Experience design

2014-09-05-experience as excursion

Experience Design goes way beyond designing rollercoaster rides. Contemporary studies are concerned with a vast majority of our everyday experiences, since nearly everything around us in this developed part of the world is in fact designed. As Svabo and Shanks write, “we live in designed environments, are surrounded by design objects, and in many situations have our attention, capacity and movement negotiated by design”. Photo: Morguefile.com.

by Camilla Simonsen
A nomadic approach to experience design is explored in a new book chapter by Roskilde University DHT researcher Connie Svabo and Stanford professor Michael Shanks.

In a new book chapter by DHT researcher Connie Svabo and Professor at Stanford University archaeologist Michael Shanks they discuss how a focus on experience design can transcend different fields of study in productive way. Svabo and Shanks open the book chapter, which is called “Experience as Excursion: A Note towards Metaphysics of Design Thinking” with a summary of the field of design, pointing out that there has been a growing consciousness and emphasis upon design since the 1960ies. This growth, they explain, has happened mainly due to four factors, namely the growth of the service economy, the development of information technology, investment in design research and the general expansion of design practices beyond simple studios.

Hence the multiplicity of perspectives on design and design processes the book chapter says that modern life is saturated by design, and that this phenomenon brings with it an interesting challenge: “not only to design singular objects, services, systems and environments, but also to understand, imagine, connect and choreograph all of these different designs”.

Experience Design as umbrella term
The book chapter points out that Pine and Gilmore, the founding fathers of the notion of experience economy, have been known to say that “designing for experience is like staging, involving set, props, scripts – scenography and dramaturgy” and one of the chapters main conclusions, that takes all this into account, is the one that stresses that “Experience Design can act as an umbrella term for a number of design approaches which target complexities and heterogeneity in situations of use.”

Linking some of the development of emphasis on design to the development of the experience economy in the western developed economies, the book chapter discusses the concept of experience by asking the question if all design is experience design.

This is not an easily answered question, since no commonly accepted and authoritative definition of experience seems to exist, and as Svabo and Shanks point out ”for the design world experience is something that remains fuzzy, indeterminate”.

A suggested definition is provided by reference to Handbook of the Experience Economy, edited by Roskilde University professors Jon Sundbo and Flemming Sørensen, and previous research where experience is unfolded as a mental, sensoric and perceptual phenomenon. The authors however suggest an alternative to the “think-sense-feel” approach to experience.

Design as choreography of energy
Drawing on the work of design scholar Ben Highmore as well as Stanford-inspired design thinking, the authors point out that “Experiences emerge in the intertwinement of a variety of objects, interactions, spaces and information” – all mediated through a framework called design. The authors draw on Michel Serres philosophy of the five senses in order to underline the voyaging and distracted characteristics of experience.

Under the label of “nomadic metaphysics”, the chapter suggests that experience is something fluid, something that wanders; it is on incessant excursion. Shank and Svabo state that “When experience is given account as voyaging engagement – as nomadic convulsions of energies, Experience Design becomes an effort to choreograph forces, engagements and energies.”

To end off, the approach is sketched out as “an invitation to experiment with new metaphors for experience”. In fact “metaphor” etymologically means “transport” – so appropriately in this chapter experience is explored as jump, kick and dance.

The book chapter of course contains much more, but to read it, you will have to wait until the book, “Designing Experience. Cases & Considerations” expectedly hits the bookshelves in September this year.

Fast facts:
*Experience as Excursion: A Note towards Metaphysics of Design Thinking is a book chapter by DHT researcher Connie Svabo and archeologist and Professor at Stanford University Michael Shanks.
*The chapter will appear in the book “Designing Experience. Cases & Considerations”, edited by Peter Benz, and in print with Bloomsbury Academic.

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