Experience by Design

Image Credit: Andrew B Meyer


What is UX Design?

User Experience Design or UX design are used by design professionals to refer to the application of certain user-centred design practices. These are then applied through  to produce cohesive and desirable effects in a person. These are done so that the effects produced meet the user’s own goals.

The term was coined by Don Norman during his tenure as the Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple. He stated that human interface and usability were too narrow and invented the term to cover all aspects of the person’s experience with the system including the industrial design, graphics, the interface, the physical interaction and the manual.

UX design is not web design, user-centred design, graphic design, human factors engineering, user interface design (UI)(most often confused with), information architecture (IA), interaction design (IxD), usability testing etc. (Palmer, 2016)

In a diagram designed by Jessie James Garrett, we can see the different elements of user experience. Garrett’s diagram correctly includes User Needs and Site Objectives.


(UX Design Defined – User Experience – UX Design, 2012)

A great misconception is that user experience is just about usability. It is not. Imagine for a moment that you were given a huge amount of money and you could choose to either go for a holiday in Paris with your spouse or to buy a thing of your choice. That holiday may include times of romancing in some romantic Parisian sidewalk cafes with marvellous French cuisine, or relaxing strolls by the Eiffel Tower, amazing sights at opulent palaces and intimate moments at by the river Seine. Chances are, you will want that holiday. The time in Paris is an experience. It is intangible, transient but living on in memory. On the contrary, things, like laptops, bikes, or chairs are material goods – tangible, lasting, living on in garages or in dining rooms. While things (i.e. technologies) play an important role in creating and shaping experiences, the value lies only in the resulting experiences. 

In certain design domains, mostly interaction and industrial, “experience” became synonymous with how we design technology. We embrace emotion, story and meaning in these approaches. Key thinkers even argue to put experiences before things. Experiences are stories told through the product and designers are the authors of these stories.  In this thinking, only after setting forth the desired emotional and cognitive content of an experience, should a designer start thinking about how to convey the experience through a thing or a system.

Yet in Human Computer Interaction, or HCI in short, experts often review according to technologies rather than experience.

Human computer interaction are often reviewed according to technologies rather than experience. It is imperative to consider the experience of the user. Source: (Fergus, A. et. al., 2008)

Why so? Perhaps not everyone is convinced of the value of “experience before things” yet. Others may not be aware of the implications of “experiences before things”. In our research today, we shall seek to strengthen the arguments for and consequences of engaging in a truly experience-driven design of technology.

Why Experience before Things?

Experience makes us happy. Often in our lives, we choose between experiences and things. Consumer Psychology has the answer for your choice. Take the experience, because it makes you happier. (Van Boven, and Gilovich, 2010)

Experiences make us happier because they allow for “positive reinterpretation”. An experience resides in memory. Memories can be changed in retrospect, meaning, we can spin and make them bigger and better than they really were. Things, though, are stuffed into cupboards or sit on shelves and get old. We also get used to them and then they lose their appeal. Material possessions become part of the background, whilst experiences just get better with time.

Secondly, people are the “sum of their experiences”. In one empirical study, participants were asked to name five significant material purchases and five significant experiential purchases they had made in their lifetime. Then they were asked to give a summary of their life story and to include at least one of the purchases they’ve listed. Experiential purchases were more often mentioned than material purchases. People also believed that a person who knew some of their experiential but none of their material purchases would be more knowledgeable of their true self, than a person who knew only some of their material purchases and none of their experiential purchases.

There is also a societal shift from the materialistic to the experiential. In 1992, Gerhard Schulz described this phenomenon in his book Die Erlebnisgesellschaft (Experience Society)(Schulz, G., 1992). 1000 Germans were asked about the importance of certain aspects of life for their personal well-being. 84% found their “health” to be very important, then “friends/family” (68%), “autonomy/freedom”(67%), “peace/community” (58%) and “protecting the environment” (51%). Only 24% were concerned about safeguarding and even less (11%) about increasing “money” and “possessions”. This study was done in a time of economic crisis. (TNS Emnid)

There is also the “stigmatisation of materialism”. (Van Boven, L., Campbell, M.C., and Gilovich, T., 2010) In one study, participants were introduced to two fictitious characters, “Mark” and “Craig”. Mary has a prestigious job offer, with a good income in a city with cheap accommodation but not so good recreational opportunities and only moderately friendly colleagues. Craig settles for less prestige, income and cheap housing for more recreational opportunities and friendlier colleagues. 24 of 26 participants liked Craig better.

Experiences make us happier because they allow for “positive reinterpretation”. Experiences have a great potential for design and creation. Source: (Fox, 2015)

There is this perception that materialists are selfish and insecure while experientialists are humorous, friendly, open-minded, intelligent and caring. In the study, they let strangers talk for 15 minutes about either a recent material or experiential purchase. Those who talked about things enjoyed the conversation less and liked each other less than those who talked about experiences.

The principles of the experience market are noted by Gerhard Schulze in his study. (Schulze, G., 1992) Experimentalists work to acquire particular experiences, as consumerists work to consume things. The difference is that experiences are directed towards the self and are personal. Positive emotions and memories need to be co-created by providers and consumers. They cannot be bought, just as a restaurant is only as illustrious as their guests. It’s easy to create a functional kitchen with a stove and sink in the right places and good storage for knives. Consumers may not even know what a meaningful positive experience in a kitchen feels like before they had one. One can not be sure whether an offer will create the hoped for emotion, meaning and memories. Will I enjoy this movie? Will I like the vacation? The experience market is an uncertain market, both for makers and consumers.

In spite of this, experiences have a great potential for design and creation. Most experiences are shaped and created by things, so there is a correlation between things and experiences. Good shoes are a must for a great hiking experience. Here, the thing becomes a “hygiene factor”, taking a way a pain that should not be part of the hiking experience.

Thus, things and technology should create meaningful experiences instead of being loaded with symbolical experiences only. It is about what we can do and experience with a thing and not about having it, its impressive list of features or styling or material that is crucial.

How about content?

HCI often focuses on methods and processes. There is a concern for how to design experiences (methods and processes), but not so much what experiences to design. This must change.

When experience design is taken seriously, its main activity is to design pleasurable, meaningful and even treasured moments. So then, what kind of experiences do people strive for? What should experience designers provide?

People are drawn to experiences which appear collectable, according to Keinat and Kivetz. We look for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, non-repeatable experiences like the memorable birth of the firstborn, vacations in exotic places, unconventional experiences like celebrating Christmas in summer, extreme things like walking a desert or risky things like race car driving. Besides these extreme experiences, there is also the subtle weekend in Paris, flea market shopping, a barbecue with friends etc. These experiences all provide meaning to our lives and define our selves.


Source:  (Social, 2016)

Why is Facebook such a gargantuan success? What drives the sharing economy? Is it just the utilitarian notion behind it? It is the stories told behind the experiences a thing provides that truly matter. If we want to experience a fast car, we may simply borrow one, race it on a winding road, take loads of photos and upload to Facebook.

Experiences define our identity. In this post-materialistic age, we are what we do rather then what we have. 

When analysing the success of the Smartphone design, it is not just about the swiping motions. It is the functions that allow us to connect with our loved ones, being stimulated when bored such that we cannot do without a mobile companion. These experiences must be designed. (Hassenzahl M.)

A Case Study on the UX of Pokemon GO

Pokemon GO, as we all know, is a huge success. What were the factors that caused it to be such a global phenomenon that got me hooked as well?

There are basically 3 main factors.

  • The experience of the game
  • The pokemon brand
  • The blending of the first 2 factors to create an elegant and highly addictive user experience

Great Onboarding Experience

Potential users are engaged from the beginning. The onboarding process is effective – downloading the app, setting up an account and teaching the elements of gameplay (known as the core loop). Players can customize their avatars before they are launched into the virtual world of Pokemon Go. Even before the user starts to play the game, there is already a sense of familiarity from Pikachu, the red/white Pokeballs and the “Gotta catch ’em all” premise. The onboarding process uses a number of ubiquitous UX approach in the games industry:

  • One click registration: Signup friction is reduced as it doesn’t require the user to sign up a long list of form, and thus also eliminating form errors.
  • Narrative framing: A Pokemon advisor teaches the basics one line at a time. Users can learn at their own pace.
  • Personalization: Your own avatar is created, giving you ownership in this mini game.
  • Early progress: You catch your first Pokemon at the very beginning of the game and it introduces an early sense of progress and a sense of reward.
An enjoyable onboard process helps engage users at the very beginning. Source: (Kearney, D., 2016)

Limbic/Empathic Triggers

To hook the user, the experience of the game must not only be pleasurable, but also meaningful. Addiction/engagement in users is created by triggering the limbic system to release dopamine, which triggers the pleasure centres of the brain. How is this done? Through a series of gameplay mechanics that aim to give the users a good time:

  • Randomness: Random responses to user actions is used frequently in many areas of the game. For example, pokestops give random drops in terms of type and number. Intermittent and variable rewards, like they were used in slot machines, are the most powerful mechanic in creating addiction.
  • Pseudo-skill based mini games: These mini games provide a sense of achievement. Capturing rare Pokemon gives a great sense of achievement once completed. I got my friend to help me capture rare Pokemons in one night by spoofing GPS locations. I did get many rare Pokemons without much effort, but the sense of achievement was missing.
  • Progression: Increasing in your level and experiencing different rewards with different levels gives an immense sense of progression and growth.
  • Restriction: Restricted parts that will only be unlocked when users reach a certain point in their progress encourages users to stick with the game in order to unlock features and feel a sense of completeness.
  • Familiarity: The Pokemon characters, theme tune and design all create nostalgia and familiarity for all who are already familiar with the brand.


Though there is no traditional online community in its offering, no invitation of Facebook friends and such, yet there are real world locations where people gather to catch Pokemons together. People even took to their own social media channels and sharing it there. The social aspect of the game cannot be undermined. People are excited to talk about the game and share details about where they caught the rarest Pokemons. Friends meet to catch Pokemons together and even strangers will notify each other on good Pokemon sightings.

I just joined a Pokemon Go Singapore community in Facebook and there are already 77,000 users in this community. This is just one of many Facebook pages dedicated to Pokemon Go. Source: (Facebook.com, 2016)

Niantic put in a large amount of effort in mirroring the real world in the app.  The theme of immersion is so strong such that it blurs the lines between the virtual and the real world. Pictures of real world locations are visible in the game from contributors of Niantic’s previous game Ingress. Pokemon types inhabit areas of the real world related to their personalities. The AR capturing function superimposes the game on your actual environment and allows you to take photographs of the scene. All these different factors make Pokemon Go a massive success upon its launch till now. (Kearney, D., 2016)

Experience Design is an art. It is a needful consideration as we plan and execute state-of-the-art exhibition design, that visitors can leave the exhibition with a good memory of their experience.

  • UX Design Defined – User Experience – UX Design”. Uxdesign.com. N.p., 2012. Web.
  • Palmer, Alex. Seriously Though, What Is UX Design Really?. The Next Web. N.p., 2016. Web.
  • Fergus, M., Ostby, H., Iron Man the Movie, 2008. Movie.
  • Van Boven, L. and Gilovich, T. To do or to have? That is the question. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 85, 6 (2003), 1193-202
  • Fox, Hillary. Here’s What It Takes To Become A Professional Travel Photographer | Fstoppers. Fstoppers. N.p., 2016. Web. 

  • Schulze, G. Die Erlebnisgesellschaft: Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart. Campus, Frankfurt a.M, 1992.
  • Van Boven, L., Campbell, M.C., and Gilovich, T. Stigmatizing materialism: on stereotypes and impressions of materialistic and experiential pursuits. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 36, 4 (2010), 551-63.
  • TNS Emnid. bertelsmann-siftung, year unknown.
  • Keenan, A. and Kivetz, R. Productivity orientation and the consumption of collectable experiences. The Journal of Consumer Research 37, 6 (2011), 935-950.
  • Hassenzahl M. : Experiences Before Things: A Primer for the (Yet) Unconvinced. CHI 2013. Web.
  • Social. (2016). The Complete Guide To Social Sharing: The Brand New Buffer Browser Extensions – The Buffer Blog. [online] Available at: https://blog.bufferapp.com/the-complete-guide-to-social-sharing-the-brand-new-buffer-browser-extensions 
  • Kearney, D., The UX Of Pokémon GO. A blog about efficient teams using design thinking to solve real user problems. N.p., 2016. Web. 2016.
  • “Pokemon Go Singapore”. Facebook.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 

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