What is Experience Design? (a preamble)

(Author’s Note: This post was previously titled “Experience Design is MORE than Digital UX Design”. However after writing it I realized that I need to provide more context for my concept of Experience Design. While I’ll be doing this in follow-up posts, I’ve going to keep this one up here as I believe the points still have merit.)

I’ve been in UX design for a long time, and have seen it grow from a tiny unknown area in software design to the prevalent career path it is today. UX design has always been about software and the digital sphere, which means that the user is experiencing it through a screen. While what we are able to do through screens has evolved tremendously, our ‘experience’ of screens is inherently limited, particularly when compared to the richness of our ability to experience life.

Early in my adult life I tried out a few other careers. I was a medical hypnotist, focusing on helping people align their personal experiences to promote physical healing. I also worked as the Assistant to the Opera Company of Boston, managing and documenting staging, as well being the Artistic Director and Lead Choreographer for my own performing group. The ingredients for creating a performance, and even an effective hypnosis session, include time, light, sound, and number of other elements, all explicitly designed to deliver a cross-modal experience.

Recently I realized that all of my earlier career explorations (and there were a couple of other interesting forays) had to do with designing experiences. For this reason I would like to reclaim the term “Experience Design” for what it truly is: design that addresses the full human capacity to experience.

Although screen interactions have become a dominant part of our lives, and our experience with them consumes the majority of many people’s days, it is important to remember that a sacrifice is being made. Screens utilize only a very thin layer of our ability to experience. In fact they require so little deep experiential engagement from us, that I often wonder if our senses and general ability to experience might be diminishing.

In the first few months of this year I saw a variety of different posts claiming that ‘2016 will be the year of experience’. While this is interesting, it is likely premature and mostly means that the general public and management will be more aware of the quality of commercial and marketing experiences. However it is indicative of a positive trend; cross-modal experience design is an emerging field that will eventually escape the hold of digital and UX design, and bloom on its own. We will be the richer for it.

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