On Experience Design: Concepts and Case Studies

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

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.

Innovators, read Michael Quinn Patton

At the urging of my friend and colleague Barb Berry, I recently read Michael Quinn Patton‘s book Developmental Evaluation.

It has been a long time since I have read a professional text with as engaging a style and tone.

What challenges me about Patton’s book is that it addresses evaluation work at a high level of sophistication. It assumes readers are capable evaluators and explores the practice of evaluation in a way that focuses on the why? rather than the how. True the book offers lists of possible evaluation frameworks and describes cases and examples of how complexity concepts may be applied by evaluators, their clients, and collaborators. But, even though I am a dabbler in the field of evaluation, I appreciated not being told what to do and rather being able to reason my way to what might work in a given situation.

The book has resonated as I have gone about my week observing an innovative program and offering just-in-time developmental feedback to the people involved. It has primed me to attend to the emergent, unanticipated outcomes and situations and the obstacles that they have created for people.

Patton’s book will resonate for anyone who is working to develop a social innovation. It persuades me that there is value for an insider/outsider evaluator on high stakes innovation programs. Patton’s book will appeal to innovators who are already inclined towards complexity, systems thinking, and other outside-in ecological ways of looking at growing a product, service or program. Cynefin practioners may appreciate Patton’s application of Snowden and Boone.

For pioneering service and strategy designers, developmental evaluation offers ways to evaluate the impact of service and strategy prototypes and innovations. If a future goal of service design agencies is to take service designs all the way to implementation and evaluation, developmental evaluation should feature on user research teams’ learning plan.