What is experience design, exactly?

Experience design is the creation of experiences for the purpose of entertainment, persuasion, recreation, or human enrichment where the emotional journey of an individual or group is the focus. Experience design is a growing field that rethinks how meaning and value are created, often by taking a holistic, human-centered approach to design.

What did you study to be able to do what you do?

If you are looking for specific academic programs, I have no idea what to recommend. While two of my degrees are design-focused, neither dealt with experience design specifically. A lot of the formal field of experience design looks at how to make technology more relatable for people or how to make people happier to spend money or do what is expected of them. This is not my focus.

My history degree gave me a structure to make sense of my fieldwork with Guatemalan ex-guerrillas. My design & technology degree taught me systems thinking and game design. My design research, writing, and criticism degree gave me an excuse to study edge cases of experience design while formalizing a methodology for my work.

What kind of help are you looking for with your work?

What would be most helpful are invitations to intimate, high-stakes gatherings to inform my research. I’m exploring the design of transformative social experiences, which started with a comparison of sex parties, funerals, and wilderness trips. You can read about it on the Patterns of Transformation site. I welcome invitations to gatherings like funerals, deliberative democracy convenings, restorative justice encounters, demanding spiritual exercises, and high-stakes expeditions, even if the experience can’t be written about or made public in any way. Email me, and we can chat more.

I’d also love to hear from folks who find Patterns of Transformation useful. Read it, drop me a line with questions, and join the mailing list. The email list is low volume, lower volume than most people would like. But it’s there, and I appreciate all my readers.

On a completely different note, unsolicited proofreading is always appreciated. Since I have dyslexia, it’s impossible to catch all my own typos. (I gave a talk about my neurodiversity at the Cusp Design conference. You can watch it here.)

What are some of your influences?

My idols include Susan Meiselas and Margaret Mead. As a kid, I was a dedicated fan of Bill Nye the Science Guy, the Back to the Future trilogy, and Myst. Once I learned how to escape the suburbs and get into New York City, rascal institutions like ABC No Rio, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and the Madagascar Institute became major influences. The Radical Faeries hold a special place in my heart. My whole conception of the world shifted a little after reading Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, and I’m gladly never going back.

How do you choose what to focus on?

The Getting Things Done method (aka GTD) has allowed me to organize vague interests into actionable projects. I also use it to get honest with myself about my goals, which start out feeling outlandish but inevitably come to fruition. I’m not sure if this is how you’re supposed to use GTD, but it’s working for me.

What’s caught your attention lately?