defining experience

from Virtuosos of the Experience Domain (pdf) “There is no such thing as experience design. You can’t design […]

from Virtuosos of the Experience Domain (pdf)
“There is no such thing as experience design. You can’t design experience because experiencing is in people. You can design for experiencing, however.”

This is one of experinece design’s hotbuttons, one of the points most often debated. This paper points out that experinece design is co-owned by the designer and the people using the products and services. That any experinece is essentially a collabortive process.

Did I mention Design Has Consequences?

There are multiple other interesting points in this paper that deserve some debate:

Users and customers and audiences

Ms. Sanders proposes the user of the term “people” rather than “users” or “Customers.” This is a debate that comes up again and again on CHI-WEB but really, it seems semantic to me– every term we use becomes dulled with reuse. It’s up to the individual designer to remember some poor human is someday going to experience your design. That’s why I’m such a fan of personas… you can change the name of the faceless “user” as many times as you want, but you can’t beat giving that user a face.

It’s easy to say “users are morons” or “people are morons” but can you say that this persona, James McCain, who went to havard is a moron because he is fifty and tends to mis-select on dropdowns because of a slight tremor in his hand? It’s harder to call a specific person, even if they are make-believe, a moron.

creativity as owned by design

While the paper acknowledges that all people can be creative, it states

“Most people, however, are not in the habit of using or expressing their creativity.”

I’m not sure this is true. I suspect that all people who sove problems in their jobs, be it the lowly data entry person who writes excel macros to the material scientist who designs a new type of rover to get at the good rocks on mars is creative. Anyone who solves a problem is creative. I think there is a bit of elitism in many designers that they own creativity. And why shouldn’t they feel that way — companies refer to them as “creatives” and allow them leeway to play that is often frowned upon in other departments.

All departments engaged in solving problems are creative. All should play. And all playspaces should be respected, be it business developement or QA.

Most people may not be used to creating visual interactive design solutions, but I think most people flex their creative muscle more often than they think. And I think the most we respect and listen to the creative problem solving that exists in other disciplines, the better solutions we’ll be able to craft in ours.

experience design as a term

Apart from the question of “Can an experience be designed” I have to wonder if experience design is too vague and far reaching for most of us to ever become good at it. I’m going to feel pretty good about myself as a craftsperson if I can simply design a usable pleasent and effective website — without smellovision and 3-D glasses. I don’t want to go out and design roller coasters. I am somewhat attracted to experience design and an overarching field, a parent to all the flavors of interactive design, but I suspect an experience design would be a jack of all trades with almost no mastery.

These are just the half-formed thoughts floating through my head as I contemplate the things I’ve heard and read since joinging AIGA’s experience design list some months ago. I’d love to hear other’s thoughts about this newly coined discipline.

if discipline it is….


Add Yours
  1. 1
    Tom Brzezina

    While I agree with your basic premise, I have a problem with your definition of creativity. I’ve always found the equation of creativity with problem solving overly simplistic and misguided. Were Picasso and Miles Davis merely problem solvers? They certainly did their share of problem solving, but that’s not why we revere them. Like it or not, designers really are more akin to artists than people in other departments are. I’m not a designer. In fact, I’m one of those people who regularly get pissed at designers for all the usual prima donna reasons. But I’ve also seen many a designer take a “solution” and turn it into something truly transcendent. I’m not saying they’re better or desrve more, but – at their best – designers do operate on a different level.

  2. 2

    1. It strikes me that the whole debate about whether to call “us” IA, Experience Design or whatever is partly a desire to shift people’s perceptions of “us” away from the term “web design”.

    Why are we uncomfortable with “web design”? After all, in the end, this is what we deliver.

    2. Creativity – the problem with the term is that is is laden with value judgements. Creative for who? Not everyone likes Miles Davis, especially Bitches Brew. But I do! It also assumes that everyone labelled creative is equally brilliant and innovative at what they do. If you don’t like it, it’s probably because you don’t understand it!

    So why is it that designers don’t seem to have a problem with what they call themselves?!

  3. 3

    Ms. Sanders proposes the user of the term “people” rather than “users” or “Customers.”

    One great thing about working on an intranet — you can just say “employee” and no one gets upset (except maybe the contractors).

  4. 4

    I think Miles Davis and Picasso were problem solvers — their problem was that they were trying to express the ephermeral, externalize some inarticulated internal perception.

    some problems are better than others. And some solutions are better than others…

    There are elegant solutions and inelegant hacks. This is a thread much like the writing thread… we all struggle to articulate, some articulate better than others in their communication medium. Art is not just creativity — it’s is creativity + craft + X.

    I’m not sure designers work in a different level so much as a different medium, one that is far more accessible to the general public than a line of code.

  5. 5
    Tom Brzezina

    All points well taken, Christina. I guess I was trying to say that creativity is problem solving + X. (Not all problem solving is creative. If I have a flat tire, I go into the trunk for my spare and tools. I solve my problem, but I’m not being creative.)

    I think some of us work more in the problem solving side of the + while others work more in the X side. In my experience, designers more often fall into the latter camp.

    I have to add the disclaimer that I’m quick to jump to the defense of designers. These days, they are too often relegated to – as one designer I know put it – “a pair of hands”.

  6. 6

    I really like what you had to say about creating personas. That is such a good argument for taking the time to do it. Thanks, Christina!

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