Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Understanding Experience

There is a strong movement today in HCI and interaction design towards "experience". The way experience is defined is diffuse and diverse. This is of course not strange, since experience is one of the "big" concepts that have been at the center of philosophical investigations for centuries. The argument behind this movement is in many cases that our earlier ways of describing and understanding interaction have been too focused on functionality, usability, and other concepts that does not embrace the way people seem to relate to their lifeworld. This movement is in many ways all good and well. It does increase our understanding of artifacts and widens our appreciation of what matters in design. We have to acknowledge and accept the "whole" human experience of interacting with artifacts and systems in our environment.

But, at the same time it seems as if the struggle to find, define, explain and operationalize "experience" ends up in either one of two "places". Sometimes the explanation of experience becomes an abstract and philosophical enterprise, which is necessary and important from a research perspective. But most of the times we end up with really simplistic and flat understandings of experience meant to inform design. This latter way is not by any means "practical" or useful, it floats around in the vast space between theoretical discourse and real design practice. This means that the large majority of "experience" oriented thinking is neither interesting as a theoretical attempt or as giving practical guidance. I think it is time to view experience approaches as needed as a theoretical analytical tool, but from the perspective of practice there are other more useful approaches.

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