One of the techniques for exploring experience design is to illuminate and interrogate the connections between these four categories of forces that create experiences (objects, people, context and phenomena) to help map their interconnectedness.
Let’s imagine we’re using this technique reflexively, as a way of expanding our own thinking about something we’re designing. Pick any word or concept that describes any aspect of your design, and then ask yourself which of these four categories it belongs in. Perhaps we’re filmmakers, so the first word that comes to mind is the form of the output, “film”. It doesn’t take much reflection to decide that’s an object, a word about the product we’re crafting.
Experience mapping suggests you now have four follow-up questions you can ask yourself. Asking “what kind of film” lets you focus even more on the object. To explore the connection to people, you might ask yourself, “Who sees this film?” Or, you could explore the relationship with context and ask yourself, “What’s the context of the film?” You could also ask yourself a question about the phenomena that combines the other three with a question like, “How have they changed because of seeing this kind of film in that context?”
The answer to each of those questions becomes the starting point for more questions to reflect on. Perhaps we chose to explore people in the last phase, and decided that the audience for our film is “fans of action films”. Now, we can map back in another direction by asking ourselves “what kind of action films are they fans of” to explore objects again, or “what’s the broader context of action films” to explore the context. The answers can be as specific (“tells a friend to see it too”), general (“entertained”), or philosophical (“social commentary on the surveillance state”) as you might feel at the moment, because the next round of questions (“in what context do they tell a friend to see it to”) can broaden or focus that prior thought.
With this kind of exercise, it is common to hit two kinds of road bumps. The first happens with complex answers, such as “interactive film” — is it an object? What makes the object interactive? If someone didn’t interact with it, was it still interactive? Is interactivity even the trait of an object, or is it a phenomena that occurs when a person interacts with an object? Experience design thinking often challenges the assumptions baked into the language of a design discipline. Some of those challenges are common enough that we’ll dive into them in depth in the next chapter.
The second kind of road bump you’re likely to encounter is introduced by metaphor, when the limits of the design language you’re using require you to describe something as “like” something of an entirely different category. For example, perhaps we decided that our interactive film unfolds “like a video game” — we’re now referencing a new design discipline via metaphor. Experience design thinking encourages interdisciplinary language because we’re exploring context and phenomena, which aren’t contained by the design language we started with. Some of these bridges across design disciplines are also common enough that we’ll devote another chapter to exploring them.
Just remember that even in its messiest state, an experience map helps you identify a more fully realized version of an idea, even as it raises more questions to explore.
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