Experience Design and Authenticity – Is There a Connection?

futurelab default header

by: Idris Mootee

Is design being assumed to be an offshoot of visual arts of visual art is an offshoot of design? Or is interactive design an offshoot of theatre arts? There are many common grounds. No questions designers often draw inspirations from visual arts whether it is art book or galleries. There are also examples of artists who look to commercial design and technology for inspirations. Let me think of one example. 


I think good designers do not need to hang out in art galleries and museums. Just look around you and let everyday objects and experiences inspire you. I know many see popular objects as tacky or lacking style. But sometimes this attitude blinds them from many interesting and inspiring solutions. I am not saying that style exists in all everyday objects of experiences, but they can be a great source of ideas that can rival high style counterparts. IDEO’s human factor leader Jane Fulton Suri published a book called "Thoughtless Acts" which captures many amazing and provocative ways people react or adapt  to things and the world around them. Cute little book with lots of pictures. The goal of the book is to inspire examples of intuitive design. This is an excellent example of how everyday things and actions can be a gold mine for new ideas. Maybe I should put together a book with my hundreds of photos on everyday service experiences. That’s a good idea.

 How do we celebrate everyday objects? Often we don’t buy these objects for their "design," but it’s because of their design that they find their way to us. They don’t look pretty at first and somehow we get used to it. They may not be art objects but they represent elegant solutions to our real-world problems. You can buy them from Wal-Mart and marry form and function and make economic sense. There are plenty of examples. 

How about everyday experiences? Often these little experiences (digital or real world) are not engineered to be great, but somehow they find a way to us and we feel comfortable with it. They don’t appear to be great at first and somehow we get used to it. They may not be places for special occasions but they represent a third place we spend our time. People are friendly not because they are trained to act that way but they are simply who they are. It is called authenticity. We can tolerate those long waits on any human errors because we know they are like us – being humans. The questions why we do we tolerate these service hiccups in those places and get mad when it happens as a result of a service breakdown in a large company whether it is hotel, airline or retail chain? I think it has to be with authenticity.

 A tales of two experiences: Mecca and Alinea. Both are my favorite experiences (photos above). 

Mecca, a small Indian restaurant in the Greek district of Toronto, it is one of my best places for curry. People there are enjoying Mohammad Miah’s food the traditional way, delicately digging fingertips into the aromatic biryani. The scene is a lot like Miah’s native Bangladesh. Nothing is staged and the lousy but friendly service is part of the character. Food is great. On the other side is Alinea in Chicago, unarguably the most designed or engineered restaurant in the world. It is where restaurant meets modern performance art. Everything they do is to convey the emotion, the expression, the essence of the restaurant. It is a hyper-experimental cooking style that pushes the limit of cooking and restaurant operations management. The two restaurants are drastically different in sophistication, scale, operations, investments and target market, but one thing is common. They are both unique and authentic experiences. One cost $8 per person and the other $250.

 What are the world’s most authentic experiences? Here’s a good piece from NY Times. Great lessons from India (one of my favorite places on earth). In India, visiting temples that pulsate with devotion will evoke a sense of the sacred, with religion being such an integral part of daily life, spiritual experiences occur when you least expect them. Here are some examples:

See Things As They Really Are (Vipassana Centers throughout India): Maintaining a strict code of silence with no sensory stimulation for 10 days may sound like a self-induced hell, but after attending a 10-day Vipassana meditation course, most people claim transformation and find the mental training invaluable. 

Hop on a Motorbike and Head for the Drumbeat (Goa): Once capital of the global beach party, Goa maybe past its prime, but when rumors start that an event is in the making at a to-be-announced venue, keep your ear to the ground. Why? Because only in some deserted clearing near a golden Goan beach can you trance out with the nationals of the world, and find solace in the serenity of a rural villager’s smile as she hands over cups of soothing chai for the duration of the party.

Worship the Sunrise as It Touches the Southernmost Tip (Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu): You can’t help but be moved by a sense of the miraculous when a simple daily occurrence is venerated by thousands of pilgrims who plunge themselves into the turbulent swell, believing that the tri-oceanic waters at India’s southernmost tip are holy, while others delight in the glorious spectacle as if it’s a major Bollywood (the nickname for India’s booming film industry) premiere.

Lose All Sense of Reality in the City of Light (Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh): Drifting at dawn on a boat on the Ganges along Varanasi’s bathing ghats (steps leading down to the river), against a backdrop of 18th- and 19th-century temples and palaces, you will witness surreal sights — hundreds of pilgrims waist-deep in the Ganges cleansing their souls in its holy waters, while others pound laundry, meditate by staring into the sun, or limber up to wrestle. All the while, bodies burn on the sacred banks, thereby achieving moksha — liberation from the eternal cycle of rebirth.

Purchase a Pushkar Passport (Pushkar, Rajasthan): As you wander around the ghats of Pushkar, the beautifully serene temple town on the edge of the Thar Desert, you will almost certainly be approached by a Brahmin priest to offer puja (prayers) at the sacred lake. In exchange for a "donation," he will tie a red thread around your wrist — the "passport" you can brandish at the next priest who approaches. This is the commercial side of India’s spirituality, and one you need to be aware of.

Make a Wish at the Tomb of a Sufi Saint (Ajmer, Rajasthan): The great Sufi saint Khwaja Moin-ud-Din Chisti was known as "the protector of the poor," and his tomb is said to possess the power to grant the wishes of all those who visit. His Dargah Sharif is the most sacred Islamic shrine in India, second in importance only to Mecca but frequented by Hindus and Muslims alike. The atmosphere of pure devotion is both ancient and surreal; some pray fervently, and others tie threads onto the latticework while supplicating the saint to fulfill their wish, while throughout these activities, the qawwali singers seated in front of the tomb repeat the same beautiful, haunting melodies that have been sung for centuries.

Let me now if this inspires you to think about service design. Pls share your stories with us.

original Post: http://mootee.typepad.com/innovation_playground/2008/04/is-design-being.html