Our everyday experience can resemble a ball of yarn composed of multiple intertwining threads. Experience exists, but it is hard to conceptualize in a way that is easy to grasp, and it is even more  difficult to divide the concept into certain elements. However, in order to design better products or services that can provide a really great experience for users, it will be useful to identify the major elements, or ‘threads,’ of the experience. What are the important threads that make up our experience? What are the characteristics of each? What dimensions are important in explaining the threads?

Experience is Like an Intertwined Lump of Thread

Allotment gardening, which entails that individuals own or leas a small plot of land for non-commercial gardening, has become an increasingly popular trend over the last few years. When reading newspapers, I often run into sales advertisements on garden plots available in Seoul’s suburbs. Dachas in Russia and second homes in USA are similar concepts, which are popular as well. What accounts for this recent trend among city dwellers to own or lease such garden plots?

I own a small allotment garden. About 10 years ago, my parents packed up their city life and moved to the countryside because of health issues. They built a small house and started growing plants by it. From when they moved my Sundays start at 4:30 in the morning. There is no need to set the alarm now that I’m so used to it. After getting ready, I head to the kitchen to pack what my wife had prepared last night neat stacks of lunchboxes filled with homemade dishes for my parents. Then, I’m all set to leave. In little traffic, it takes about an hour to get to the countryside where my parents and my garden await me.

As soon as I have greeted my parents and given them their food, I change into my work clothes, pick up my tools, and head to the garden. The morning air of the countryside is always refreshing. Today, my to-do list consists of picking up dead leaves and trimming messy tree limbs. I also have to take care of the overgrown trees that have been growing for 10 years. I have to carefully move them to a more spacious spot. At first, when these tasks were quite unfamiliar to me they were difficult, but now I am accustomed to them and my gardening skills have improved. After the relocation of two big trees, it’s already time for breakfast. The food from the lunchboxes tastes amazing as always, even better with the parents.

After breakfast, I pick two mulberry trees near the house. The berries are at their best after a period of much sunshine. I bump into the new neighbors next door who recently moved in from Seoul. We chat for a while, mostly about the cucumbers and peppers I’m planning to harvest in a couple of days. I’m quite thankful to have someone so close by to talk to in a country village in which only a handful of people live.

After a brief lunch, I reluctantly say goodbye to my parents. It’s still before noon, so it takes me an hour to get home. Two hours of driving might sound like a lot, but I actually find myself spending the time to organize my otherwise disorganized thoughts. Much of the content in this book are also an outcome of those thoughts. As soon as I arrive at my home, I hand the handpicked fruits and vegetables over to my wife and by doing so I wrap up my Sunday morning.

What I saw, heard, said, and felt at the farm on this Sunday morning is all a part of my valuable experience through which I can feel more fulfilled with my life. I feel like my week is incomplete whenever I can’t make the trip and experience the things I do there.

Threads of Experience: An Essential Compromise

An experience is characterized by its holistic nature. In other words, an experience is a blend of diverse elements that cannot be easily broken down. Driving to the countryside, picking berries, having a breakfast with my parents, and talking to the neighbors all together build up my Sunday morning experience. Each part of the experience is too closely related to be separable. One part leads to another, and the whole experience cannot be fully understood if we were to try to explain only a single part of it. For instance, the two hours of driving every Sunday morning doesn’t sound too pleasant was it not for the fact that the purpose of that drive was to be able to have a lovely breakfast with my 80-year old parents. Without the singing birds and sweet morning air, lifting heavy tree trunks would not make me eager to want to experience that again. All these details, as a whole,  created this meaningful Sunday morning experience.

However, the story is different when trying to understand a person’s experience during the process of designing a product or service that can provide a better experience. Although it is difficult to divide experience into distinct parts, it is feasible to try to understand what elements constitute an experience without overlooking the overall context or circumstances that surround it. Of course, it is impossible to draw clear boundaries between the elements because of the holistic nature of experience. What we can do is to group the pieces that are more closely related to each other and regard them as elements and analyze the relationship between the ones who are less closely related. This approach allows us to interpret human experience in a more systematic way and to provide better overall experience for users.

Experiential philosophers claim that there is no rational way of breaking down experience into elements (James 1964; Dewey 1934). This attempt to split up experience needs to be philosophically compromised, but it can be quite useful in practice if it can assist us in coming up with strategies to make our experiences more meaningful.

However, it is very dangerous to disassemble experience without any standards. If done wrong, we can end up with ambiguous elements as well as ambiguous relationships between the elements. Therefore, we need to find academically well established standards and theories that we can refer to. Past studies on human experience suggest that an experience is like an intertwined lump of different kinds of threads (McCarthy and Wright 2004). Among them, there are three threads that are especially important and help us understand our experiences: the sensual thread, the judgmental thread, and the compositional thread.

The sensual thread of experience is concerned with what we sense through our sensory organs. The cheerful sounds of morning birds, the spectacular sunset over the countryside, the sweet and sour taste of luscious berries, and the soft walk on the garden path are all important sensory elements of the experience.

How we judge or evaluate our experience through our thoughts and feelings is referred to as the judgmental thread of experience. Pruning the branches and helping the trees to grow better by relocating them makes me feel proud of myself. I feel happy and healthy doing hard physical work out in the fresh air. My Sunday morning experience wouldn’t be fully understood without these values that I appreciate.

The compositional thread of experience is the aspect concerned with relationships and interaction of oneself with others, people or things. The relationship between me and my parents and the interaction between the neighbors and me affect the harmonious experience at the farm. Also, being able to dine with the family and share the handpicked fruits and vegetables at home enriches my Sunday morning experience.

Each thread of experience—the sensual thread, the judgmental thread, and the compositional thread can be woven (crisscrossed with each other) into different patterns. Different mixes of threads can create diverse and unique patterns that can influence human experience. It is not possible to design the experience itself, but it is worth the effort to drill down into its ingredients to see what provides the really good experience. Let us now take a closer look at how we can characterize each thread of experience.

The Sensual Thread of Experience

Have you ever been to a rock-band concert? At most such concerts the loud music is amplified to its full volume along with the screaming of the crowd. Talented performers show off their flashy dance moves in their fashionable hair and costumes.

You can feel the high temperature in the venue with a strong smell of theatrical smokes, which at some point cools down with a dry ice fog. We refer to this kind of experience as the sensual thread of experience: see, hear, touch, smell, and taste through our sensory organs (Norman 2004).

Sensual experience is very real and specific for it involves direct stimulation of our senses. It’s what we naturally feel before we think deeply or make decisions. For example, at the concert, there is a moment in which we experience pure excitement, and all else is forgotten, including worries about grades or other aspects of life. At that moment you are entirely focused on the music and the performance, and this is what sensual experience is.

Sensual experience is not just about what you perceive, but also how you react to what you perceive. Swaying back and forth to the beats and singing along to the songs is a part of the sensual experience. Thus, a sensual experience is concerned not only about what we sense, but also how we naturally respond to the senses. Therefore, enjoyable interaction is also considered to be a vital part of a lively sensual experience (Steuer 1992).

Sensual experience is a critical medium through which humans can interact with the external world. If we can see but can’t hear, or can hear but can’t feel, then our experience would be fragmented (Dewey 1934). Through a fragmented experience, we cannot have an effective interaction with the external world, which will ultimately result in a poor quality of the experience. For a real experience, a rich sensual experience is essential. A rich sensual experience is also necessary for judgmental experience and compositional experience, which we will discuss in the following sections. It is because we can make judgments or set relationships based on what we have perceived (Hartson 2003).

Weaving the Sensual Thread with a Sense of Presence

Many factors affect the sensual experience of humans. Personality and current mental states of an individual as well as his/her talents and behavioral characteristics can all influence it. However, these are the factors that we cannot control by adjusting the design of products or services. With what aspects can we then strategically control a user’s sensual experience through design? The answer is “a sense of presence.”

A sense of presence, or simply “presence,” is the sense of “being there” (Minsky 1987; Biocca 1997). In particular, presence in virtual environments has been a hot topic of interest in recent years. A virtual environment is an artificially constructed space through some sort of medium. People these days are mostly stimulated through some medium and feel its presence. Let’s take a computer game for an example. We imagine ourselves being in space as we view the animated images on the computer screen and the medium engenders a sense of presence. A sense of presence in the virtual environment is also referred to as ‘telepresence” (Minsky 1987).

Presence can be largely divided into three types—physical presence, social presence, and self-presence depending on the subject that is present (Lee 2004; Lombard and Ditton 1997).

Physical presence means that objects are being felt. For example, I can feel like the physical sword I’m holding or the monster I’m fighting in an online game. They can both have a sense of physical presence. This is also known as “presence as realism.”

Social presence is about feeling others that are connected to a system or network. Facebook is a good example. This presence is about whether I feel the people who I interact with on that network. Social presence is also known as “presence as social richness.”

Self-presence is about being able to feel oneself in the moment. It is determined how real it is, for example how real it feels to move a medieval castle in a computer game or if I can feel like I’m truly inside a computer game as my virtual avatar. This is what we call self-presence. This is also referred to as “presence as transportation.”

Users can indeed feel a high sense of presence when they can feel high physical presence, social presence, and self-presence. If I felt a great sense of presence through the online game, it means that what I saw on the screen felt like reality, that I felt close to the other gamers, and that I felt like I was actually there fighting off enemies.

High Presence vs. Low Presence

Modern technology is evolving in a way that could offer its users a high sense of presence. However, it’s not always the best to feel high presence (IJsselsteijn et al. 2000). In case of a pop music venue I talked about earlier, you would definitely want to feel the strong sense of presence of the singers and the dancers. On the other hand, there are times where you prefer not to feel such high sense of presence. For instance, I like to listen to classical music while studying and usually keep it at a low sound-level because it helps me concentrate better. It is important to let the users feel the right level of presence, and to do so we need to fully understand the characteristics and context of products or services. A really great experience that gives users just the right amount of sense of presence let’s call it a “senseful” experience. A senseful experience can be associated with either high presence or low presence. Following are examples of each.

One example of a high-presence experience is a Klive concert (http://www.klive.co.kr/eng/). Klive is a specialized hologram performance hall where the top K-pop content is combined with cutting-edge digital technology. Audiences can watch the performance projected onto a 270° view media façade and with a 14.2 channel surround sound with lighting and special effects that allow us to a vivid sense of reality. We feel as if we are actually at a live concert sensing all that you would there. 

Let’s take a look at an example of a low-presence experience that is good driving with a GPS device. The main purpose of GPS devices is to assist drivers to get to their destination quickly and safely. Therefore it is important to help the users not lose their focus on the road while providing helpful navigation during their journey. However, we can often find GPS devices that generate overly high sense of presence, mainly due to overdeveloped technology. Ostentatious 3-D graphics and endless warning sounds can be quite annoying when driving. They can even start to buzz when the driver doesn’t follow the instructions. Sometimes there’s can be too much distraction from the device, which can obviously be dangerous in the traffic. Steps are being taken to avoid this risk by pushing for a standardization of GPS devices (e.g. screen size, volume, displayed information) to ensure that how the devices are sensed is safe and reliable and that they are not too distracting.

Why is Presence Important for Sensual Experience?

A sense of presence is about being able to perceive through our senses and to react to the stimuli. Let’s take Klive as an example again. Renowned singers and dancers are displayed on the screen. The sound of high fidelity singing and chorus makes the settings feel more realistic. The strong smell of theatrical smokes is provided at the right time. Dry ice fog cools down our skins. And with all of this going on we can dance to the music. All of this generates my sense of presence at the Klive. 

Renowned German philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that our thoughts and behavior are heavily influenced by our mental representation that is constructed based on the sensory perceptions, and the quality of the mental representation is largely determined by the sense of presence. (Kant 2006). Presence is also related to the concept of sensory affordance, letting people see, hear, feel, and enjoy the sense of presence allows them to make the right judgments about their perception (cognitive affordance) and behave accordingly (physical affordance) (Hartson 2003).

To conclude, a sense of presence is an important factor that determines the perceived quality of our experience as shown in Fig. 2.1. Presence can be affected by the design of a product or services, thus it is regarded as a key moderating factor, with respect to sensual thread of experience (Mollen and  Wilson 2010; McMahan 2003, Biocca 1997; Lombard and Ditton 1997; Lombard et al. 2000; Tamborini 2004).


The Judgmental Thread of Experience

A severe drought struck my allotment garden recently, causing serious losses in fruits and vegetable crops. As a remedy, I bought a long garden hose from the nearby store to water the plants. It took me weeks until the plants came back to life, but I was happy with my achievement.

Judgmental experience is concerned with my evaluation of experience in terms of what and how I achieved or obtained from it. Was my desire to have fresh fruits on the dining table fulfilled by watering the plants using a garden hose? What impact did my decision to buy the garden hose have on my overall experience? The answers to these questions can determine my judgmental experience.

We make decisions or judgments almost every moment of our lives, and their results can spark several feelings within us, for example happiness or sadness. Thus, some people refer to judgmental experience as an emotional experience (McCarthy and Wright 2004). However, our judgments are not solely determined by our emotion, but also by our actions and the process through which we try to rationally interpret the consequences of our actions (Csikszentimihalyi and Csikzentmihaly1991). For example, I value working in my garden highly not only because of the emotional satisfaction I get from it, but also because of my rationale that the physical workout is beneficial for my health.

People in general go through the process of interpreting the external stimuli in their own way in order to understand if what they are experiencing makes sense. One thing that distinguishes judgmental experience from sensual experience is this reflexive nature of humans, also known as ‘sense making.’ In other words, we evaluate our experience as good or bad. My work in the garden is enjoyable to  me, despite the strenuous physical effort, because I think it helps me step out of my office, get some fresh air, and stay in shape.

We constantly evaluate our experience. Evaluation can be made at the moment of our experience or even afterwards during retrospection. I can make a judgment about my gardening experience when I am there doing the work or on my way back home in my car. As such, we make judgments constantly and repeatedly in our lives, which makes the judgmental thread an important element of experience.

Value Judgment: is my Experience Useful?

After any experience, we tend to evaluate what value it holds, or what we get out of it. Value is related to what we want or need, and it can be viewed as the standards on which our evaluation is based. Here we introduce the two types of values that people consider most important when evaluating experiences (Sweeney and Soutar 2001; Woodruff 1997).

The first one is utilitarian value, which is related to the functional needs or goals of individuals, and it can be defined as our assessment of whether the experience was successful in terms of achieving a goal. One example would be a person searching the web for stock prices before making an investment. Another example is a traveler in a foreign country looking for directions using a smartphone. These examples illustrate the utilitarian value that we can gain from our experience.

The second one is hedonistic value, which refers to the emotional satisfaction or pleasure we get out of our experience with products or services. Hedonistic value is mostly about the positive feelings such as pleasure, excitement, satisfaction, or happiness, but sometimes it can also be associated with the negative feelings such as fear or frustration. Hedonistic value itself is a goal and a need, unlike utilitarian value. For example, we play online games because we enjoy the action of playing games, or learn a new language because of the enjoyment from the process of learning itself.

If an individual evaluates a product or a service as effective in providing his expected value, he perceives the experience as a useful one. People would like their experience to be useful, or valuable, at all times. A valuable experience can make us happy, and we look forward to a similar experience again. This explains why we tend to go back to products or services that offered us a valuable experience in the past (Venkatesh and Davis 2000), and why users’ perceived usefulness is an important element of judgmental thread of experience.

Locus of Causality Controls the Judgmental Thread of Experience

Then which factor can alter our perceived quality of judgmental experience? What makes us appreciate our experience as a valuable and useful one? I believe it’s the locus of causality.

Locus of causality is highly related to locus of control, a construct that was first introduced by an American psychologist named Julian B. Rotter. Locus of control refers to the extent to which individuals believe that they can control the events that affect them (Rotter 1966). People with an internal locus of control feel responsible for the outcomes and believe that the future is a consequence of their actions. On the contrary, those with an external locus of control tend to believe that they have very little control over what’s happening and think that external factors determine their outcome. In psychology, locus of control is considered to be an important aspect of personality (Diamond and Shapiro 1973; Layton 1985). For example, lack of autonomy in the workplace is stressful for employees with an internal locus of control, while those with an external locus of control have  performed better under a set of rules (Kolb 1996).

The concept of ‘control’ suggested by Rotter has been extended to cover two important aspects of our perception (Pettersen 1987; Wong and Sproule 1984). The first is about the perception of being able or not being able to control what is happening around us (Graybill 1983; Palenzuela 1984). For instance if a student feels that she can pull up the grades on the final exam by spending time to study, her judgment is based on the internal locus of control. If she thinks the grades will depend on the difficulty of the exam questions, her judgment is made based on the external locus of control. The second important aspect of control is concerned with causal attribution, or how we make judgments based on the cause of an event (Heider 1959; Kelley 1967). For example, if you believe you caught cold because you didn’t properly take care of your body, it is based on an internal causal attribution. Thinking that it’s from your colleague is a result of an external causal attribution.

The concept of control, which was traditionally valued as an important element of personality, can also be expanded to explain the aspects of experience. This is referred to as the locus of causality. Locus of causality is related to how users evaluate their experience with products or services, with respect to the process and the outcome of the experience. The concept is also associated with two other aspects: whether our judgment is based on an internal or external goal, and how much control we have during the process of experience.

Internal Locus of Causality vs. External Locus of Causality

When you think you have a full control over your experience, the locus of causality is internal. An RC car, a small, self-powered model car, is one example. Unlike other toy cars, RC cars are fully customizable. It is completely up to you what motor is installed and what material is used in the body of the car. You can even choose how you want your car to be assembled. And of course the best part is driving them around the race tracks using a remote control. The entire process of shopping, assembling, and driving can be a fun experience for a user. Plus, the complete freedom of a user in customizing the car illustrates the example of an internal locus of causality.

The locus of causality is external if there’s not much we, as users, can do to affect the experience. For example, a robot vacuum cleaner is often set to its default settings from the manufacturer, and there’s generally not much need to change those settings. So usually we just turn on the power and the robot starts its job. There’s no user involvement in the process of cleaning; the robot automatically takes a detour when it hits a wall or a threshold. It can be handy to have a robot cleaner at home, but barely anyone would feel any responsibility or enjoyment from using the device.

Why is Locus of Causality Important in Judgmental Experience?

We want to be a part of a valuable experience, and it is the goal that we pursue. But the criteria of what we think is useful can change since our values may transform over time as we go through various circumstances and situations. In order to cope with such change in designing useful products or services, locus of causality is a vital factor, which needs to be understood. The reasons are as follows.


Judgmental experience is about the user evaluation of the usefulness of a product or a service. What people value and how they evaluate usefulness can change over time. What we value is dependent on its source, or where it comes from. It is mainly because we think that the perceived value is a consequence of the source. There can be a myriad of different sources, so it is unpredictable to rely on each and every source in understanding the users’ values. Instead we need a general concept that describes the source, which can be applied in a wide range of situations. Internal and external locus of causality is a general concept that can be flexibly applied in most circumstances across diverse products or services in various contexts.

Furthermore, locus of causality doesn’t favor one to another. In other words, internal locus of causality is not always preferred over the external locus of causality and vice versa. Depending on the situation, either the internal or the external can be perceived as more useful than the other.

Also, locus of causality is related to the evaluation of both the process and the outcome. For instance, locus of causality is concerned with how much control I have during the RC car buying experience. At the same time, the concept is also dependent on whether the process itself was valuable for me or if I was more interested in the outcome of the experience and how I would use the outcome for another purpose. It is a notion that deals with both process and outcome, which is directly related to our judgments from experience. In conclusion, as illustrated in (Fig. 2.2), locus of causality is a critical element of the judgmental thread of experience contributing to the meanings and values that users receive through products or services.

Compositional Thread of Experience

Back to my allotment garden in the countryside. As I mentioned before I enjoy the presence of my neighbors there, more so than in my home in the city. There are very few inhabitants where the garden is, so it’s always thrilling to have new neighbors or visitors.

The compositional thread of experience is concerned with the relationship between the elements that make up an experience. Our experience is shaped by relationships among people, objects, and surroundings, and the meanings we find in an experience depend on those relationships. Without the consideration of relationships, it is not possible to fully understand an experience as a whole.

Compositional experience puts emphasis on the relationships between the parts of an experience. Unlike sensual experience and judgmental experience that try to understand an experience as a whole, compositional experience focuses on the elements of an experience and the relationships between them. Depending on what elements we are interested in, our experience can be interpreted in a whole new level. Compositional experience is largely composed of three types of relationships based on the characteristics of the elements being considered.

Temporal Relationships: Relationships among the Past, Present and Future

One of the most important types of relationships was introduced by John Dewey: a temporal relationship between an action and its outcome (Dewey 1929). Let’s say a child dipped its hand in a boiling pot of water and screamed out loud. If we perceive the incident as two independent events, the experience is not considered singular. Once we realize the relationship between the dipping and the screaming, a link is formed between the two and creates an experience of burning your finger from a hot object. With respect to the temporal aspect, an experience could be construed as a sequence of a past event, a current event, and an upcoming event. For example, watering the trees in the garden, observing them when they grow back to life, and having their fruits on a dining table are temporally related to one another. This is why compositional experience is also known as narrative structure (Wright et al. 2008). It is built upon the temporal relationships between how we act, how the environment reacts to our action, and how we react to the reaction.

Social Relationships: Relationships Between Me and Others

A social relationship refers to the relationship between me and others. From a social perspective, compositional experience comes from me being linked to a specific person, and that person being linked to another person who is again linked to the fourth person. For example, my experience of talking to my coworker this morning can be directly and indirectly affected by their relationships with their peers, as well as the relationships of the peers with their peers. Social relationship structures among people closely resemble those of the temporal relationship. Just like how a past event and an expected upcoming event can influence my current experience, the relationship between me and my friends as well as the relationship between my friends and their friends can all influence my experience.

I usually set my Facebook profile pictures as the ones that inspire me the most. The very first one was taken in Quebec, Canada, while I was on my summer leave. I remember I was on my way to the downtown when I took a photo of historic buildings gleaming in the sunset. A few days after I set the picture, a former graduate student of mine, now living on the other side of the globe, informed with a message that he’d also been there. We started a dialogue on my Facebook timeline, which another graduate student of mine joined who I hadn’t heard from in over 20 years, and in which we reminisced about our joint projects in the past. I was delighted to hear from my former students. This was a real experience.

If I had not been emotionally tied to the students, or if the message had been from a random person who I had no emotional relationship with, my experience wouldn’t have lingered in my heart for so long. This example was to illustrate that the relationship between the entities involved in an experience is significantly important.

Structural Relationships: Relationships Between Me and Products/Services

When we are talking about the ‘relationships,’ it is not just about people, but also about objects (e.g. products and services). My experience is affected by how one product or service is related to other products or services. Let’s take as an example of the process of calling my wife through a smartphone. First I search for her number on the favorites list. Then I make a call but she misses the call and doesn’t answer, so I end up pressing the message button to text her. The experience of searching through the favorites list and texting her are linked together, and how smoothly the two are connected can greatly influence my overall experience with the smartphone.

As illustrated, we can be interested in the relationship between different functions within a product, but we may also be interested in the relationship between multiple different products or services. A few days ago, my son asked for a picture of his grandmother. I looked for a picture on my Dropbox folder through the Dropbox application on my smartphone and attached the downloaded photo to a text message. Likewise, my experience of sharing the photo with my son was in part based on the relationship between my smartphone and the Dropbox application.

Harmony as the Ideal State of the Compositional Thread

In terms of the compositional point of view, what is the ideal state of an experience? The answer, based on Confucianism, is harmony, which refers to the state of balance among the elements that make up an experience (Kwan et al. 1997; Li 2006).

In the ideal world of Confucianism, all relationships are perfectly harmonious. Eastern philosophy tries to understand social relationships in terms of harmony rather than in terms of satisfaction. According to Confucianism, the concept of harmony can be explained through different levels.

Firstly, there’s harmony on the individual level. An example would be the balance between one’s height and weight. A balance between body and mind is important for an individual to be in a peaceful state. As discussed earlier, harmony among the past, present, and future events a person lives can together form a harmonious experience, and this harmony is also on the individual level.

Secondly, we can also think of harmony on the interpersonal level. The balance among family members, local community members, or people of different nations is an example of interpersonal harmony.

Lastly, we can find harmony in an object and its relevant surrounding. The nature around us or the IT-friendly environment can form harmony with the modern people. Being able to connect to high-speed internet service at any time through all the necessary devices is a good example of a harmonious experience among products and services.

To conclude, harmony is a broad concept that describes the balance of time, social relationships among people, and relationships between people and their surrounding environment.

Relational Cohesiveness: How Tight are We?

Most people always yearn for harmony in their experience, but how we evaluate harmony can vary from case to case. It’s because “harmonious relationships” in our minds can transform over time, depending on the context. We need a way to control compositional experience accordingly to provide the most harmonious experience for users. In this book we propose ‘relational cohesiveness’ as a strategic measure that can control the compositional experience of users.

In sociology and network theory, cohesiveness measures how strongly the members of the groups are tied to each other (Moody and White 2003; Friedkin 2004). In other words, cohesiveness of a group can indicate their tendency to stick together (Wasserman 1994). The higher the cohesiveness, the more likely for the members to stay together. Likewise, the lower the cohesiveness, the higher the chance of them to leave the group (Festinger 1950).

The concept of cohesiveness is often used in an interpersonal context. The notion of ‘relational cohesiveness’ is adapted from the concept, and it can be used to interpret a user’s experience with products or services. From a compositional perspective, a experience can be viewed as a network structure composed of its elements connected to each other. A network is composed of links that connect nodes. A simple example is a friendship network on Facebook. Each person acts as a node and a link exists between the nodes if there is a friendship relationship. A social network of a Facebook user is shaped by how its friends are connected to each other.

Let’s instead think of the nodes as the elements of an experience, and draw the links whenever there is a relationship between the elements. We now have an experience network, from which we can find out the relational cohesiveness between the elements that build up an experience. For instance, we can measure the strength of relationship between Google’s Gmail service and its other applications to explain a user’s experience with Gmail.

Strong Cohesiveness vs. Weak Cohesiveness

We can think of a Korean railway station (KTX) as an example of a weak relational cohesion. Korea is a small country but we have a very well-constructed railway system; we can travel from one end of the country to the other in less than three hours. The central station in Seoul is always crammed with people, but there is barely any interaction among people. Passengers are from all over the country, and thus the probability of one person meeting another person he/she knows is very low. Therefore, it can be considered as an experience with low relational cohesiveness.

A strong relational cohesion can be observed in a faculty canteen at my university. Because I’ve been working at the university for the last 20 years the probability of me knowing other persons in the canteen is very high, especially given the fact that this is the only faculty canteen on the campus. In addition, those people are socially connected with others in various ways (e.g. same department, same college, etc.). Even those who I do not personally know can easily be introduced through a mutual colleague. Thus, my experience at the faculty canteen is considered an experience with a very high relational cohesiveness.

Why is Cohesiveness Important in the Compositional Thread of Experience?

Relational cohesiveness has several characteristics. Firstly, it does not depend on the size of a group. Just because a group has many members, doesn’t mean that it’s less cohesive. Similarly, small groups are not always strongly bonded. A group of three or four can be weak in cohesiveness if there isn’t much interaction among its members.

Secondly, relational cohesiveness is a continuous metric. In other words, we do not say that cohesiveness exists or doesn’t exist, but instead measure the strength of cohesiveness on a continuous scale (Wasserman 1994). To illustrate, a passenger service offered at the campus bus station is relatively more cohesive compared to the services offered at the railway station.

Thirdly, relational cohesiveness is dynamic (Carron and Brawley 2000). There is no absolute measure of cohesiveness, and the level of cohesiveness may change over time. When my college friends first set up a Facebook page, it was weak in cohesiveness. Over time however, I observed stronger cohesiveness as people more frequently posted pictures and status updates and participated in events they were invited to through Facebook. These characteristics show that a group’s dynamic and cohesiveness can be strategically altered. Planning a regular meet-up for team members or organizing a big gathering for the company is a part of an effort to boost the level of relational cohesiveness.



Lastly, cohesiveness can explain the structural property of a group as a whole. According to social network theory, networks can be analyzed in terms of ‘connectivity’ or ‘distribution’ (Yamagishi et al. 1988). By connectivity we mean that we are interested in one-on-one relationships between members of a group. How often I exchange messages with a friend in a Facebook group would be an example of connectivity. Distribution is a characteristic pertaining to the entire network. For instance, the Facebook group page of my high school alumni is administered by the class president, who takes charge of organizing events. We also have a vice president and a treasurer who help the president with the planning. There is a hierarchical structure among the members of this Facebook group page, which can be viewed as a structural property of my high school alumni network. Another typical example would be a star network, where there is one central node linked to the rest of the group.

To conclude, the concept of cohesiveness (Fig. 2.3) can be used to explain temporal, social, and compositional relationships. The continuous and dynamic properties of cohesiveness can contribute to the harmonious experience of users by allowing us to be ready for the changes that occur around us. Furthermore, the fact that it does not depend on the size of a group makes it possible to easily apply the concept when interpreting diverse applications.

Unweaving Experience into the Three Threads of Experience

As mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, experience is holistic in nature, composed of closely related parts that cannot be easily separated. However, in order to design products and service that can provide better experience for the users, an analytic framework to understand different aspects of experience is necessary. we identified three threads of experience and talked about what people consider the most important element in each thread. We also discussed how we can strategically control these elements. With respect to the sensual thread of experience, senseful experience can be controlled through a sense of presence. In terms of the judgmental thread of experience, valuable experience can be provided through the control of locus of causality. Lastly, with respect to compositional thread of experience, we can offer harmonious experience to the users by controlling the relational cohesiveness.
There are two types of experiences that we need to distinguish between. The first type is experience as a process. From the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep, we are constantly experiencing. Often times, we cannot label what those experiences are, but there is a continuous steam of experience while we interact with the surrounding environment.

The second type is experience as a result. In this case, the beginning and an end of an experience can be defined, and experience can even be named. Furthermore, this experience leads to change in our behavior and emotions. This is called “an experience.”

For example, I enjoy going to an art exhibition on the weekends. My favorite time for this activity is around 10 AM when few people are there. When I lived in Boston, MA, I enjoyed the slow paced atmosphere of the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) around 10 AM. On a sunny day, I can enjoy the warm rays of sunlight that peak through the exhibition halls. This is also the time when the café at the  museum starts to make its first cups of freshly brewed coffee, and the museum fills up with its aroma. My interaction with the pieces of art inside the museum begins in this captivating atmosphere. At times I gaze closely at a painting as if looking through a magnifying glass, and at times I look at it through the side of my eyes. Sometimes, I just sit down on the floor and stare at a piece of art. My experience of perceiving, thinking, and feeling while acting the way I do at the museums builds up inside me one by one. I still remember the piece of art I saw a few weeks ago, and I look forward to going to another exhibition to see art I have not seen before. Once I’m finish and leave the exhibition around noon, the experiences of the morning holds a place deep in my heart. As these experiences pile up within me, they become a part of my life. I still clearly remember the first experience I had looking at Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in the MFA.

Dewey defined “real experience” as something with a goal that has a clear beginning and end, and can be clearly distinguished from other experiences. Philosopher of psychology Williams explained that “pure experience” is all forms of experience that make our lives more flourishing and can be clearly distinguished by the intimate relationship between human and environment (James 1902). Heidegger coined the term “fundamental experience” as a moment as holy as meeting a god-like and absolute being (Heidegger 1963). By compiling these concepts, a “real experience” can be seen as a process that fulfills and develops our lives through the discovery of the uncommon in our daily lives and filling those moments with special meaning.

Three Conditions for Real Experience

So what are the conditions that are required for a real experience? Let’s take an example. Where do we spend most time in our daily lives? For modern humans, it is probably school, home, the office, or inside a certain building or structure. Because of this, people have a great interest in their experiences inside architectural structures. The measurement of a person’s experience after moving into a building is called a Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) (Oseland 2007). The basics of POE is based on a Roman architect named Vitruvius who lived in the first century BC. Vitruvius claimed that architecture must satisfy three conditions in order to provide real experiences to people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitruvius). Those three conditions are firmitas (durable), utilitas (useful), and venustas (beautiful). These conditions describe the structural, behavioral, and expressional aspects of architecture and can be best explained using one of the most famous of Roman architecture, the Pantheon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome).

Structurally, firmitas insists that a structure should be firm and should achieve harmony with its interior and surrounding structures. The Pantheon is a dome structure. It does not consist of any interior support; bricks are laid to support the structure of the dome. In order to fulfill this, each brick must achieve harmony with the surrounding bricks in order to create a stable balance. A more modern example is Frank Wright’s Falling Water (http://www.fallingwater.org/). This building is not very fancy nor is it visually catchy. However, harmony with its surrounding nature is its greatest priority. The structure itself does not interfere with the nature around it, and it emphasizes natural light and ventilation while conforming to the context of the land it’s built on.

Behaviorally speaking, utilitas refers to how convenient the use of the structure is. The Pantheon has been used by the Roman Catholic Church and is still a tourist site visited by a large number of tourists today. I think the fact that the structure is still used as a church illustrates how convenient this building actually is. As a more modern example, I want to mention the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City (www.moma.org). First, the building is in the middle of Manhattan and is thus very accessible. The structure of the interior is very easy to understand, and each room is connected to another organically and thus enables a convenient experience when attending exhibitions.


Venustas refers to how much beauty the structure provides to people. The interior of the Pantheon is still considered a symbol of absolute beauty. From the wall closest to the floor to the hole above that shows the sky, it provides perfect beauty. A modern example of beauty can be seen in the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) (http://www.ddp.or.kr) which opened in Seoul in 2014. World renowned architect Zahar Hadid designed DDP to symbolize Korea’s vision as an origin of creative design industries, and its beautiful design perfectly complements this vision.

Once structural, behavioral, and representational conditions are all met, an experience can be a real experience. Therefore, these are necessary conditions for a real experience.

These conditions do not need to be limited to architectural experiences. They can be applied to any man-made artifacts. For example, think of an internet shopping website. In terms of structure, website navigation should be clear, errors should not occur during usage, and it must be able to protect a user’s private information so as to enable safe payment. Behaviorally, the process of asking users for information or payment should be easy and convenient. Finally, in terms of expression, the website should provide appropriate emotions for its users and must be visually comfortable. Based on prior research that have applied these three conditions to online shopping malls, stock exchanges, search engines, and online games, all three conditions showed statistically meaningful effects on customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.

Design for Experience

As we live our everyday lives, we go through diverse experiences, and these experiences help form our lives. A person’s experience cannot and should not be artificially designed. A person’s subjective and holistic experience can only be determined by that person alone because it is a product of interaction between that person and the surrounding environment that aggregates and changes over time. Design for experience does not seek to design experience for humans; it intends to design a product or service that people will interact with for long periods of time, especially its structural, behavioral, and expressional characteristics. As a result, users will be able to go through a real experience. Design for experience bases itself on theories of the humanities in order to help nurture strategic thinking in competitive situations and provide specific yet holistic guidelines.
Comparing a UX to the aforementioned UI and interaction, a UX can be explained by three  characteristics. The first characteristic is its holistic nature (Wright et al.2008). For instance, let’s think about the experience of buying and using a mobilephone. When I want to buy a new mobile phone, I research by comparing products’prices and specifications and look up videos and advertisements, and finally I pay avisit to a mobile phone shop to see how the phone actually works and feels. After I buy the phone of my choice, I take it out of the box and turn the power on and start using it to get a better feeling of how it functions. As I use it over the next few days, I am filled with all sorts of thoughts and feelings. The entire process of searching, comparing, buying, and using encompasses how useful I deem my phone to be. In this sense, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has set forth a holistic definition for a UX. ISO defines a UX as the combined  experience of what a user feels, perceives, thinks, and physically and mentally reacts to before and during the use of a product or service (ISO 9241-210:2010). Therefore, a UX encompasses a broad range that not only includes the visual, tactile, and auditory aspect of a system beyond its screen and buttons but also how the actual system functions under an appropriate usage environment or context.

There are both advantages and disadvantages to the broad range that a UX deals with. The advantage is that it contains many elements that firms think are important in influencing actual users. However, due to its broad nature, it is difficult to grasp exactly what UX attempts to convey. There are so many factors to consider that it becomes almost impossible to consider all of them simultaneously. In the end, a UX causes the side effect of a solution to a problem that changes depending on the situation rather than provide a definitive solution that can be applied.

What is User Experience (UX)?


The second characteristic of UX is that its focus is heavily tilted towards the user’s perspective. As indicated in Fig. 1.3, let’s place the user and computer on two ends of a spectrum and see if our  concepts tilt more towards either side. UI tends to shift more towards the computer. For instance, the decision of whether an icon should be blue or yellow cannot be made without a computer screen and
software that have been developed to suit that need. On the other hand, interaction leans relatively more towards the user compared to UI. Interaction is about how a user should manipulate the system, react to it, and in turn how the system should react appropriately while considering the user’s reaction. Interaction, therefore, sits in the middle between user and computer. However, the a UX is completely tilted towards the user. How a user thinks, feels, and behaves is its focal point. Therefore, UX is a subject that is more human-centered compared to UI and interaction. While it is good that a UX is human-centered (since, after all, what and how we experience something is important), there is a disadvantage to this approach. Just as every person has their own likes and preferences, the analysis of a UX is so subjective and soft that the line between what is good and bad has become blurred. For example, a usability test can quickly and fairly accurately determine what color an icon should be that the user clicks on in a swift manner. But when it comes to evaluate whether a user had an enjoyable or a terrible experience it is extremely difficult to objectively determine because this aspect of a UX is heavily subjective. And because the UX places its focus on subjective experience, it becomes a  challenge to use a UX to design industrial systems that require professional knowledge such as a control system for a nuclear power plant or commercial airliners.

The third characteristic of a UX is based on the above two characteristics. Since a UX encompasses a broad range and its effects have a direct influence on users’ experiences, the quality of a UX  possesses a strategic value in the perspective of a firm’s development of a product or service. In the past when HCI was focused on UI and interaction, HCI professionals did not necessarily have to share their opinions with the CEO of a firm. Albeit the importance of UI, it was not a strategically decisive factor in terms of management. Going back to the UI website project I conducted for the media firm which published daily newspapers, I couldn’t help but feel anxious to hear that the CEO himself was coming to see our final results. I was not sure whether the issue of changing the background color of their website to a light gray tone was important enough to explain to the CEO, who was in charge of the long term strategy and overall direction of the firm. But as the concept of UX started to pick up, this perspective started to change. CEOs began to realize that the experience of the user was a crucial aspect that determined the success or failure of firms’ products and possibly the firms themselves. I recently had a chance to meet with the CEO of a major broadcasting network in Korea. We discussed for hours in detail his values and vision for the firm and actual UX strategies that can be implemented for its viewers. To emphasize the point further that CEOs and top-level executives are becoming increasingly interested in UX I give you the sample of Samsung: In November 2013 Samsung Electronics’ stocks started to plunge and ended up falling by 13 % in about a month, that decrease represented about USD 28 billion of market value. One of the reasons given by market analysts and technological experts was that their newly released smartphone did not  provide any new experiences to its users. UX has now become an important topic worth deep and long consideration by top executives.

Important Areas of UX Applications

Due to the strategic importance of UX, it is expanding to diverse fields beyond IT products and services. Let me provide three examples.

Firstly, to experience is important not only during product usage but also during the process of buying a product. The experience during the buying process is considered very important in the field of customer experience (CX). Pine and Gilmore (1988) suggested that the importance of experience during the buying process is very high and emphasized that all forms of economic activity will eventually evolve into the buying and selling of experiences rather than selling mere products or services. A good example of this is the experience that Starbucks provides its consumers. People do not only go to Starbucks to buy coffee beans and a cup of coffee; they go for the Starbucks experience, which is the experience itself of drinking a cup of coffee in the ambience Starbucks provides.

My second example is from the automobile industry. Cars are no longer chunks of metal attached to motors. Recently, Ford revealed their new car models at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas. This may indicate that the automobile has gone through a makeover from a mode of transportation to a digital product with diverse functions. In another example, Korean automobiles have received increasingly positive reviews by consumers recently because their automobiles’ functions and systems are focused on enhancing the driver’s experience. Since the mid 2000’s, Hyundai MN Soft, a subsidiary of Hyundai Motors that produces the Hyundai cars, has been placing priority in providing the best UX in GPS navigation systems designed for the Hyundai cars, so much so that Hyundai MN Soft has changed its name to Total Driver Experience (TDX) while continuing to focus heavily on research and development in the driving experience.

A third application of UX, which can be evidenced in the medical industry, is called patient experience (PX). This field of expertise emphasizes the quality of patients’ experiences while using hospital services. I want to give you a personal example of my experience in a Korean hospital. One day, my son fainted during a physical education class in school. I didn’t know why he had fainted, and I had no clue to which hospital department I needed to go. I called a general university hospital at around 10 PM, where I was connected to a consultant (not an automatic response system) who kindly recommended me to the most appropriate department and even made a reservation for me. I was even more impressed the next day when the nurse who was taking care of my son called me and explained that he needed to fast during the morning and that by conducting a few diagnostic procedures before the actual checkup, we wouldn’t have to wait so long. During this experience I felt the strategic importance of a hospital service system and the patient experience and so did my son who thankfully wasn’t badly injured and recovered quickly.

UX and Experience Design

As the importance of UX increases, there is a need to expand the concept of UX beyond IT products. A UX is important for complex products such as automobiles and watches and complex services such as coffee shops and hospital services. Therefore, it’s time we go beyond the limits of UX and start thinking about general human experiences. To support this expansion in perspective, I want to introduce the concept of “design for experience.” This method of thinking provides principles and methods that can provide better experiences for people in diverse circumstances. It doesn’t even necessarily have to involve computing technology. What’s important is the application of that technology to provide a better human experience.

As I introduced to you while explaining the characteristics of UX, the movement of designing and developing a product or service with a focus on experience possesses both advantages and disadvantages. While it’s an advantage that UX deals with fundamental human experiences, it can also act as a trap because the analysis of these experiences can be subjective and deliberate. And while the effects of a well applied holistic experience can be powerful, there are so many complex elements involved that there is a danger of deducing meaningless results. UX has been receiving wide interest among executives as an important strategic issue, but it’s also deemed abstract and hard to grasp tangibly. Therefore, design for experience should head towards maximizing its advantages and minimizing its disadvantages. We can do this by actively applying the many characteristics that make up the human experience. How do we apply these characteristics into design for experience?

Knowing the Human in Human Experience

A person is at the center of an experience, and thus the experience is very personal. Since the experience in design for experience is also very subjective and personal, we need to actively seek out and accept theories in the field of the humanities that cover these issues. Experience in the humanities is covered by western philosophies such as experientialism and eastern philosophies such as Confucianism (Dewey 1934; Li 2006). How can these philosophies benefit design for experience?

Let’s look at an example. I recently planned and coordinated a seminar on eastern philosophy at the university I work at. While planning it, I expected a certain rough amount of people to be interested in attending a seminar on the philosophies of Lao-Tzu, Meng-Tzu, Confucius, and the likes. So I reserved a small lecture hall for the seminar accordingly. But when the online registration site was opened, it filled up within minutes. Immediately, I decided to move the seminar to the university’s largest lecture hall. The seminar was a 14 lecture course, and over a thousand people participated in every lecture. In total, the seminar was attended by more than 10,000 people. Why were so many people interested in humanities when it wasn’t exactly like a K-Pop concert? I surveyed those who attended the seminar and asked them about their interest, and the main reason for their attendance was that they saw it as a perfect opportunity to get to know themselves better. The study of humanities allows us not only to understand ourselves but humans in general. Humanities theories help guide us and deeply understand intrinsic aspects of ourselves such as motivation and desire that cannot be seen in extrinsic phenomena. For example, Steve Jobs was actively engaged in humanities, and had an introspection about the fundamental characteristics of people through them that led him to discover users’ subconscious need to listen to a lot of good quality music while on the go. This led to the creation of the iPod.

Also, the humanities allow us to develop skills for solving existing problems by thinking outside the box away from conventional methods of thinking. One of the most successful emperors in the Roman Empire was Marcus Aurelius who was also a philosopher. He was the last of the Five Good Emperors and was able to lead Rome out of turbulent times. His book, Meditations, is also one of the most widely recommended books for the middle school and high school curricula in Korea. He was not a good archer, and he did not know how to ride a horse well. Instead, he was a very meek and silent emperor who loved reading and writing. During his reign, Rome went through the peak of its golden age where the Germanic tribes did not dare look at Rome as weak. The basis of Aurelius’ success laid in his insight into humanities.

Humanities can provide us with the ability of predicting the future. Because they are based on thousands of years of human history, predictions about the future can be made more probable than by using the weather rock, mentioned earlier, or similar methods that only describe the current state. This is the reason firms such as IBM and GE created departments consisting of humanities scholars to research and predict the future. In Korea, LG Electronics has established a research center called Life Soft Research (LSR) at which many humanities experts and scholars work.

Strategic Thinking for Human Experience

The second characteristic of an experience is that it is “strategic.” Design for experience should, therefore, also possess a strategic implication. It must be able to help make critical decisions for achieving a firm’s ultimate goal under limited resources and an uncertain future. I want to explain two examples related to this.

My first example is the court case between Samsung Electronics and Apple regarding their smartphones. The tech giants sued each other on the basis of patent infringements. In the Korean lawsuit, two of the patents Samsung Electronics claimed Apple infringed was “data categorization technology for distributed transfer” and “technology for informing data transfer mode.” These core telecommunications technologies were ruled in favor of Samsung Electronics, and Apple was order to pay KRW (Korean Won) 20 million (around USD 20,000) per infringed patent.

Meanwhile in the US lawsuit, six claims were ruled in favor of Apple: the bounce back function in the photo gallery that shows the user that there are no more photos to show, the finger pinch interaction that enables users to zoom in and out using their thumb and second finger, the double tap interaction that enables zoom in, the rectangular size of the phone with its rounded edges, the home button and the side buttons, and finally, the grid view layout of the home screen. Samsung had to pay over USD 1 billion, or approximately USD 170 million per infringed patent.

From a quick glance, Samsung’s technology seems more technology centered, while Apple’s patents don’t really seem like technology at all. Regardless, one patent was worth USD 20,000 while the other was worth USD 170 million. What is the reason for such a difference? The answer can be found in Samsung’s response to the rulings. They claim that although the six patents Apple won may seem similar on the outside, the actual development method was completely different. Therefore, Samsung claimed that they did not infringe on Apple’s patents. However, this is the point of the problem. In the eyes of the jury, it wasn’t about how a technology was developed; their experiences of the technology was what mattered. Regardless of the difference in how the technology was developed, it is considered infringement if the experience is similar. Fundamentally, a user’s experience is more important than a method for developing a function. Therefore, providing a new experience to people through a new product or service can be a distinguished business strategy for a firm.

Another example is Philips Ambient Experience for Healthcare (AEH) (Robert 2007). Consider CT and MRI scans. People who have gone through these scans will know well that the sound of the  machine is loud and the appearance of the exterior causes even adults to be psychologically nervous. Think about how children feel about them. Due to these extrinsic tolls, the time to scan children is longer and they therefore get exposed to more radiation as a result; sometimes, children are even anaesthetized to get them through the scans. Philips identified this problem and decided to provide new experiential values to children through a new medical experience program. For example, a large MRI machine is portrayed to children as exploring a new world. Children who are waiting for checkups are provided with an atmosphere that make them feel as if they are members of an expedition force exploring space. They are given space travel passports, the ceilings are decorated with space ships, and the MRI machine is shaped like a rocket heading towards space. Philips was able to alter children’s experience from something that they wanted to avoid to an exploration that they want to actively take part in. The effects of this program was vast. Scan time were reduced by 15–20 %, and the use of anesthetics were reduced by 30–40 %. Furthermore, exposure to radiation was reduced by 25– 50 %. The implication for firms like Phillips’ is that hospitals are paying for these experiences rather than the medical supplies themselves. A new business model was born in the medical industry. This example shows how designing for experience can lead to new business models.

As the two examples above illustrate, if companies design for experience they can create a competitive advantage with their new experiences and make their products distinct from those of their competitors.

A Holistic yet Specific Thinking for Human Experience

An experience is holistic. Therefore, design for experience also has to contain a holistic characteristic. In the past, there were different methodologies for designing physical products, services, and process innovation. Based on their characteristics, methodologies that specifically suited them existed. However, distinguishing between these processes no longer becomes important when the focus shifts to experience because experience is a concept that possesses perception, thinking, emotions, and beliefs, which can be applied generally while using any type of product or
service. Therefore, design for experience must be able to encompass products, services,
and processes.

Simultaneously, design for experience should encompass all of the diverse elements that make up a person’s experience. Let me take a project I conducted for the Korean Government with a mobile data service as an example (Choi et al. 2007). Mobile data service refers to most services on a smartphone other than voice calls. This project attempted to verify if experiencing these services can have a meaningful effect on users’ quality of life. Quality of life is a concept that covers many areas in our lives. For instance, we categorized it into 13 distinct areas: cultural activities, leisure, work, education, shopping, finance, family, friends, social relationships, neighbors, and religion. For this project, we conducted a large scale survey consisting of 3,700 male participants and 2,700 female participants, a total of 6,400 people between the ages of 10 and 60. Before I conducted the survey, I honestly did not expect its results to support our expected results. Mobile data service was fairly young at the time, and I questioned whether a concept as abstract as quality of life could be influenced by a context as specific as a mobile data service. However, the results of the survey were surprising. The impact of mobile data service experience was statistically significant in all areas (with the exception of health) and showed an effect of 55 % with overall life satisfaction. Hence, we were able to find out that a product or service can indeed influence our quality of life. Design for experience should also be applicable to general areas of experience.

However, design for experience can end up becoming a very abstract story if only the holistic aspect of an experience is emphasized. Even the aforementioned strategic and theoretical characteristics of an experience endanger leading design for experience to an abstract concept. Theories like the technology innovation theory may seem to make sense when you hear them, but when it comes to actually applying them to a product or service, it’s hard to grasp where to begin. So in order to prevent such side effects, design for experience needs to provide actual design features by understanding specific experiential elements that can be applied to a product or service. Furthermore, these design features need to be able to specifically explain how and why they influence certain experiences among the entire experience that people go through.

Three Principles of Experience

Let’s try to understand the principles of human experience based on theories on the subject. Experientialism philosopher John Dewey proposed that human experience could be divided into three principles.

The first principle of experience is the principle of interaction. Experience is an interaction between a person (who is the organic subject of an experience) and surrounding environmental elements (which are the objects of experience). Similarly, Valera et al. (1992) claimed that humans constantly accept external stimulation through experience and live life by constantly evaluating and thinking intrinsically. For instance, my iPhone and its diverse usage contexts are the objects of my experience that I interact with. This interaction also contains actions that the human expects to perform on the objects, and also a reaction from the environment based on the initial actions. In other words, interaction is a combination of doing and undergoing. For example, on a hot summer evening, I take out my iPhone from my pant pocket to escape from my boredom as I wait at a bus station for a bus that will take me home. I turn on a podcast, and my iPhone reacts to my command and shows me the relevant contents while my screen brightness adjusts to the surrounding environment. I listen to my podcast to ease my boredom. As I conduct a series of actions and receive feedback on the results of these actions, I go through a special experience. Ultimately, my actions on the iPhone and the corresponding reactions, the other people waiting for the bus standing next to me, and the sounds I hear from my earphones and my surroundings all compile into one singular experience on a hot summer’s evening at the bus station.

The second principle of experience is the principle of continuity. All experiences are influenced by past experiences while influencing experiences to come (Dewey 1938). In other words, human experience is not temporary and sensorily independent; a current experience is connected to prior experiences and future experiences. For example, my experience of listening to my podcasts resulted in me switching to an unlimited LTE (long term evolution) data service. The principle of continuity is not only emphasized in western philosophy but also in oriental philosophy as well. Let’s take a look at the concept of “middle way” proposed by early Bhuddist philosopher Nagarjuna (Walser 2013). The core characteristic of the concept of middle way is that experience actually exists and the flow of time changes people’s experiences, and in turn, the concept of experience changes as well. For instance, the sequence of me getting out of my house to drive to the lab in the morning and then drive back home in the evening is an actual experience that exists. However, the way I interpret my experiences may differ. If I had gone through a very busy schedule for the day, then my drive back home seems quite relaxing, while if I found out later that I had passed through a red light on the way home, the way I would interpret that day could be quite different. People live in a world full of memories about individual past experiences; these individual experiences play the role of producing more events (Dewey 1929). It is these past experiences, present experiences, and future experiences that come together to form my life (Walser 2013).

The third principle of experience is the principle of growth. Human experience does not simply connect from past to present to future; during this process, experience is constantly reorganized and developed. Development in this context means that a certain experience is not completed at some moment; it is a constant development towards the future that continues until the subject of the experience no longer exists into being. Therefore, life is development, and development is decided based on what we experience. It’s been exactly 20 years since I became a university professor. One year is comprised of two semesters, and each semester consists of 16 weeks. Since, I’ve taught an  average of three subjects per semester, I’ve spent an approximate total of 640 weeks with students. Each time I prepare for a course and converse with students during a lecture, I realize things I never knew and I feel like this aggregates inside me. During the 640 weeks I spent in lectures, my experience as a university professor built up and has developed my life. James Williams, a philosopher of experience, claimed that only by experience can we explain what we know and how we act, and elements other than experience must not intervene (James 1902, p. 540). His view is that the experiences we go through in life overlap and aggregate to ultimately shape our lives (1902). In other words, everything we experience becomes a part of our lives. Our experiences enable us to build up knowledge, and all knowledge is based on experience (March 2010). Even what we have not personally experienced, when imagined, becomes influenced by our past experiences. Past experiences acts as a resource required for imagination to take place. Ultimately, diverse experiences cause our imaginations to flourish (Root-Bernstein and Root-Bernstein 2013). Through experience, we imagine, think, learn, and live.
Studies on HCI started in the mid-1980’s and the field therefore has a short history of little over 30 years now. I want to divide this history into three stages.

The first stage was when studies focused on user interface (UI); elements that you can see with your eyes, hear with your ears, and feel with your hands. During this stage, it was important to design and evaluate the UI of a computer system so that ordinary users could perform work on their computers easily and conveniently. This is when the concept of usability received a lot of attention, and usability tests became an important job for HCI professionals.


Let’s think about the Model Human Processor (MHP), an important theory that represents this stage (Card et al. 1983). As the above image shows, there are three characteristics that define the MHP theory. Firstly, it’s very concrete. For instance, the theory calculates where the eye moves from one point to another to the tenth of a second. Secondly, it involves a single user. Instead of a computing environment that includes numerous users, this theory focuses on a single user’s view of the screen, touch of a button, and thought process. Thirdly, it focuses primarily on stationary computers. In other words, the first-stage HCI focused on how to provide a more easy and convenient means for a single user to use a computer on a fixed platform such as a desktop computer.

Studies that focus on the UI of a single user on a single screen clicking on a single button provide a very narrow perspective. However, there were firms that understood the strategic importance of HCI during this time. When I finished my studies in the US and came back to Korea in 1994, the first project that I was involved in was to design a website UI for a well-known daily newspaper. This media firm had a relatively low market share compared to other newspapers. This was also when Korea had just started implementing the internet, which meant that there were rarely any readers who consumed news online. Despite that, this media firm predicted that people would consume more news online rather than from print. On that premise I started creating a website that provided an easy and convenient way to view articles online. I remember the final presentation of this project very vividly. The firm’s CEO participated in person in the meeting and carefully observed and analyzed every design aspect meticulously over many hours. Back then, such projects usually only involved the deputy directors, not the CEOs. But the reason its CEO took such a meticulous approach was because he himself had decided that the experience of his readers were of utmost importance and that the web was the future. Today, this media firm has held a steady place among the major media firms in Korea.

In the second stage of HCI’s history, it moved on from what is visible with the eye to the interaction that enables users to activate something and react to it. Departing from the dimension of a mere visual expression, how a product or service functioned became important. And no longer was HCI confined to a stationary computer. Therefore, digital products that provided mobility were introduced, and the leading example of it was the mobile phone. Although the mobile phone has a smaller screen and body than that of a desktop computer, the hardware that makes up the mobile phone has a processor and a memory that far exceeds the capabilities of desktop computers from just a few years back. The mobile innovation that started to kick off in the late 1990’s strongly emphasized the importance of interaction. It became important to be able to conduct many actions and receive appropriate feedback under the constraint of a small screen and a limited number of buttons.

I particularly remember a project I conducted during this interaction stage called “D-Button,” as shown in image below. Back in those days before the smartphone, numerous studies were conducted on how to use feature phones efficiently. The D-Button was a project based on the idea of tiny thumbnail-sized LCD panels that fit in place of the hard key buttons of feature phones. The concept of this project was that when a user conducted an activity on the mobile phone other than dialing a number for a phone call, the dial pad hard keys would display buttons more appropriate for the task other than the conventional zero to nine, asterisk, and sharp keys. For example, the buttons would display photos when the user entered the photo gallery, and pressing on one of them would display the photo on the main screen. By providing a change in the method of interaction, the D-Button intended to provide a more efficient mobile experience.


The D-Button project received fairly good evaluations. A renowned magazine introduced the project’s results, and a partner firm supported my lab with research funding and worked together on a physical prototype. However, the hype only lasted for a short period of time. While we were discussing whether to implement the D-Button in an electronic manufacturer’s mobile phone, Apple’s iPhone was released. Instantly, our partner firm’s attitude changed. They felt that multiple LCD screens increased the risk of a faulty product, the manufacturing cost would increase, and that the design was actually pretty messy. My role was to defend this negative feedback, but in the end, an actual product never materialized despite a physical prototype being made.

There is one thing I learned from this experience: efficiency of interaction alone is not enough to make a product successful. Thinking solely in terms of efficiency, tiny LCD screens on hard keys could be more efficient than functions on a single panel like the iPhone. Nevertheless, what is the reason people favor the iPhone over the D-Button?

The reason is that people evaluate a product or service based on the entirety of their experience, not solely on interaction alone. I’m not the only person to have learned this lesson. With the release of the iPhone, HCI entered its third stage in its short history, the focus and importance of a UX.
We go through a lot of great experiences in life. And for some reason, we think our lives have become more fulfilling because of those experiences. This is especially true when we experience great products and services. The great experience lingers in our memories, and it drives us to use that product or service again and again. So when do we feel like we had a really great experience? What kind of changes take place in ourselves as a result of that experience? What are the conditions that need to be satisfied for a great experience?

user experience


Cases of Big Changes

“Professor Kim, I’m sorry to tell you that I won’t be making it to our dinner gathering tonight. I was looking forward to it, and I feel terrible for not being able to come.”

This was a message I received via a phone call from the design chief of the mobile design division of an electronics company in Korea in the spring of 2007. Since early 2000, I’ve been part of a monthly dinner gathering that brings together college professors and industry leaders who are involved in mobile phone design. The goal of this gathering wasn’t grand; it was an opportunity for like-minded people to get together and talk honestly about diverse topics while eating good food.

However, on that spring day in 2007, something didn’t feel right. Most of the regular attendees from the industry weren’t able to come to the meeting, so it was eventually cancelled. I started wondering what was going on. I asked the design chief of the electronics company if there was some huge crisis going on.

“The situation is pretty bad. I don’t remember the last time I went home. A few weeks ago, Apple released a new product called the iPhone and our executives are furious about it. This phone is something quite different, and they are pushing us to identify the iPhone’s strengths and weaknesses and how we can catch up. Honestly, I have no idea. There’s nothing to compare it to, our company is on the verge of a mental breakdown nowadays.”

That same week, I heard a similar story during a technology advisory meeting at an electronics company. As someone who researches Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), I attended a monthly meeting at that electronics company as an outside expert regarding how to apply new types of technologies into their business. That month, the agenda of the meeting involved a lot of condemnation such as: How could none of you think of making a phone like the iPhone? Why didn’t any of you predict that Apple was going to release a product like this? How could none of our technology advisors and engineers foresee and utilize this impactful new technology? As one of their technology advisors, I felt quite sorry and even shameful. Why couldn’t I, a so called HCI expert, get a grip on the release of such a product?

It’s not just physical products like the mobile phone that go through such big changes. Let’s take short messaging service (SMS) as an example. Even just 4 to 5 years ago, the influence of SMS was vast. Most mobile phone users made use of SMS almost as much as phone calls. Then out of the blue, mobile instant messaging (MIM) appeared and almost instantly replaced SMS as the to-go form of service for instant communication between users. Recently, Korean firm Kakao, which offers the KakaoTalk instant messaging service, merged with Daum Communications, Korea’s number two internet portal. This news caused quite a sensation since it was Kakao, a relatively new and young firm, which acquired Daum, a traditional portal giant. How could a venture firm that started out with a MIM service create so much influence as to swallow a veteran portal giant?

There are a lot of cases like this that take place so quickly that there just isn’t enough time to analyze them all. But what do those cases have in common in terms of the technology they represent?


Technology Cannot Explain Everything

When we merely look at the iPhone and the KakaoTalk service in terms of their technology, they do not offer new, innovative technological breakthroughs. But this was precisely why I couldn’t answer why I wasn’t able to predict this new technology. Neither the iPhone nor KakaoTalk place their technology as their main feature. In fact, the iPhone wasn’t evaluated very highly at all by technological experts when it first entered the market. KakaoTalk received similar evaluations. The users, however, perceived them as truly innovative.

The lack of technological innovation acts as two sides of a coin. Purely technological development can be predicted to a fair amount of accuracy, such as the speed of a semiconductor and the semiconductor industry can build new business models based on those predictions. However, it is extremely difficult to predict future results when users perceive and experience a product or service as an innovation while there is no clear technological advancement. Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard University coined this type of technology, that brings rapid and radical changes to people, industry, and society, as “disruptive innovation” (Christensen 1997). But disruptive innovation focuses on technological development and application. Technology itself is not enough to explain the impact of the iPhone and KakaoTalk. So how can we try to understand the phenomena of the iPhone and KakaoTalk?

A Weather Forecasting Stone

The anxiety that uncertainty poses to IT firms is beyond mere worry; it’s better described as hysteria. The IT industry has far too often experienced the demise of a product or service that was at its peak. Top mobile manufacturers Nokia and Motorola gave way to Apple and Samsung, and heavy-weight TV manufacturers such as Sony and Mitsubishi are no longer appealing to consumers. These cases only exacerbate the anxiety that IT firms that are currently at the top of their game feel. Market research firms and the media take a jab at predicting next year’s hottest trends every year partly in order to lessen the anxiety of change. Topics such as what will replace the smartphone, when the high-definition curved TV display will launch, and the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) are frequently discussed.

I think of an image in my mind every time I hear the latest predictions: a small rock to predict the weather. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_rock). This rock was tied onto a rope and hung on a tree branch. No other tools were necessary. But its weather forecast accuracy is greater than that of any supercomputer today. This rock is based on a few principles: “If the rock is wet, then it is raining. If the rock is not wet, it is not raining. If there is a shadow under the rock, the sun is shining. If the top of the rock is white, it is snowing. If the rock is shaking violently up and down, there is a hurricane or an earthquake. And if the rock has disappeared, a tornado has passed.”

Isn’t it extremely accurate? However, I don’t need to explain why this weather rock is not useful. The weather rock merely portrays the current state of the weather; it does not predict the future. No matter how hard we try to accurately analyze what is happening in front of our eyes, there is a definitive limit to predicting the future. There is also no clear logic behind the current situation. Even firms that attempt to predict next year’s hot trends and technologies possess the same problems. It is hard to predict the future, and it is even harder to logically explain the reasons behind the current situation.

So Close, yet so Far Away: Technology Innovation Theory

Theories such as the technology innovation theory or technology acceptance theory take a different approach in predicting technology (Schumpeter 1942). Let’s take the well-known S-curve theory as an example (Henderson and Clark 1990). When a technology is first introduced into the market, its response is weak and growth is meager. But when it passes a certain point, the technology picks up dramatic growth. Then as time passes, growth stagnates. Another example is the technology acceptance theory (Rogers 2003). An innovative technology is first accepted by a
few selected people, followed by a majority of people. After a certain period of time passes, even people not familiar with this technology start accepting it. At this time, the technology starts to stagnate in the market.

From when they were introduced, numerous scholars have provided evidence that support the aforementioned theories. Additional theories that support these theories have also been developed and applied in numerous different fields. These theories also provide explanations as to why certain types of phenomena take place. For example, numerous products start out with a devoted group of users but end up not being accepted by the majority of users because of a “chasm” that exists between the two groups of users, and the technology was not able to successfully bridge that chasm.

However, these theories possess problems characteristically different to the problems that market research firms’ predictions possess. While it’s true that generally, technology has developed based on the principles of the theories, they aren’t as helpful in highlighting which specific part of the cycle a product or service is at and what kind of product or service should be made accordingly. While these theories are right in a broad perspective, it’s not clear now to apply them to a specific product or service. This is why it is difficult to specifically explain the rise of innovative products or services based on these theories.

Perhaps we need something that connects the short term trend predictions of market research firms and the broad perspective of the technology innovation theory in order to make a really great product or service. This something should not only be able to explain the reasons behind the rise of a currently trending product or service, it should also be able to predict which direction that product or service is heading towards. This something should also be able to provide reasons behind its prediction of the future based on a strong theoretical foundation. And if I were to be more ambitious about the existence of this something, it should also be easily understood and used by ordinary people.

I think a method based on a person’s experience can satisfy all of the above conditions. An approach based on the vivid experience of how a person feels and thinks while using a specific product or service is very concrete and specific. To add to that, theories regarding human experience provide fundamental bases on the why’s of experiences. Before I get into explaining the theory and approach based on human experience, I want to introduce a brief history of HCI, a field that emphasizes UX, especially on why the recent works in HCI focus on UX.
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