Unraveling the threads of experience design

Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

A kimchi refrigerator (Photo credit: cher https://flic.kr/p/7yh7dN)
A kimchi refrigerator (Photo credit: cher https://flic.kr/p/7yh7dN)

Have you ever considered how and why a kimchi refrigerator offers users more autonomy than conventional refrigerators might, what constitutes an ideal trip to and through an airport, or why a sophisticated golf simulator might offer a peak form of entertainment? Jin Woo Kim’s Design for Experience: Where technology meets design and strategy, which I discovered in Fjord’s slide deck on design trends for 2016, seeks to dymytisfy the thinking and requirements behind designing powerful product and service experiences.

Kim’s book is useful on multiple levels. I have been so immersed in the North American and European literature on design for service and experience design that it was refreshing to read a leading Korean HCI scholar on experience design. I appreciate how Kim integrated ideas from Confucius, John Dewey and Vitruvius  to underlie his exploration of experience design. Lucy Kimbell extolls Vitruvius in her handbook on service innovation, and Dewey is oft-cited in  Benz’s edited collection on Experience Design, but  I was delighted to read more about how Confucius’s ideas on harmony inform experience design.  I also enjoyed how Kim blends detailed technical explanations of design features with supporting narration of his experiences in Seoul, and detailed analyzed a range of Korean and Western products and services as UX examples.

At its core, the book presents a detailed framework of threads, levers, UX factors, and design features involved in designing product and service experiences. Kim breaks down meaningful, valuable and harmonious experience into three interrelated dimensions with associated key conceptual controls:

  • sensorial experience + sense of presence
  • judgemental experience + locus of causality
  • compositional experience + relational cohesiveness

Kim’s framework is similar to the product experience framework introduced by Desmet and Hekkert and adapted by Silvia Grimaldi, which I discussed in my review of Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies. What distinguishes Kim’s monograph from either this previous work or a text like Pine and Gilmore’s The Experience Economy is Kim’s detailed analysis and explanation of underlying UX factors and design features. The detailed, careful analysis of case studies and exposition associated UX factors and design features will prove useful to design students and practitioners. If you haven’t thought what vividness or presence or autonomy and automation might mean in relation to an experience or if you having considered which type of information architecture is best suited to the product or service experience you hope to offer, this text explicates these ideas in detail and offers concrete useful examples from both products and services.

What I found most challenging about the book was its focus only on designing corporate or commercial products and services although the principles and concepts will be equally useful for those designing for social innovations or  community experiences. I was hoping that Kim might address to the scope of design challenges that Kees Dorst addresses in Frame Innovation (e.g. the experience in a Sydney entertainment district) or the contributors to Benz’s collection do (festivals, public spaces), but Kim situates his framework squarely in traditional commercial product and service design. Nor does Kim address aspects of power, social justice, or sustainability..

Kim ends Design for Experience with a process description to apply the three dimension framework to the example of designing a companion product or service. What surprised me most about this section of the book was that Kim also emphasizes the organizational requirements needed to offer a harmonious, successful project. What I most appreciated about Kim’s text was his case in favour of interdisciplinary design practices informed by research and theory from the humanities and social sciences. Kim advocates for partnership between industry and academia. He calls for not only social science informed design research but also careful analysis of humanities research on relevant concepts like play or companionship depending on the particular design challenge.

Design for Experience makes a valuable contribution to the experience design literature.  It offers a solid conceptual framework for user experience designers, information architects, and practitioners to work with as they collaborate.

 

On The Experience Economy

Reading time: 3 – 5 minutes

What does street theatre look like in your workplace? (Photo: July Pasterello)
What does street theatre look like in your workplace? (Photo: July Pasterello)

I decided to read Pine and Gilmore’s The Experience Economy (1999/2011) because it was frequently cited in Peter Benz’s recent collection on Experience Design.

Here,  Joseph  Pine introducing the concept of economic progression, which is at the heart of the The Experience Economy:

This theory makes for an entertaining business anecdote — the other famous one in the book is the fact that people are very happy to pay €17 for an expresso to sit amidst  St. Mark’s Square in Venice —  but I question the underlying model of economic development. (Thank you, Mary Bryson and Erica McWilliam for helping me to learning to question taken for granted concepts like development.) Only towards the end of the text do Pine and Gilmore point to business models that are social- or value-driven rather than simply capitalist in focus.

Pine and Gilmore’s text has lots to offer service and experience designers who are developing service- and experience-based business models. In fact, in the later parts of the book, the authors present the idea of transformation-focused business. Orginally written at the turn of the 21st century, this book resonates with transformative learning theory, which was at the peak of its popularity around the same time.

Pine and Gilmore have a penchant for models built around 2×2 matrices,  and they devote an early chapter to aspects of effective experience. Personally, I prefer Grimaldi’s adaptation of Desmet and Hekkert’s experience design framework because it is more flexible . Overall this book now seems a bit dated, having been surpassed by social innovation and the Internet of Things. What is lacking for me is serious critique. I found myself pining  for Ian Bogost’s amazing essay “Welcome to Dataland” as I read Pine and Gilmore’s retelling of the history of Disney experience design.

The chapter I like the most is entitled “Performing to Form”, which makes the argument that workers can draw on four classic forms of theatre to craft and hone authentic workplace performances:

  1. Improv Theatre
  2. Platform Theatre
  3. Matching Theatre
  4. Street Theatre

Pine and Gilmore spend a lot of time looking at improv and street theatre. There is no question that improv remains a popular method for business to respond to dynamic and emergent conditions. I’ve toyed with reading some of the more recent popular titles like Yes, And.. or Do Improvise, but would rather play with it as an experimental method to prototype service experiences. The most fascinating sections  of the chapter were Pine and Gilmore’s analysis of street theatre, drawing extensively on Sallly Harrison-Pepper’s study of street performers in Washington Square,  Drawing a Circle in the Square. The point they make is that regardless of where you work and what you do, we can all strive to  cultivate performances adaptable yet thoroughly rehearsed.

What do street theatre or improv look like in you workplace?

On Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies

Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

In the wake of reading Thomas Wendt’s post-phenomenological exploration of experience design, I picked up Peter Benz’s edited collection Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies.

The collection offers a wide-ranging set of essays, research articles, and case studies. What I enjoyed most about the collection was the range of contexts it explores: everyday micro-interactions with commonplace objects like a tea kettle (Grimaldi), urban public spaces (Rajendran, Walker and Parnell), eating situations (Sommer et al.), and festivals (Strandvad and Pederson). Most of the studies were short enough to be read in a brief sitting, so after the deep dives that Thomas Wendt and Andrew Hinton’s Understanding Context offered me, this collection offered a fast-paced, high-level survey.

I’ve already started experimenting with one of frameworks presented and extended in the book: Grimaldi’s adaptation of Desmet and Hekkert’s “Framework of Product Experience”, which proposes that experience can vary on four dimensions:

  • aesthetic experience
  • cognitive experience
  • emotional experience
  • narrative experience

I’m starting to experiment with using these dimensions as a point of departure in conversations about designing learning experiences.  The categories are intuitive, and, in retrospect, I realize that aesthetic experience includes interactions with objects, things and other material elements in the learning setting.

Rajendran et al.’s chapter on how people experience urban public settings prompted me to wonder about how learning might be orchestrated in new and novel ways in the very constrained setting of large, front-facing lecture halls. Might there be creative, inexpensive ways of creating spaces within the room? Many years ago, I interviewed SFU mathmatics education professor Peter Liljedahl and he shared an anecdote about how he uses construction tape to direct student flows. This chapter also probes why people value particular spaces.

The final chapter that has stuck with me is Tara Mullaney’s case study of her design education intervention to disrupt design students’ tendency to adopt a problem-solving mindset rather than to search for transformative solutions to existing experiences. Working in the context of transforming the interaction between a bank and it customers, Mullaney had student do a one day design sprint to externalize an initial complete design and then mid-project had the group collectively ideate alternative concepts to interweave a personal finance and banking concern.  I appreciated how this chapter questioned the dominant logic of observational and user research. It made me wonder how collective brainstorming across disciplinary and educational knowledge domains (e.g.workplace business practice + higher education) might produce learning experience designs that transform learning experiences.

There is a lot of rich material in this collection and I anticipate returning to the first section on phenomenology and other theoretical perspectives over time.

What are you reading on experience design and how has it shaped your practice?

Thomas Wendt’s Design for Dasein

Reading time: 2 – 4 minutes

Thomas Wendt’s Design for Dasein was an affirming book for me to read. The text sits at the interface of many of my passions: continental philosophy, design, literary theory, learning and discernment, service, embodiment.

When I was in graduate school enacting the flậneur, I read David Sudnow’s amazing account of learning Jazz improvisation,  Ways of the Hand, which was my introduction to phenomenology.  Don’t ask me why I read that book or how I came across it. At the time, I was following my curiosity. Around the same time, and thanks in large part to two remarkable seminars with Mary Bryson, I was exposed to the work of Bruno Latour, Yrgo Engstrom, Brain Massumi, Elizabeth Ellsworth, and Dorothy Smith. Towards the end of my time at UBC, I delved into the literature on education and embodiment and affect theory. (Silvan Tomkins is still my favourite thinker from affect theory in particular.) What ties all this reading together, I can now see, are concerns centred around around the design of experiences, particularly learning experiences, and the assemblage of human and non-human actants into webs of significance. Wendt reviews Heidegger’s foundational concepts on design and technology and extends his framework into some wicked, contemporary post-phenomenology thinkers and concepts like Don Idhe’s thought on multistability and the difference between objects and things. Overall, Wendt’s text has helped me to is to integrate disparate intellectual threads from my past and to point me into some new directions.

What I appreciate about this book is that contextualizes service design in relation to other design fields like experience design, user experience design, and industrial design, and it offers a critical, balanced perspective on design thinking.

Design for Dasein is  generating a lot of talk on Twitter amongst designers and researchers I respect. Others are better placed to position its contribution to design theory and practice that I. But I admire Wendt for resisting the trend in design books to focus on rational-technical, how-to methods  or case studies. Instead, Wendt has written a book that offers insights that can inform academics, design research, and practitioners alike.