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Everyone seem to be concerned about what do the customers really value, why do they buy our products or services and what they can do to make them happy or attract new customers. Many theories and tools are designed day by day to find out which are the elements that make the companies special, and what can they do to increase this value proposition.

From the last decade many papers have been written going deep into Experience Economy, understanding how to design an experience and trying to visualize the key elements for a meaningful experience.

Pine and Gilmore reflect deeply into this topic in their book The Experience Economy, how the cultural and social trends are evolving into something more intangible not only according to the service but also taking into account the experience the user wants to live, the story the company wants to tell.


The evolution towards the experience economy by Pine & Gilmore

In the already popular graphic they show the evolution from commodity to experience, going stage by stage through product and service. They conclude explaining how designing an experience for your customers can differentiate you from your competitors and offer a premium service.

The last years some voices arise saying that the next step of the experience design is the transformation of the user. The willingness to change our minds towards a more deep and meaningful experience seems to be the next step of the experience. According to this trend the user co-creates with the company, the experience is not fully designed so the user takes active part in the creation of the experience in order to be a multi focus creation. Additionally, in this multi transformational experience creation, the user-company relationship is even closer than in the previous stages, the information flux is constant from one side to the other and the emotions take crucial role on the stage. You might be wondering why do we position the emotion so in the center, so I would invite you to reflect if you would let yourself be transformed by someone you don’t trust.

Nevertheless from the whole bunch of buzzwords related to this topic there is one sentence from Hazzenzahl that could bring some light due to it’s simplicity, he says that Experience Design is about “ creating meaningful experiences through devices”. Well, we find this little conclusion as pretty significant, although it might sound common sense. However, the term meaningful experience has been described in many ways, all of them pretty vague and abstract from a practical perspective. An experience is a lapse of time that causes changes is the “user”/person, but what is meaningful and what is not? What is meaning?

According to wikipedia, Meaning may refer to:

– Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language

– Meaning (non-linguistic), extra-linguistic meaning (intentional communication without the use of language), and natural meaning, where no intentions are involved at all.

– Meaning (semiotics) has to do with the distribution of signs in sign relations.

– Meaning as a relationship between ontology and truth.

– Meaning as a reference or equivalence.

– Meaning (philosophy of language)- Meaning as values, a value system or as derived from value theory

– Meaning (existential), as it is understood in contemporary existentialism- The meaning of life, a notion concerning the nature of human existence.

Among them, the initial statement and discussion explained in Meaning (non-linguistic) seem to be the most interesting one:“The sense that sentient creatures have that the various objects of our universe are linked is commonly referred to as a person’s sense of “meaning”. This is the sense of meaning at work when asking a person when they leave a theater, “What did that movie mean to you?” In short, the word “meaning” can sometimes be used to describe the interpretations that people have of the world.”

Semantics is the study of meaning, which is a term related to association of things, how things make sense to an individual. A very important aspect of it lies on its subjectivity, since we are talking about a mental construc- tion in the end, although the western society has been built around “uni- versal meanings” or conventions, such as common sense or, in general, everything we call “objective” stuff.

Therefore, if meaning is a highly subjective construction, how can we even try to design something meaningful? Meaning lies on the beholder, but according to basic psychology, human beings share several universal psychological needs and shared knowledge-values-feelings… In the end, we all share, in a bigger or smaller extent, a way of making meaning of things. Of course, differences exist within the myriad of cultural, social and personal circumstances.

In their book Making meaning, Diller, Shedroff and Rhea identify 15 (and say there are of course more) different meanings which transcend cultural boundaries and they define them as “experiences with global appeal”: Accomplishment, Beauty, Creation, Community, Duty, Enlightment, Free- dom, Harmony, Justice, Oneness, Redemption, Security, Truth, Validation, Wonder.

As can be seen, these are all hardly quantifiable and totally intangible experiences, so how do we end up designing stuff that will enable them? Although we are adressing some key points for meaningful experiences and if all of them are intangible what differs from individual experiences to the overall “Experience” concept, and then the debate question will arise: which one of the two should be addressed when “Designing for Experiencing”?

An experience is a change perceived by a subject in a certain lapse of time. It can be related to external triggers (people, objects, events or actions) or internal issues (dreams, thoughts…), and the consequence of having one is a change in one’s way of understanding things or the knowledge gained through that experience. This knowledge is also called “Experience”. Making this distinction between the two is very important, since the connection between the two is not as straight-forward as it can seem. The memory we hold of a given experience changes over time and is very different from the experience itself.

As can be seen from the previous definitions, an Experience is in the end whatever a person perceives as a change, but when related to Design experience drifts a little bit towards a CAUSE of that experience. The cause can be an object, a service, an event, a space or whatever that can be de- signed and that a person can Experi- ence.

An Experience is in the end whatever a person perceives as a change, but when related to Design experience drifts a little bit towards a CAUSE of that experience.

In this point there’s a discussion among authors whether an Experience can be designed on the first place. Since an experience is something subjective, contextual and can’t happen the same way twice even to the same person, many authors say that it is impossible to Design Experiences and the only thing that can be done is to Design for Experiencing, which means to build a scaffold for the person to experience such a thing. This is an interesting point to discuss the utility of Experience Design, but in the end we think that this is more a semantic discussion that everybody should be aware of.

If we talk about an experience that is linked to a product or a service, most likely the user will have several interactions (and therefore experiences) with it, which makes the whole Designing for Experience more complex. Obviously, it is difficult to design every single experience (even in the case of interactive systems between the user and the product/service/…), but maybe a general experience could be “designed”. However, even in this case, contextual factors will change and the experience will be evolving over time.

In this point, there are different viewpoints towards the question of designing for a single experience which is meaningful, or designing for the general experience (the so called user experience) that encompasses the overall collection of experiences.

Having reflected about experiencing, does it happen the same with the transformation? How can we design for transformation?



In DOT we take an exploratory time to research about how can be adressed the transformational design. Understanding the per se transformational scenario such as health in rural India how can we find out the core elements to design for it. As we have reflected so far, there is no point on designing just for a transformational stage forgetting about the previous ones. Thus, if we take the previous Pine and Gilmore graphic we propose a new understanding of the process that embraces the previous ones in order to make meaning and take everything as a whole and not a separate stages.

As we have explained before the intangible elements take a center stage so everything is more vague an abstract talking about the things we cannot touch. New technology devices and opportunities bring new ways of designing products, so how can we design for a social impact and deep meaning?

That’s the big question we make to ourselves.


Written by DOT with a collaboration of Aiur Retegi

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