Hello again readers! It’s been quite a while since I posted an article here, thanks to an extremely busy time building out our amazingly talented collective of experience designers, creative technologists, digital strategists, etc., and simultaneously working on some really exciting projects for our clients. In the meantime, Regina has been holding it down admirably with some great articles in the last few months. But she’s at Burning Man this week (appropriately experiential) so it seems like a good time for me to step back in, and share some thoughts…

The universal relevance of experience design

I’ve been thinking lately about how expansive the notion of experiences can be. In my work, I’ve been consciously crafting physical-to-digital experiences for more than two decades already, and over that time I’ve thought a lot about how digital technologies and content can be used to enhance and extend physical experiences. But truth to tell, I didn’t used to spend a lot of time thinking about the experience of analog experiences. Or rather, more accurately, I thought plenty about those experiences, just not in the same way.

Eating in a restaurant, traveling to a new place, browsing the aisles of a supermarket, visiting the gym – if you think about it, just about everything we do is an experience. Some might say that I’m an insufferable foodie – I’m happy to tell you why the ambience at one restaurant is better than another, or why I prefer the cuisine of a certain locale. I pay attention to the merchandising of the stores I visit and the cleanliness of gyms. But I mostly used to think about these things only as a consumer. I didn’t necessarily equate them with the kind of digital experience design work I did for clients.

But of course the same kinds of thinking that informs the work that we do can be applied to any manner of experience. Simplicity, elegance, storytelling, engagement, connection and other principles that we pay attention to when crafting, say, an augmented reality activation, have just as much relevance for a non-digital, real-world experience. In reality, maybe experience design, broadly, can be applied to helping improve just about any human endeavor… 

Thinking more broadly

Emerging from a two-plus-year global pandemic where in-person experiences were scarce, I’ve become especially attuned to and appreciative of experiences like music and theater and museums. But also things like the architectural experience of urban spaces and the visceral experience of natural spaces. At the same time, with the post-pandemic expansion of our collective, we now have a broader collective baseline of experiential backgrounds, which has helped to expand my perspective as well.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to find my way into some amazing communities organized around experience design and the experience economy. Earlier this year I joined the World Experience Organization as a founding member. That’s led to countless interesting conversations. In a few weeks I’ll be heading to Eastern Europe to participate in this year’s class at the College of Extraordinary Experiences. That promises to be a fascinating and inspirational experience (and a very analog one at that – not unlike Burning Man in some ways, actually…)

All of that has really been encouraging me and my team to think more broadly about experiences. And that’s actually had a positive impact on the creative and strategic work that we’ve done recently. It turns out that applying a broader understanding and consideration of analog experiences improves the outcomes of creating digital experiences. Which really isn’t surprising at all.

The Digital Environment

One of the areas this has led us of late is to thinking deeply about the implications of a modern society where technology provides a persistent and pervasive digital environment. As experience designers we’re used to thinking and talking about “environmental” as the physical architecture of the built environment and the like. But when each of us walks around with as much computing power in our pocket as it took to send the first men to space and when we each have on-demand access to nearly all human knowledge, it makes sense to also consider that persistent digital baseline as an environmental element all its own.

Like most things, this persistence can be a double edged sword. We’ve all lamented some of the negative consequences – it’s harder now to meet people in bars when everyone is staring at a tiny screen; we’re having dinner with someone and they’re distracted by their phone; social media encourages a performative state of exhibitionism; etc. But there’s an upside too – many arguments can be quickly ended with a simple web search; it’s quite easy to maintain close friendships with people on the other side of the world; deciding where to get dinner or a drink nearby on a whim has never been easier.

And we’ve been working a lot lately on exploring the opportunities afforded by the intersection of this digital environment with the physical environment around us. Mobile games like Pokemon Go showed us a fraction of the power available at that intersection, and we’ve been working with a variety of different types of physical venues and destinations to explore that further. It’s going to be an exciting time in the world of experiences – you know, the world.


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