Hassenzahl M. (2011) User Experience and Experience Design

This is a summary of a chapter that Mark Hassenzahl has written for interaction-design.org in which he explains how he sees User Experience and how he thinks it could be deliberately designed. Firstly he presents a theory that our Western societies’ have shifted from the material to the experiential. In the article he also discusses the terms Experience and Experience Design.  After that he provides examples of Experience Design and finally offers a simple model of Why, What and How as a starting point for Experience Design.

Post-materialistic Experience Society

Hassenzahl suggest that after consumerism and materialism of the 80ties and 90ties Western societies have slowly taking a shift to Experience Society which favors meaningful engagement to earning money and begins to dissociate experience and expenditure. This could be interpreted that when large part of the people in the society have climbed up in Maslow’s hierarchy of need beyond the physiological and safety needs, people start address more complex needs  like self-actualization. He quotes Gerhard Schulze who mentions some signifiers of Experience Society: deceleration instead of acceleration, less instead of more, uniqueness instead of standardization, concentration instead of diversion, and making instead of consuming.  As an example of this shift he cites study’s that shows that experiential purchases (i.e., the acquisition of an event to live through, such as a concert, a dinner, a journey) make people more happy than material purchases (i.e., the acquisition of tangible objects, such as clothing, jewelry, stereo equipment) of the same value. He points out that experiences in Experience Society aren’t limited only to exotic places like on a holiday; an experience can also be a day out in the sun, movie night with friends or working in the garden. Also the post-materialist is not necessarily somebody who shuns technology in general, he is just more interested in the experience created than taking pride in the ownership of the product or technology that created it.

Hassenzahl sees post-materialistic experience society might play one part in the peoples not willing to pay for music in the form of a tangible product anymore. He suggests that music matters in itself, not the ownership, and therefor to make money one must provide something unique and not copyable – A feeling, or an experience that is. Number of concerts is rising, even though the record sales have dropped. Hassenzahl also points out that music industry has disliked this trend since an artist can only make limited amount of concerts in a year while CD can be in theory copied infinite amount. He sees that the markets consider experience as a vehicle for marketing, but it is not yet understood as the very product that is sold.

What is Experience?

Hassenzahl states that Experience or User Experience is not about technology, industrial design, or interfaces. It is about creating a meaningful experience through a device. According to Hassenzahls an experience is subjective, holistic, situated, dynamic, and worthwhile. He makes a clear distinction with experience as memorized story and as immediate moment-by-moment experience, and he feels that the preceding has more practical relevance. He points out that however the construction of experiences as stories from moment-by-moment experiences is not straightforward; For example there is a phenomenon that memories tend grow sweeter with time.

Hassenzahl argues for understanding experience as “an episode, a chunk of time that one went through […] sights and sounds, feelings and thoughts, motives and actions […] closely knitted together, stored in memory, labeled, relived and communicated to others. An experience is a story, emerging from the dialogue of a person with her or his world through action”.

Hassenzahl emphasizes the role of emotions and fulfillment of universal psychological needs (i.e. relatedness, competence, and popularity). In his opinion a device can be instrumental to creating an experience but need-fulfillment is what makes an experience pleasurable.  He sees that User Experience is just a sub-category of experience, focusing on a particular mediator – namely interactive products. However Hassenzahl points out that he is not declaring his point of view as a final definition, but as a starting point for the discussion.

Designing User Experience

According to Hassenzahl the challenge of designing interactive products for the post-materialist is to design the experience before the product.  He thinks that things are not the opposite of experiences; they create and substantially shape them. But after said that he also thinks that only designing how a “thing” is done is not sufficient. For example Apples iPhone that is much praised for its Experience Design, isn’t in Hassenzahls opinion Experience Design at all, because he thinks that a phone as a device isn’t designed to fulfill the needs the people use it for (for example need for feeling close to love-one).  In his point of view the post-materialistic interactive product is more of a story transported or told through an object than a tangible object. Thus he sees the role of designer as an “author” creating the experiences.

As examples of an Experience Design Hassenzahl presents the Buddha Machine and bucket for collecting grapes. The first one is an electronic device loaded with nine ambient loops. It plays back one of those loops and it has a button to skip through the loops, a knob to change the pitch of the playback and its volume, and nothing else. It offers the relief of not having to make a choice in a world awash with entertainment and self-expression options. The latter one tells of story for grape picking: Since it also turns into a seat it suggest that it is okay to take brakes, and even further that the brakes can be enjoyed at the vineyard. But since the bucket can be transformed into a seat if it is empty, it also carries the morals that brakes should be taken only after the work is done.

Hassenzahls conceptual model for designing Experience is Why, What and How-model. The What is about the functionalities, what the user can do with product, for example “make a call” and “listen to a song”. The How is about how these functions are conducted, which buttons are pressed, menus navigated and so on. According to Hassenzahl product is usually seen as a bundle of What and How. However he suggests that this point of view is limited since it doesn’t take count on peoples actual motives that he feels are the needs and emotions. That is why he thinks that the Why should be taken as the starting point, first clarifying the needs and emotions involved in the activity; The Why should determine the What and the How. This approach he hopes will lead to products that are able to tell enjoyable stories through their use.

Future directions

As a conclusion Hassenzahl feels that there should be shift from technology-driven innovations to human-driven innovations. He feels that most products in the market at the moment are either too practical, which results in obvious and uninspiring stories, or too open-ended, where the responsibility of creating meaningful experiences is in users shoulders.  He thinks that via Experience Design, technology can suggest meaningful, engaging, valuable and aesthetically pleasing experiences in itself.  He also points out that thinking “communication experiences” rather than “mobile devices” opens up a huge design space for possible devices.