What is Real Experience?

There are two types of experiences that we need to distinguish between. The first type is experience as a process. From the moment we wake ...

There are two types of experiences that we need to distinguish between. The first type is experience as a process. From the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep, we are constantly experiencing. Often times, we cannot label what those experiences are, but there is a continuous steam of experience while we interact with the surrounding environment.

The second type is experience as a result. In this case, the beginning and an end of an experience can be defined, and experience can even be named. Furthermore, this experience leads to change in our behavior and emotions. This is called “an experience.”

For example, I enjoy going to an art exhibition on the weekends. My favorite time for this activity is around 10 AM when few people are there. When I lived in Boston, MA, I enjoyed the slow paced atmosphere of the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) around 10 AM. On a sunny day, I can enjoy the warm rays of sunlight that peak through the exhibition halls. This is also the time when the caf√© at the  museum starts to make its first cups of freshly brewed coffee, and the museum fills up with its aroma. My interaction with the pieces of art inside the museum begins in this captivating atmosphere. At times I gaze closely at a painting as if looking through a magnifying glass, and at times I look at it through the side of my eyes. Sometimes, I just sit down on the floor and stare at a piece of art. My experience of perceiving, thinking, and feeling while acting the way I do at the museums builds up inside me one by one. I still remember the piece of art I saw a few weeks ago, and I look forward to going to another exhibition to see art I have not seen before. Once I’m finish and leave the exhibition around noon, the experiences of the morning holds a place deep in my heart. As these experiences pile up within me, they become a part of my life. I still clearly remember the first experience I had looking at Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in the MFA.

Dewey defined “real experience” as something with a goal that has a clear beginning and end, and can be clearly distinguished from other experiences. Philosopher of psychology Williams explained that “pure experience” is all forms of experience that make our lives more flourishing and can be clearly distinguished by the intimate relationship between human and environment (James 1902). Heidegger coined the term “fundamental experience” as a moment as holy as meeting a god-like and absolute being (Heidegger 1963). By compiling these concepts, a “real experience” can be seen as a process that fulfills and develops our lives through the discovery of the uncommon in our daily lives and filling those moments with special meaning.

Three Conditions for Real Experience

So what are the conditions that are required for a real experience? Let’s take an example. Where do we spend most time in our daily lives? For modern humans, it is probably school, home, the office, or inside a certain building or structure. Because of this, people have a great interest in their experiences inside architectural structures. The measurement of a person’s experience after moving into a building is called a Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) (Oseland 2007). The basics of POE is based on a Roman architect named Vitruvius who lived in the first century BC. Vitruvius claimed that architecture must satisfy three conditions in order to provide real experiences to people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvius). Those three conditions are firmitas (durable), utilitas (useful), and venustas (beautiful). These conditions describe the structural, behavioral, and expressional aspects of architecture and can be best explained using one of the most famous of Roman architecture, the Pantheon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome).

Structurally, firmitas insists that a structure should be firm and should achieve harmony with its interior and surrounding structures. The Pantheon is a dome structure. It does not consist of any interior support; bricks are laid to support the structure of the dome. In order to fulfill this, each brick must achieve harmony with the surrounding bricks in order to create a stable balance. A more modern example is Frank Wright’s Falling Water (http://www.fallingwater.org/). This building is not very fancy nor is it visually catchy. However, harmony with its surrounding nature is its greatest priority. The structure itself does not interfere with the nature around it, and it emphasizes natural light and ventilation while conforming to the context of the land it’s built on.

Behaviorally speaking, utilitas refers to how convenient the use of the structure is. The Pantheon has been used by the Roman Catholic Church and is still a tourist site visited by a large number of tourists today. I think the fact that the structure is still used as a church illustrates how convenient this building actually is. As a more modern example, I want to mention the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City (www.moma.org). First, the building is in the middle of Manhattan and is thus very accessible. The structure of the interior is very easy to understand, and each room is connected to another organically and thus enables a convenient experience when attending exhibitions.

Venustas refers to how much beauty the structure provides to people. The interior of the Pantheon is still considered a symbol of absolute beauty. From the wall closest to the floor to the hole above that shows the sky, it provides perfect beauty. A modern example of beauty can be seen in the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) (http://www.ddp.or.kr) which opened in Seoul in 2014. World renowned architect Zahar Hadid designed DDP to symbolize Korea’s vision as an origin of creative design industries, and its beautiful design perfectly complements this vision.

Once structural, behavioral, and representational conditions are all met, an experience can be a real experience. Therefore, these are necessary conditions for a real experience.

These conditions do not need to be limited to architectural experiences. They can be applied to any man-made artifacts. For example, think of an internet shopping website. In terms of structure, website navigation should be clear, errors should not occur during usage, and it must be able to protect a user’s private information so as to enable safe payment. Behaviorally, the process of asking users for information or payment should be easy and convenient. Finally, in terms of expression, the website should provide appropriate emotions for its users and must be visually comfortable. Based on prior research that have applied these three conditions to online shopping malls, stock exchanges, search engines, and online games, all three conditions showed statistically meaningful effects on customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.

Design for Experience

As we live our everyday lives, we go through diverse experiences, and these experiences help form our lives. A person’s experience cannot and should not be artificially designed. A person’s subjective and holistic experience can only be determined by that person alone because it is a product of interaction between that person and the surrounding environment that aggregates and changes over time. Design for experience does not seek to design experience for humans; it intends to design a product or service that people will interact with for long periods of time, especially its structural, behavioral, and expressional characteristics. As a result, users will be able to go through a real experience. Design for experience bases itself on theories of the humanities in order to help nurture strategic thinking in competitive situations and provide specific yet holistic guidelines.



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What is Real Experience?
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