people waiting on a bus

Scenes

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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…

Climate

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.

Condition

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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Actors in Experience Design Scenes

Whenever a person uses a product, service, or system, three actors 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 ways they interact with design and other people. Objects are designed outcomes that people use to complete activities.

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a street at night in Portland, OR

Context

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 actor 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 actor is needed if designers hope to create 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 actors in experience design scenes—characteristics and behavior aspects define actors’ makeup and behavior and experience design aspects center on ways actors perceive and are perceived.

Characteristics and Behavior

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

Sexual Orientation

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

Habits

Behavior describes how an actor acts, 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

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

Magnifying Glass

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

Stethoscope

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

Aspects of Experience for Design

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Characteristics and Behavior

Select any of the aspects to learn its role in experience design scenes at the characteristics and behaviors level.

Actors
Characteristics
Behavior
Context

Characteristics

Location Laws Size: Context Non-User Actors Available Resources

Behavior

Climate Sensory
People: Self

Self Characteristics

Age Sex Race Gender Identity Size: People Condition

Self Behavior

Habits Movements
People: Relational

Relational Characteristics

Sexual Orientation Relationships Social Class Knowledge

Relational Behavior

Personality
Object

Characteristics

Style Material Size: Object

Behavior

State Operation

Experience-Level Aspects

Select any of the aspects to learn its role in experience design scenes at the experience design level.

Theme
Bifocals
Magnifying Glass
Stethoscope
Context: Setting
Time
Interconnections Hierarchy
Social Norms
People: Meaning-Making

Bifocals

Language

Magnifying Glass

Culture Values

Stethoscope

Self-Concept Worldview
People: Storytelling

Bifocals

Attention Attitude Subjective Norm Abilities

Magnifying Glass

Intention Role

Stethoscope

Sensations Mood
Object: Interaction
Purpose Accessibility Usefulness Usability
Affordances
Meaning

Sources

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

Business

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.

Design

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 http://jnd.org/dn.mss/human-centered_design_considered_harmful.html

Norman, D. (2008). HCD harmful? A Clarification. Retrieved from https://jnd.org/hcd_harmful_a_clarification/