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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    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,; Øresund Bridge, Malmö)

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

    August 20, 2007

    Spirituality and Design, Part 2

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The-Lake-MartinPreparing to write a book on designing for experience, I decided to explore four ways of understanding experience: as spirituality, philosophically, scientifically, and what we might call “by design.” In an earlier entry, I listed several categories of spiritual experience and their significance in the lives of those who have these experiences, which can be profound. Spirituality in the lives of individuals may be beyond the reach of designers working with experience, however.

    At least this is what my research suggests. Despite looking very hard, I was unable to discover evidence of designers acknowledging, let alone employing, spiritual experience in the process of creating experiences. The intense materialism that characterizes contemporary design mitigates against working in a spiritual dimension. Perhaps this is because design has become so closely associated with science and engineering (or maybe it always has been).

    Take DUX 2007, the Conference on Designing for User Experience, is the closest thing to a conference on designing for experience generally (and a very good conference on its own terms). The “user” qualification immediately hearkens back to systems engineering, with which the process of design has become intertwined. This co-dependence is reflected in DUX' s topics: for example, tangible interfaces, embedded interfaces, ubiquitous computing, design process, process design (interesting recursion, responsive environments, and so on -- a lot of engineering, very little of spirit. Similarly, interaction design, on the cutting edge of contemporary design, is based on systems engineering concepts taken from empiricism and scientific logic: how things work. Of course, there is a human dimension to interaction design, a large one. But it's more often expressed in psychological, sociological, and (the latest trend) ethnographic terms than anything we might call spiritual. Ethnography as it's commercially practiced is in fact quite a bit like systems engineering with its focus on identifying and describing tangible, observable human behavior that can then be harnessed for designing products that can be made and sold.

    Ever hopeful, I explored the “Blogosphere” using Technorati, Google Blogs, and Nielsen BuzzMetrics' Blogpulse (the best of the lot, in my opinion). “Design” and “spirituality” seem to exist only in entirely different universes. Their appearance together, except on blogs with a sect to sell, is infrequent or non-existent.

    This isn't to say that designers of experience, and designers in other modalities, don't have spiritual experiences or don't know of their significance. To the contrary, designers' websites and blogs abound with descriptions of objects seen or encountered, environments inhabited and traversed, and processes enjoyed or endured that they describe as “wondrous,” “awesome,” “disheartening,” or “encompassing” that indicate they've been touched deeply. In The Experience Economy, their influential work on intentionally designed experience, Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore devote an entire chapter of this short book to the spiritual dimension of experience design. (I admit that I dismissed this chapter too quickly when I first read it. Now I have a deeper appreciation of Pine and Gilmore's meaning, although I haven't seen them develop it further, at least not online.)

    More often, however, designers speak of designs as “effective,” “working” or “broken,” or use other mechanistic terms that have designs serving instrumental purposes: getting this or that done or accomplished. Interestingly, the main critique of The Experience Economy on Wikipedia is that design of experience is about better managed co-creation and co-production with consumers, completely disregarding the spiritual dimension alluded to by Pine and Gilmore. So much for far-ranging inquiry.

    We know from the work of child psychiatrist Robert Cole and others that infants lead a rich spiritual life (which some experts on childhood believe can be diminished or killed outright by a society's and parents' materialistic perspectives and religious dogma). Spirituality may continue as a profound element in most people's lives. I read today of a survey conducted by AP and MTV among American kids aged 13-24. In this most materialistic and religiously dogmatic of cultures, more than half of the young people surveyed credit spirituality, defined as a connection with something Other, as an essential element of personal happiness. (The leading factor is happy family relationships, definitely a worthy aspiration but one that depends on more than good intentions. Shared spiritual understanding among parents and siblings, a rare condition, might have something to do with it.) The famous longitudinal study of a group of men conducted by the late Daniel Levinson, in which they describe their lives over many decades, suggests that the degree to which the subjects maintain viable spiritual outlooks correlates with their subjective happiness regardless of their objective accomplishments. Similar studies of women -- for example, the now well-known Nun Study confirm this connection as universal: they reveal how dependent the quality of women's lives in their advanced years may be on the strength of their spiritual convictions acquired in youth (as well as on more objective factors).

    So let me circle back now and talk about design with a spiritual dimension: not design for spirituality so much as design with spiritual experience in mind.

    The website for the Partners for Sacred Places reminds us that people have been creating places evocative of spiritual experiences probably since the dawn of history. Whether or not the architects often hired to accomplish this purpose is a matter for debate, on a case by case basis -- but there's no doubt, significant time and wealth have been invested in producing a heightened spiritual experience, one of their “deliverables.” Some sports, particularly in the martial arts (I'm thinking of my own aikido training) are also “designed” to enhance spiritual awareness. Experiencing awe in a cathedral, holy garden, in exercise, or on a retreat, however, is a momentary experience, ephemeral. We all know how quickly an elevated state can “entropize” and disappear, usually with a half-life expressed in days or even hours. Unfortunately, few designed experiences include a sufficient “spirituality quotient” to sustain this awareness. Most design projects are paid for by merchants (commercial and otherwise) with something to sell or a position to persuade: a product, a candidate, a point of view, a desired behavior, and so forth. Given this mercantile framework, how much leeway do even the most determined designers of experience have to apply the canons of experience design I identified earlier as edification and commutation? Not much. Meditation isn't a fungible commodity, unless you are a guru.

    Nevertheless, some designs, whether intended to or not, make a spiritual connection that results in a deeply memorable, sometimes actionable experience. My partner, Debra, has a spiritual experience (she claims, and I believe her) whenever she sees or experiences a particularly beautiful person, fashion, machine, or landscape. “Beauty” for her is a combination of elements that perfectly achieves its purpose. Given her pragmatic definition, many designs might be considered highly spiritual. More often, however, we admire the affordance provided by a designed object, environment, or process -- the ability it gives an individual awareness of, and ability to interact with, an environment. Most people globally have become overeducated in the appreciation of material achievements. Their spiritual edge is dulled. How can this dynamic be altered so that instead of us taking more and more of the world for granted, we experience wonder continuously or at least, more frequently? This isn't an option: the alternative to spirituality, in my opinion, is cynicism; of this, the world already has plenty.

    Speedbird's Adam Greenfield, in a reply to my comment on his well presented essay on experience design, turned me on to the notion of “qualia.” Qualia are supposed units of experience that each of us maintain, which -- if they could be apprehended and worked with -- would enable designers to compose truly remarkable experiences that, I'm sure, would have a powerful spiritual component. Unfortunately, qualia as defined cannot be shared and thus are not readily available for stoking spiritual or any other fires. But for me they remain a powerful concept. What if designers gave more attention to the spiritual dimension of experience and helped to better understand and appreciate its constitution and consequences in other than purely numinal ways? What if discussion on design blogs was about more than technology and techniques, or social media and psychology, and supported a meaningful conversation on the spiritual dimension of experience (as do so many non-design-oriented blogs)? Like most others in our field, I haven't the time to answer these questions, not so long as my livelihood is determined by clients who could care less about spirituality because they know so little about it. But perhaps others are better situated to explore. To them, I offer every encouragement. (I especially like this meditation developed by Steve Stein for the First Unitarian Church of San Jose, CA: it suggests what to look for and the right questions to ask as we look for spiritual expression in our daily environments. Funny how a sermon can produce a design program!)

    If you are a designer of experience who incorporates an appreciation of spirituality in your work, please share your cases with me so that I can share them more widely. Who knows, you might be The Next New Thing -- or should I say, The Next New Old Thing?

    Next: Philosophical perspectives on experience.

    (Image: Sri Chinmoy Bio)

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | Theories of Experience

    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 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)

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

    May 31, 2007

    Spirituality and Experience: A Prelude

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Mandala2I began my research on the nature of experience in different traditions with the oldest tradition of all, spirituality.

    I haven't finished. I discovered a wealth of reflection on the spiritual experience, not only as an accumulation of millennia of spiritual experiences, but also an enormous corpus of commentary, theological and philosophical, relating to the spiritual experience. In fact, I'm overwhelmed by the quantity of human endeavor that's gone into understanding this profound variety of experience. It'll take me several more days to assimilate and incorporate it in an entry on this blog.

    What strikes me immediately, however, is how little of this thinking is reflected in contemporary discussions about experience, outside the spiritual community; in particular, in the field of design. It's as if designers have purposely sequestered spiritual experience (which many designers express in their more personal descriptions of the things they see and feel), thereby keeping design “pure” and undisturbed by untamable spirituality. This lack of interior fire weakens the practice of design. If design doesn't touch people in their spiritual core, in the soul of their being, it's simply an intellectual exercise or a pitch piece, even at its most artful.

    I'm going to ponder this and incorporate my thoughts on the matter in my discussion about spiritual experience. You might ponder it yourself and examine your own work as a designer. Does it have a spiritual dimension? In your practice of design? In the expression of the designs that you produce, whatever your medium?

    Single Saguaro And Stunning Sonora Desert Sunset-HorzFor the next several days, I will be moving myself from tourist-overrun Santa Monica to the quiet hotness of Tucson, on the edge of the Sonora Desert. It's a good place to think about things spiritual. Many of humankind's most dramatic spiritual experiences, the home of religions including but more diverse than the Abrahamic trio (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). The stark reality of the desert environment can infect one with a divine madness. The desert itself is a drama that, experienced, leaves strong and lasting impressions. It's been known to reshape the soul.

    (Images: Mandala, Princeton University Anthropology; Sonora Desert, Alan Bauer)

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Theories of Experience

    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 22, 2007

    What is experience? Comments from the readers

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    050437211SeanfliesIn April 2007 I posted five questions about the nature of experience. I asked TE's readers to offer their answers as Comments. The questions were:

    1. When does an experience begin and end?
    2. What are the dimensions of an experience?
    3. What role do setting, memories of prior experiences, and the larger environment play in creating the character of an experience?
    4. What metrics can be devised and applied, or have been already, to take the measure of an experience?
    5. Can an experience be shared? If so, in what way, and among whom and how many individuals? Is the experience they share the same?

    I was trying to bound the meaning of the term “experience,” a central concept in the new book I'm writing about designing for experience. The sample of readers who replied wasn't large enough to manage the challenge. However, the readers' Comments are, I believe, indicative of the thinking of many in the contemporary design community. (Do you agree or disagree? And why?)

    In a future entry -- perhaps as soon as tomorrow, certainly by week's end -- I'll describe my own understanding of experience, informed by relevant philosophy, science, art, and ... experience.

    I thank each of the Commenters who took the time to ponder my queries and come up with answers, wrestling with the greasiest of pigs.

    1. When does an experience begin and end?

    Adam Lawrence, Work • Play • Experience

    Shooting from the hip here, I would say that the kind of experience we are talking about starts when I first come into contact with something that I consciously or -- more importantly -- subconsciously link with your offering; or to which I later return, to link with it.


    Linked to two posts on his blog (Diagram 1 and Diagram 2).

    Kent Larsson

    It seems to me that we need to distinguish between planned and unplanned experiences, the difference being the up-front planning phase. A planned experience has three or four phases:

    1. The planning phase where information is gathered, expectations are formed, and the timing and logistics of the experience are set.

    2. The actual experience during which we react to met or unmet expecations, and timing and logistics are working or not working as planned.Feelings of highs and lows depending on the outcomes of the experience.

    3. Immediate post-experience evaluation: kind of a mental summary of the good and bad. Mental decisions are made for the future.

    4. Long-term post-experience: memories fades. Good memories last longer than bad. Past experience kicks in when faced with a repeat of the same experience affecting expectations.

    Experiences have a beginning, but no clear end.

    ...continue reading.

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

    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

    3rd Information Design Intl. Conference & 39th Intl. Visual Literacy Annual Conference, Curitiba, Brazil, Oct 8-13, 2007

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Brazil Info Design ConfThe Third Information Design International Conference -- also known as the 2nd infoDesign Brasil conference -- will take place in Curitiba, Brazil, near Rio, October 8-10, 2007.

    It's followed immediately by ivla 2007, the 39th International Visual Literacy Annual Conference, also in Curitiba, October 10-13, 2007. The conferences are separate, but collaborative arrangements have been made for those who attend both.

    Their calls for papers have gone out. The Information Design Conference's call has been extended to Monday, May 14 (details here). ivla's window closed on April 30.

    These will be this year's two major, relevant Latin American conferences, taking place in South America's (and possibly the Hemisphere's) most dynamic social and cultural milieu. Their respective themes are:

    3rd Information Design International Conference

    • Education: aspects and issues regarding the role of information design in education. Studies about information design programmes in higher education, educational material, methods and approaches for teaching and learning within an information design perspective
    • History and theory: historical and/or theoretical approaches and contributions to information design. Researches on early information design and designers, proposals of taxonomies, frameworks and models
    • Technology and society: aspects and issues of information design concerning the use of technology by individuals and/or its effects on society. Researches on topics such as human-computer interaction, hypermedia design, broadcasting design
    • Information systems and communication: the effectiveness of information systems in communicating messages. Investigations on instructional design, wayfinding information, sign systems, graphic symbols, and forms design

    ivla 2007

    • Education, Teaching, and Learning
    • Societal and Community Issues
    • Cultural Influences, Impacts, and Considerations
    • Historic Uses and Approaches
    • Research, Theories, and Definitions
    • Transformative Functions
    • Future Trends and Directions
    • Communication and Artistic Expression
    • Ethical, Social, and Philosophical Concerns

    Unlike designing for experience, which is a discipline still in formation, information design and the study of visual literacy have been around awhile. Their literatures and practices are solid. For practitioners and employers of practitioners, these two conferences offer a rare opportunity to acquire broad state-of-the-art knowledge. BTW, I'll be speaking at the Information Design Conference and attending ivla. And listening to bossa nova whenever I can.

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: ED Education | Events and Happenings | Theories of Experience

    April 18, 2007

    5. Can an experience be shared? If so, in what way, and among whom and how many individuals? Is the experience they share the same?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Splash-RipplesThis is the fifth and last of five questions defining the nature of experience that I will now post. I hope that you, the readers of this blog, will help me to answer them and thus, to define experience.

    I will assemble these question and their answers in my forthcoming book on design of experience.

    Purposefully, I'm not sharing my own answers at this time. It's your opinions and observations that matter now, unadulterated by my position or directed by me.

    Please post your responses as Comments. I'll reply there in return.

    Also, please make your friends aware of these questions. The more responses I receive, the more complete will be our collective understanding of experience.

    Thank you.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Theories of Experience

    4. What metrics can be devised and applied, or have been already, to take the measure of an experience?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    VitruvianThis is the fourth of five questions defining the nature of experience that I will now post. I hope that you, the readers of this blog, will help me to answer them and thus, to define experience.

    I will assemble these question and their answers in my forthcoming book on design of experience.

    Purposefully, I'm not sharing my own answers at this time. It's your opinions and observations that matter now, unadulterated by my position or directed by me.

    Please post your responses as Comments. I'll reply there in return.

    Also, please make your friends aware of these questions. The more responses I receive, the more complete will be our collective understanding of experience.

    Thank you.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Theories of Experience

    3. What role do setting, memories of prior experiences, and the larger environment play in creating the character of an experience?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    3 Venn DiagramThis is the third of five questions defining the nature of experience that I will now post. I hope that you, the readers of this blog, will help me to answer them and thus, to define experience.

    I will assemble these question and their answers in my forthcoming book on design of experience.

    Purposefully, I'm not sharing my own answers at this time. It's your opinions and observations that matter now, unadulterated by my position or directed by me.

    Please post your responses as Comments. I'll reply there in return.

    Also, please make your friends aware of these questions. The more responses I receive, the more complete will be our collective understanding of experience.

    Thank you.

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

    2. What are the dimensions of an experience?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    FieldorbThis is the second of five questions defining the nature of experience that I will now post. I hope that you, the readers of this blog, will help me to answer them and thus, to define experience.

    I will assemble these question and their answers in my forthcoming book on design of experience.

    Purposefully, I'm not sharing my own answers at this time. It's your opinions and observations that matter now, unadulterated by my position or directed by me.

    Please post your responses as Comments. I'll reply there in return.

    Also, please make your friends aware of these questions. The more responses I receive, the more complete will be our collective understanding of experience.

    Thank you.

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

    1. When does an experience begin and end?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    41X Runsten28This is the first of five questions defining the nature of experience that I will now post. I hope that you, the readers of this blog, will help me to answer them and thus, to define experience.

    I will assemble these question and their answers in my forthcoming book on design of experience.

    Purposefully, I'm not sharing my own answers at this time. It's your opinions and observations that matter now, unadulterated by my position or directed by me.

    Please post your responses as Comments. I'll reply there in return.

    Also, please make your friends aware of these questions. The more responses I receive, the more complete will be our collective understanding of experience.

    Thank you.

    Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Theories of Experience

    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?


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

    March 16, 2007

    More on my search for cases of exemplary experience designs

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Festivals-Of-IndiaEarlier, I posted an invitation to readers, to make me aware of exemplary experience design projects for possible inclusion in my book-in-progress.

    I forgot to add an important category:

    Pageants, Festivals, Rituals, and Spiritual Places and Experiences

    Please keep this one in mind, as these phenomena are often the most intense expressions of intentional design for experience. Thank you, and special thanks to those of you who've already submitted very interesting prospective cases. I'll review them and get back to you over the weekend.

    (Illustration: Festivals in India)

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

    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

    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 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 5, 2006

    Information Design redux

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The importance of information design (ID) as a discipline with much to loan other design disciplines -- especially those that deal with human-human and human-system communication -- was brought home to me by two events.

    The first event is happening as I write: a passionate, even fierce conversation taking place online among the practitioners of information architecture (IA), a subset of ID that deals almost exclusively with Web design. (You can read a summary of the argument with numerous comments and links to other blogs on the IA website, Bokardo, “Thoughts on the Impending Death of Information Architecture.”) The IA practitioners tend to agree that the contours of that discipline, all wrapped up with computer interaction, are becoming confining, though they are at odds how to liberate themselves from these strictures: Change the name of the practice? Change the practice? Or give it up entirely for other pursuits?

    For a decade, IA eclipsed ID, Web design being a lot more glamorous (and for a time, more lucrative) than designing mundane artifacts like signage or brochures (the ID legacy). Now ID is looking quite attractive as an overarching discipline absolutely relevant to IAs -- and other designers -- pushing the envelope of their professions.

    SbdiThe second event was receiving an unexpected but welcome invitation from Carla Spinella, an editor of InfoDesign, the journal of the Brazilian Society of Information Design (SBDI) to attend and keynote the Third Information Design International Conference 2007 taking place next year in Curitiba, in the south of Brazil, October 11-13. I presume the invitation honors the contributors to a book I edited, Information Design (MIT Press 2000), who together described the applications of information design principles to fields as varied as exhibition design, the design of learning methodologies, architectural wayfinding, interaction design, book design, media design, and about a dozen others. Information Design sold out and went to a second printing on the basis of audience expectations as much as what it delivered. The Brazilian conference's broad themes -- education, science and technology, cultural effects, etc. -- demonstrate the pervasive influence of ID everywhere in the world.

    Two other conferences with long-established traditions complete next year's official ID trilogy. (There are many smaller events, of course. See the excellent
    InfoDesign website and news digest for a calendar.):

    Logo1-V3The Information Design Conference 2007 hosted by the Information Design Association in the UK takes place March 29-30, 2007, in Greenwich, London. “Our overall aim this year,” reports the IDA, the first national information design professional organization, “is to construct an eclectic event, particularly strong on interdisciplinary learning and practice. The purpose, as ever, is to share ideas about how to make information easier to understand, in such diverse fields as..

    • Government and administration
    • Healthcare and health promotion
    • Technical instruction and user guides
    • Reference and learning materials
    • Transport information and wayfinding/showing
    • Forms and transaction interfaces
    • Financial and billing information
    • Web and interface design

    Iiid LogoThe IIID Vision Plus 12 Symposium, taking place in Schwarzenberg, Austria, July 5-7, 2007, ”Information Design -- Achieving Measurable Results.“ It's hosted by the International Institute for Information Design. The theme for Vision Plus 12 is ”measurement“: how can we measure and quantify the impact and results of informational communication? This has become a hot topic both in business and academia, a daunting challenge. Vision Plus 12 will explore this controversial question from all sides:

    • How and to what extent can we measure the success of a given work?
    • How do we quantify the role and impact of intangibles like design?
    • What techniques and technologies can be used to get measurable results?
    • How are information designers building the necessary metrics into their projects?

    The IIID, headquartered in Vienna, is a nonprofit organization partnered with several national ID organizations (in the US, the AIGA). It's also the the driving force behind initiatives to establish an Information Design University under the auspices of UNESCO (similar to the Experience Design Institute championed on this blog). The IIID ID Summer Academy, in the Cape Verde Islands, in August 2007, has as its purposes ” defining the requirements of branding, communication, and related vocational education, enhancing sustainable tourism at the Cape Verde Islands.“

    Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Events and Happenings | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | Theories of Experience

    November 30, 2006

    “The Systematic Inefficiencies of Grocery Paths”: Wayfinding amidst the aisles

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Inside-Supermarkets-LargeSomewhere between the bananas and the potato chips, I stop to reflect on my meander through the supermarket. My path seems to alternate between the purposeful and recreational. Sometimes I intensely pursue items on my grocery list, like Frank Buck, the celebrated hunter, “bringing 'em back alive!' Other times, I leisurely cruise the aisles. Often I dawdle among the imported delicacies, like the $120 bottles of Croatian balsamic vinegar, to see how the other half eats. Why such a dichotomy of behaviors?

    An article in the current Knowledge@Wharton summarizes a paper recently published by professors Peter Fader and Eric Breslow, and doctoral student Sam Hui, who set out to answer this question (”The Traveling Salesman Goes Grocery Shopping: The Systematic Inefficiencies of Grocery Paths“). The researchers visited stores and calculated the ”optimal paths“ among products, the most efficient routes necessary to acquire these items and then leave the store. They then studied how 1,000 shoppers adhered to these routes.

    Even allowing for customers' lack of knowledge about the exact location of specific products, shoppers tended to spend more time in stores than efficient shopping required. And we're not just talking about small amounts: almost 70 percent of grocery shoppers' time was spent not buying things.

    Ultimately, the research exposed shopper inefficiency, but it didn't explain it. Is it for fun? To acquire new knowledge? To sample the supermarket's ambience -- which, in the better stores like Whole Foods, is modeled on the country store? Nor is it not clear, for example, which type of shopper is more ”profitable.“

    The Wharton research provides useful empirical descriptions of shoppers' behavior. For example, most shoppers hover on the perimeter of a store, darting into the aisles to make purchases, rather than cruising up and down the aisles, as is commonly the case portrayed in the media and advertisements. (Forget meeting Mr. or Ms. Right in front of the spice rack in back. Try the fried chicken on the hot table up front.) This is prime display space and a good place to sell convenience foods. Common sense, maybe, but now it has scientific validation. John Sherry's ServiceScapes, reviewed on this blog, is another good source of empirical observations, with theory, pertaining to the shopping experience.

    The rewards will be high for those who can explain not just how shoppers act as they do, but why, and how they can be directed. Herb Sorensen, whose shopping-research company provides the RFID-based PathTracker technology used in the Wharton research (watch out, Paco Underhill!), observes, ”There will be a huge growth in the use of in-store media to try to influence the way shoppers navigate a store and what they buy: $300 billion of advertising money will move into the retail space in the next five years.“

    Path analysis as used by the Wharton researchers is a commercial subset of wayfinding an evolving methodology with roots in sailing, architecture, landscape architecture, and environmental design. Wayfinding is a comprehensive means for understanding and aiding human navigation in complex environments, and not just in the material world. In future entries, I'll get more deeply into the practice of wayfinding with help from experts (like Romedi Passini, co-author with the late Paul Arthur of the classic Wayfinding). Feel free to write with inquiries in the meantime.

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

    November 2, 2006

    Women make 80 percent of buying decisions: what's it mean for experience designers?

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    American Gothic“The Buying Power of the 80 Percent Minority,” on today's Talk of the Nation, discusses a central fact of contemporary marketing: women make most of the decisions to buy high-ticket items:

    Women make the household purchases in 80 percent of homes. Now, more and more businesses realize that what women want are power tools, dishwashers, digital cameras, automobiles and houses. Guests discuss how retailers are catering to the way women shop, and changing marketing strategies to appeal to the major purchasing power of women.

    This has been known for a long time, actually. A decade ago, when my VR company was preparing a living-room-sized 3D showroom for a regional hardware chain, the company's executives made sure we understood that women would be making most of the decisions -- no, if I recall, they said “all of the decisions” -- regarding interior design, including purchasing hard goods (like lighting and ventilation) as well as softer items (furniture and draperies).

    One of the TOTN callers-in, a young retail electronics salesman, observed that even in dealing with “Engadget” types of buys, women were better informed, more inquisitive, and ultimately the people who made the buying decision. Males in couples often stood on the sidelines while their female partners did the bargaining -- hard. The show host speculated that men don't want to be one-upped by salespeople, which is how they feel if they have to ask for advice. The same is true, it might be observed, for couples on the road or traveling overseas: who wanders endlessly, and who asks the questions that gets the couple where they're going? You got it: the gal.

    Brand managers lust after the 18-35 male target market . What if they're wrong? What if the 18-35 male cohort is highly visible merely because it watches media -- but it doesn't actually buy the goods advertised thereon? Who's pitching to the women? For that matter, who's pitching to the 35-plus women, especially the Boomer women, who control so much of the society's wealth? Most marketing professionals still talk about target markets in disturbingly vague terms that suggest they don't really know the outcomes of their investments.

    All of this may be critical to marketers, but what does it say for experience designers? Three things:

    • Experiences are almost certainly different for men and women, categorically, outweighing individual differences. Designed experiences must be tested for these differences.

    • Any experience design for a mixed audience must be designed with the assumption that the women's experiences will be decisive, if the point of the experience is a subsequent action on the part of the “experiencers.”

    • Teams of experience designers will benefit by including women who see things in a context that men may not share -- and by taking their advice.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: The Practice of Experience Design | Theories of Experience

    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:

    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 16, 2006

    Studio 360: “Scratch and Sniff,” The Mystery of Smell

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    The first 40 minutes of this week's Studio 360, New York Public Radio's always fascinating show about design and experience, is entitled “Scratch and Sniff,”and features four short audio programs (in Real format) about the wonders of smell.

    Small Portrait“Scratch and Sniff” begins with a conversation between Studio 360 host Kurt Anderson and author Chandler Burr, the New York Times' first perfume critic (“Scent Strip”) and author of the bestselling The Emperor of Smell: A True Story of Perfume, Obsession, and the Last Mystery of the Senses. In Emperor, Burr profiles the biochemist Luca Turin, a compelling force -- and highly controversial -- in the $20-billion-a-year perfume business. Turin believes that smell is actually a result of molecular vibrations, not chemical reactions, and can be tuned like music. (An archive of Turin's now-closed blog, Perfume Notes, can be downloaded here in PDF format. Turin's monthly “Duftnote” is now published in English in NZZ Folio.) Burr advocates founding a “museum of smell” to celebrate smell as an evolutionary triumph and driver of creativity and commerce.

    The show's other smell-related audio articles include “Snow in a Bottle,” describing the work of Christopher Brosius, “a perfumer with a different approach: he bottles the smell of celery, a gin and tonic, thunderstorms, even snow”; “Scent of a Painting,” which looks at the love of painters for the smell of paint and canvas; and “Death in Venice,” in which writer Adam Haslett, author of the short story collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. admires Thomas Mann's Death in Venice for its stench. “Everything in the story, he says, is 'overripe.'”

    Profile Nose Smell, as poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman reminds us in her lyrical A Natural History of the Senses, is the most emotive of the senses, able to evoke memories of places, people, and events long after their sights and sounds have been forgotten. When two people experience a smell together, it can be the basis of a lifelong bond. Yet smell is the sense we have the most difficulty talking about. Because smell and taste are so intimately fused in the human sensorium, we commonly use taste words to talk about smells (“sweet,” “sour,” “like roses,” etc.). Ackerman also introduces us to the mysterious folks within International Flavors & Fragrances, IFF, a multibillion-dollar laboratory that invents smelly and tasty chemicals for inclusion in our foods, cosmetics, new cars, and virtually every perfume not made with 100% natural products. IFF's new Visionaire 47 TASTE is “a limited edition arts publication that pairs paintings, photographs, and conceptual images with specially-created flavors.” A best-smeller, for sure.

    Digital media do a poor job of capturing and representing smells. Smell-O-Rama, a recent technology for “attaching” scents to email, and other such strange inventions for conveying the experience of smell are notable more for thier oddity than for their effectiveness, although the search continues. One non-digital format that works is “scratch-and-sniff” paper, the once ubiquitous stinker-upper of fashion magazines, now largely banned because it stirred allergic reactions in too many readers.

    mid_logo.gif Black-DeathHow can we design compelling experiences to exploit people's sense of smell? Displays of perfumery and taste enhancers are common. A more expansive example is London's Museum in Docklands (sister museum to the popular Museum of London). As part of a historical walkthrough, reports Museum spokesperson John Joyce, modern chemical science has recreated the smells of tides, ships, warehouses, inns, trade goods (like spices, tobacco, and tea), even sailors and sewers, that characterized the Dockland's streets and quays during successive historic periods. Most challenging of all, according to a radio reviewer? Creating the odor of disease and death during the 17th-Century calamity, The Great Plague of London (recalling Monty Python's classic line, “Bring out your dead! Bring out yer dead!”). A laboratory commissioned to develop these aromas reportedly was all too successful: the display is a repellent success.

    Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Experience Design & Technology | Integrative + Interdisciplinary Design | Theories of Experience

    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 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 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 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, 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

    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

    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."

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    April 22, 2006

    David Armano's “Experience Map”

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Experience MapDAVID ARMANO, creative lead at agency Digitas, in Chicago, has published a pretty neat “experience map” on his blog, Logic + Emotion. A work in progress, it's visually stimulating, and conceptually as well as practically interesting. However, I'm waiting for David to extend the map's concepts off the Web page and into the material and experiential world. The map's downloadable. Your comments are welcome (we'll share them with David).

    Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: ED Projects of Note | Theories of Experience | Websites, Blogs, and Podcasts

    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.

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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

    January 18, 2006

    Rediscovering the Information Environment

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    It was Marshall McLuhan who first observed that we live in a media milieu, an information environment. He tried repeatedly to enunciate metrics with which to survey this virtual landscape.

    He was the first and the last. Except for a dwindling cadre of McLunan disciples, there have been no convincing studies of the "physics" and "chemistry" of media as they affect our perception and cognition.

    We travel through information space, through presentation-modality fields, nebular clusters of data, and other informational features -- unique to this domain, as smell and touch are to the physical world -- that determine how we know the worlds in which we live, locally and globally. Notwithstanding lame efforts to invent a science of “information ecology” (whatever that means), the information environment is taken for granted.

    In fact, if we can rely on a Google search to represent the general state of public awareness, we don't even know it's there.

    During the New Year holiday, I tried to collect data that would characterize the information environment, data that would accurately describe the current confluences, interactions, and synergies among media. By smooshing together various random quantitative indicators, I thought I could determine the various media to which we're exposed to and in which we participate.

    I knew it wasn't possible, without a lot more work, to develop interior knowledge, let alone a workable theory, of what then goes on our minds. My resources consisted exclusively of quantitative data: industry sales, attendance at events, investment in and performance by companies -- market research reports. As a former advertising creative director and observer of market research, I have a low regard for market research. Market researchers take scads of numbers -- all that they have to work with, given their field's epistemological emptiness -- and throw them at the reader. This data, whose sole virtue is that it has a common metric (dollars), covers for an absence of testable knowledge about the phenomenon in question: in this case, the information environment.

    Anyway....what did I find out?

    • Video game sales are modestly down.

    • TV viewing (including cable and satellite systems) is up, but viewer audiences per show and channel were down.

    • Movie attendance is way down.

    • Sales of giant TVs are very up.

    • Cellular phone sales are peaking, possibly plateauing.

    • Theme park attendance is modestly up, gambling is up, and record sales may be down or up, depending on how one aggregates the many legitimate and illegitimate ways in which music is sold and bartered.

    • Radio listenership likewise is up or down, depending on how one counts satellite radio listeners (which could be new listeners or AM/FM listeners moving over).

    • iPod sales are way up, but PC sales are down.

    • Internet use is up, especially in Asia. Women now constitute the majority of Internet users in the West, but their use is radically different from the use of the Internet made by men (including the interesting fact that men do business,collect information, and buy stuff online, whereas women use the net to nurture relationships).

    • Newspaper and book sales are way down, magazine sales are static, travel is off (but showing signs of rebounding), and blogs are beginning to diminish as the technology de jour.

    • Lastly, the experience of education, except for students able to afford the best, emits one big sucking sound.

    What does any of this tell us about the experience of media, of what, as a result of continuous, multiple, overlapping, interacting media exposures, goes on in the mind of the individual and the consciousness (or unconsciousness, as the case may be) of the collective?

    Very little or, more likely, nothing at all.

    When media critics, social scientists, and policy makers inveigh on what this has to do with human experience, they are merely opining. Or worse, they may invoke intellectual legerdemain -- circus magic that they believe actually works -- to bridge the chasm between meaningless data and questionable conclusions.

    I'm determined to do something about this. My first Ph.D. thesis, abandoned because it bewildered my faculty committee, was an attempt to characterize comparative information environments, to begin the process of applying science to understand media effects and outcomes. (I remember an English professor at UC Santa Cruz, the director of its avant-garde History of Consciousness Program, who, nose elevated, proclaimed this effort to be “merely advertising.” What a discerning fellow.) I won't get fooled again. This isn't academic work: it's independent scholarship that has to take place among practitioners, not apart from them.

    The “practitioners” I choose to study are experience designers. Experience design -- in the broadest sense, “all that we experience by design” (not the constricted “user experience” definition forced on the field by web-design interests) -- relies on, and highlights, a potentially useful theoretical framework.

    In the coming weeks and months, I'll be interviewing leading experience designers to find out how they identify and assess the challenges they're called on to overcome; how they solve problems; the outcomes of these solutions for their clients and audiences; and social and cultural issues like collective awareness of situations and crises -- and action or inaction -- as a result of designed experiences. My research is already in the works.

    I hope this makes for engaging blog reading and possibly a print-medium essay or two. Maybe even a PBS documentary. It's about time we came to grips with the most powerful forces present in our world, forces more powerful and determinative than fission or fusion, magnetism or gravity. It's time for a Lewis & Clark adventure fit for our 21st Century.

    Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Theories of Experience

    January 22, 2005

    On Being Human

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    Posted by Paula Thornton

    Child Reaching.jpg Obviously, one of the critical bodies of knowledge for our discipline is the study of human behavior. With that, I have a recommendation. Eating my cereal and soy milk this morning I happened to flip to the Discovery Health network. I had the priviledge of catching the end of what is apparently a recurring three-part series: The Baby Human.

    While I'll hopefully be catching the rebroadcast this afternoon (I can't go too far from home today, as the beginning of a winter snowstorm is quietly decending on the WDC area), I wanted to share the inspiration I gathered from this, in the hopes that some of you might also be inspired to watch.

    ...continue reading.

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    November 1, 2004

    The shifting nature of preference

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    Posted by Steve Portigal

    Check out Malcolm Gladwell's recent Pop!Tech presentation (audio, available in a couple of different formats). His new book, Blink, comes out in January, and his already-high profile is about to take another leap (I've heard that his speaking fees have similarly bumped, so this may be your best way to hear him). In this presentation he speaks about how people make decisions, how the experience of asking them about preference can strongly influence their responses.
    aeron1[1].jpgHe gives a few familiar examples (the Aeron chair was ugly when it was first viewed, yet later it won design awards; people liked New Coke, but it bombed) and falls back on that typical anti-design-research stance - why ask people what they want when they can't tell you?

    Fortunately, Gladwell is smarter than that and really just encourages us to be careful what we ask, how we ask it, and how we interpret it. As a researcher myself, I'd like to hear an acknowledgement of the skills that we bring to the process, that Gladwell understands that "asking someone" isn't simply asking them, and that listening to them isn't simply taking down their answers and totalling them. In this presentation, he pokes at it, but he doesn't quite come out and say it...

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    October 12, 2004

    Worst-Case Scenarios or Best-Case Scenarios?

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    Posted by Steve Portigal

    2002-06-03-mlife.jpgAdam Greenfield has a nice piece in Vodafone's receiver magazine (a pretty fascinating and well-written journal, not an on-message pro-corporate puff-piece but a daringly successful attempt to support thought leadership). Greenfield points out the ludicrousness of the idealized scenarios that are created as part of designing experiences/systems/software/etc. - all based around idealized and normal interactions while completely ignoring the transgressive and innovative ways that people actually use things.

    I'm completely guilty of this myself, the last few scenarios I've worked on dealt with taking calls on a mobile phone while commuting into work, getting an instant message at a desk, configuring a database, etc. I can make the case that those were what the problems required, but Greenfield is interested in innovation - in how products can be used in ways beyond what basic functionality they are replacing from other tools. He points to some of the more interesting mobile services introduced lately, maybe you've read about the service that will play traffic or other background noises over your conversation in order to validate an excuse or lie. And Greenfield makes the strong point that these types of things represent what people actually do and thus are crucial to be considered.

    It's actually advertisers who stretch the envelope...if you think about those ads for Polaroid a couple of years back (during a last-ditch attempt to gain relevancy in a digital imaging world), or the launch of mLife, depicting scenarios in which husbands were receiving images from their wives (going from memory here, I think there was a Poloroid ad that implied it was a nude picture in the briefcase, while mLife made us THINK it was a nude picture but it was actually a photo of food or something)...all funny, surprising, and struggling to break the frame a bit.

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    August 2, 2004

    A Good Read: "SERVICESCAPES, The Concept of Place in Contemporary Markets"

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    Posted by Bob Jacobson

    Apparently little noticed outside the field of retail marketing when it was published in 1998, ServiceScapes, by John F. Sherry, Jr., remains a treasure trove of findings regarding the notion of "place" in contemporary marketing. So much marketing is done abstractly, by the numbers, that it's refreshing to find a collection of case studies that actually puts feet on the street to observe how location and environment combine with brand to create new consumer perceptions. ServiceScapes isn't another trendy. slapdash, "shopping-mall" faux-sociology, but rather a considered, theoretical discussion of place and space, and their consequences for commerce and consumer experience, backed up by rigorous observation.

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