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Search results for 'jacobson'
23 November 2007

Bob Jacobson reviews “Authenticity” by Gilmore and Pine

Jim Gilmore and Joe Pine, authors of the 1999 marketing classic, The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage, have just published a new book Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (see also this post).

In a review Bob Jacobson calls it “an important, simultaneously prescriptive and cautionary addition to the rapidly growing corpus of literature on experiential marketing” and “a manifesto for our time that can’t be ignored”.

“Transformations, which bond companies and customers irrevocably, occur only when authenticity — customer self-identity and the brand experience — are total. They’re beyond intentional design. But at the highest level of manipulable reality, the generation of experiences, the higher the degree of authenticity, as perceived by customers, is the critical differentiating factor in the quality of experiences that companies offer to their customers. “

Read full review

6 November 2007

Bob Jacobson sees DUX 2007 conference as fundamentally off the mark

Bob Jacobson, design consultant and editor of the anthology Information Design (MIT Press, 1999), is on a roll these days. Today the focus of his provocative commentary is the DUX 2007 conference, which he thinks is “ideologically discomforting” and “fundamentally off the mark”.

“The DUX 2007 conference begins today in Chicago. Thematically, content-wise, and in terms of approach, this is the consummate conference on cutting-edge design. The speakers are top-notch, too. But ideologically, DUX is discomforting. For all its virtues, DUX embodies a set of values that, while commendable, are incomplete and off-kilter. It’s user-centric, not human-centric. And experience, if it is anything, is human.”

Go Bob, I think you are absolutely right.

Read full story

5 November 2007

Bob Jacobson on ‘composing for experience’

(user) experience design
Bob Jacobson, design consultant and editor of the anthology Information Design (MIT Press, 1999), was a keynote speaker last month at the 3rd International Conference on Information Design (ICID), Curitiba, Brazil.

His talk which deals with “information design, user experience design, designing for experience, and the composition of memorable experiences” is simply excellent and very thorough, and I suggest you indulge in it. Here is just one quote to wet your appetite:

“The natural next step will be for designers of experience to integrate and apply the methods of scoring and wayshowing concurrently. Thus creating places, not only in the physical world but also in the virtual worlds of knowledge and understanding, that reveal themselves in the same way that a musical composition is heard. this is composing for experience.

Halprin and Mollerup describe a new role for the information designer turned a designer of experience: not a tour guide dispensing partial, predigested informaton, but rather as a co-explorer of knowledge with the “experiencer” of knowledge, of situation, or of place via the medium of designed experiences.”

Read full story

13 September 2007

Bob Jacobson investigating the Danish design and innovation push

Bob Jacobson just left for Denmark to see for himself how the Danes “have invested literally tens of millions of government dollars each year to resurrect their once glorious national brand — Danish Design — and they now seem bent on doing the same for the innovation consulting business [with the help of design], where they stand a good chance of actually getting ahead of the curve and leading the global innovation industry.”

In his introductory article to his visit, Jacobson critisises the recent Danish “Concept Design” report that I wrote about earlier this week.

He will be staying there for a further two weeks so I am expecting more insights soon.

Read full story

10 October 2006

Bob Jacobson on advertising and experience design

Bob Jacobson is one of the more thoughtful thinkers on experience design and the commentary he provides on his Total Experience blog is therefore frequently cited on Putting People First.

Yesterday he analysed how the advertising profession has opened a more systematic approach to experience design.

More in particular he looks at three initiatives: the Consumer Experience Practice of the Interpublic Group (IPG), Denuo of the Publicis Groupe, and the independent Brand Experience Lab.

(I might want to add Arc Worldwide, also of the Publicis Group.)

Bob provides a lot of insight in who is actually working for these initiatives, what their agenda is, and what that might mean for the field. He also goes into some depth on the Brand Experience Lab, which he thinks is “the most appealing for its holism”.

But more is needed, he concludes, to get the advertising industry to really address experience design issues, beyond the online world.

“Whatever happened to the industry’s paradigm-shifters? The advertising world is in the throes of the biggest upheaval since the advent of TV, and the revolutionaries are nowhere to be found. Instead, there are predictable arguments from predictable sources: The old-media mavens espouse the importance of integrated solutions with new media, and new-media moguls chatter politely about spreading the wealth with network TV.”

Read full post

21 January 2010

Upcoming service design conference in Sweden

Service design conference
One of the projects funded by the Danish programme for user-driven innovation (English summary) is DESINOVA (see also this earlier post).

DESINOVA’s purpose is to enhance innovation among service and trading companies using the methods of user-driven innovation and service design. DESINOVA develops competences for user-driven innovation in trade and service companies and in design companies. More than 25 companies and organisations are participating in DESINOVA.

DESINOVA kicked off in December 2007 and is now moving into its final activities, including the completion of the nine innovation projects, concept and product development, documentation and recommendations, and the establishment of a resource center and network activities.

Some interesting case studies (Spejder Sport and DSB) can be found in the latest English newsletter.

Now Robert Jacobson, guest professor at Malmö University’s MEDEA Program and also involved in DESINOVA, is running an innovation and service design conference (Swedish announcement) next Friday 29 January in Malmö, Sweden, as a first step toward an innovation/services design industry hub in the region.

The conference, during which reports on DESINOVA and on innovation and service design in Sweden will be presented, is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. You can register here.

The conference will be webcast (more info here tomorrow) and we hope to post the presentations on this blog soon afterwards.

23 July 2008

In three years…

Three years ago we founded Experientia. It has been a very exciting ride since.

In three years we worked with some of the best companies in the field and some of the best people too.

Here they are in alphabetical order:

Our clients
Alcatel-Lucent (France, Spain), Area Association (Italy), Arits Consulting (Belgium), AVIS (Italy), Barclays (Italy, UK), Blyk (Finland, UK), Cittadellarte (Italy), City of Genk (Belgium), Condé Nast (Italy), Conifer Research (USA), CSI (Italy), CVS-Pharmacy (USA), Design Flanders (Belgium), Deutsche Telekom (Germany), Expedia (UK), Facem (Italy), Fidelity International (UK), Finmeccanica (Italy), Flanders in Shape (Belgium), Haier (China), Hewlett Packard (India), IEDC-Bled School of Management (Slovenia), IKS-Core Consulting (Italy), Istud Foundation (Italy), Kodak (USA), LAit (Italy), Last Minute (UK), Max Mara (Italy), Media & Design Academy (Belgium), Microsoft (USA), Motorola (USA), MPG Ferrero (Italy), Nokia (Denmark, France, Finland), Research in Motion (Canada), Samsung (Italy, Korea, UK), Swisscom (Switzerland), Tandem Seven (USA), Torino World Design Capital (Italy), Voce di Romagna (Italy), Vodafone (Germany, Italy, UK), and Whirlpool (UK).

Our collaborators (interns, consultants and staff)
Sven Adolph, Ana Camila Amorim, Andrea Arosio, An Beckers-Vanderbeeken, Josef ‘Yosi’ Bercovitch, Enrico Bergese, Niti Bhan, Elena Bobbola, Janina Boesch, Giovanni Buono, Donatella Capretti, Manlio Cavallaro, Gaurav Chadha, Dave Chiu, Raffaella Citterio, Sarah Conigliaro, Piermaria Cosina, Marco Costacurta, Laura Cunningham, Regine Debatty, Stefano Dominici, Saulo Dourado, Tal Drori, Dina Mohamed El-Sayed, Marion Froehlich, Giuseppe Gavazza, Valeria Gemello, Michele Giannasi, Young-Eun Han, Vanessa Harden, Yasmina Haryono, Bernd Hitzeroth, Juin-Yi ‘Suno’ Huang, Tom Kahrl, Erez Kikin-Gil, Ruth Kikin-Gil, Helena Kraus, Francesca Labrini, Alberto Lagna, Shadi Lahham, Jörg Liebsch, Cristina Lobnik, Maya Lotan, Ofer Luft, Davide Marazita, Claude Martin, Camilla Masala, Myriel Milicevic, Kim Mingo, Emanuela Miretti, Massimo Morelli, Peter Morville, Muzayun Mukhtar, Giorgio Olivero, Pablo Onnias, Hector Ouilhet, Christian Pallino, Giorgio Partesana, Magda Passarella, Romina Pastorelli, Danilo Penna, Andrea Piccolo, Rachelly Plaut, Laura Polazzi, Laura Puppo, Alain Regnier, Enza Reina, Anna Rink, Michal Rinott, Silvana Rosso, Emanuela Sabena, Vera de Sa-Varanda, Craig Schinnerer, Fabio Sergio, Manuela Serra, Sofia Shores, Massimo Sirelli, Natasha Sopieva, Yaniv Steiner, Riccardo Strobbia, Victor Szilagyi, David Tait, Beverly Tang, Akemi Tazaki, Luca Troisi, Raymond Turner, Haraldur Unnarsson, Ilaria Urbinati, Carlo Valbonesi, Marcello Varaldi, Giorgio Venturi, Anna Vilchis, Dvorit Weinheber, Alexander Wiethoff, Junu Joseph Yang, and Mario Zannone.

Our partners
Amberlight, Design for Lucy, Fecit, Finsa, Flow Interactive, Foviance, Italia 150, Launch Institute, Prospect, Savigny Research, Syzygy, Torino World Design Capital, UPA, URN, Usability Partners International, Usercentric, UserFocus, User Interface Design, and UXnet.

Our friends (insofar not covered by the above)
Nik Baerten, Valerie Bauwens, Toon Berckmoes, Ralf Beuker, Marco Bevolo, Daniella Botta, Stefana Broadbent, Francesco Cara, Jan Chipchase, Allan Chochinov, Elizabeth Churchill, Gillian Crampton-Smith, Regine Debatty, Federico De Giuli, Jesse James Garrett, Adam Greenfield, Hubert Guillaud, Wilfried Grommen, Laurent Haug, Bob Jacobson, Marguerite Kahrl, Anna Kirah, Simona Lodi, Peter Merholz, Bill Moggridge, Donald Norman, Nicolas Nova, Bruce Nussbaum, Laura Orestano, Vittorio Pasteris, Gianluigi Perotto, Carlo Ratti, Hans Robertus, Bruce Sterling, John Thackara, Joannes Vandermeulen, Lowie Vermeersch, Judy Wert, and Younghee Yung.

Thanks to you all!

Pierpaolo Perotto, Mark Vanderbeeken, Michele Visciola and Jan-Christoph Zoels
The Experientia partners

PS. We are constantly looking for great talent! We currently have openings for interaction designers, communication designer, information architect, IT staff, usability consultants, etc.

6 October 2007

Book: Everyday Engineering, by Andrew Burroughs, IDEO

Everyday Engineering
Everyday Engineering: What Engineers See
by Andrew Burroughs, IDEO
Hardcover: 204 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books (September 6, 2007)
Book page | Amazon page


From soaring industrial structures to the humble manhole cover and streetlight, everything in the built environment is engineered. By observing the world we walk through every day—the often-overlooked details of buildings and roads, the joinings and interfaces of our infrastructure—we can learn to see the world as engineers do. As it did with the groundbreaking observational primer Thoughtless Acts?, IDEO once again brings its instructive methods to bear on the world around us, this time with an eye toward the inherent but unheralded presence of modern engineering. By observing the built environment we walk through every day—the often-overlooked details of buildings and roads, the joinings and interfaces of our infrastructure—we can learn to see the world as engineers do, and adapt this perspective to critical thinking. Through simple pictures of how objects and environments behave over time, Everyday Engineering invites anyone in creative fields, business, and design to see the world through IDEO’s eyes.

Andrew Burroughs has been a consulting design engineer for twenty years-fifteen of those with IDEO, arguably the foremost design and innovation consultancy in the world. Since 2004, Andrew has led IDEO’s Chicago office. IDEO uses first-hand observations to inform and inspire the design of delightful and useful products, services, and environments.

- Book review by Robert Blynn (published on Core77)
Book review by Bob Jacobson (published on Corante)

4 September 2007

People regularly featured on this blog

In alphabetical order:

Marko Ahtisaari
Ken Anderson

Nik Baerten
Genevieve Bell
Chris Bernard
Tim Berners-Lee
Ralf Beuker
Nina Boesch
Danah Boyd
Stefana Broadbent
Tyler Brûlé
Bill Buxton

Jan Chipchase
Hilary Cottam
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Alistair Curtis

Uday Dandavate
Liz Danzico
Regine Debatty
Paul Dourish

Jyri Engeström
Richard Eisermann

Jesse James Garrett
Fabien Girardin
Anand Giridharadas
Bruno Giussani
Adam Greenfield

Laurent Haug

Mizuko Ito

Bob Jacobson
Matt Jones

Jonathan Kestenbaum
Anne Kirah
Dirk Knemeyer
Jon Kolko
Mike Kuniavsky

Loïc Lemeur
Dan Lockton
Victor Lombardi

Nico Macdonald
John Maeda
Ranjit Makkuni
Ezio Manzini
Roger Martin
Stefano Marzano
Simona Maschi
Bruce Mau
Grant McCracken
Jess McMullin
Peter Merholz
Crysta Metcalf
Bill Moggridge
Peter Morville
Ulla-Maaria Mutanen

Jakob Nielsen
Donald Norman
Nicolas Nova
Bruce Nussbaum

Steve Portigal

Carlo Ratti
Howard Rheingold
Louis Rosenfeld
Stephen Rustow

Dan Saffer
Nathan Shedroff
Jared Spool
Yaniv Steiner
Bruce Sterling

John Thackara

Marco van Hout
Rob van Kranenburg
Mark Vanderbeeken
Joannes Vandermeulen
Jeffrey Veen
Timo Veikkola
Michele Visciola
Eric von Hippel

Tricia Wang
Luke Wroblewski

Paola Zini
Jan-Christoph Zoels

18 July 2007

Describing the spiritual experience

Bob Jacobson is on a mission to describe those categories of experience — spiritual, philosophical, scientific and design — that bear on the practice of systemically designing for experience.

His first topic is spiritual experiences, experiences derived from the phenomenon of human existence we call spirituality.

He describes his writings as “notes preludes to a more thorough discussion; neither complete nor conclusive, but suggestive of the broad array of experiences that derive from our spiritual natures.”

Jacobson identifies four types of relevant spiritual experience, each with its own defining characteristics.
* Ecstatic experiences — Personal epiphanies and “callings”
* Ritualistic experiences — Tribal and cult experiences often derived from oral tradition
* Formalized experiences — Highly structured experiences often adhering to a doctrine
* Spiritual living — Spirituality as a constant, day to day experience

In Part 2 of this discourse, Jacobson will describe “how spiritual experiences of various types interact with ‘designed’ experiences; and how designers can (positively) exploit spiritual experiences and what they must look out for when invoking (or ignoring) them.”

Read full story

18 March 2007

The Jan Chipchase controversy: corporate ethnography is “primitive”

Nokia Village Phone research in Uganda
Last week Business Week published an interview with Jan Chipchase, user anthropologist at Nokia Design (and frequently featured on this blog). It didn’t go down very well with Bob Jacobson:

Nokia’s ethnographic research sounds basic, even primitive. It’s akin to Dr. Livingston in “Darkest Africa,” sussing out the “natives”: how many yams they eat in a week, who tells the iconic stories, what clans do to maintain hegemony, etc. Very ho-hum, except that the technology is “cool.” Cellphone ethnographic research, so far as I can tell, studies behaviors related to product use but as the snippet in BW reveals, not the inner workings of cellphone users — how they relate to cellphones in phenomenological ways, for example.

This quote comes from a post on the anthrodesign Yahoo! group which immediately provoked reactions. It is still going on.

Tyler of Sprint Nextel supports Chipchase but arguest that “we need a comprehensive theory of design that works for anthropology (or human research for commerce)”, whereas Sridhar Dhulipala points to a report in the Times of India, Bangalore, on the usage of mobile phones. Whereas the Nokia report strikes as typical corporate leadership behaviour, Dhulipala thinks that this other story provides a contrasting insight.

Christina Bolas, an anthropologist at Sprint Nextel, was recently involved in “true ethnography of cell phone use” beyond the basic “needs assessment” or “behaviors related to product use”, but her main difficulty was “getting the results heard and supported by the pile of people needed to make real change in the industry”. She concludes: “Not only do we need a comprehensive theory of design that works for anthropology, but we also need a theory that takes into account the inevitable world of corporate politics within which that theory must live.”

Finally, Molly Wright Steenson (a former Interaction-Ivrea colleague) underlines the intrinsic value of the ethnographic approach as it greatly change what you expected to find.

17 January 2007

2-year course on design for retail experience at India’s National Institute of Design

NID Design for Retail Experience
“With new malls and retail outlets mushrooming all across [India], thanks to the retail boom, it’s no wonder then that the National Institute of Design (NID) has come up with a unique course called Design for Retail Experience“, writes Kumar Anand in the Ahmedabad section of

“While the four-semester course, beginning at the institute’s Bangalore campus, is yet to be framed the institute has already conducted an entrance test for the same.”

“The course focuses on retail environment and trends in design of retail spaces including props merchandising and visual merchandising, but a curriculum is yet to be framed. For this specialised course, the institute has consulted various industries and foreign universities. “We are constantly in touch with institutes abroad and are taking their help to understand the trends in retail experiences. With retail being the most common experience, design experience is first tested in retail. Therefore this course will be one of its kind,’’ said Darlie Koshy, director, NID. The institute is also working hard to create a faculty pool to teach close to 15 students in the first batch beginning mid-June.”

“The likes of Grottini Shopsystems, an Italian agency that works towards creating retail brand experiences and developing retail environment, have been approached for framing curriculum. “We are also in touch with the Ontario College of Art and Design, Canada and a few other concerned institutes,’’ Koshy informed.”

Read full story

(thanks, Bob Jacobson)

12 December 2006

We need theories of experience design

The Coca-Cola Pavilion
“We lack an objective perspective to measure the success of our work and commentaries to improve upon it,” argues design consultant Bob Jacobson in a recent post on his blog Total Experience.

Instead we have to place our reliance “on first-hand, insider accounts as a source of knowledge”.

Jacobson focuses particularly on the lack of formal criticism in the field of experience design.

It is a realisation that is all the more prominent to him now that he is working on a book on the field.

“In it, I’ll be highlighting best practices drawn from case studies in a variety of experience-design disciplines. My goal is to extract certain overarching principles and methodologies that can be synthesised as theories of experience design.” […]

“Experience design is still considered mainly an art, because (in my opinion) of a radical disconnect between those who study experience (cognitive scientists, environmental psychologists, etc.) and the designers who create experiences.”

Read full story

22 September 2006

Mark Vanderbeeken interviewed on engageID

Today engageID, the student newsletter of the highly acclaimed Chicago-based Institute of Design (part of the Illinois Institute of Technology), published a rather lengthy interview with Experientia partner Mark Vanderbeeken on experience design and some of the differences between the European and American praxis.

Mark is quite proud that his interview also launched a new interview section in the newsletter, that sets out to know more about how design is understood and practiced in different cultures and markets.

The interviewer was Enric Gili Fort, who was particularly sharp in the framing of his questions, in part also due to the fact that he is originally from Barcelona and worked in the Netherlands, so he knows the European context rather well. Thank you Enric!


On 22 September engageID, the student newsletter of the highly acclaimed Chicago-based Institute of Design (part of the Illinois Institute of Technology), published a rather lengthy interview with Mark Vanderbeeken, senior partner of Experientia, on experience design and some of the differences between the European and American praxis.

The interview launched a new interview section in the newsletter, that sets out to know more about how design is understood and practiced in different cultures and markets. The interviewer was Enric Gili Fort.

The interview was originally published on the engageID website of the Institute of Design, and has been reproduced here under a Creative Commons arrangement.

* * * * *

Enric Gili Fort: Thanks for agreeing to participate in this interview. As the author of the popular Putting People First blog and as a partner of a firm that is based in Italy, we thought you would be a great person to talk about experience design and innovation outside of the US.

Just to get us started, could you talk a bit about your background, what has been your career path and how being Belgian have you ended up being partner of a design consulting firm in Italy?

Mark Vanderbeeken: First of all, thank you for the invitation to this interview.

To answer your question, I have always been interested in human behavior and in communications. In fact, I am trained as a cognitive psychologist (with degrees both from Belgium and from Columbia University, New York). I then started working in the broad field of communications and marketing, in Belgium, in New York and in Copenhagen, gradually taking on more strategic roles and challenges. In 2001 I was asked to work on the communications for the meanwhile no longer existing Interaction Design Institute Ivrea (in Italy), where I came to realize that my interests in human psychology, communications, innovation, and strategic visioning could be integrated within the nascent discipline of people-centered experience design.

So after Ivrea, I decided that I liked Italy enough to stay here longer. I knew Jan-Christoph Zoels from Ivrea and met some good Italian people (Michele Visciola, who actually also has a psychology background, and Pierpaolo Perotto), and together we started a company. We are all in our forties, have all lived in the United States, and have quite a bit of experience behind us, It is a good fit, since our skills are complementary. It allowed us to create the company with exactly the right mix that we wanted: user research, design prototyping and business strategy consulting, all combined into one.

EGF: You (and your company) have extensive experience working with both European and American companies that are looking to grow through innovation. From your perspective, what are the similarities and the differences between those companies at the time they are looking for innovation consulting services?

MV: First, I would say that the broader economic context is somewhat different in Europe, with a much more important public sector here. This also means that many European companies do work for these public institutions. This translates into a slightly different role for experience design. I would say that in Europe (and to some extent also Canada) you hear a lot more about design for social innovation, about service design, and about the role of experience design in healthcare, education, tourism, local or regional economic development, and public services. This even affects Europe-based multinational companies who work in consumer products like Nokia and Philips, as I tried to illustrate in my blog.

Experience design is based on the idea of giving people a role in the design of the products and services that matter to them. Both in the US and in Europe, it is believed that this approach will lead to better products and services and therefore to better economic returns. However, in Europe there is perhaps a more explicit social or ethical drive: by giving people this co-creative role we can establish to a more socially inclusive society. A lot of innovation in Europe comes from public institutions, from the European Commission on down.

Another difference between Europe and the US is the role of the mobile phone in society. Michael Mace of Rubicon Consulting recently wrote that the mobile phone is a tool in the US, a lifestyle in Europe (and Asia). The US has a more PC-centric innovation culture, i.e. a culture of innovation focused on the workplace, whereas in Europe and in Asia people expect more innovation on mobile devices and in their social environments. Perhaps it is because people in Europe spend more time outside the workplace or use more public transportation.


EGF: Why do you think big European companies like Nokia or Philips get involved in projects with public institutions? Is it simply because a) public institutions have bigger budgets and better business, b) they have organizational goals of corporate social responsibility or c) just because of the management’s ethics and the opportunity to give back to society by having a positive impact?

MV: This is a difficult question for me to answer, since I have never worked for such companies and can only second-guess their strategies. Private companies work within a broader social, political and economic context both in Europe and the US. Aside from the fact that public institutions are often important clients for them, they also want to be perceived as good corporate citizens, as this will help them in the long run. There are definitely also ethical and CSR reasons, but I am not close enough to the companies to assess their importance of these reasons.

EGF: Since you intensively collect examples of innovation in the public sector in your blog, could you highlight an example of one successful initiative and a failing one?

MV: I think the exemplary work at the UK Design Council, which is a public body funded by the Department of Trade and Industry, is a great example of how a public institution can generate innovative modes of thinking, prototype them on the ground, promote them widely, and then influence a much wider area of society, both within the UK and outside.

Many regional design-driven development projects, and I highlight a few of them on my blog including the Belgian C-Mine, the German Zollverein and the British DOTT07, could not exist without strategic government leaders and policy makers driving them. These projects come about as public-private partnerships, with win-win results for both of them.

What drives these projects is that they look at innovation beyond technology and allow substantial space for user research, citizen participation and a people-centered design methodology. A pure technological approach to innovation does have its merits for sure, but is not the only way to go about it.

EGF: Design and the way it is perceived are changing. More and more companies are looking at design/innovation consultancies expecting to gain advantage and grow.
What are the current challenges that design consultancies have when dealing with new clients (both public and private) that never before considered design?

MV: Challenges are always opportunities. The question is how to make them work for you, how to define yourself within the context of these challenges. Let me describe a few we have come across.

First of all, people still often think of design as an aesthetic activity that makes a good product look great. Italians for instance have a very important tradition in that and are known for it globally. The experience design approach is of course much more about a way of thinking a problem, doing research and then solving it, rather than about making something look good. The "design as a methodology" approach is still fairly new here, but also quite logical, once you explain it to it. But the leap is not so big either. Many product designers have architectural training, especially in Italy. Architects are trained in a methodological approach. Many younger firms are now actively engaged in participatory design.

A second challenge we are facing with some companies, but definitely not all, is a short-term financial logic, where usability can be perceived as an added cost, rather than an investment into a strong product. This is changing though.

A third challenge is the structure of European companies, who are not always used to combine their R&D work with their marketing activities. Experience design addresses both, or better transforms both. Unlike the typical R&D department, experience design is not technology driven, but people driven, and unlike the typical marketing department, it is based on what people actually do, rather than what they say they do. Sometimes we work with the top management.

Fourth, technology is often seen as the territory of engineers, and this is not just the case in Europe. There are many excellent engineers but they do not always have a people-centered or design minded professional methodology. Companies and public institutions can sometimes spend much energy on technologically splendid projects that people for some reason do not want to use. The step to a more people-centered approach might seem obvious, but is not always straightforward. If we want to change that, we need to know how to best talk with engineers, we have to understand the ‘engineer’ way of thinking, but also not be afraid of setting out a human-centered vision.

In fact, all these challenges are cultural challenges. Part of our role as experience designers is therefore helping to bring about a new culture of innovation, not just through our work but also through our public engagement in the social role of design. At Experientia we communicate a lot, run seminars, and organize lectures. We organized last year the first World Usability Day event in Italy (, which was very well attended, and we are doing it again this year. And we are editing an entire issue of UX Magazine (the members publication of the Usability Professionals’ Association) on usability and governance.

Our main challenge as experience designers is how to define our new role within the society we are part of. I think we should not shy away from the larger discourse on regional innovation. We are working within a social and economic context and we have to take on our responsibility of helping to change some of that context through a more human-centered approach.

But every statement about challenges is also relative. We have recently worked with major Italian companies and several regional authorities here, and they were mostly delightful in their flexibility and their openness.


EGF: If we put together the fact that design can be an economical growth enabler for a region and the fact that designing for public institutions can have a greater impact on society, it makes the designer enter in political waters that designers haven’t usually navigated before. How easily can a designer do his job in the public sector while remaining neutral and politically agnostic, and how influenced by politics is this area?

MV: As I said before, experience design is based upon the premise of giving people a say in the design of products and services that matter to them. It naturally requires participation and co-creation. Giving people a say is a political, democratic act in the true sense of the word democracy: let the people rule. I think it is exciting to think about experience design in this broader socio-political way. This is not party politics of course but it is social and moral choice that we strongly believe in.

Neutrality and agnosticism are difficult words in this arena. We want to give people more of a say, which is a choice and therefore not ‘neutral’, but we want to create tools that give everybody that say, which again is ‘neutral’.

Within any political context you have to position yourself well. We position ourselves as solid professionals, and have never been hired for political reasons. We want to keep it that way.

EGF: A few months ago you launched the e-democracy blog exclusively dedicated to "citizen participation and web 2.0 in public authority websites." What triggered this fervent interest in this topic? Who are you targeting this blog to?

MV: I actually changed the subtitle because web 2.0 is just a tool and therefore not so relevant in what I wanted the blog to be about. The blog, which you can find at, is now subtitled "creative ways to increase citizen participation in online public services". We are currently working with two regional government structures in Italy and it is inspiring to see how young people there are bringing in a very strong people-centered innovation approach.

They ask questions like: how can we create online services that work for our citizens? How can we make them usable and friendly? How can we have people participate more actively? How can we best manage this involvement of people without being overwhelmed by thousands of messages? How can we be a responsive government service and how can the web help us with that?

Our Experientia blogs usually start out as a way to structure our thoughts and our research. In fact, Putting People First originated that way as well: as a permanent home for the many emails with article links I was sending out before. The E-Democracy blog is for those interested in innovation in participatory public services on the web, and this includes our public sector clients of course. Bob Jacobson, one of the most thoughtful voices on experiences calls it a "necessary new venture aimed at exploring the interface between more representative forms of governance, technology, and social innovation."

What you call my "fervent interest" probably stems from a deeper empathy for the social role of design.

EGF: What are the reasons behind this people-centered sensitivity among young people? Does it have anything to do with lack of paths for youth, especially in Southern Europe, to become economically independent from their parents and a strong will to do something to address the problem?

MV: I can only speak for the people I dealt with and these are very well educated, well traveled and well read individuals who are working with passion for a public institution. They do not have high salaries, so they get their personal satisfaction out of the drive to deliver a high level service and to do something meaningful for society and the country they live in. They are interested in people-centered design because it resonates with their ethical drive as a committed employee within a public institution. So yes, there is a strong will to try to help address the problems they see around themselves.

EGF: You have blogged extensively on governmental initiatives promoted by small regions to revitalize their socio-economic area. Some have set up long-term and heavily funded programs as it is in the case of North East England’s DOTT07, others even have started design Schools with a business twist from scratch like the Zollverein School in Germany, etc..

MV: I am interested in how a visionary approach that is focused on creativity, design and participatory co-creation can become a tool to change an entire region.

Though related to the creative industries thinking of Richard Florida, these approaches go further and are based on creating synergies: between business and education, between public and private, between culture and tourism, between vision and reality, and between people and structures. They are about creating critical mass and about excitement. They usually take place in deprived areas, which for years have been lingering, and had big brain drain problems. They also often have spectacular sites full of old industrial buildings. And they have young and energetic public authorities that are trying to change the dynamic through visioning and systematic and sustainable planning.

I am currently working with some people in the East of Belgium, not far from where I grew up. I always knew it as a former coalmining area in decline and they are totally turning that around now. It is amazing how fast they are: two years ago they were still doing the master plan, yet most of the site will be ready in 2008. And we are talking about a huge endeavor.

Design and participatory co-creation for social renewal is a complex challenge, but one that fits very well with the European way of doing things.

EGF: What do you think has changed in the last years in Europe to make these regions so hopeful and willing to invest in these, for some, ambitious enterprises? Do you know about similar initiatives outside Europe? Do you think this would be possible in countries where public sector and progressive policies are not so common?

MV: Europe is changing fast. First of all, people travel more. The EU has this wonderful university student exchange program, called Erasmus, and many people in their early twenties spend 6 months to a year in another European country. Through traveling, the internet and good education systems, people in more remote areas of Europe are just as educated and knowledgeable as anybody else. Yet, there are in a sense more opportunities for them there, not necessarily more jobs, but definitely more interesting challenges.

Second, globalization is making us change. I just posted an article about the small Italian city of Prato. It is a textile town of 180,000 inhabitants. 25,000 of them are Chinese and there are 2,000 Chinese entrepreneurs who own one quarter of the town’s textile businesses. Doing nothing is not an option. We have to change.

The reason why regional authorities invest in such projects, often with the active help of their national governments and EU programs, is because they realize that these initiatives can become engines for renewal. Often such regions suffer from brain drain to the bigger cities and lack of investment. A major project with a clear and sustainable vision can help change that, create enthusiasm and put the place back on the map as an interesting destination, a valuable place to invest time, money and resources in. Regions are aware that they can change themselves and are working at the right level of action: beyond the city, but not as big as a country.

This is of course not just happening in Europe. Take a look at what the Michigan Governor is doing on design and how she emphasizes quite similar policies in quite a different economic context. Look at how American cities are investing in libraries and museums. The approach is slightly different perhaps, but not fundamentally.

I am not really sure about the situation outside of Europe and the USA but would love to learn more. I hear about more top-down approaches to regional innovation in Korea and Singapore but I am not a specialist. I invite people to comment on my blog with their own experiences.

EGF: I have recently read your post about Prato, and it is indeed a totally fascinating issue. From your multiple interactions with regional authorities across Europe, how do you perceive the adaptation gap between political leaders that are committed to help their regions make a transition to new social models, and big parts of the population that are still very conservative and very resistant to change? Are these leaders doing their job at educating and helping people understand that these changes are inevitable and that the solution is to be more flexible and adapt? If so, what strategies are following?

MV:Leaders are not always that visionary and people not always that conservative. For some issues it is actually quite the opposite. I can only suggest that more participation and co-creation in democracy is one of the ways to reduce the gap between the citizens and their representatives. And that’s what we are trying to work on.

EGF: With the introduction Central and Eastern European countries to the EU there is still a clear imbalance between western European countries and the newly added members. What are these regions’ governments doing to catch up in terms of development?

MV: I love working in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) because of the dynamic, eager, and innovative young people there. They are now part of the EU and their hands-on, curious mindset is influencing the rest of Europe.

I am not a specialist in CEE government policy, but I notice two developments.

Although the last fifteen years has mainly been a time of catching up, and trying to address the most urgent and immediate needs, CEE countries and people were quick to learn and were less stuck in existing structures and modes of thinking than some in Western Europe were (and still are). They were often free enough to choose better.

Second, they invested a lot in educating their people and people invested a lot in educating themselves. I met many hard workers and hard learners with entrepreneurial mindsets. I am really optimistic about these countries.

But it will take a little while still before we see experience design companies there. Or perhaps not even that long …

EGF: As a final question I would like to ask you about the current role of the designer in society. It seems that its practice has been getting more and more abstract in the last years and it has reached a higher meta-level. As someone that has personally committed to attempt to tackle more complex and systemic problems in design, how have you seen this evolution and why do you think this change has happened?

MV: I don’t think the practice has become more abstract. We do a lot of very concrete work through contextual observation, user testing and prototyping. I think that over time we have become aware that a designer needs to take the role of the needs and the context of people more into account, because only then can we design something meaningful and relevant. This approach can be applied to car design and mobile phones, but also to hospitals, schools and public services. Yes, it is systemic, holistic and complex, but not necessarily abstract, and definitely not removed from the concrete needs of people. I would rather argue the opposite: only by being holistic, we can really have an impact.

EGF: Mark, I want to thank for your patience and time answering our questions around design, education, politics and society. I do really appreciate your thoughtful comments and I want to highlight how enlightening and enriching it has been to have your perspective in the state of design in Europe.

MV: You are welcome and thank you as well for this opportunity to set out and share my ideas.

Original site

11 September 2006

Book review: Designing for Interaction

Designing for Interaction
Bob Jacobson, the “conceptual thinker” behind the Total Experience blog and frequently quoted on Putting People First, just published a highly positive review of Dan Saffer‘s new book Designing for Interaction (see also here).

Calling the book “one of the best books yet about contemporary design”, he starts off his review as follows:

“Dan Saffer has crafted the most accessible and instructive book I’ve read about interaction design – and more. Dan deals handily with interaction design, which he characterizes in a Venn diagram as a subset of experience design. There are issues regarding experience design that discussions of interaction design inherently can’t reach, as I’ll discuss later; but having set out primarily to explain interaction design, Dan’s done a superb job. Indicatively, the book is co-published by the AIGA in recognition of the “revolutionary transformation” for “ordinary people to influence and design their own experiences.” Dan’s exposition of design thinking is as important as is his fine job of explaining the how-tos of interaction design.”

Read review

See also this review by Leo Frishberg on UX matters

9 September 2006

Where to study experience design?

Experience design has become a hot industry theme. Companies are looking to hire experience designers. New consultancies devoted to experience design are being founded nearly every day. Major industry players like Apple, Microsoft, Nokia and Philips are increasingly putting the user experience or experience design at the heart of their innovation strategy. And experience design is now also making inroads into other fields such as education, healthcare and tourism, to just name a few.

But where can you study it?

The short answer is that you can’t really study experience design. To my knowledge there is only one small programme of experience design at the Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

An alternative is to go to a design school with a strong user-centred and experience design focus such as the one at Stanford or at IIT, both in the US.

One can also study interaction design, a field that does not always have the same user focus as experience design, and there are programmes now in many countries, including Australia (University of Melbourne, University of Queensland), Canada (Simon Fraser University), Denmark (Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design), Ireland (University of Limerick), Japan (Keio University, University of Tokyo), Sweden (Chalmers, Malmo, Umea), UK (City University London, Middlesex University, RCA, University of Dundee), and the USA (Art Center College of Design, Carnegie Mellon, Indiana University, ITP, Parsons, Savannah College of Art and Design, University of Baltimore, University of Maryland).
[This is just a provisional list – see here, here and here for more discussion on interaction design education]

Other related fields are communication design, HCI and information design, or you can join a programme in what in Europe is sometimes called “new media” or “multimedia”.

Amsterdam also host the European Centre for the Experience Economy.

Bob Jacobson, the entrepreneur and visionary thinker behind the Total Experience weblog, just raised the issue in an email he sent to a selected group of people including Bill Moggridge, John Thackara, Donald Norman and some 26 others, where he underlines the need for an Experience Design Institute, as a place of study and research, as a site of serious reflection and discourse. I think his call is most appropriate and timely (if not overdue), and as per usual with Bob, well thought through. Why have I received 625 email newsgroup messages in the last four months mentioning “experience design” and there is only one study programme explicitly dealing with this?

The challenge is out there. Who is taking it on?

UPDATE: 12 September 2006

Apparently, some institutions are taking on the challenge and preparing experience design programmes or labs. Interestingly, they are not in the U.S. The Utrecht School of Arts (The Netherlands) is in the planning phases of a new bachelor course called Ambient Experience Design. Also the Belgian Media & Design Academy is setting up an Experience Design Lab (disclosure: I am working with them helping them in this process). I hear some interesting things coming out of Portugal, but I am still inquiring to find out more. The most developed for now seems to be the “design para a experiência” initiative of the Nomads center at the University of San Paolo, under the leadership of Marcelo Tramontano.

3 May 2006

Cellphone gaming lacks pull, report shows [The Washington Post]

Mobile phone game
When it comes to buying and playing video games on a mobile phone, many people have tried it — but few ever try it again.

A report by Seattle-based M:Metrics released yesterday found that prices, choice and lack of interest were the biggest factors that have kept cellphone video game sales from growing in the United States [as well as the UK and Germany].

Less than 3 percent of cellphone users are buying and playing games on their phones — and that number hasn’t grown much in recent months.

The M:Metrics report comes a day after a report from research firm NPD Group found that, despite the popularity of camera phones, only 20 percent of users take and transmit pictures with them.

- Read full story
Read M:Metrics press release
Read NPD Group press release

(via Bob Jacobson)

3 May 2006

A thank you for all those nice words

With this post, I just want to publicly thank all those who have written nice words about Putting People First, especially after the recent relaunch.

These include Bruce Nussbaum (also here), David Armano, Alan Chochinov, Ralf Beuker (also here), Rudy De Waele, Bob Jacobson, Nicolas Nova, Paul Greenberg, Matt Zellmer, Kristi Olson, Peter J. Bogaards, Susan Abott, Richard Linington, Paula Thornton and of course Régine Debatty. (I hope I didn’t forget anyone). Also thanks to Mike Young of Logdy and Jeffrey Veen of MeasureMap with their help in letting me experiment with their web analytics services.

For those who have Putting People First in their blogroll, please don’t forget to update the link from to

20 February 2006

Designing the experience of Islam

Bob Jacobson is starting a new trend on his blog Total Experience. Rather than looking at precise commercial or institutional issues, he analyses broad social phenomena from the point of view of experience design, and hints at the possibility that there might be ways to design them better, even if they are complex and deeply rooted in culture and history.

How to design a better experience of the bird flu crisis? How to design a better experience of Islam?

All in all, his is a refreshing take. The question it raises for me, is how to co-create such experiences with all those affected? How not to leave them only in the hands of governments, specialists or extremists?

I am curious to read his thinking on issues that we can have more of an impact on, such as democracy, cities, public institutions, healthcare, or environnment.

Read full post

16 February 2006

The penumbra effect: designing the bird-flu crisis experience

Bob Jacobson just published a thoughtful reflection in his Total Experience blog on how experience design can help us becoming better prepared in dealing with a bird flu pandemic.

“How we experience a potential crisis, a condition that by definition we haven’t experienced before (any of us, experts or laypersons), determines how we respond. This experience is designed through the cumulative interactions of speakers, writers, media professionals, politicians, health professionals, corporations, governments, NGOs, and the public. But no one is designing the interactions to produce positive, proactive results.”

“Our experience of the bird flu crisis is the ultimate in poorly designed experiences.”

“We’re in an informational limbo: we know just enough to appreciate the collective dimension of our dilemma. But we’re constrained from collectively preparing for the worst, because we’re unable to pool our responses except through distilled channels like the news. Experience designers who are busy building better websites and shopping-mall exhibitions might consider how well received their work will be after pandemic sweeps across an unprepared world.”

Read full post