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Experience hooks

To recap: Generation C demand 3C products, which are the new breed of products taking the internet and their presence in the social world for granted, and treating people as involved, creative peers, not “end users.” As a design and development approach, the route of interaction design and a focus on the product life-cycle is useful. This life-cycle can be thought of as a series of experience hooks, activities around which stories gather. These hooks are opportunities for good design and I want to wrap up by looking at a few a little closer.


I mentioned a number of ‘intrinsic activities’ associated with a product, those that aren’t specific to what the product does. They were: Design, manufacture, discovery, selection, being wished-for, purchase, being shown-off, review and resale.

The intrinsic activities are often hard to reach if the scope of design is considered to end at the physical surface of the product. Yet they still contribute, heavily, to ongoing experience of the product… and therefore to the brand (the brand is the sum over all the experiences). Since Gen C relate to their products via the activities they experience together, the design scope should include whatever is necessary to make these hard-to-reach activities good ones.

Design, here, should include advertising and marketing.

The human brain is an incredible thing. It’s a carrier bag of thoughts and emotions, stored by association and popped to the top by association too. Advertising, through whatever medium, can be used to feed in stories that’ll come to the surface when the appropriate experience hook is encountered. Or it can use the memory of a particular experience hook to show what the brand cares about.

Two examples spring to mind:

  • The Coke Happiness Machine commercial dispenses with building a glow of generic “happiness” or “family life” or “Christmas” around the logo of a soft drink. Instead it concentrates on the experience of an important intrinsic activity: Vending. This neglected moment becomes coloured with a story that makes the drink itself sparkle with fantasy and magic. This advert will improve the perceived taste of my bought drink, not just nudge me to purchase it in the first place.
  • Orange, the mobile phone operator, has in the UK a scheme called Orange Wednesdays. Orange mobile subscribers get two-for-one cinema admission once a week. I’m not sure how many people use it, but as marketing that infiltrates (and influences!) conversation, and demonstrates the company’s commitment to personal relationships and small groups, it’s spot on.

Now these are both advertising/marketing efforts that demonstrate a shift from lifestyle or aspirational branding to experience-driven brands–but they remain in traditional media.

More exciting to me are the obsession with experience shown by Amazon and Apple (see yesterday) who have a continuous approach to brand, and new media such as games (a favourite: Project Rub affects your body to communicate its story). What these have in common is interactivity and lack of explicit rules (you use play and experimentation, not instruction manuals, to find your way around Nintendo games, Amazon, and Macs).

Traditional media are good for showing. Games, shops, vending machines, interactivity: these are the media channels for experience.

Focus on individual activities

It was by considering the activities I take part in with my printer that the idea of the printer as social letterbox came about.

If this approach of looking for activities is taken to other products, more new features can be found.

Take the unboxing moment, an experience hook for stories if ever there was one (I discussed unboxing more here). Or customisation in vending machines, as explored in our metal phone project (not just a re-castable lump of metal but a performance mirroring the importance of the transformation).

Experiencing trainers

In my notebook, I have sketches of how each of these could apply to trainers.

On the left: I was trying to find a satisfying approach to customisable shoes. On the one hand, the customisation shouldn’t be superficial and lack meaning, like choosing the colours or adding stickers. On the other, it should carry the intelligence of the designers with it, so a good shoe is easy to make.

Here my sketch shows soles with slots in them, looped through with a continuous strip of velcro. The strip could be wound and re-wound, making a reconfigurable shoe. Patches or ribbons woven into the velcro could decorate it (and I’m sure we’d find a way to cover the ankles). Importantly, the more you did it the better your shoes would become, and there’s the possibility of making uncomfortable or ugly shoes (risk is vital, otherwise doing it well has no value). As well as expertise and social knowledge sharing, there’s the opportunity of more personal artistic expression. I think it would be a pretty interesting instance of co-creation.

On the right: Could unboxing be applied to trainers? Given trainers are tried on before purchases, what doesn’t vary before that great moment you wear them out of the house for the first time? Laces are often threaded in the shop, and even having to unstuff your shoes from a box full of extra-fancy paper would feel inauthentic.

How about peel-off plastic covering the leather stripes on the sides of the shoes? It’s potentially authentic, because the plastic has a protective function, and it wouldn’t be removed just for trying the shoes on. As with the peel-off protection on new mobile phone screens, it would make that experience hook – the transition between shop-owned and me-owned – special.

Technology products and websites benefit from the same approach. How about online radio you can listen to with your friends? My work at the BBC, with Tom Coates, on social software and listening tackled exactly this. (The conference session Reinventing Radio includes our Group Listening prototype towards the end–Tom is hosting the Reinventing Radio presentation [PDF].) Or how about using physical computing to address the process of discovery, besotted-ness, and eventual boredom with novel TV and radio channels. Or even an RSS reader that forgets.

While we’ve used this approach on the Web and in mobile, the physical product opportunities have the most potential. The existing areas of printers, cookers, magazine racks, underwear, wooden toys or any number of other product categories would benefit enormously, I believe, from this kind of design research and product ideation.

From pixels to plastic

Not only is there opportunity with physical things, there’s an imperative. Just as manufacturing techniques are becoming shorter-run and more accessible to individuals and small companies, the knowledge of how to use these techniques is becoming more available. People are learning how to use 3D software using free tools such as Google Sketchup, and stepping more easily to professional software, previously reserved for expert product designers. The communities gathering around actuators, electronics and microcontrollers are infected with the internet sensibility, fully aware of the social worlds their technology will inhabit. And as Instructables shows, they’re sharers through-and-through. Not only this, but the net has put logistics, vending and distribution channels at our fingertips.

We’re looking at, as Tim O’Reilly puts ita future in which the creative economy overflows the thin boundary that separates “information” from “stuff”‘. Traditional manufacturing and technology companies will soon be competing with small, responsive companies who are at once just Good Enough technologically, but way more in tune with the social and creative needs of Generation C.

Before this:

4 Comments and Trackbacks

  • 1. russell said on 23 November 2006...

    I’ve been thinking about unboxing a lot since you first mentioned it. Brilliant stuff. But I’ve also been doing a project with an environmental bent, thinking about how we can add value to products without using extra ‘stuff’. Do you think you can create magical unboxing moments while also reducing the amount of packaging? Can crossing the information/stuff boundary help?

  • 2. Matt said on 27 November 2006...

    Environmentally-responsible unboxing. Hmm.

    What about things that unbox themselves? What’s the biomimetic take on unboxing? What unboxes beautifully in the wild? Chrysalids? Egg-pouches devoured by newborns as their bootstrapping breakfast?

    What about the experience hook of ‘imprinting’ as ‘unboxing’- offspring gull hooking to the red dot of its mother. this is interesting

    Which makes me think of AI. You know: Cirrus. Socrates. Particle. Decibel. Hurricane. Dolphin. Tulip.

    An environmentally non-wasteful unboxing could be a very special waking-up and becoming.

  • 3. robertogreco said on 28 November 2006...

    I am specifically thinking of a mobile phone or similar sized gadget in this response, but it could go for other things as well.

    Perhaps the future of unboxing goes like this:
    1. You open the package, remove the electronic core of your new device, and set the packaging aside.
    2. The initial startup (which takes place on the naked gadget) unlocks a fleeting sequence that the device uses to introduce itself to its new owner.
    3. The device wirelessly sends a blueprint for its outer shell to your 3D printer or Fab Lab which will then prompt you for customization of the plans and for you to feed it the packaging which it will shred to use as material for the shell (Matt’s newborn devouring its recently shed protective coat).
    4. A co-created exterior emerges from the 3D printer and is snapped over the core.
    5. Software customization completes the personalization of the device.

    With regards to the software: The other day I ran across a reference to this Choices = Headaches post. I can’t remember where it was that several people had commented on it, but it got me thinking about how some users like choice, but others don’t. Why not offer two starting points for interfaces? Users could choose a minimalist starting point or an “all options on” starting point. The software would essentially be asking whether they prefer to build up their options over time or whittle them away as they go along – kind of like the display settings on my (very old) television set: standard, theater and favorite. It gives me two starting points that I can always jump back to, but it remembers my customized preferences as well.

    By the way, your shoe sketch reminded me of the Nike Considered shoes. I haven’t actually seen them in person and I don’t think they come unassembled, but it looks like it might not be hard to sell them that way (the parts can be seen in the Flash sequence of the introduction). The boot has the lace on the top that is hand-woven – imagine leaving that up to the able consumer.

  • 4. robertogreco said on 28 November 2006...

    A few more thoughts about the experience of co-constructing have come to me since posting my comment last night. I am out of my element here and I suspect that I may be missing your point, but here goes:

    It seems like brand specific boutiques for electronics seem to be a rising trend. Apple wasn’t the pioneer, but they may have been the first to get the experience right with presentation space and the genius bar. Samsung, Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, and Nokia all have their own versions and Helio, the wireless phone provider, is the latest to jump in with their own retail store. Place can be part of the experience as well.

    What if these stroes operated more like the Build-a-Bear Workshops? The same process that I described in my previous comment could take place in such an environment and thus owning a personal 3D printer wouldn’t be necessary. Would people go for that? Would they build their own phone? Or is it too impersonal? Should unboxing be a private act? Or can it be like adopting a pet at the Humane Society? Maybe that’s only for something like the discontinued Aibo. But, if it is for electronics, the size, shape, weight, and texture of the exterior shell would be easier to vary in form based on the user’s hands and preferences. Straps, charms, cases, and more practical tools could be selected. Eventually we would see several different clothing options that somehow work with the device. And there could even be an electronics spa if local culture dictates.

    The electronic core that I mentioned could be universal or limited to a very few models. This would likely save on manufacturing. Then as it is customized (and later customized again for either the same owner or the next to get it), the level of complexity of the interface that the user chooses could be determined. The Slashdot type would get to turn on all the options, but someone else could grow into their phone over time. An extreme technophobe could start out with bare bones features and the software could slowly introduce features to them. For example, when it detects that they have dialed the same number a few times, it would say “I’ve noticed that you seem to use that number often, would you like me to show you how I can remember it for you.” If they agree, it would walk them through the process of starting a personal directory. If the user receives a text message for the first time, the device would only then turn on that feature, once again with the permission of the user. The device would slowly, organically add features as the users needs become self evident.

    I can’t stress that last point enough. As I work with people (children and adults), even devices like the iPod that are championed for their simplicity get many people confused. That’s not even accounting for all the issues of DRM, content portability, etc. I used to be convinced that it is just a generational disconnect that leaves some baffled by technology, but I am now more likely to think that the disconnect is between the Slashdot type and those on the other end of the spectrum that are just wired differently. Besides, even if it is a generational issue, there are many generations in the developing world that are still growing up unaccustomed to technology.

    Sorry if I’ve overstayed my welcome, I didn’t expect to go on that long.

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