The roller coaster of experience design

Whether singular executions or multiple identities, most brands are flatlining. Branding values coherency – with the result that corporate identities are constructed as a blandly steady state of being.

Whether singular executions or multiple identities, most brands are flatlining. Branding values coherency – with the result that corporate identities are constructed as a blandly steady state of being.

A disconnect exists between the doubtless careful and considered thinking behind these brands and the appropriate tools to enable this thinking.

What we crave are the ups and downs of the rollercoaster – speed! Gaps to fall into! An exhilarating ride. The highs and lows of real life – four dimensions!  Forget so-called engagement. We want collaboration. We want shape. We want the truth.  We’re in this together.  It might hurt a little bit, but so what?

Here, an example of Experience Design execution at its ludicrously hurting best. I recently ran a workshop about narrative environments entitled Chaos in the Museum.  Museum folk are very polite and tend to be interested in objects rather than people so by way of re-connecting them to the humanity of our endeavour (oh, the humanity), I asked participants to draw a shape representing an experience that meant something to them.

One woman drew the shape of her good friend’s wedding. The shape described the ‘rising action’ of the event as preparations came to fruition, it described the anticipation of arriving guests, it showed the story of the day in the ‘peaks’ that kept happening – at one point, members of staff who had been serving drinks began to dance and everyone joined in, dancing all together. Corporate identity might make use of a conventional narrative structure in which staff serve drinks, but Experience Design trades in the randomness of moments in which these same staff members put down their trays and gather up their linen aprons to dance with each other.

Such moments kept happening at this wedding, building one on top of the other until all of a sudden the bride and groom failed to appear at the precise moment they were expected.  ‘There was no music’, our workshop participant told us ‘and no bride and groom’.  There was a void.  In the void, gathered guests experienced awkwardness and extreme emotion, which was unexpected and which went on longer than was comfortable. In a dramatised version of such a scenario a writer might feel the need to fill this void with comic or poignant cameos from the congregation but in life (and in experience design) there is no poultice because this moment of awkwardness and emotion is the conduit of the power of the experience. The shape of the event collapses and participants can’t know if this will last and whether they and/or the event can survive such a collapse. They have no idea if the promise of the event and their attendant excitement and anticipation will be fulfilled. The wedding guest who was our workshop attendee told me ‘I had no idea how much I needed that bride and groom until they weren’t there!’

Being remembered is what any of us want – from an event, a conversation, an encounter, a relationship. The shape of a memorable experience is gathered over time, structured around ups and downs – the highs of anticipation and reward, the low moments of quietness and nostalgic longing.

Don’t be afraid of the lows – the lows are what make the highs. They are necessary.

Want to know how that wedding turned out?  Ha. Of course you do. That’s another story. This is Experience Design.

What: Re-Envisioning Exhibition Design: Chaos at the Museum
Where: Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts
When: April 2014
Link: http://www.re-xd.org/

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.