The Design Process: EXPERIENCE

Focusing on experience, you are invited to make inquiries into your and other people’s experiences of the topic. Recollect and gather your own experiences, and also ask others for theirs. The more experiences you gather, the richer the source for your design will be. To gather many experiences will make your design more inclusive and human-centred.  It is not about finding the right information, as there is nothing like the correct solution. It is about diversifying the sources that inspire your design, and thus giving your design more chance to being part of a shared future. There are many methods to inquire about people’s experiences. We will introduce you to some.

Sensory ethnography

Experience is the subjective sensemaking of the world. In ethnography focusing on the senses, we call this exploration Sensory Ethnography. Experiences can be embodied in many shapes, they can be feelings, thoughts, observations – things that were heard, seen, smelt, tasted, felt. Following the principles of Sensory Ethnography, we capture them in words, images, and things. Also the capturing itself is part of ethnography.

Based on the principles of Sensory Ethnography, begin with recalling and collecting your own experiences. Write them down on paper, draw them, or take photographs. Make sure you do not infringe anybody else’s rights. Then ask others around you about their experiences. Think who might have an interest in this topic and who might have experiences to contribute. Make an effort to try to speak with these people. You might need to ask friends of friends, make phone calls, and ask strangers in public places. Write down on paper what the people tell you about the topic, or make drawings or photographs. Again, make sure you do not infringe someone’s rights.

Collect what people tell you about their thoughts, feelings. Also ask them how they usually go about this topic in very practical terms. It may help to ask them to show you, or to tell you about the last time they were practically involved with this topic.

See Pink, S. (2009). Doing sensory ethnography. London: SAGE.

Experience cards

From the notes that you collected from yourself and from those who you spoke with, you can create Experience cards. They should capture the essence of what someone said, did or showed you about their experiences.

You will end up with several cards, depending on the number of people you spoke to, and how long you spoke with them. A person can have more than one Experience card – there may be different experiences in different place contexts, time context, and or simply different views voiced by the same person.

Collect all these cards that come from people’s experiences individually, and put them up on the wall so everyone can see them.

Empathy map

Create an empathy map, which spells out what people say, think, do, and feel. Put a butchers’ paper on the wall, and cluster on sticky notes what you have collected. This format might help you categorise and cluster the experiences of several different people, and make sense of the sum of voices.

Desk research

You should also do some classic research on the topic. Gather reports, news items, quantitative data, and anything that you can find in the public domain. What do you need to know about your topic as a phenomenon in today’s world? Where does it fit within the larger landscape of societal, geographic, political and economic structures?

Social practices map

A sociological technique to capture social meanings and material infrastructure around your topic, are social practices. Create a map with all the A) Meanings, Images, and Symbols, B) Materials, Stuff and Things, and C) skills, competences, and procedure that occur around the topic you are inquiring. Practices are a useful unit of analysis when attempting to get an idea of the bigger picture.

When analysing a practice, it helps to do some historic research and seeing if you can identify how the practice changed over time. A practice lives from the strong links that are maintained between materials, skills and meanings. These links can sometimes break. What links have broken, what new links have formed? How have the materials, skills and meanings, that are part of a practice, changed over time? For example, in car driving, horse carriages been changed for metal and engine parts.

See Shove, E. (2008, 26th July 2016). Towards POPD. Towards Practice Oriented Product Design. Retrieved from