26 June 2007

On the ground running: Lessons from experience design

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Adam Greenfield
As products and services become increasingly integrated, more and more companies are marketing experiences. Adam Greenfield takes an excellent street-wise look at an emerging practice on Adobe Design Center’s Think Tank, a series of in-depth articles that examines the sometimes tense but always intimate relationship between design and technology.

“The long-standing distinctions between products and services are beginning to break down. Traditionally, a product was physical and discrete, something obviously demarcated in space and time. The designer’s brief rarely encompassed more than the form of an object, and use would be considered only in terms of a narrow range of scenarios. But, driven by lightweight and ubiquitous networking and the open standards it gives rise to, all of this has started to change: no longer can the designer of any product assume that it will stand on its own, autonomous and serenely uninvolved with the wider world.”

Adam criticises experience design “as it is currently conceived” as too narrow and confined, arguing that it “leaves little room for the self-evident (and lovely) messiness of our lives, and not much in the way of flexibility should the scenario of use deviate to any significant degree from that contemplated at design time.”

For instance, “as things now stand, experience design’s Achilles heel is customer service. A combination of low wages, disinvestment in training and deeper cultural factors has left American businesses without a large pool of workers motivated to provide customer service at the level routinely specified by designers. The result is that experiences seamless on paper break down the moment a human being enters the loop.”

He then goes on to point out how “highly designed experiences tend to suffer from a consistent range of limitations” and argues that designers should “conceive of desired experiences as overarching but essentially open narratives, into which individual consumers can insert or extract components at will.”

Adam Greenfield is the author of Everyware: The dawning age of ubiquitous computing. He is principal of New York City-based, strategic design consultancy Studies and Observation.

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