A Chiang Mai massage as a narrative for experience design

I was in Chiang Mai on vacation and had planned on visiting my favourite spa in the evening after a day of walking. I called the spa at about 1pm and was greeted with a friendly voice who spoke great English. I enquired about having an appointment that night and she said that it would be no problem and that she would have someone pick me up at my guest house and take me to the spa. That way I would save the trouble of finding a tuk-tuk or taxi.
A driver arrived at the guest house at about 8pm and drove me to the spa which was about a 10 minute drive away. I opened the door and entered the spa where I was greeted by a beautiful young lady wearing traditional Thai costume, who invited me to have a seat and served me tea. All the while making small talk and continuously showing the smile which Thailand is so famous for.
At this point I began to notice the environment of the waiting area. The furniture was comfortable, the room temperature was cool ( a contrast to the night air), the lighting was dimmed, the decore itself could be described as Thai. modern with warm earthen colours. The environment was designed to put you at ease.
My masseuse came out about 5 minutes later and greeted me with a ‘wai’ and asked me to please follow her to where she was going to give me the massage. At this point we were walking through a small secluded garden, it was dark outside and because the sky was cloudy there were not a lot of stars. Along the pathway there were lit candles guiding the way and you could smell the subtle scent of jasmine in the air. At the end of the pathway was a small, covered area, quite secluded and quiet and lit only by candlelight.
My masseuse asked me to please have a seat while she poured me a fresh cup of tea and turned on some very light relaxing music. Always speaking in very soft, soothing tones she preceded to give me a wonderful massage. During this massage, a very light rain started to fall, creating an interesting cascade of sound on the leaves in the garden further enhancing the overall experience.
At the end of the massage, the greeter came out to the massage area with an umbrella and took the masseuse and I back into the small building that housed the waiting area. I then paid a very reasonable fee and was given a drive back to my guest house where I preceded to have the best sleep of my life.
I like to use longer versions of this story to help illustrate how we can create wonderful experiences for our customers and though a leap this can translate to both online and offline interactions.
Creating a quality experience is conscious, not accidental. It can be designed, architected, engineered, crafted. Attention to detail is essential, as is empathy to your customer.
Experiences have an attraction, engagement, and a conclusion. They have a beginning, middle, and an end much like the experience I related above.
The spa in this story has long since closed. Great experience design unfortunately doesn’t always translate into long term business success. I met the proprietor, Khun Kitima, by chance at a Bangkok restaurant years ago and she stated that she was opening a ‘eco-friendly’ range of guest houses in the North. I haven’t looked them up yet but if they are anything like her spa, which was frequented by Angelina Jolie no less, it would be a worthwhile place to stay.

EVA air and Bangkok

I must have flown with EVA air about 14 times over the past year between Bangkok and Taipei and every single time the posted boarding time has been wrong. I know they have a schedule which they must post but what is the point of posting a schedule if you never keep it? The result is usually anxious agitated customers who at the first sign of any activity race to form and/or butt into the que. This being the information age is it not too much to expect real time delivery of this type of data? Would this not be an acceptable solution?
Of course this in no way compares to any of my experiences or others with the “new aeroflot” Air Canada. Delays, poor customer service, and lack of information are a hallmark of their brand.

Crucial to understanding.

“It is not enough to insist upon the necessity of experience, nor even of activity in experience. Everything depends on the quality of the experience which is had ….
Just as no man lives or dies to itself, so no experience lives or dies to itself. Wholly independent of desire or intent, every experience lives on in further experiences. Hence the central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences.”
— John Dewey, Experience and Education

Visitor experience design

“This model moves away from the solely content or task-oriented approach as this tends to lead to system-centric designs. What is important here is that this model supports the content and task-oriented perspectives, as well as integrating research and immersion. The inclusion of a research perspective provides insights leading to the understanding of motivations and emotions of visitors.” Courtesy of infodesign
Read: Visitor experience design

Using Colors Found in Nature

Another good article from Boxes and Arrows:

Perhaps no other design element has as much influence on how we feel in a space (a website, a home, etc.) as color.

The World Wide Web is awash with sterile design solutions. Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Dell, Microsoft, and countless others are virtually indistinguishable from each other (similar layout, similar color scheme). Though one might say that this uniformity makes web browsing easier by virtue of a standardized interface, the reality is such sites create mundane experiences for their users and fail to make a positive connection with their audience.

In a meeting last week I asked the group I was presenting to how many experiences that they had on a web site do they remember the next day, week, or year. Of course everyone replied none. There are a number of factors which would cause this kind of response, web sites are well… only web sites… they can’t compete (yet) with the kind of rich emotional experiences that we have in “real” life. But one the sure ways you can connect with your audience is through the intelligent use of colour. As this article points out few web sites, and in fact off line design as well, seem to do this so it can be an extremely effective means to connect with your audience. I see this on a somewhat daily basis. I work with an artist whose strength is in crafting colour solutions that take an otherwise find design to something special and I think more memorable. Her work is based primarily on instinct as an artist – imagine how effective her solutions would be if paired with the concrete knowledge of what is appropriate for the intended viewer. It’s time to get rid of corporate blue and try something more intelligent.

Natural Selections: Colors Found in Nature and Interface Design

The Origin of Personas

“Personas, like all powerful tools, can be grasped in an instant but can take months or years to master. Interaction designers at Cooper spend weeks of study and months of practice before we consider them to be capable of creating and using personas at a professional level. Many practicing designers have used the brief 25-page description of personas in Inmates as a

Ten Commandments of Interactivity

  1. Interfaces and Content Should Encourage and Reward Movement
  2. Participant’s Actions Elicit an Immediate and Identifiable Response
    No participant should ever wonder. ” Am I controlling this, or not?”
  3. No Instructions Allowed
    Learning to “work” the interactive zones must be intuitive and simple. There should be adequate feedback for the participants to intuit if they are interacting “correctly” or “incorrectly”.
  4. People Do Not Need To Be Experts to Participate
  5. No Thinking Allowed
    Euphoria occurs when participants get lost in the moment, focusing on their intuitive natures.
  6. Actions Receive Aesthetically Coherent Responses
    Participants should navigate through and affect several “good” choices – choices that are visually pleasing and sound musical to the average ear.
  7. Keep it Simple, Immediate, and Fun
  8. Responsiveness is More Important then Resolution
    In computer graphics, this translates to “greater speed is better than polygons.” A simple visual object that reacts quickly to participants’ input is better than a complex visual object that reacts too slowly.
  9. Think Modularly
    Everything is a component.
  10. Observe and Learn
    Let people try it and watch what they do. They will almost always interact in ways one never expected.

Quoted from: “The Interactive Dance Club: Avoiding Chaos in a Multi-Participant Environment” by Ryan Ulyate and David Bianciardi which appeared in the Computer Music Journal Vol. 26, No. 3.

sampling, memory, and the semantic web

“free content fuels innovation”
– Lawrence Lessig, The Future of Ideas
“I get asked what I think about sampling a lot, and I’ve always wanted to have a short term to describe the process. Stuff like “collective ownership”, “systems of memory”, and “database logics” never really seem to cut it on the lecture circuit, so I guess you can think of this essay as a soundbite for the sonically-perplexed. This is an essay about memory as a vast playhouse where any sound can be you.”
Link: loops of perception: sampling, memory, and the semantic web

Towards a Framework of Interaction and Experience As It Relates to Product Design

“There are three ways that we describe dimensions of experience. The purest form of experience is experience, the constant stream that happens while we are conscious. Another way to talk about experience is to describe an experience, which has a beginning and an end, and changes the user and the context of use as a result. Finally, a third way to talk about experience is to describe experience as story, the way that we condense and remember experiences, and communicate them to people in a variety of contexts. ”
Link: Forlizzi: Theories of Experience

Mental models: a gentle guide for outsiders

I’m on a mental model kick today.
“Mental models are psychological representations of real, hypothetical, or imaginary situations. They were first postulated by the Scottish psychologist Kenneth Craik (1943), who wrote that the mind constructs “small-scale models” of reality that it uses to anticipate events, to reason, and to underlie explanation. Like pictures in Wittgenstein

An Audiovisual Environment Suite

Real-Time Systems for Fluid Abstract Expression: Painterly Interfaces for Audiovisual Performance
“The Audiovisual Environment Suite (AVES) is a set of five interactive systems which allow people to create and perform abstract animation and synthetic sound in real time. Each environment is an experimental attempt to design an interface which is supple and easy to learn, yet can also yield interesting, infinitely variable and personally expressive performances in both the visual and aural domains. Ideally, these systems permit their interactants to engage in a flow state of pure experience.”
Link:Audiovisual Environment Suite (AVES)

Interactive Narrative

Yet more on narrative, “Marc Canter, father of the computer program now called Macromedia Director, recently presented his CD-ROM Meet the Media Band at the MIT Media Lab. While presenting one component of the CD-ROM, an interactive music video where, with the help of the viewer, the lead singer explores various dating options, Canter quickly apologized for the piece having “only sixteen endings.”

Read:Interactive Narrative

Interaction and Narrative Masterclass

Some good ideas and resources from Timo Arnalls archived interaction and narrative masterclass at elasticspace.com. He states the purpose of the discussion as:

To start a conversation about interaction and narrative.

To expose and discuss the underlying structure of successful: community systems, games,web based visual narratives, hypertext narratives,multi-channel interactions.

To give an overview of the current debate about ‘interactive narrative’.

Read: interaction and narrative

Unifying the Online Presence of Decentralized Organizations

Adaptive Path has redesigned their corporate site and started to posted consultant essays online. This particular article by Peter Merholz deals with an issue, decentralised web development, which is readily aparent in the organization I work for. While naturally it can’t speak to the total complexity of our situation it does bring up some valid points.

A number of smart businesses are realizing that the organizational characteristics that lead to their successes – such as agility, decentralized decision making, and fast growth – have made their Web sites unworkable through poor development processes and inconsistent user experiences. This frustrates any attempt by visitors to find meaningful information.

One recommendation which he makes is a particularly hard sell: To develop that single face, follow the steps outlined in this equation: User Goals and Tasks + Company Mission + Business Goals = Branded Design Solution.Most senior directors insist on putting the organizations needs first. Though you could argue that by addressing your customers needs first your organizaton will in turn be looked after, it seems more prudent to include the users later in the equation. Company Mission + Business Goals + User Goals and Tasks = Branded Design. It may seem the same but as each step in the equation influences the other the outcome will be different, a difference more suitable to our organization, with a process more likely to be approved by management.

Read: The Pendulum Returns: Unifying the Online Presence of Decentralized Organizations

Representing and Interpreting Literature by Computer

It is clear that the advent of computers has so far had almost no impact on the mainstream activities of producing, reading, or studying literary texts. This may be about to change. The prophecy that computing will transform the nature of literary studies is certainly one that we have heard before, but the widespread use of powerful personal computers in the last few years and the increasing role played by the internet, now makes such a forecast seem to carry more weight. Advocates of these technologies have recently begun to put a new and powerful argument: computer technology for modelling, representing, or creating texts is emerging that will allow us to bring these processes a major step nearer to the activities of actual readers; this in turn will revolutionize understanding of the nature of textuality itself. If this is true, the forthcoming shift in the domain of the literary will be on a tectonic scale, analogous to that brought about in the visual arts by the invention of photography and film.

Read: Literature and Computing — David Miall

The Automatist Storytelling System

I am in the process of reading Michael Murtaugh’s Master Thesis “The Automatist Storytelling System” as it has some similarities to parts of the project I am preparing. He describes his thesis as “… an “editor in software” or “narrative engine” — a system that produces dynamic and responsive presentations from an extensible collection of keyword-annotated materials. Sequencing decisions are made on the basis of association, and the overall structure and meaning of an experience emerges from the interactions of individual material presentations. In this highly decentralized model, viewers are consistently integrated participants, who exert varying degrees of influence or control over the construction of the experience. The viewers’ role is considered primarily extradiegetic; viewers’ actions influence the process of the storytelling rather than altering actual events in the story world. By making both the viewing experience and authoring process variable and extensible, the Automatist Storytelling System supports new story forms such as the “Evolving Documentary.”