Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

What Is Experience Design?

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I have had much difficulty in the past making partners and customers understand my role as an Interaction Designer. While they could all fully grasp the roles of Information Designer, Communication Strategist, Design and Information Architect, they would feel uncomfortable in accepting the idea of a multi-disciplinary that could encompass these many different disciplines.


But like a sailman at sea or a skilled DJ in the club, the art of navigating your "boat" to destination is a master craft derived from a long refined multidisciplinary culture and sensitivity.

Experience Design is an emerging paradigm, a call for inclusion: it calls for an integrative practice of design that can benefit all designers, including those who work in the new, interactive media.

Unfortunately, the intense time and project pressures faced by designers in all disciplines, together with a parochialism or provincialism that is disturbingly constant among designers, prevents interdisciplinary conversations.

Web designers are too busy to talk to architects, who are too busy to talk to graphic designers, who are too busy to talk to automotive designers, and so on. Not only at professional association and trade events, but also on the 'Net, we miss the opportunity to learn from and work with each other.

Incorporating in design practice the knowledge provided by ethnographers, phenomenologists (scientists of "experience"), sociologists, psychologists, historians, storytellers, and other design disciplines is another challenge facing designers.

Experience design is a wildly popular new paradigm that may provide a solution. Experience designers strive to create desired perceptions, cognition, and behavior among users, customers, visitors, or the audience.

Experience designers of many specializations successfully work with each other and with non-design professionals. There are real synergies in cross-disciplinary design.

Source: Bob Jacobson, A List Apart

And here, straight from the AIGA Yahoogroup discussion list, is this, spontaneously emerged, unique collaborative interplay of definitions about what Experience Design really is.

What is Experience Design?

"please define experience design in one sentence.

i have heard enough of why it cannot be done, so none of that please. is anyone up to it?"

From: Gunnar Swanson

I don't think you'll get much agreement on one sentence. Here are three stabs at how I think various people who embrace the phrase might define the term:

1) Planning of people's experiences with an institution, service, or product.

2) Design where the "product" of the design is ethereal enough that nobody can regard it as an object and everyone involved has to recognize that it's not about a thing.

3) Design with the understanding that it's not about a thing but rather
about the people who use things.

There's some overlap of meaning but each of the three has at least slightly different implications.

Gunnar Swanson Design Office
536 South Catalina Street
Ventura, California 93001-3625 USA

From: David Heller

Designing solutions that satisfy the full 360-degree range of contexts of the stakeholders within the system being designed for which accounts for but not limited to the usability, learnability, sense of pleasure/satisfaction, usefulness, throughout the entire flow of a system and not just limited to single applications that lie within it.

From: Sean McKay

Challis Hodge's definition is pretty solid:

Experience Design: concerned with the design of human interactions with controls over time and in the context of use.

"Experience Design Roles"

Sean McKay
Principal, User Experience Director
VO2 Media, Inc.
engage // empower // entertain

From: Sumrall, Derick

From David Kelley of IDEO:

Homemade cake versus Chuck E. Cheese...

a. In an agricultural economy, flour, eggs, sugar, etc. are the "raw" materials you need to prepare a cake and then you bake it.

b. In a productized economy, you go to the grocery store and buy a box cake from Duncan Hines. Add water and bake it.

c. In a service economy, you go to the bakery and pick up the cake.

d. In an experience economy, you take the birthday boy or girl to Chuck

E. Cheese. They supply the cake, games, photos, entertainment, etc. It's a package.

From: Abel Lenz

Experience design is a user-centered approach to the design of systems
for information manipulation and communication

Break it down:

-- user-centered - the value of the product/activity is based on how it
is experienced

-- systems - includes deliverables and the rules that direct their
successful application to a goal

-- communciation and manipulation - authoring and consuming information.

There are a lot of critical patterns you can throw on top of those, but those are the foundation. Input/Output.

It's really most useful as a title now because it is largely free of existing industry references.

- Abel L. Lenz
- Director of User Experience, Founder
- New Tilt, Inc.

From: Margot Jacqz

Planning of people's experiences;

Design with the understanding that it's not about a thing but rather about the people who use things;

concerned with the design of human interactions with controls over time and in the context of use;

and Chuck E Cheese.

If once considers experience design as a sequence of events orchestrated to create a mood or an urge to buy, or provide pleasure (or not), at least some times components must be real, in an environment.

Is anyone out there interested in the physical architecture of an experience: the script, the set, the props, the materials, the colors; and how these elements are integral to defining "the brand" or otherwise achieving whatever result is desired?

Margot JACQZ
Architecture, Interiors, Environments
Roz Goldfarb Associates
207 West 25 4th fl
New York, NY 10001

From: Karl Long

An interesting feature of Experience Design is that it did not evolve from a craft, discipline or medium, like graphic design or information design for instance.

This is a feature that I think makes it more difficult to define than architectural design, broadcast design, interior design, product design etc.

Many design disciplines are defined by what form the output takes.

I think in many ways Experience Design is a meta concept or philosophy that provides direction, vocabulary, and technique that can enable multiple disciplines to work together in a unified manner.

I had previously tried to create some definitions of experience design that differentiated strategic aims from tactical aims:

Strategic Experience design: the process used to define, drive or inform the orchestration of the organizations products, behaviors, communications, environments across multiple tasks/activities/contexts and partners.

Experience Design: is a process through which an individual product or
service is designed to fit into the larger context of use


From: Brad Lauster

I'm going to play my cynic card and offer a definition of Experience
Design as I see it being used today:

Experience Design - A term used by Designers to describe design work that involves knowledge or skills typically attributed to more than one
discipline of design.

The cynical point here is that, today, people calling themselves Experience Designers aren't doing anything different than any other user-centered designer.

As far as I know, there are no methods or techniques unique to Experience Design. It's simply a term used to indicate a knowledge of, or willingness to work in multiple design disciplines.

--Brad Lauster

From: Dan Saffer

I've always thought that experience design was an umbrella term that contained many different design and creative disciplines (such as communication design, copywriting, sound design, industrial design, environmental design, interaction design, information architecture, etc.) all working towards the creation of a unified experience for a user throughout the many possible "touchpoints" with a product.

For me at least, it's similar to what used to be called (and still is in some industries) creative direction.

Dan Saffer
M.Des. Candidate, Interaction Design
Carnegie Mellon University

From: Lydia Thornley

My own experience is that design, and particularly branding, problems involve a range of expertise visual, verbal, behavioural and technical.

It's in the crossover between disciplines the sparring between people who think in very different ways that conventions are challenged and new ways found of doing things.

In branding, I suppose the definition of experience design [though I hesitate to use the term because it sounds like jargon] is the creation of consistent experience of an organisation at every point of contact.

In raw terms, the way I explain this to clients is, "It's no good putting a logo on your letterhead that says 'we're friendly and approachable' and then writing a letter that sounds like it comes from a totalitarian state".


From: Paul Gilbert

ED should be what it sounds like.

The design of the aggregate experience of a brand, i.e.: The multiplicity of communications, the products and services, the physical and mental spaces, the values, the emotions and the culture of the brand.

From: Susan-Jillian Smith

Creating a design that feels natural to the people using it. Software, appliances, any device that starts to be an extension of your thinking.

A tall order considering that there is nothing natural about using a computer or running the software that you need to do your job - but after so many hundreds of years of using pencils or pens we don't think about how we hold our pencil or what a marvel a ball point pen is. We just expect it will work in a particular way.

I wouldn't dismiss the term "Experience Design" as jargon - instead it is a way to bridge the knowledge gap we have about making something seem perfectly normal in everyday life. Words and terminology can be critical to the evolution of any idea and I think ED has jump started our imagination in a new way that is very exciting.

Multidiscipline design

You can add your own here below:

Readers' Comments    
2007-07-02 09:40:57

Robert Wright

Experience Design is a method of influencing the perceptual transition from the object experience to subjective sensory cognitive experience.

2006-04-15 02:55:04

John Raciti

Evaluation Report -

Dr. John Raciti BA, Hon.DA, FRSA

Question: What makes a design experience successful?

The Context

To know what makes a design experience successful – you must define what the concept of design experience or practice is? One must differentiate what is successful or unsuccessful, a failure. Schon would say unsuccessful was ill structured – then to have a successful outcome – a structure strategy is needed in the design experience.

Schon believed that the basic concept of design was a framework of meaning, experimentation – that had three implications: the first was that design can be only be learnt through practical processes of frame experimentation – where new meaning is discovered – through experimentation between teacher and student – reflection-in-action within the lesson itself, the second way in a holistic way where the practitioner works towards a pattern, a coherent order, making sense - meaning of their of their surroundings and all of the key areas of a situation, the third way is through: the act of designing (Waks, 2001). It is from this basic concept of design was a framework of meaning, controlled experimentation – that we make logical sense and it’s own criteria of what is successful or what is a failure in design experience (Newton, 2001).

Yinger felt that teachers should posses the ability to write reflectively although the teaching profession is oral; writing can be a means of personal learning and development towards a successful teaching experience (Yinger, 1981).

Reflective writing has been a personal facilitative tool – that has helped my teaching and has helped me to become a life-long student in my professional development (Clark, 1981). ‘Ancora Imparto’ – I am still learning, as student in design – that has continued to improve in the procedure of teaching in practice (Dewey, 1904). Learning is an action that occurs through the process of acquiring knowledge through experience. Practice is the process of doing, to act upon, or perform a task on a regular basis until it is learnt through experience and gained as knowledge for next time it is used.

I consider myself an expert designer and educator, who has developed and acquired a deeper set of guiding principles in practice. These guiding principles have provided me with an approach or a set of values I can work by. This body of work I have experienced and completed over the years in design firms and in education – has led me to specialised expertise through design practice (Lawson and Dorst, 2005/6).

Purpose of an evaluation:

The purpose of an evaluation is to find value from different sources of information from a variety of theorists in our Subject Readers and from other colleagues in the Reflective Practice subject at UTS. It is about considering their philosophies –using a mixture of their reasons, my own opinions in understanding the design processes in social surroundings, and how the use and limitations of knowledge and the principles that govern and influence our moral judgment.

Schon stated that there are three ways of acquiring knowledge-in-action: through self-instruction, apprenticeship – learning ‘on-line’ in ‘real world’ context and the standard way of acquiring knowledge-in-action is through ‘practicum’. Practicum is an ‘off-line’ situation that estimates the world of practice – in much the same way as an education system does at university in my case. I have a supervisor (master practitioner) in practice that serves as my teacher that observes my performance in the ‘virtual world’ where I go through a series of standard problems, tests in action (Waks, 2001) – which we call artistry (Schon, 1983).

Schon contributed to a concept of ‘know-how’ consisting with rules or plans that we as practitioners entertain in our minds before we act upon situations. This is a kind of knowing-in-action that is a spontaneous behaviour – which I may experience while I am teaching in practice – it is a type of knowing that doesn’t come from previous learned action (Schon, 1983). Polanyi saw this type of knowing as ‘tacit’ knowledge not in an abstract way but learnt in use, through practice (Waks, 2001). You also need to take into account Argyris’s Espoused theory where our social surroundings views and values a person’s belief that follows in their own behaviour. Whereas: Theory-in-use is about the world, our social surroundings views and values that are implied by the individual’s actual behaviour. We are blinded by the gap between what we think we believe and the values implied by our behaviour. This is probably why Newton had felt that reflecting-in-action fails – due to what I would call gap-perception between an individual belief, values implied by behaviour and the other side of the perception of how others see us performing in design problems.

My Colleagues Design Experience:

Taking aboard new opportunities, gaining new experiences and making the most of the situation. Gaining an insight to theories and tools to use in practice - to help with the outcome of problems faced in the work place in action. It’s about reflecting on past events and by coming up with new strategies to help plan future outcomes on the job. It is seeking for a rewarding experience, a successful experience at work. This would in turn help with the performance at work, assisting with coping on the job.

The patterns are - having this fear of failure - and not being able to succeed. Taking a risk - and not being able to pull it off. Feeling like a failure and being a failure are two different things. Like wanting to be and just be are two different perspectives. Having a goal and achieving that goal or not - it's the intention of seeking to becoming a better designer. It's down to your motive at the time.

You need confidence and having the belief of a realistic goal that can be achievable. Then the intention is met for it to be a success.

You need to identify the problem before you can assess it and deconstruct the situation.

Planning, preparation, and time management - these activities are important in getting a result. You could be doing this on a subconscious level, but then are aware of them - when you put these skills to use.

The main reasons for feeling different from my colleagues were – being able to understand the situation. I felt that my colleagues were not able to express their negative experiences easily – but then seeing a good situation – coming out of a bad situation – through talking to the group. One of my colleagues wasn’t able to convey his situation well class. You do need to be able to do that – so you can evaluate problems you face at work – so you can improve on them and use that knowledge in practice – utilising the theory into practice.

The key aspects of my successful design situation are – noting my pass experiences, my current position through the skills and knowledge I have developed over time. I am taking advice from others that have experienced success design in practice. You need to be open to new philosophy on design and try those theories and techniques to gain an insight to improving current design experiences. I am creating opportunities on the job to prove whether or not the reflective theories actual work. They did. I have been able to apply the theories in class this week with my students at CQU – to improve a better outcome. It has created a better communicative relationship amongst staff and students – using the double loop learning approach.


The most important thing I have learned through the classes is to learn tools that I could use in action on the job. I have learnt how to think on the spot and plan successful outcomes. These tools can be used to improve productivity in the classroom – where students and staff can gain an insight to unlocking their fullest potential.

The professional development activities I should be seeking are more workshops from the Learning and Teaching unit – where they run sessions from staff where we can role-play some of our problems in front of other lecturers – that creates opportunities for further discussions on how to handle certain situations in class. At these workshops I am like other staff able to voice our options about assessment issues that may arise during the marking periods. It is important to have opportunities to speak and to listen to issues that many staff face on a daily basis – and to be able to use their strategies is a bonus – you can integrate into your teaching plan each lesson.

Recommendations and follow-up actions:

Learning Reflective Practice has helped me to come to terms with how I am involved with the design processes. The theories I studied to date in class – have shown to be helpful tools I can use in practice when I am teaching, assessing and working with people in a group activity. These action strategies help me notice differences in the design process, to help develop and evaluate ideas I may use in action, the ability to question, and change my approach when designing. During class group activities we have had the opportunity to share each other’s opinions on what is successful design experience. From these gatherings I have been able to find patterns in what my colleagues and what theorist concepts are on the structure of the design processes and how we can improve on outcomes through our actions. Through reading and reflective writing – I have been able to gain power in my own actions. I have not been able to do that very well. Understanding the logic behind the theories of behavioural and attitudinal change has opened a stronger and my wiser me – that can use this information to achieve more goals in my career. Using this reflective approach in my life and in my career as giving me a sense of understanding of what it is that I do and how I can improve this design process and use it in the workplace – utilising the theories in practice.


Argyris, C. and Schon, D. A. 1974, ‘Chapter 1: Theories on Action’, in Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness, Jossey-Bass Publications, San Francisco, USA, pp. 19.

Dick, B. and Dalmau, T. 1990, ‘Introduction and Part 1: The elements of the model’, in Values in action: Applying the ideas of Argyris and Schon, Interchange, Chapel Hill, Queensland, Australia, pp. 10-11, pp. 19.

Lawson, B and Dorst, K. (Forthcoming in 2005/06), ‘Acquiring Design Expertise’, pp. 9.

Newton, S. 2001, (unpublished paper) ‘A Review of Donald Schon’s Reflection-in-action’, School of Communication, Design and Media, University of Western Sydney, Australia, pp. 6, pp. 13.

Schon, Donald, A. 1983, ‘Professional Knowledge and Reflection-in-action from Technical Rationality to Reflection-in-action’ in The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action, Basic Books, New York, USA, pp. 51.

Waks, L. J. 2001, ‘Donald Schon’s Philosophy of Design and Design Education’, International Journal of Technology and Design Education, vol. 11, pp. 42, pp. 44-45, pp. 47.

Yinger, Robert J. and Clark, Christopher M. 1981, ‘Occasional Paper No. 50’ in Reflective Journal Writing: Theory and Practice, The Institute for Research on Teaching, Michigan State University, USA, pp. 17-18, pp. 29.

Online References:

Microsoft Network Encarta: Online Encyclopaedia, Dictionary, Atlas, and Homework

Cambridge Dictionaries Online - Cambridge University Press

Collins Word Exchange - Collins Word Exchange - Online Dictionary

Online Etymology Dictionary

2004-05-04 01:10:22


i have been searching everywhere for having a clear definition of experience design.
is it possible to have some examples on experience design? (especialy in the digital and online media.)

2004-04-16 13:12:52

Brian Alger

I completely agree with the comment, "I have heard enough of why it cannot be done, so none of that please. Is anyone up to it?"

Although I cannot define it in a sentence (so I am decidedly not up to that), I have posted an entry called What is Experience Design? that attempts to share some ideas.

2004-04-08 21:13:47

Ben Walker

When the building is torn down, the product obsolete, the garmet no longer fashionable and the favorite hit appears on radio nostalgia, what do we remember?

Not the Chuck E Cheese all in one package deal.

We remember what we invest.
An experience well designed is the orchestration of effort, sensoral input, attention to incongruant detail and revelation.
Not to be confused with facility.

posted by Robin Good on Tuesday, March 23 2004, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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