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


  • Bob Jacobson
  • Paula Thornton
  • BOB JACOBSON is fascinated by the experience of experience. A planner and technologist, Bob has a Ph.D. in Urban Planning & Design from UCLA. He's been a policy researcher, technology CEO, science writer, and consultant. As a Fulbright Scholar, he studied cellular telephony's impacts on transborder communities in the Nordic Arctic Circle. Bob edited Information Design (MIT Press 2000) and is now writing a book on the theory and practice of creating edifying, transformative experiences.
    ( Archive | Contact Bob )
    CORANTE PAULA THORNTON says, "Understanding human behavior (economics), optimizing interactions (design) and facilitating conversations (markets), are the means to achieve strategic differentiation. This is the focus of our discipline. It is not a 'nice to have'‚ and is not, like documentation once was, an afterthought. It is the means by which to start a strategic discussion and the means by which to drive a tactical initiative. All design should be evidence-based."
    ( Archive | Contact Paula ) >

    (Courtesy of Mark Vanderbeeken, Experientia SpA, Torino)

    Experience Design Websites
    Core 77 Website & Forum
    Business Week|Innovate
    InfoD: Understsanding by Design
    The Wayfinding Place
    Wayfinding Focus
    Design Addict
    L-ARCH (Landscape Architecture Mailing List)
    DUX 2007 Conference
    Digital Thread
    Enmeshed, Digital Arts & New Media
    Ludology (Game Playing Theory)
    Captology, Persuasive Computing
    Space and Culture
    Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces
    timet (acoustical design)
    Steve Portigal, Ethnographer
    Jane McGonigal's Avant Game
    Ted Wells' living : simple
    PingMag (Japan)

    Experience Design Blogs
    Adam Greenfield's Speedbird
    Experience Designer Network (Brian Alger)
    SmartSpace: Annotated Environments (Scott Smith)
    Don Norman
    Doors of Perception (John Thackara)
    Karl Long's Experience Curve
    Work•Play•Experience (Adam Lawrence)
    The David Report (David Carlson)
    Design & Emotion (Marco van Hout)
    Museum 2.0 (Nina Simon)
    B J Fogg
    Lorenzo Brusci (acoustics)
    Cool Town Studios
    Steve Portigal
    Debbie Millman
    MIT Culture Convergence Consortium
    Luke Wroblewski, Functioning Form|Interface Design
    Adam Richardson
    Putting People First (Paul Vanderbeeken/Experientia
    Laws of Simplicity (John Maeda)
    Challis Hodge's UX Blog
    Anne Galloways's Purse Lips Square Jaw
    Bruno Giussani's Lunch over IP
    Jane McGonigal's Avant-Game The Future of Work

    Experience Design Podcasts
    Ted Wells' living : simple Podcast
    Design Matters Podcast, Debbie Millman
    Icon-o-Cast Podcast, Lunar Design

    Experience Design Firms and ED-Oriented Manufacturers
    Barry Howard Limited
    Hilary Cottam
    LRA Worldwide, Inc.
    BRC Imagination Arts
    Stone Mantel
    Experientia s.r.l
    Herman Miller
    Cooper Interactive Design
    Doblin Group
    Fit Associates
    Strategic Horizons LLC (Joe Pine & Jim Gilmore)
    Cheskin Fresh Perspectives

    Education and Advocacy
    Centre for Design Research, Northumbria University (UK)
    Center for Design Research, Stanford University
    International Institute of Information Design (IIID)
    Design Management Institute
    Interaction Institute IVREA
    Design Research Institute (UK)
    UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Design Research
    History of Consciousness, UCSC
    Design News Magazine
    Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD)
    Design Museum London
    Center for Sustainable Design
    Horizon Zero, Digital Arts+Culture in Canada
    Design Council UK
    First Monday

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    « Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | Odds and Ends: Random Observations | TE Blog »

    February 5, 2008

    Making Lemonade

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    My original title for this was "Changing the Rules", but then I saw the broader beauty of what's being done here.

    Start with a good recipe:
    Find an experience people complain about...a lot.
    [Get your ideas from the 'joke butts' of the late night talk show hosts.]
    Find a way to make it better.
    You'll not only get their attention...
    (which is the 'best' you'll achieve with a multi-million dollar 30 second spot at the SuperBowl)'ll have immersed them in an experience that they'll appreciate, and remember.

    Who better than a leader in recipes to figure this out: Kraft Foods

    Here's their recipe:
    Don't just advertise your product,
    immerse people in it,
    while they're captive'
    and you really have their attention.
    Provide free food on airline flights,
    where they'll think anything tastes better.
    And 'free' is a great sauce...


    See related details.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    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.

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

    October 6, 2007

    Delta Embraces Experiential?

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    A tease to content elsewhere...

    Delta Air Lines is bringing its in-flight experience to the streets of New York City with a temporary lounge.
    Visitors can drop by the 3,500 square-foot space at 101 West 57th St. called Delta SKY360 to test some of the airline’s newest features, including refurbished seats, new menu items and route information.

    The following comment is a bit disheartening as it seems to imply an oversimplification as to the potential of real relationships and real still implies an elitist business perspective to relationships with customers:

    It’s an opportunity for us to engage with our customers outside of the airport.

    It makes me want to ask, "What's wrong with engaging with them where they already are? Um, in the airport?"

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    May 22, 2007

    Falling Short of an End: Target

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    [Happy Birthday to me! Heck, what's the point of authoring a blog if you can't send yourself wishes?]

    I'm following up on Bob's post today with the unanswered question, "When does an experience end?" My answer: when you're done. The problem is some companies end an experience based on some parameter other than what the reasonable expectations might be for a customer (or other relationship). Let's consider a few common ones:

    • The end of 'scope' for a particular initiative
    • The end of budget for a particular project
    • The end of attention/patience of a manager responsible for implementing a service
    • etc...etc...etc.

    Target%20bullseye.gifSo I have a question for Target: what was the reason you stopped short of this particular scenario? Don't get me wrong. Target is one of our favorite companies for paying attention to design...just not particularly to interactions (hmmm, and now that I think about it...I have a cherished colleague that's a designer there...maybe I need to ask him this question). So this isn't about pointing a finger -- this is truly about, what are the reasons experience designs fall short?


    • My weeks of late have been beyond hectic (thus, not covering for Bob when he was gone -- I barely had time to talk to myself, let alone do blog posts).
    • I have an important wedding shower to go to later this week.
    • I learned that the bride-to-be is registered at Target.
    • Fabulous: quick access to the gift registry.
    • Easy access to her registry via her name.
    • I spin through her list and my attention is drawn to some items listed with "free shipping".
    • I find that I can order two of the items in the list and still be within my budget (that makes me look good).
    • The order can be shipped directly to the bride-to-be without me knowing her address or Target having to tell me what it is (tremendous).
    • I get a confirmation on the screen and a nice html email.
    • This is all great! But I am sorely disappointed...

    What happened? Target didn't finish the scenario. I wasn't just buying a gift. I was buying a gift for a shower. I still have to go to the shower. I will be going without the gifts. I will bring a card...but what can I put into the card? Target did not offer me (the template for which would be next to nothing to design and could be reused repeatedly) a simple printout that listed the pictures of the items, with their titles that I could include in my card to announce my soon-to-arrive gift! A simple solution would have sealed the deal on my otherwise 'exceeded' expectations. Instead, my expectations were exceeded all the way to the end...and one simple action turned my experience into a disappointment (I now have to take the time to create my own 'gift announcement' -- like I have time for that...).

    I don't offer this to 'complain' about my situation. I offer this as an example of just how minor the big things are. Somehow, real world examples are better at illustrating the points we're trying to make than us talking about them endlessly.

    So...for one rule of thumb, the experience ends when the scenario is over (satisfied) -- not at the end of the scope, the budget, or the patience of the manager.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    March 12, 2007

    Exemplary cases of experience design: your suggestions welcome!

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Help SignAs I wrote earlier, I'm working up a book about experience design -- also called, “designing for experience.” I met with my publisher and it looks like a go. As cases that can be featured in the book, I welcome your suggestions of exemplary experience design, applied to the following:

    • Architecture and urban designs (intended to produce identifiable experiential outcomes)
    • Cross-media environments (e.g., so-called “real-world games” employing various media )
    • Customer experiences (processes as well as physical artifacts)
    • Exhibitions, museums, and learning centers
    • Experiences for education
    • Experiences for entertainment
    • Games and simulations (in the “real world,” not just on-screen)
    • Haptic environments (acoustic, tactile, scent, motion, etc.)
    • Immersive environments (virtual and physical)
    • Integrated marketing (synergistic scored experiences)
    • Landscape architecture and interpretive environments
    • Longiitudinal experiences (single or multiple related experiences that occur over time)
    • Themed attractions, theme parks, and themed destinations
    • Workplaces and “third places” (places that are social, apart from the workplace and home)

    These categories overlap. It doesn't matter at this time precisely into which category a case falls, or whether it's for a client or experimental. Also, if you have an example of experience design that doesn't fit within the categories, send it along anyway. Our field is growing like Topsy: there are always new expressions and formats. Also, I'm interested in instances where research methodologies, like usability and ethnography; and application methodologies, like interaction design, wayfinding, and corporate narrative, have contributed to successful experience designs.

    As for the much-debated “user experience,” I'm interested in on-screen presentations and discrete products if they were integral parts of more complex experiences (for example, integrated media campaigns, the interior of a vehicle, or exhibitions).

    Please be sure to include with each case suggestion a point of contact (email and phone if you have them). The POC should be an individual associated with the case project, with whom I can arrange the case's submission for review. Send your suggestions to my Gmail address, please. Please include in the Subject Line, “Experience Case:” and the case's working name. I'd appreciate it also if you'd share this invitation with your friends and, if you're a blog author, your readers. Thank you!

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

    March 3, 2007

    Problems at Amazon?

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    I experienced my first chink in Amazon's brand experience armor. It wouldn't have necessarily been enough to report on (how many random issues do we run into in experiences daily?), but this seemed too different in too many ways. I did a search to see if anyone else had reported anything (not that the search engines aren't so clogged with 'noise' that results would be meaningfully indicative of anything) and found only 1 artifact, which isn't even directly related. Take my observation for what it's worth.

    I went to order a book on Amazon yesterday. Amazon set the bar for simplicity in online ordering. I could have used 1-click, but after the initial novelty wore off (years ago), I often find that I change orders a lot and like to mess with a shopping collection for some time. But in this case it was just one book.

    When I got to the payment page, my head tilted to the right -- you know, the autonomic inclination when your eyes and brain are trying to resolve some unidentified conflict -- where "something's different" is trying to raise to the level of conscious awareness.

    Months earlier, as a result of very successfully-crafted persuasion, I had set up my primary payment option as my bank account. It was suddenly not there. Then I noticed that issues at the payment stage were not supported in any way: there was no access from the page to your account information and there was no access to any help links. I bailed out of the transaction to do some research. This was the first of many repeats of this action.

    The only 'clue' that I had was that there was some 'red' on the payment page: one of my cards on file had expired. Having been in this business too long, I'm supposing that there might be an error condition overriding the display of my bank account. I check and my bank account is listed as my primary method of payment. I'm running short of time -- I wasn't planning to spend this much time to order a book. I engage the online feedback loop to get some clarity.

    The next morning there's a response in my inbox. Well, there's an email. There's nothing in the response that even remotely addresses my concern, but there are phone numbers. I call. While the support agent spoke perfect English I knew they were not US-based (I had to spell everything). They had no answers and suggested at least two actions I was not happy with (1. Would need to wait until Monday to get someone to help me 'fix' issues with my bank account -- there was no evidence that my bank account had any issues and 2. They'd report that I had problems with a virus (where the heck did this come from?)). Lastly, they gave me an email address for the web team.

    In the meantime, the prior email had a feedback feature for me to respond if the email had solved my problem, and the call itself generated another one of these. It was through this mechanism that I got some real answers:

    Hello from
    First, please allow me to extend my sincere apologies for any inconveneince this matter has caused to you.
    I want to let you know that we've removed the option to "pay directly from your bank account" temporarily due to an issue with our payment processor. I'm afraid I don't have any information about when or if we may offer this option again.

    That's pretty significant. And yet, through at least 4+ touchpoints this oh-so-important piece of information was not available to either myself or the interacting support staff/mechanisms.

    Has Amazon finally exceeded the optimal tipping-point of size and control?

    Or are they too focused elsewhere?

    Lately profits have fallen, dragged down by spending on new technology projects and on free-shipping offers that Amazon considers marketing in place of TV ads. Analysts expect full-year net income this year to come in at about $180 million, or half of last year's total. Most worrisome to investors is Amazon's three-year-plus binge on new technologies. So far this year its spending on technology and content, including hiring hundreds of engineers and programmers to produce all these new services and buy more servers to run them, is up 52%, to $485 million. As a result, operating margins, at 4.1% for the past four quarters, now come in at less than Wal-Mart's 5.9%.
    Source: Business Week 11.13.06

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    March 1, 2007

    Classic: Channeling Negative Energy

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    PayPal, likely the most frequent subject of phishing expeditions, has now turned the tables on the practice and without doing a single thing to change their business model is using this practice to their advantage.

    Getting a PayPal email in your inbox is almost an immediate 'mark as spam' action -- unless you see the title of something you recently bought in the subject line. This subject line said: "How to spot scams and protect your identity"...not too many phishers would pick this as a topic. But just to make sure, I opened it. Inside was a beautifully-crafted html page with various sections and links, better than some of the finest of online page design. At the top of the page banner, centered off of the PayPal logo was a large "Hello Paula Thornton" (most phishers don't have a lot of personal information). There were enough cues in the piece to clearly suggest that this indeed was from PayPal.

    Of the many actions available on this newsletter-like piece was the following:

    How PayPal Works
    Check out the new demo
    See why PayPal is the safe and simple way to pay online.
    Find out the many ways you can use your account. Watch the demo.

    While they never really use the words directly (very crafty) by the tying in of this message to all the other messages around identity theft, phishing and the like, they're reinforcing the opportunity for people to use their service as a means to secure their personal identity and related financial information.


    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    February 26, 2007

    The Missing Rosetta Stone

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Harold G. Nelson offers an interesting perspective on the realm of our discipline:

    "Scientists and artists legitimately serve their own interests-their curiosity or need to express themselves. In contrast, design is defined as a service to the 'other'. Design is relationship-based-a social system-and designing is a complex, dynamic process I describe as a 'conspiracy'-a breathing together-among stakeholders in the design."

    He also talks about our ability to be transcendental (well, not exactly, but it seemed like a great '60s attribute to try on for fit). His case for design as a basis for leadership is all the more intriguing when looking at its reliance on a "service relationship" (it's likely slighly different than your first mental image). Based on my own heightened focus to embody more 'change management' practices in our discipline, this quote was also quite relevant:

    leaders forget, people like to change -- they just don't like being changed
    [emphasis added]

    Mr. Nelson suggests that a design culture helps accommodate the change, but this also requires an organizational design competency.

    A quick review of his book, The Design Way, strongly suggests that there are some keys here to crossing the chasm. The more I learn about Harold Nelson and his work the more it looks like it could be the missing Rosetta Stone for our discipline. He certainly has pegged a primary reason I've never pursued an advanced degree.

    Quotes from in-depth interview in NextD Journal: ReRethinking Design
    Caution: While purported as an 'interview', GK VanPatter has a tendency to pontificate too profusely at the expense of gaining greater understanding of the individual being interviewed. The last 20 pages (printed html pages of 44 total) is an endless stream of GK interjecting material which should have been published in a separate piece.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    January 17, 2007

    Design as a Strategic Function

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Online Video: Executive design recruiter, RitaSue Siegel, offers her perspectives to assess whether or not a company is commited to design strategically. [QuickTime, 03:40]

    In it, she closes with one of her beliefs: that getting an MBA is not a relevant step for increasing one's ability to be effective in design leadership. Other more recent pieces contributed by RitaSue provide a great perspective on the growth and potential of the larger discipline of design.

    Notable Quote

    Five years ago few designers used the term experience, as in experience design. Today, virtually no designer leaves the office without it.
    From Innovation, Winter 2006

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    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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    October 10, 2006

    IT = Innovation Terminus

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Innovation%20Barrier%2060SI_chart.gif An insightful piece from Information Week, "IT & Innovation: Out Of Sync?", highlights surprising findings as to the perception of others about IT's contribution to innovation. The expectation would be that IT should be highly innovative; the reality is not bearing up this assumption.

    Quotes from the piece:

    At Babson College's Research Center on Innovation and Corporate Entrepreneurship (ICE), we define innovation in six words: implementing new ideas that create value.

    Harvard professor Jim Cash suggested at an InformationWeek conference that the term CIO should stand for chief innovation officer—with the same guy in the job.
    Our IT people don't think like innovators.
    I often refer to our IT group as the business-prevention department
    IT often says no to the innovator in many companies

    Examples of roadblocks installed and heavily guarded by IT:

    • No outside groupware
    • No loading of unauthorized tools
    • No access (particular challenges to change, e.g. rapid inclusion of contractors and/or industry collaboration)

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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.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Commentary | Odds and Ends: Random Observations | 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 -- 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"). 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 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.

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    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

    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

    March 11, 2006

    February 19, 2006

    Designing the Experience of Islam

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Orientalism, the term invented by the late Edward Said and the title of his culminating work of scholarship, anticipated today's almost total breakdown of understanding between the West and “street” Islam, the Islam of the masses in Africa, the Middle East, and Indonesia. The problem as Said saw it was an historical tendency on the part of Westerners to romanticize and in some ways infantalize Islamic culture -- “orientalizing” it -- and in the process, giving it a unitary appearance that, up close, is a complete illusion.

    Even before Said wrote, the experience of being Muslim had become so geographically dispersed, diversified, and internally conflicted, no single individual or group could claim sole authority to interpret the Prophet or Islam's essential record of his teachings, the Quran (Koran). Now, with the rise of an “angry” Islam that appears intolerant of everything, including the West but also sizable portions of other Muslims, Said's problematic needs restating: the primary problem now is not the West's ignorance (though that still pertains), but rather mainstream Islam's inability to recognize itself or speak for its interests in a way others can productively respond. So the “street” rules. Burning embassies, stoning dissidents, and ultimately killing those who disagree, however, is not a formula for persuasion: it is an invitation to absolute retribution by the rest of the world.

    The population of self-identified Muslims now exceeds one billion persons spread around the world, but concentrated in the nations of North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Indonesia, with sizable populations in Western Europe and smaller communities in North America. Like Christianity and Buddhism, which preceded Islam -- a religion with fairly recent origins -- Islam has gone through seismic turmoil resulting in deep internal divisions. The most famous of these schisms is between Shi'ite and Sunni Islam, a dispute based (as is so often the case in religious conflicts) on who the true descendants of Mohammed, the original Prophet, might be.

    Be that as it may, Islamic society today projects a collective persona that's always on the defensive. (In this, it's very similar to evangelical and conservative Christian sects that claim a hostile world is out to destroy their repressive Kingdom of God.) It wasn't always so: in it's initial sweep across the Middle East and Spain, Islam founded a “golden age” culture that confidently developed medicine, astronomy, music, architecture, mathematics, theology, and other intellectual streams that led to the Renaissance, humanism, and (in Al-Andalus, known today as Andalucia) remarkable religious tolerance.

    For the next thousand years, there remained Islamic bright spots despite the Mongol depredation and ruinous wars of conquest by the Ottoman Turks. India under the Muslim Mughals was a gem of civilization.

    But now, there is no center to Islam, as Mecca and Baghdad once were. And over the centuries, conservative Muslim clerics have proven the dire enemy of cultural and economic progress. Hand in hand with Western colonialism interests, they've kept Islamic culture largely frozen in the 15th Century, while their resources -- and their most innovative citizens, including tens of thousands of Christians and Jews -- have been exploited by more dynamic societies.

    With most of the West ignorant about Muslim society, and Islamic society itself so fractured as to be unable to speak with a clear voice, the presentation of Islam has been left to extremists in each camp: denigrators in the West and firebrands in the Islamic “street.” What a travesty.

    A culture with a legacy as noble as any is reduced to cartoon caricatures by those who place press freedom above simple respect for other traditions, and Muslims are now known best for violent demonstrations, destruction of property, and people dying for no better reason than to protest cartoons. (Inviting cartoons about the Holocaust, as an Iranian publisher has done, doesn't even the score. It merely distorts the images of Muslims and Jews in each others' eyes, and makes all parties look pathetic in the eyes of the world.)

    This is not how I would design the experience of Islam for my fellow Americans or Westerners anywhere. But it suits the needs of those who benefit by xenophobia, social hysteria, and violent conflict, including the truly powerful (and carefully invisible) economic forces who do best in these situations. This is not a formula for understanding. It is a formula for continuing strife that reminds everyone of the Crusades, another experience contrived for political gain in the name of religious ideals, an experience that resulted only in hatred, human suffering, and lasting hatred.

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Odds and Ends: Random Observations

    November 21, 2004

    Tell Better Stories

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    Posted by Steve Portigal

    I'm intrigued by Nissan's new ad campaign for Pathfinder. The product itself will let you "tell better stories" because the product is an experience, an experience that can be shared. I'm not sure if a manufacturer has come right out and said that so directly before.

    And yet, the whole campaign has generated little buzz. They are playing it pretty quietly, as opposed to a "can you hear me now" kind of slogan.

    Thoughts or comments, anyone? What do you make of this?

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    September 2, 2004

    David Pogue on The 0.99 Scam

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    99cents.jpg Pricing is a big part of a user's product experience. The New York Times' David Pogue, in his most recent "Circuits" column, publishes responses to his screed last week on the "0.99 Scam." Among the reasons given as the origin of "0.99" was this bit of industrial archaeology:

    "I believe that the origin of 99-cent pricing goes back to JC Penny to keep his employees honest." (Various other readers cited Mr. Macy, Mr. Woolworth and Mr. Sears.) "At 99 cents, they would be forced to open the cash register to give change. When the price was an even dollar, employees would be more tempted simply to pocket the bill."

    Another reader observes, "See, that's why the Sacagawea coin never caught on. We don't need a one dollar coin — we need a 99 cent coin." Are there pricing specialists, like branding specialists?

    (Image Source:

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    September 1, 2004

    Surviving in Auditory Hell - My Take

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    Posted by Tom Mulhern

    So to turn the corner from experience observation - home offices come with uncontrolled, unwelcome noise - to Experience Design...

    While you work at home, you'd prefer a "Suburban Office" soundscape. While I sit in a hotel room, I might feel more at home with a "Suburban Family after Dinner" soundscape. Soundscape Architects could either crank out generic soundscapes or develop custom packages. They could use either recorded or real-time sound gathered from either similar or completely custom sources.

    The design part is to figure out the right place between living completely with the sound of the place you're in and experiencing completely the sound of the actual place you want to be.

    Early versions of this are of course in place, from Muzak to Sound Machines

    Reality is that your neighbors want to pay for heavy equipment gardening, and figure, with some reason, that people at home are not trying to concentrate on work. To change that reality - asking them to not use power tools, persuading them to hire Japanese specialists, exposing them to your need for quiet - is hard. To design around it with Soundscapes will be to treat your acoustic reality the same way we've grown accustomed to treating weather reality - as optional. But audio reality - as people talking on cellphones in public are learning, and as people listening to Walkmans and Boomboxes before them learned - is part of the negotiated social arena. And what we do to alter it has consequences for our relationships with others.

    Of course this is all a matter of degree. When you alter weather reality by sitting in your home on a sweltering day with the AC cranked all the way up, you distance yourself pretty dramatically from the lives of the guys pushing around the (loud) mowers outdoors....

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    Affordable Solutions for Better Dying

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    Posted by Steve Portigal

    Reuters reports that a promotion at Saudi Arabia's first IKEA store led to three trampling deaths when more than 70,000 people showed up to claim one of 50 vouchers worth $150. When we hear news of trampling deaths from Saudi Arabia, it's usually in connection with the Hajj, an annual pilgramage to Mecca. Fans of retail globlization stories will note the strong cultural contrast between today's IKEA story and the opening of the Tokyo Apple store a while back.


    (posted by Steve Portigal)

    ...continue reading.

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    August 17, 2004

    Suburbia As Auditory Hell

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    leafblower-gas.jpgWorking in my home office, in the otherwise pleasant SF suburb of Redwood City, has turned hellish. In small and large increments, the ambience of my neighborhood has been transformed from relative tranquility to a noisy purgatory by hordes of gardeners with lawnblowers (blowing dust and dirt into air and into the street for public clean-up), kids on gasoline-powered skateboards, second-childhood adults riding mini-motorcycles, SUVs and service trucks lumbering (and almost colliding) on narrow residential streets, and aircraft of all types flying low overhead.

    The resulting cacophony's destroyed for me the of pleasure of working from home. Suburbia may not be as hustle-bustle as the Big City -- San Francisco still takes the local cake for chaos, creative and otherwise -- but Redwood City's 24/7 noise quotient is now so high, there's no delight in keeping the windows open on an otherwise beautiful summer day. The constant noise spoils everything.

    As the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse states so well, "Polluting the commons is not a right. Our effort to reduce noise pollution is similar to other efforts to reduce pollution and reassert our collective stewardship over the commons. Whether the issue is second-hand smoke, elevated mercury levels, or ground level ozone, the strategy is to protect the environment and our health and well-being by creating an ethic of the commons." Unfortunately, in America the notion of the commons has always been more respected in the breech. There is no appreciation for our need for quiet nor policy that protects this vital and fast-disappearing environmental resource.

    ...continue reading.

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    July 29, 2004

    No Comment

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson


    "Overworked Mouse"
    (Source Unknown)

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