A Strategic Framework for Experience Design

A person’s everyday experience is a complex web of sensual, judgmental, and compositional threads. This complication applies to a person us...

A person’s everyday experience is a complex web of sensual, judgmental, and compositional threads. This complication applies to a person using a product or service as well. Therefore, the experience of using a smartphone or a internet portal service can be approached with those same three perspectives. While understanding present experience is important in order to provide a real experience through a product or service, it is even more important to consider a more strategic approach, especially the understanding of the inevitable influences of the environment to people’s experiences such as socio-cultural, economic, and technical environments. Additionally, a counter approach of analyzing how human experience influences the environment is also necessary. Real experience can be achieved only when environments and experience harmonize. Firms that produce products or services based on this real experience can acquire the possibility to secure strategic competitiveness. So what are the specific environmental elements that influence human experience while using products and services? On the other hand, how does human experience affect its environment? In addition, what is the relationship between the balance of experience and a successful products or services?

Tuning with the World’s Frequency

Breakfast meetings are quite common in Korea. Usually, a breakfast meeting will start at seven in the morning and will last for around two hours. Then, a light breakfast is served and participants socialize afterwards. Perhaps this distinctive culture arose as a desperate measure to try to meet everyone’s schedules while trying to avoid official working hours.

There were special breakfast meetings I attended for about five years. The meetings were held at the headquarters of Samsung Electronics. Participants included representative of the Samsung Group, executives, the members of an advisory committee on future technology, opinion leaders who were invited from universities and research institutes, and other key people at Samsung. At the meetings an  expert in a certain field gave a lecture about its developments, which was then followed byan open debate among the attendees.

One of the things I learned at these meetings was what I call “tuning to the world’s frequency.” We were able to learn new things by developing diverse perspectives and getting in tune with each other through the experts’ stories and debates.

One day, a lecture on the economic ripple effects of a large-scale canal project in Korea, which was hotly debated at the time, and a possible water shortage in Korea was given. One of the experts, who was seriously concerned about a possible water shortage, explained the reasons why a premium global brand like Perrier was more expensive than Samdasu, a local brand. He said that Perriers water sources were of higher quality than those of Samdasu and therefore the water they produced was more expensive.

At another meeting, flexible displays, a technology that was very new during that time in the late 2000’s, were presented. We learned that the degrees of permeability and integration played a very important role in technological advancement. We took turns touching and bending a flexible display prototype while discussing potentials of how flexible display products could dramatically change our daily lives.

At yet another meeting, a very interesting discussion on socio-cultural topics took place. One professor discussed his researches on “mega trends” and gave examples of what consumers will demand and desire in the near future. His claim was that consumers integrate their self identities with the products they purchase. He had conducted a research on consumers who had bought “knock off” products, or fake products. When asked what they would do if they earned a lot of money, a majority of consumers answered that they would “purchase the real product of the knock off.” His research provides an insightful aspect, that firms do not heavily engage in the crackdown of knock off manufacturers because, after all, the knock offs can act as a powerful marketing tool for leading consumers to purchase the real products.

These examples above reveal the sensitive approach of Samsung Electronics when it comes to changes in economic, technological, and socio-cultural environments. Those free discussions among decision makers in the company and with academics might have paved the way for the creation of innovative products such as the Galaxy S and the Galaxy Note series. Perhaps their spell of success was their insight into how future environments would change combined with analysis of the effects of their former successful products and services on the environment.

What Does Confucius Say About Experience?

The Doctrine of the Mean possesses concise yet logical oriental philosophy. Former Tokyo University professor Shizuka Shirakawa, a renowned scholar of the research of Confucianism who recently passed away, praised The Doctrine of the Mean as a realist doctrine that provides a clear path for our existence and experience of being (Shizuka 2003).

The Mean refers to the state of fundamental and absolute balance of the environment that surrounds humans. On the other hand, Harmony refers to the balance of a person’s heart based on the elements of the mean. While the mean always exists in the natural environment, Harmony can only be achieved through the specific experiences that we, as humans, go through and how we feel about them. Once the mean and a person’s Harmony meet, then a perfect balance is achieved between the human and his/her environment.

By applying the concept of mean and harmony to the three threads of experience (sensual, judgmental, and compositional threads), the mean refers to the three threads of experience before reflecting on human experience. When human experience is reflected in the threads, a person attempts to organize the three threads of experience into a harmonious state. Of course, not all experiences achieve harmony. A state of harmony for a specific experience is achieved only when the level of sensual, judgmental, and compositional threads achieve a balance based on their relative positions.

One of the points that The Doctrine of the Mean emphasizes is the point of balance among the threads of experience. Let’s look at another passage from The Doctrine on the balance of experience. One day, Confucius was having a conversation with his disciple Zilu about what strength is. Confucius answered him like this: Do you mean the strength of the South, the strength of the North, or the strength of selfmastery? 

To be broadminded and gentle in teaching and not rashly punish wrong-doing is the strength of the South. The Superior Man abides in this. To be able to make a bed of weapons and armor and die without grief—this is the strength of the North. The forceful are at home in this. Therefore the Superior Man is harmonious without getting sloppy. He stands in the center without leaning to either side. How correct his strength is!

Here, Confucius claims that the Superior Man keeps his balance and does not sway to one side while maintaining the tension of balance between various elements in life. Whether issues grand or miniscule, the Superior Man always maintains balance because he is sturdy in his fundamentals and has taken this principle to heart.

Human experience can also be explained from the perspective of the balance of the Superior Man. The three threads of experience are in danger of being emphasized too much individually. The compositional thread, which emphasizes the relational aspect of experience, could easily be in danger of constant changes towards increasing connections between people and things The sensual thread has the possibility of creating powerful stimulations that lead to addictions due to its volatile reactions. The judgmental thread, by itself, will promote endless automation and externalized logic that ends up becoming a system for the system itself rather than a human-centered system. When human fundamentals are excluded, even a product built to provide users with a really great experience can degenerate into a piece of machinery. Therefore, “real experience” can be created only when a tense balance between the elements of experience can be achieved.

The Balance of Experience as a Three-Dimensional Model

We need to take a more integrated approach to achieve a balance between the three threads of experience. In order to look at the relationships between the threads, their external environments, and their specific experiences, the three threads need to be seen in a single integrated frame. Therefore, I want to present a three dimensional model of experience that can help explain the integrated threads of experience.

The model is divided into three axes. The y-axis indicates the sensual thread and expresses how high or low the sense of presence is in an experience. The higher the value of the y-axis, perception of sense of presence is increased due to external stimulants. On the other hand, a lower value indicates a relatively lesser degree of a sense of presence. The z-axis, or the judgmental thread, describes whether the evaluation of an experience results through internal or external locus of causality. The higher the value, the more external the value and control of human experience; the lower the value, the more internal the value and control of experience. Lastly, the x-axis refers to the compositional thread of experience. The more the value of the x-axis shifts to the right, the more cohesive a relationship is, whereas a shift to the left reveals a lesser degree of cohesiveness.

There are a number of merits in expressing our experiences of using a product or service as a point in the three dimensional space as shown in image below. Firstly, experience does not exist as three different parts based on the three threads but rather exists as a single integrated point. The three dimensions must combine as a single point in order to fully and properly express the holistic nature of experience. Secondly, the three dimensional space provides a simple way of describing human experience in using a specific product or service. Figure 3.2 shows the results of a survey on the executives of LG Electronics, a Korean electronics company. They were asked what kind of experiences consumers who had bought UHD (ultrahigh definition) TVs from LG would go through. In terms of the sensual thread of experience, the results indicated that users would feel a high degree of sense of presence due to the quick reflection of a minute screen for setting changes and high resolution that would make them think the characters in the TV were almost real. As for the judgmental thread, the popular opinion was that users would feel a slight internal locus of causality for their experiences since the content of what they enjoy watching on the TV screens such as dramas and sports cannot be controlled. In the perspective of the compositional thread of experience, both the lack of connections between TVs and the use of a TV to communicate with other people would lead to users feeling a relatively low level of cohesiveness.



Figure 3.2 also shows the results of a survey on the employees of a portal site (NAVER) on what they think people’s experiences would be while using their mobile internet messenger (MIM) In terms of the sensual thread of experience, the limited screen size and difficulty in interacting on that small screen would seem to lead to a fairly low degree of a sense of presence. They also think that the distinctive user interface of the messenger would provide a greater degree of a sense of presence compared to competitors’ mobile messengers. In the perspective of the judgmental thread of experience, the enjoyment users feel while exchanging messages with other users and the direct interaction they conduct to send a message was expected to stem from internal locus of causality. The employees said that mobile messengers provide a means to communicate with other users and enable intimate interaction between close people. Therefore, the level of cohesiveness that the compositional
thread of experience provides would be very high.

The two examples of the UHD TV and the internet messenger reveal that a three dimensional representation helps in expressing what an experience entails. In both cases, the executives, in the UHD example, and the employees, in the MIM example, were briefed about each dimension before they were asked to express their opinions on the product or service within the three dimensional model. Participants did not have much difficulty understanding the concept of the dimensions while they filled in their survey. Almost none of the 40 executives of the electronics firm and the 300 employees of the internet portal company that were surveyed held differing views regarding its product or service. This is how easy it is to create a three dimensional model of a human experience of a product or a service.

 Finally, a three dimensional model provides the advantage of an easy and quick method for gathering opinions within a company regarding how to provide a better experience to users. By understanding the position of the current experience and the direction a future experience should shift towards, a point for the future experience can be created. In other words, the three dimensional model can be used as a tool for deciding the strategic goals of a user’s next great experience.

The Mean and Harmony in the Three Dimensional Model of Experience

The Doctrine of the Mean is often misunderstood as a guideline towards a middle point that is neither too much nor too little. If this was true, the origin of the three dimensional model of experience should provide the best experience. However, the origin of the model is not a real experience that people can perceive. A sense of presence is neither high nor low, the locus of causality is neither internal nor external, and cohesiveness is neither strong nor weak. Basically, the origin of the graph is like food that doesn’t taste like anything at all. In fact, the Doctrine of the Mean emphasizes harmony that enables an optimal balance of emotions in the human heart. When applied to products and services, harmony refers to a point that maintains and tunes itself based on the relative balance between the three threads of experience. Every product or service possesses differing degrees of experience, but harmony is achieved only when the three threads of experience meet at a single point of optimal balance.

Let’s think about a middle schooler who enjoys playing the video game League of Legends. He experiences enjoyment through the desire to control every aspect of what is controllable. Therefore, its judgmental experience expresses an internal locus of causality. Also, a realistic expression of monsters and other players can provide a high degree of sensual experience. Furthermore, a stronger perception of cohesiveness with other players can provide a more harmonious compositional experience. By expressing the experience of playing League of Legend onto the three dimensional space, the point of balance will probably be somewhere on the upper left quadrant. However, if the game is neither realistic nor unrealistic, the locus of causality is neither internal nor external, and cohesiveness is neither high nor low, the gamer’s experience will end up being bland.

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