    As Experience Design goes, I tend to be an advocate for the 'small stuff' and leave the 'large stuff' to people like Joseph Pine. I wanted to share this decidedly small stuff experience to serve as a testimony of what works.

    While much of what I write about focuses on companies who prevent customers from doing business with them, this is clearly a celebration of a decidedly small company that made a point of maintaining/building on the 'attraction' of what might otherwise end up being a one-time customer.

    Here's the story.

    I have a refrigerator with a changeable water filter. It's a fabulous, time-saving feature that helped us replace a former routine of having huge 5-gallon bottles of water delivered to our doorstep (with associated requirements of having to find storage for 3 full bottles and two empty bottles -- not a desirable challenge in less than 1500 square feet living space -- all important details for those of us who look to understand the full depth of experiences). But this water filter is not something that is easily purchased up during my normal shopping routines to the grocery store. It takes some effort -- effort that is not necessarily cherished.

    In fact, I spent quite a bit of time looking for an appropriate online source for this small but important piece of my daily life, at the best price. I even saved a box from the last filter (which is lying on the floor in my garage right now, as a reminder) to make sure I'd know what I had to order. The task to reorder this filter has been 'nagging' me of late. But the thought of finding the reference to my previous order just wasn't appealing. I'm sure I would have waited for the red light to show up on the refrigerator until my 'tipping point' would have been reached.

    But today, this arrived in my inbox. I leave this to stand on its own as a best practice for a small but effective means to increase business and build relationship equity, that very few companies focus on.

    Hello Paula Thornton,

    On your last order placed with FiltersFast.com on 10/5/2004 you requested to be notified in 9 months that it is time to change your refrigerator water filter.

    That time has passed and it is now time to change your refrigerator water filter. Below you will find a link to the product(s) that you ordered when you signed up for our free reminder service.

    We also would like to offer you a $1 discount on your next order as our Thank You to you for your continued support. To redeem the discount, simply enter the discount code 8899101 in the disount code box while in the shopping cart and click on the update button. You will see the discount reflected in your total.

    You last ordered the following products. Click the product name to view the details and to order your replacement.

    WF50, UKF8001AXX, 12589208 Amana Water Filter


    Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to serving you for your next order. Best regards,
    www.FiltersFast.com

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    April 2, 2005

    To ENIAC and Beyond

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Taking advantage of my Washington DC proximity, I made a trip to the National Mall again today – this time taking in the American History Museum. While it needs some serious updating, the one exhibit that I was most inspired by was the one on the Information Age.

    ENIAC.jpg Ignoring for a moment, the blatant misuse of the term information (most of the technologies supported the exchange of data, not information), I made some rather significant discoveries. While everyone seemed to zip past one multi-wall equipment display and exclaim simply, "That's the first computer", I spent considerable time watching the various video clips discussing the operation of the ENIAC.

    I began to realize that with the hundreds of light indicators and the hundreds of vacuum tubes, the fault possibilities for the basic operation of this device were endless. Most of the effort to execute a calculation was in testing the soundness of the parts and pieces, before a calculation could be initiated.

    ...continue reading.

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    February 10, 2005

    We have met the Other and they is us

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    Posted by Steve Portigal

    8mobST_350x250.jpg
    Back in September I wrote about a fatal stampede at the opening of an IKEA store in Saudi Arabia. Seems that the largest IKEA store in England just opened, with similar (if not-fatal) results.


    Up to 7,000 flocked to the Edmonton store lured by adverts promising huge discounts, including £45 sofas and £30 bed frames, to those who bought before 3am. When the main doors opened 40 security guards were overwhelmed and crowds pushed through, leaving people pinned to the wall or trampled on the ground.

    Security guard Gerard Visagie said "I have never felt so threatened. It was madness. A guard next to me was punched by a customer. He had his jaw dislocated. People were punching and kicking me and screaming. We were under siege.'

    Latyia Arpesh, 23, from Tottenham, said: "I was pushed to the ground and people clambered over me. I feared for my life."

    Avril Nanton, 46, from Edmonton, left the queue after four hours: "Near the front there was a sense of camaraderie. But when the doors opened, people at the back ran to the entrance. Everyone was upset, people were fighting. I saw a woman held down by a group of girls."

    Ben Adetimle, 31, from Leytonstone, added: "I bought a sofa but when I turned my back someone stole it. I'm not upset. It's just furniture, not worth dying over." As medics helped the injured, customers carried on shopping. A woman with pot plants said: "I've come from Birmingham for this." Jilal Patel, 29, from Tottenham, said: "I was queuing at 11am. Nothing is going to stop me from getting my sofa."

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    February 7, 2005

    Don't flush, Swash

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    Posted by Steve Portigal

    intro-heat.gif Brondell takes on a formidable design-and-marketing challenge - getting Americans to change their product interactions in the bathroom.

    You walk into your bathroom and sit down on your Swash contoured and comfortably heated toilet seat. When finished, you simply press a button for a posterior or feminine wash and you are met with a warm, aerated water spray. You can dry yourself with the warm air dryer or pat-dry with a small amount of toilet paper. You leave your bathroom shower-fresh as the gentle-closing lid slowly lowers behind you. Swash-like products are providing over 20 million men, women, and children around the world a healthier, more hygienic lifestyle. The bidet is recognized for its superior cleansing qualities accomplished by using water rather than irritating, ineffective dry toilet paper.
    intro-close.gif

    No doubt it's comfortable, perhaps pleasurable, more hygienic and whatever other benefits you can imagine. And hey, the Japanese all use it (or a similar product). But something is badly missing in order to get this marketplace to use it. As their CEO says ''Once someone experiences one of our warm toilet seats and the warm-water bidet, there's no going back to the cold porcelain toilet." (article here)

    There's nothing in their product or their website that begins to address the challenge of creating a new use model for a private, semi-shameful habitual activity that we can't even talk about. A PR foray gets them exposure today, but what will we see from them in 2 months or 6 months?
    intro-install.gif
    If this was every other blog that touches on marketing or advertising, you'd see my list of recommendations for Blondell. But please, isn't that a bit silly? I can see the challenges they have, but without understanding their company, and most importantly, the perceptions of their target customers (not my personal opinions) around the barriers to adoption, it's ridiculous to offer advice. Except to learn about the customers and find ways to reframe the offering to induce a change of behavior. Abstract as anything, I guess.

    Any readers have any ideas, in the spirit of brainstorming, not expertise?

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    February 5, 2005

    The Big Duh and The Big High

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Big Duh.jpg Forbes Magazine has a current article that gets a 'big DUH' award from me: "Have It Your Way". Playing off of the old Burger King promotional tag, it's their inane claim "companies are tapping consumers as never before" that really caused great gall.

    Aside from the fact that the article is celebrating something that people would clearly EXPECT companies to do, they are making it sound as if this were a 'new' thing. Did they totally miss the cottage-industry era? Are we saying that the industrial revolution has finally come full circle?

    The article continues "they have concluded that instant feedback is one way to cope with the pressure for shorter product cycles and with the high failure rate of new products". Can we offer another big round of "DUH"s? Did they miss the memo on scientific models which have proven this theory has existed forEVER, we just weren't smart enough to see it? Or that feedback loops are the means by which, on a path of free energy, that we can increase momentum (see item #6)?

    ...continue reading.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | The Practice of Experience Design

    November 29, 2004

    Over-Design

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    children.jpgThe New York Times Magazine's special "Design 2004" issue (11/28/04) raises profound questions about experience design and how good is too good.

    This issue is dedicated to design for children. A dozen articles describe one exciting experience design project after another...but connecting all the dots, the reader is left with the impression that a child's life is no longer his or her own. So intensely is daily experience designed, from marketing to prams to playground sets and lunch boxes -- even a child's ability to play sports!! What's left to discover?

    The Times' redoubtable design writer, Ann Hulbert, describes the especially poignant condition of designed-for teens, who are already in the throes of trying to understand what about their world and themselves is genuine and what's not.

    consumerism.jpgFortunately, kids are resilient and inventive: they'll find the interstices where design leaves off and serendipity is in order. But adults for the most part aren't so creative. We can muse about the condition of our children and emerging adults, but what about us? There are no design ombudsmen to advocate for and defend adult victims of over-design, the pernicious effects of which one sees all too often as fads and collective bad judgment.

    040304_kerry_bush_hmed2p.jpgFor example, the recent US presidential election, whichever side you were on, was a massive case of over-design, neglecting the authentic needs of real Americans as expressed through grassroots organizations largely neglected by the established party bureaucracies. Experience designers (marketers, TV producers, pollsters, guerrilla political activists, the 527-funded media developers) ran rampant. Can anyone say the results were good? That America stands stronger and more united as a result? Hardly.

    If our fundamental machinery for governance can be so misused, what about lesser social processes: fashion, home-design, social infrastructure, education, self-imagery? Championing experience design doesn't relieve one of the ethical charge to see its power used wisely. Maybe one of the reasons why experience design hasn't been clearly delineated is the freedom that invisibility gives its practitioners to not worry much about ethical canons. That there are no canons of ethical experience design screams with a loud silence.

    Images: Oregon State U. (children), Clay Towne (cartoon), MSNBC (politicos)

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    November 24, 2004

    "Manifesto for an Unblinkered Landscape Architecture"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    From the LARCH-L Mailing List:


    Date: Monday, 22 November 2004
    From: Tom Turner

    I've wanted to write a landscape architecture manifesto for years, but caution held me back. Recent posts on this forum have encouraged me now to take a deep breath and extend my neck in a vulnerable manner. Your chops and cuts are cordially invited....


    Gardens.jpgMANIFESTO FOR AN UNBLINKERED LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE, by Tom Turner*

    1. We believe landscape architecture to be the most comprehensive of the arts. Its theory and history are continuous from ancient to modern times, with Senenmut, Vitruvius, Bramante, Babur, Le N-tre, Brown, Repton, Meason, Olmsted, Jellicoe, and McHarg among its leaders.

    2. Lanship, defined as the condition of friendship between people and places, is our goal.

    3. The six grand compositional elements of designed landscape are: landform,
    water, plants, climate, buildings,
    and paving (or "horizontal and vertical structures").

    4. As an art, the practice of landscape architecture rests on the "imitation
    of nature" (mimesis) in the classical (neo-Neoplatonic) sense of representing visual ideas about the nature of the world.

    5. Landscape design does best when preceded by excellent landscape planning and sustained by able stewards. It's therefore necessary to involve clients, communities, and other professionals in the planning, design, and maintenance of projects which aim to create lanship.

    "Landscape architects of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your
    blinkers!"


    * For a set of references relating to the above clauses, please see my Manifesto webpage.
    -- Tom Turner, University of Greenwich


    Image: University of Arkansas

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    November 5, 2004

    "Real" Experiences?

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    Posted by Steve Portigal

    nigelbw.jpgYesterday I was interviewed by a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle about the demise of San Jose's hard rock station, KSJO (without much warning, it shifted to a Mexican oldies format, in acknowledging of a dramatically shifted South Bay demographic). The story might appear this weekend - if so I'll post the link in the comments.

    The interviewer didn't know much about KSJO, what kind of music they played, and hard rock was not really her thing. She was looking for a nostalgia angle, perhaps listening to this station took me back to my head-banging days (I didn't have those and it didn't), and I tried to explain to her what I think many rock and roll fans have understood, that listening to older rock music straddles a really interesting line between ironic enjoyment and actual enjoyment. You can have both experiences simultaneously, and there's a gestalt - it's more fun because you're laughing at how crappy it is and how cool it is. This is Spinal Tap was the first and best encapsulation of that. The first time I saw Dread Zeppelin (where an Elvis impersonator leads a reggae band through Led Zep cover tunes)was a dramatic version of this - when they played Stairway to Heaven, the crowd absolutely freaked out. Stairway? Does anyone really want to hear this song again? In this irony-straddling context, we did.
    dreadzep.bmpAnd so, I got a kick out of this story wherein a group of improv performance artists decided to give a very low-profile rock band their "best gig ever." They have a large group of "agents" that they called upon to attend a performance and treat it as if this was their favorite band. But not to mock the band or to sarcastically act as if this was their favorite band. Simply describing it is a challenge, because the notion of sending people in to pretend to enjoy something brings up an image of people yelling too loud and giving off false audience vibes. These guys didn't do that; they are performers, and they took their assignment seriously.

    The link above documents the experience from a few points of view. Despite making an overt choice to act as if this was a band they were really enjoying, it seems as if everyone, the band included, really did have a good time. And these guys are improv performers, not culture-jammers, so no doubt that improv aspect of being in-the-moment really came through. This could easily have been one of those clever-post-Candid-Camera punk'd tricks we see on TV and the web all the time, but in fact, it was a genuine yet manufactured experience.
    pasha.bmp

    A similarly-themed story hitting the boards today is about the effectiveness of robot cats for medical treatment. The robots generated more emotional response and engagement than plush toys. They may have a therapeutic role, or may even simply remind people to take their medications.
    necoro02.jpgNo one is fooled by the robot cats, but even with disbelief not suspended, there is a "true" experience created.

    These may be things that storytellers such as filmmakers have known forever, but applying some of this to social networks and robotic technology is opening up some new possibilities, and forcing us to look closer at not only what is real and what is fake, but at what points does it really matter?

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    October 31, 2004

    Halloween: Day of Extreme Experience

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    background1.jpgHalloween, or Samhain (so’-wen) as the Celts called it, is the ultimate Day of Experience in North America. Other holidays come complete with an iconic lexicon that is mostly virtual: holiness, patriotism, love of family, and so forth. The expression of these sensibilities occurs in TV and filmic images, magazines, conversation, and sermons.

    With the possible exceptions of Thanksgiving, where the preparation and consumption of food takes center stage, the Mexican Dio de Los Muertes (Day of the Dead), and reenactments of historical moments – for example, the Boston Tea Party – no day so heartily celebrates the inducement of awe, fear, and jocularity by outside stimuli as does Halloween.

    Despite the United States’ reputation as a churchy nation, in fact Halloween easily trumps most Christian and other holidays as a reason for consumers to part with their dollars buying decorations, costumes, and candy. Only on Christmas, the evolution of the Roman Saturnalia, with its gift-giving ritual – essential to retaining bonds of love and fealty – do Americans spend more…and then it’s not about the occasion so much as the give and take.

    Samhain_fire4.jpgHalloween is different. The whole build-up to and craziness of Halloween is about having experiencing the day and evening in their various aspects: union of the dimensional worlds, day of dread, precursor of winter, harvest celebration, and most recent, children’s holiday. Without the instilling of the feelings that accompany these experiences, there might as well not be a Halloween.

    The fact that Halloween and its revelers have outlasted 1,500 years of criticism and oppression (including burning at the stake) from Christianity and other monotheistic religions – and that Wicca and Nordic mythos, forms of neo-paganism, are on the rise – expresses humanity’s deeply felt need for at least one official day each year of extreme experience.

    A quick tour of the Web reveals a Halloween websites up the kazoo, including those that are raw, frightening, informative, amusing, entertaining, and incomprehensible. Ghost-watching sites abound. In the physical world, the kids are out in costume. Pumpkins, the New World’s contribution to the affair (in the Old World, Jack O’ Lanterns to scare away evil spirits were carved from turnips), are prolific. Entire street corners are filled with pumpkin lots, today trying frantically to dispose of their fare. Homes sport decorations from modest black cats and paper skeletons to elaborate lawn sets of moving figures complete with the acoustics necessary to provide a heart attack with each Baby Ruth candy bar.

    pkiFearFest2.jpgIn the commercial world, aside from the ridiculous sales and other activities contrived to have a Halloween tie-in, a lot of effort goes into both retail and entertainment venues taking part in the day’s glory. I’m especially enamored of the haunted houses that civic groups and hustlers construct, using their imagination (usually remembrances of similar venues in the past) to thrill and chill and generate revenues. This is the weekend of a spate of horror movies that would have less meaning in any other setting, but this weekend add to the sense of heightened awareness of “Other Worlds,” meaning ghostlier abodes. Of course, the big theme parks get into the mood though their offerings are surprisingly underfinanced and tame, even lame, perhaps because for them, dispensing experience is just another day’s work. An exception is Paramount's FearFest, which took some serious imagination and multimedia trickery to pull off.

    top_image.jpgSome extreme Christian sects attempt to sweep back this tide of emotion. Hell House, the subject of a widely-shown indie documentary, is a particularly gruesome effort to link sin – as defined by the evangelicals who run this bizarre institution – with horror in the Beyond. But as soon as religious cant is given this embodiment, it ceases to be holy in the stark Christian sense and becomes rather pagan. Like the Halloween occasion it mocks, Hell House becomes a – well, a house of Hell within which its young actors are free to play the roles of murderers, apostates, whores, suicides, and other sinners with as much enthusiasm as they can muster, more than they or their audiences put out for the Sunday sermon. Halloween is the one day each year that they get to have a full, physical experience, inside and out. More power to them.

    headstone-left1.gifFor myself, tonight I might stroll down to the Union Cemetery, hidden and unnoticed, in my suburban home of Redwood City, California, and silently commiserate with the souls of the soldiers who died 140 years ago, some nobly, some without purpose – whose bones for some unknown reason ended up in the Bay Area. Or perhaps I’ll walk among the graves, old and new, in the Portuguese Cemetery in Pescadero, on the coast. What more acute reminder of the sanctity of life than the experience of death, or as close as we can come to it and still remain on This Side? Tomorrow comes soon enough.

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    October 20, 2004

    The Colombian Exposition's 112th Anniversary

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    From Garrison Keilor's daily, wonderful, always inspiring The Writer's Almanac, for October 20, 2004:

    3crowbr.jpg"It was on this day in 1892 that the city of Chicago officially dedicated the World's Columbian Exposition, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus sailing to America. Though it was formally dedicated on this day in 1892, the planning ran behind schedule, so the fair wasn't actually held until the following summer.

    "It was the most successful world's fair ever held in the United States. In its half-year of existence, it drew 27 million visitors, or about half the American population at the time. The novelist Hamlin Garland wrote to his parents, 'Sell the cookstove if necessary and come. You must see the Fair!'

    "The area designated for the fair covered almost 700 acres along the shore of Lake Michigan, and a giant 'white city' was built in the style of classical architecture. The buildings were also strung with electric lights and lit up at night, the first time electric lights were used on such a large scale in America. In fact in was at the Chicago World's Fair that most Americans first saw electricity in use. The children's book writer L. Frank Baum was one of the visitors to the fair, and used the White City as the model for his Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz (1900).

    "Among the many things first introduced to Americans at the fair were postcards, the zipper, the ice cream cone, Cracker Jack, Quaker Oats, Shredded Wheat, belly dancing, spray paint, the Pledge of Allegiance, and of course the Ferris Wheel. The Ferris Wheel was 264 feet high, carried 2000 passengers at a time, turning on a 45-foot axle—the largest single piece of steel ever forged."

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    October 16, 2004

    "User Experience: Why Do So Many Organizations Believe They Own It?" -- Review

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    baychilogo.giflogoScreen.gifFinally, a chance to get down to a commentary on last Tuesday’s BayCHI-UXnet "User Experience” event at Stanford!

    The evening was a coming together of 10 experience design associations, each with a claim to the phrase, “user experience,” and an audience of 300+ comprising designers, professors, and a lot of interested parties. A mixer held in the auditorium lobby preceded the main event, between long tables loaded with promotional material and association hawkers.

    Rightly, there was great excitement in the air: this was an historic gathering. Represented were:

    • Information Architecture (AifIA)
    • Interaction Design (IxDG)
    • Graphic Design (AIGA)
    • Computer Graphics (SIGGRAPH)
    • Human Factors (BACHFES)
    • Technical Communications (STC)
    • Human Interaction (BayCHI)
    • Usability (UPA)
    • Industrial Design (IDSA)
    • Everybody (Uxnet)

    (For links to these groups and to the organizers' and speakers' websites, link to the event's BayCHI calendar listing.)

    The evening began with an interview of design icon Don Norman conducted by event co-organizer Richard Anderson. The interview traveled the length and breadth of design practice. LukeW’s Functioning Form has a nice highlight view of Don’s comments. (Thanks to Steve Portigal for noting this link.)

    Don remarked that while still at UCSD, he insisted that the word “user” be removed from the phrase, “user experience,” as an inappropriate qualifier. How interesting then, that for the rest of Tuesday night, every speaker (but me) insisted on using the term, user experience. Old habits are hard to break.

    Event co-organizer Rashmi Sinha kept the panelists’ recitations succinct – a good idea since, as later questions from the audience revealed, most of the speakers were more prepared to speak about their organizations than about experience design – an artifact of the evening’s design.

    Halfway through the 10, John Zapolski of AIGA Experience Design (who keeps a great website pointing to other experience designers' mentions in the news) broke the intensity by having the audience stand and share mini-backrubs. By then the parable of the blind men and the elephant irresistibly came to mind. It’s not that the speakers weren’t unaware of the challenge facing each of them: to deal with the design of experience – an holistic, analogic, syncretic phenomenon – within the narrow domains of their respective professional disciplines. The issue is that professional designations are separating designers whose main chances to correspond and collaborate occur when a customer calls them together. Even then, there is usually no über-experience designer coordinating the various practitioners. During the Q&A, Don Norman confirmed that the most common job title occupying the role of über-experience designer is “project manager.” “The person who gets the job done” is another.

    Each of the speakers was sincere and interesting, especially in comparison. The Powerpoint slides they presented mostly weren’t exactly paragons of information design, but since when has Powerpoint been seen as a real information design too? (It's more like an Etch-A-Sketch.) As the editor of a book named INFORMATION DESIGN (MIT Press 1999) that, regrettably, didn’t feature much of it, I’m highly sympathetic. We often design better for other than we do for ourselves. It would have been interesting, however, to see how each discipline visualized the practice of experience design, rather than only writing about their organizational activities.

    During the Q&A I asked the panelists to describe in one line the “experience” that they are concerned with designing. As I commented earlier on this blog, Mark Rolson of IDSA and frog design gave the most eloquent response – but generally among those who answered, their replies were inchoate. That is, we all know that we’re working with experience, but we’re not exactly sure what it is.

    In part, this was because, as Don pointed out, a lot disciplines were missing. Architects, design engineers, environmental designers (I really missed my favorite design organization, SEGD, the Society for Environmental Graphic Design, environmental psychologists, urban designers, landscape architects, and holistic experience designers like Bob Rogers of BRC Imagination Arts – all of these, and others, have a lot to say about experience, user or otherwise. And the “otherwise” is notable: most experiences are not designed for users, they’re designed into products, services, and environments that are less often consciously used than experienced.

    None of this should be taken as critical of the event. It was pretty darn neat, to be sitting in an audience comprising designing peers and others greatly interested in the design enterprise. Don’s comments were good to hear and the speakers all had something interesting to say. I was tempted to run up to the mike at the meeting’s conclusion and ask, “When’s the next get-together? Sooner than next year!” But I didn’t. And so the evening concluded on an ambiguous note. There’s a lot of diversity in the field of experience design, and that’s a good sign: the meta-discipline is growing. But is it also fracturing? There was a time when a Raymond Loewy or a Saul Bass or the Eaves handled all aspects of a designed experience and made it memorable, indeed. That no longer seems to be the case. It’s a good question whether this is rampant professionalism divvying up the work or simply the need for more precise expertise at every step of the way.

    One consequence of bringing together all of the design groups was that experience design could appear as a kaleidoscope, twirling wildly, or a mosaic, cementing every one in his or her place. It remains to be seen whether synergy or separation is the result, and the ultimate outcome for experience design as a unified practice.

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    October 1, 2004

    A small discovery with a large meaning.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    10sign.jpgToday I drove north from Redwood City on the picturesque Highway 280, the parallel route to San Francisco. It was the usual scene: the rolling hills of dense chapparal, pine, and oak; the long San Andreas Lakes; the thousand-foot-tall fog "waves" that descend from the west down the coastal hills and into the darkening valley that implies the San Andreas fault beneath. A small but profound discovery lay in wait.

    Traffic was heavy and had slowed from the usual (illegal) 75 MPH. As my car's velocity descended to 45 MPH, I sensed within me elation, the pleasure of movement, and a lightness of being. My car floated. I later noticed that as traffic cleared and I exceeded 50 MPH, driving became a challenge again. My anxiety increased. My concentration on the road ratcheted. I noticed that other drivers were taking dangerous, speed-exacerbated chances. Driving was no longer fun.

    How interesting it would be to lower traffic speeds, to see if it made driving more pleasurable -- less demanding and safer -- for everyone. In our pursuit of raw speed, we have given up conviviality on our highways. In fact, for the sake of speed, we are giving it up everywhere. Our quality of life is at risk.

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    September 14, 2004

    Garbage Truck.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    7300cxt-header.jpg"POSSIBLY TOO MUCH TRUCK. LIKE THAT'S A PROBLEM."

    Yes, it IS a problem, International Harvester.

    Your new CXT "pickup," twice the cost of a Hummer and at six tons (!), considerably larger -- has "all the attributes of a commercial truck [it's based on a "severe service truck"], but you don't need a commercial driver's license to drive it." Just great.

    It will turn our roads into a more brutish environment and make driving nastier.

    The CXT promises to further trash the atmospheric environment, hastening global warming.

    A passenger car of sorts, it uses scarce petroleum at rates unprecedented in the history of personal transportation.

    International is mad to sell this truck. Truly megalomanic design, the experience it promotes best is -- gluttony.

    Image Source: International Harvester

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    September 9, 2004

    Experience trumps materialism as economic driver, writes NYT economy commentator Virginia Postrel.

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    "For successful restaurants, aesthetics is no longer an afterthought. Customers are paying for memories, not just fuel. What's true for restaurants is true across the economy. New economic value increasingly comes from experiences."

    So writes Virginia Postrel in a telling article, "The New Trend in Spending," appearing in today's New York Times' "Economic Scene."

    Vance Packard wrote about the selling of experience in The Hidden Persuaders, a bestselling screed on advertising's manipulation of emotions published in the 1950s and republished several times since. More recently, Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore's The Experience Economy and Bern Schmitt's Experiential Marketing make a more seasoned case for the same phenomena.

    What's significant about the historical moment in which we live is that efforts to sell consumers on "the intangibles" finally seems to be gaining traction. It will dominate design practice and marketing in years to come, as physical commodities become more dear and the cost of creating experiences declines.

    caesars-palace2.jpgAccording to Postrel, design of experience is squarely in the economic driver's seat, at least so far as consumer spending is concerned. Providing experiences is good business. Here's the rest of Postrel's thesis:

    "Americans have not stopped buying stuff, of course. (Indeed, there's a whole industry devoted to organizing our pantry-like closets.) But the marginal value of tangibles versus intangibles has shifted. That many manufactured goods are also getting cheaper only intensifies the trend.

    "Products as well as services increasingly distinguish themselves through aesthetics, adding emotional value to practical use. This trend confounds those who equate "quality" with function.

    "Hence a recent Dilbert comic strip satirizes a product designer who declares: "Quality is yesterday's news. Today we focus on the emotional impact of the product."

    "In fact, the trend toward emotional value is exactly what psychological research would predict. Particularly as incomes rise, people find that additional experiences give them more pleasure than additional possessions."


    Image: Caesar's Palace
    Hotel Shopping Mall Interior

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    July 29, 2004

    Welcome to Total Experience

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Welcome to Total Experience, where together we'll explore the cultural phenomenon of intentional, designed experience.

    Not all experience is designed. Serendipity plays a large part in broadening our understanding. But increasingly, the experiences that fill our days are crafted to create an impression, stimulate a thought, or provoke an action – often, all three simultaneously. Total Experience is about the intentional, systematic design of experience and its outcomes.

    The strategic mapping and propagation of “touchpoints” that the designer arranges for the “experiencer” – a word I use often in Total Experience – is a contemporary phenomenon worthy of everyone’s attention. Total Experience takes the normative point of view that experiences should be voluntary; but realistically, they often are not. What can the experiencer do to negate undesirable experiences or even to seek recourse? Perhaps you, the reader, can help us to arrive at useful answers.

    Experience design is holistic, interdisciplinary, and inherently interactive. Accordingly, Total Experience will wander the far shores of design practice – including, for example, product engineering, landscape architecture, sociology, environmental psychology, and memetics – as well as more familiar design modalities. Total Experience is not about web design (whose practitioners use "experience design" to mean webside behavior) except as part of a larger designed experience.

    Within its mission of examining the emerging practice of experience design, Total Experience has these purposes, to:

    1. Identify and comment upon outstanding – or oddly noteworthy – demonstrations of experience design

    2. Stay abreast of the relevant news and developments in our field

    3. Develop a theory of experience design and interdisciplinary practice

    4. Create a community of practitioners via this blog and associated media

    I’m the captain for our shakedown cruise, but in the future I’ll be recruiting co-authors to enrich Total Experience with diverse points of view and expertise. If you’re interested in participating, please send me an email. Be patient: my bandwidth is limited, but I will get back to you.

    Thanks for joining me here at Total Experience. Please let me know how I can make your stay here more valuable and enjoyable. May your participation in Total Experience be a good experience, always.

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