Lens: Type:

Moments when people have an experience when they use design to complete an activity.

people waiting on a bus
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Peoples’ life stories are seamlessly-stitched-together scenes, held together by designer threads. When the threads designers create are durable enough to keep the fabric of scenes together, people have a memorable story. But stories of regret and frustration are made when products, services, and systems fail to create relevant and meaningful experiences. People are both feelers and thinkers, so experience design outcomes must account for both people’s needs as well as their emotions. Aspects of Experience for Design was created to give designers an experience-centered vocabulary so they can create design outcomes that make peoples’ stories worth telling.

A Coffee Shop Experience Design Scene

Consider the scene above. A woman sits at a table working on a laptop computer outside a coffee shop. The scene opens when she orders her Cappuccino and sits down to work at the table. The story continues as she works—she answers emails, creates a presentation using Google Slides, checks social media for a few minutes. The scene is like many other coffee shop experiences—work starts, the sounds of steaming milk mix with music playing overhead, other patrons order, drink, and leave. The design of the building, coffee mugs, music, lighting, and ordering procedures make the experience unique to this specific coffee shop.

Many different stories can happen in this scene depending on small changes in aspects within it. For example…


A storm could suddenly blow through with wind and rain that could cause her to escape to the inside.

Non-User Actors

Someone could run by and steal her cool Fjällräven backpack.


She could realize she’s thirsty and out of coffee so she goes inside to buy a water.

Any of these events would drastically change her coffee shop experience and possibly her whole day. Designers can account for some events, and others are beyond our control, but each event adds up to a complete experience. When designers create experience-centered products, services, and systems—outcomes that are not only usable but also relevant and meaningful—every detail in a scene matters.

To better understand how scenes work and how we can design for them, we need to deconstruct experience design scenes into their parts.

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The Activity in the Experience Design Scene

The activity—the task a person wants to complete—is at the very center of the Experience Design Scene. The activity is the reason why the scene exists. When the activity begins, such as washing dishes or calling a friend on the phone, the scene begins. When the activity ends with the last dish out away or hanging up the phone, the scene ends. We measure the quality of an experience by examining a person’s experience while they complete their activity.

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woman shopping in a grocery store


The objective a person wants to accomplish in an experience design scene.

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Components of Experience Design Scenes

Whenever a person completes an activity, three components interact on stage: context, people, and objects. Contexts are unchangeable settings that surround people when they use designed outcomes. People are experiencers—their identities and relational selves frame the ways they interact with design and other people. Design is the product, service, or system that people use to complete activities.

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a street at night in Portland, OR


The physical spaces, ideas, and prevailing attitudes of a place and time affect experience design scenes.

Read More Context
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The makeup of each component in an experience design scene shapes how it affects the complete experience. Aspects of a context such as a climate can make people in them feel uncomfortable or aspects of objects like small typography on a menu can make them difficult to use in low light. Careful attention to aspects of each component is needed if designers hope to create a relevant and meaningful design.

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A Vocabulary for Complete Experiences

The Aspects of Experience Design framework (AoE4D) brings together fundamental concepts from disciplines concerned with understanding human experiences and designed things that are involved in those experiences. Two types of aspects define components in experience design scenes—characteristics and behavior aspects define components’ makeup and behavior and experience design aspects center on ways components perceive and are perceived.

Characteristics and Behavior

Observations can produce descriptions of components that can be documented such as physical size and style. Components’ characteristics and behaviors directly define what they are and how they act.

Sexual Orientation

Characteristics describe an component’s makeup, such as a person’s sexual orientation.


Behavior describes how a component acts or operates at a specific moment, such as a person’s habits.

Lenses for Experience-Level Aspects

The nature of experience design aspects requires a different kind of seeing in order to inspect them carefully (Gilmore, 2016). Experience-level aspects involve matters like people’s emotions, temperature changes in climates, and design object affordances.


Bifocals can be used to examine routine aspects of experience design components.


We need a special tool to observe some aspects of experience design components. A magnifying glass helps make these aspects more observable.


Some aspects live at the “heart” level of components. With a  stethoscope, we can sense some os these underlying aspects.

Aspects of Experience for Design

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References and sources that support the inclusion of this Aspects of Experiences for Design component.


Christensen, C. B., Dillon, K., Hall, T., & Duncan, D. S. (2016). Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice (Kindle ed.). New York: HarperBusiness.

Gilmore, J. H. (2016). Look: A Practical Guide for Improving Your Observational Skills. Austin, Texas: Greenleaf Book Group Press.

Pine II, B. J., & Gilmore, J. H. (2011). The Experience Economy, Updated Edition (Kindle ed.). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.


Bredies, K., Chow, R., & Joost, G. (2010). Addressing Use as Design: A Comparison of Constructivist Design Approaches. The Design Journal, 13(2), 157-180.

Eames, C., & Eames, R. (1961). ECS [Short Film] United States: Eames Office, LLC.

Fuller, R. B. (2008). Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (New Edition ed.). Zürich: Lars Müller.

Garrett, J. J. (2011). The elements of user experience: user-centered design for the Web and beyond. (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Social Sciences

Goffman, E. (1973). The presentation of self in everyday life. Woodstock, New York Overlook Press.

Norman, D. (2005). Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful. Interactions, 14-19. Retrieved from

Norman, D. (2008). HCD harmful? A Clarification. Retrieved from