Lately I’ve been reading up on design, particularly Experience Design. The very concept is becoming so intriguing to me and, as a result, I started to evaluate my way of thinking. Actually, the interest started during my research on Alternate Reality Games (ARGs). ARGs are alternative forms of storytelling that incorporates a lot of puzzles and game elements and, as a result, allows its players to experience something out of the ordinary. Also used in marketing campaigns in promoting feature films, videogames, cars, and other new products, ARGs are an experimental gaming genre that blurs the lines between reality and fiction by conveying a fractured narrative through Web sites, text messages, snail mail, phone calls, and even real-life interactions. This is the general definition… which hasn’t been totally decided on yet. But whatever it is, it is an “experience.” Designing the experience of these games is a great challenge for the puppetmasters or those who are behind the curtains developing the game as it unfolds. During my research, one of the people I met (whom I’d like to say have become my friend since), recommended that I MUST read Experience Design by Nathan Shedroff. Well things got in the way, I had to finish my dissertation, submit articles, defend, apply to jobs, go to conferences, etc… At any rate, I finally found the time to actually order the book three weeks ago.
The book is designed really well. It is (of course) printed on glossy paper like a coffee table book, has a very attractive and modern cover, the typography is carefully arranged and played with (which reminds me of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and Katherine Hayles’ Writing Machines), and has lot’s of interesting pictures/designs on every page that are relevant to the topic being discussed… in brief, it is looks like an attractive read.
Here’s only some of the things Shedroff says about Experience Design…
Although the concept is as old as experiences themselves, the field Experience Design is relatively young. While noting that all experiences are important, he explains that some experiences are worth discussing, specially those that have elements that contribute to superior experiences that are knowable and reproducible, which makes them designable. I know, from having talked to some of the puppetmasters or game designers, designing experiences that are reproducible is the holy grail of making ARGs. Shedroff explains that we can learn from all experiences whether they are traditional, physical, offline, or online experiences. Experiences are foundation of all life events and, according to Shedroff, form the core of what interactive media have to offer (4). While many experiences are ongoing, most have edges that define their start, middle, and end, which help us differentiate meaning, pacing, and completion. At the very least, Shedroff states, think of experience as requiring an attraction (I assume this is the beginning, or trailhead for ARGs), an engagement (which defines the middle, or what the player has to do for the narrative to unfold, such as puzzle solving, picking up drops, etc), and a conclusion. The attraction is necessary to initiate the experience and can be cognitive, visual, auditory, or signal to any of our senses. And the book that I was holding in my hands, Experience Design, was designed to do just that. And so my experience of the book had started the minute I unwrapped it. The engagement has to be sufficiently different from the surrounding environment as well as cognitively important or relevant for the user to continue the experience. The conclusion must provide some kind of a resolution whether through meaning, story, context, or an activity that makes the experience satisfactory. An experience designer who does not pay much attention to the conclusion-whether through inattention to detail, boredom, or speed-has just wasted her time. According to Shedroff, all experiences must compete for the attention of the audience. Finally, he argues that what makes an experience so remarkable is that it challenges us to rethink the possibilities or confronts our beliefs and expectations (6). All of these conditions apply to all of the experiences we have had, so the rest of the book, while going into the details of designing experiences, brings up examples from our daily lives, both online and offline. Of course, designing an ARG is just that, designing a good experience that somehow leaves the players thinking for awhile. The interesting thing to me is that how emerging technologies are used to create these experiences. We are well-acquainted with how online/digital technologies are being used to design experiences: Second Life, visual thesauri, some Web sites, the Lost Experience are all examples of these.
Although the book itself is designed to give you certain type of experience and successfully attracts (the beginning) the reader, I am not sure it is successful in continuing the engagement part. As a matter of fact, although i am planning on finishing the book, I still haven’t. Here’s why: while the book is designed beautifully, nobody ever took the time to edit/proofread the manuscript. As a result, there are many spelling and some grammar errors. Am I being a stickler? Of course I am. Good design requires correct spelling/punctuation/grammar, I would think. And good editing is a sign of respect that the author shows towards the reader. When I read a student essay that’s not edited properly, I get the sense of sloppiness: “the student didn’t even take the time to edit the paper, she doesn’t care about my class.” When you blog/twitter/IM/e-mail a certain level of error is tolerated, for sure, even when a student is writing an essay it is tolerated. But not when I pay a book $35 and wait for it to arrive for a week… And that, right there, ended the experience for me. And I wonder… did Shedroff wasted his time like he says in the book?