“The broader one’s understanding of human experience, the better design we will have.” -- Steve Jobs
The toolbar of design intelligence is now being developed not just for the fine arts, media, or performance and theater, but for a far larger universe—that of experience and the experience economy as XD, or experience design.
The Experience Economy was formulated by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore in their 1999 book of that title that describes the progression of economic value from commodities through brands to customization into experience—and ultimately into meaning and transformation. “We are talking about a fundamentally new way of attracting and retaining your customers through creating new experience offerings.”* Early examples cited include Volkswagen’s Autostadt flagship / destination attraction at Wolfsburg, Germany, General Mills’ Cereal Adventure at the Mall of America, American Girl in Chicago, and the Heineken Experience in its old factory in downtown Amsterdam. These build the brand well beyond the conventional faculty tour, and for retail like Starbucks, can actually replace advertising.
Business has discovered the Experience premium—the multiple value people are willing to pay (up to four times) (McKinsey, 2017) for experience at all levels, over products: from the Starbucks latte to art tours in exotic locales to healthcare concierge services to trips into space on Virgin Galactic (tickets: $200 K). Meditation at mind spas on private island resorts, airport massages, semesters abroad, outdoor kitchens, a world built of toys (Legoland). And recently, Starbucks Reserve, the upscale version, at company headquarters in Seattle, with 1000 planned worldwide. Pine and Gilmore pose the question as to why Amazon has not (to date) created its own experience in the same city.
And of course the great template of the total destination theme park, the archetype from the imagination of Walt Disney in the 1950s, when no one but a handful of Imagineers even guessed at what he was trying to do. Disney was looking for a way to translate his film production success into an interactive drama, with stage sets, on the ground, as an immersive public experience. No one suspected, other than a few avant-garde architects, that his park success would create an entirely new way of thinking about goods, services, and settings—as experiences. This is the mindset that is now designing everything from retail to restaurants to cities, regions, and living compounds for Mars.
At the recent Hawaiian Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) dome on the Big Island, a series of a six-person astronaut-capable crew lived in isolated confinement to experience living and working in the hostile Mars environment. Their mission: to anticipate the social and psychological challenges on another planet. In the same way, themed environments—even the most unassuming Chinese restaurant—re-frame our brains to evoke other times and places, freeing us to think in new ways about both ourselves and world.
Experience design is a universe of knowledge, ancient to state of the art, one that requires keen insight into how to draw upon its variants to solve problems around creating experiences in real time and space. These XD skills—are there are hundreds—can be applied across the board to any and all aspects of the wider Experience Economy – including every type of experience, and futuristic trends like Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality.
This panoply of public and private spaces (including virtual spaces) ranges from work- and data-based: software (User Experience, UX, is the general label), offices, social media, virtual reality, libraries; to travel: airline flight, resorts and hotels, auto and public transport; sociability: sports and stadia, city, social center, house, complex, parks, and neighborhoods; health clubs, auditoria, supermarkets, dining, malls, church, games and gamification, bars, casinos; to cultural and educational, including college education (test prep is a subindustry), museums, galleries, and exhibits, classrooms, retreats and seminars, special public events, the Olympics, television, film, and looping back to screens of any size, jumbo to hand-held.
These places, physical or virtual, have always been designed to the conventions that dictate what they have long been expected to look, feel, and act like. But the indications are that technology and innovation, as in the theme park case, are having their effects in making us keenly aware of new potentials in every area of human life for design that fits the human factors landscape. That would include the way we instinctively take in these places into our imaginations, set our mental agenda to fit their archetypal uses, and adapt our thinking and behavior to fit their purposes. Now, though, through better cultural research, these places can serve our purposes (rather than our fitting theirs) and even produce novel ways of making their purposes fit our own in ways we hadn’t before been able to imagine. Helper robots, self-driving cars, private pods on trans-continental flights, and importing the movie theater to our phone or desktop screen are everyday examples.
These human factors are those theme-park designers discuss in their design sessions: context, perception, attention, color, scale, lighting, expectation, press (forces operating at odds to the design), procession, pacing, arc, suspense, resolution. So that now, teaching this still-evolving artform - and finding a way to do knowledge transfer with a complexly creative skill set - will be the ongoing task of the XD / thematics industry. It will at the same time advance the cause of creativity across disciplines. The outcomes of experience mindset range from Fitbits to inspire more walking to discovering life’s meaning at a family reunion in the Magic Kingdom at locations worldwide.
The experience design industry can be traced back to the 19th-century World’s Fair as well as other commercial showcases like the Ford Rotunda at world headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan—host to more visitors in the 1950s than the Statue of Liberty. Another wellspring is Tivoli Gardens, a very early amusement park (1843, the world’s second-oldest) where as a tourist in Copenhagen, Walt was first inspired to think about his film work in a new way: in translation--to create immersive worlds people could walk through and imagine in three dimensions. This single idea, brought to life through the arts, is one of the most transformational in art history.
*The Experience IS the Marketing (2002)