Experience Lab
Some months ago I wrote about the plans to create a new Experience Design Lab in Genk, Belgium with the double aim of integrating and transforming the various departments of a media and design academy towards a strong user-focus, and enabling the school to reach out to and collaborate with the social and economic tissue of the region they are in, through a new and engaging vision.

The academy chose to immediately bolster enthusiasm through a socially-oriented project, focused on care for the elderly, thus enabling the various departments — photography, graphic design, product design, video, and communication & multimedia design — to learn new user-centred approaches through concrete, interdisciplinary and experience-focused activities.

Carefree living for the elderly

The Media & Design Academy started the year with a project that allowed students from various disciplines to collaborate creatively on a social topic: the living conditions of the elderly. This topic is highly relevant as our population is getting older and today’s youth will have to confront an increasingly ageing population both in their personal and professional lives. We therefore need insights in the needs, aspirations and capacities of the elderly.

The school used an experience design methodology to gather these insights: “Rather than figure out how to design for your audience, design for yourself after becoming like your audience!” (Dishman in Laurel, 2002). Objects and services are not seen as static products but as embodied experiences in a context, that differ depending on the person who engages in the interaction. To create a succesful and pleasing experience, the designer needs to learn how to see a context or an environment through the eyes of the user.

(My translation from the project website)

The students first inserted themselves in the environment of the elderly, helped by theatrical improvisation sessions. This lead to a series of innovative and creative designs and future scenarios aimed at visualising this carefree living of the elderly.

A short English-language vision document on design research is also available for download (pdf, 83 kb) from the lab’s website.