We saw that sustaining and disruptive innovations exist in the perspective of people’s experiences of technology, not just in the perspective of technology. Such innovations are created within the interaction between three aspects, namely: changes in the socio-cultural, technological, and economic environments; the state of the person that receives this change; and the firm that utilizes this change. When a dominant design is established, companies seek continuous change through oneway, sustaining innovations. But when it exceeds a certain level, sustaining innovation incites cognitive dissonance among users. When this dissonance heightens to a degree that the dominant degree cannot resolve, other firms that seek to solve this problem come up with disruptive innovations that steer towards the opposite direction of the dominant design. Through this process, a new dominant design is established.



Usability tests of the past focused on incremental change. They attempted to find out the usability issues of a product or service, and companies utilized them to provide new interfaces or interactions that resolved the usability issues. This is why incremental innovation is claimed to be more appropriate to human-centered design methodology (Norman 2013; Norman and Verganti 2014).

On the other hand, there aren’t many cases that deal with disruptive innovation in the eyes of a person’s experience. This is because both the frequency of disruptive innovation is low and its success rate is not very high either. However, the reason we should pay attention to disruptive innovation is because disruptive innovation is a golden opportunity to overcome the dominant design of the market and create a new one.

Nonetheless, it is not recommended to provide a disruptive innovation too quickly, while people do not feel cognitively dissonant enough and the current dominant design still provides satisfaction. In that case companies must focus on sustaining innovations that can close the competitive discrepancy with other companies within the boundaries of the dominant design. In other words, firms must focus on the current dominant design and come up with new yet incremental ways to enhance the design of a product or service. However, once the conflict is heightened enough and the discrepancy between human experience and dominant design is high enough, firms no longer need to rely on the dominant design. They must actively come up with a product or service that can act as a disruptive innovation. But to do this, there are a few prerequisite conditions.

Firstly, a company must understand the current dominant design in the perspective of human experience. They must meticulously investigate what characteristics the dominant design possesses in terms of sense of presence, locus of causality, and relational cohesiveness. To do this, it would be helpful to compose a three dimensional model of experience.

Secondly, a company must understand the degree of change and direction of sustaining innovation after a dominant design has been settled. We must analyze the directional changes of the sense of presence, locus of causality, and relational cohesiveness during the sustaining innovation period. Previously, I mentioned that while a sense of presence heightens, the locus of causality shifts towards the external, and relational cohesiveness strengthens. However, this is only a general pattern; based
on the specific type of product or service, change may occur in a different direction.

Thirdly, companies must measure the degree of cognitive dissonance that people feel towards the current dominant design. There are two ways to do this: the first is to analyze the difference between what the dominant design offers and the degree of what people desire in terms of sense of presence, locus of causality, and relational cohesion for each of the threads of experience. Cognitive dissonance can only be high when the differences between people’s striving aspirations and the dominant design are large. Another method is to measure the negative symptoms that arise due to cognitive dissonance. As previously mentioned, cognitive dissonance can be measured by three kinds of aspects: (1) despair and irritation in the sensual aspect, (2) doubt about one’s own judgment in the judgmental aspect, and (3) dissatisfaction about the purchasing process or towards others involved in the purchasing process in the compositional aspect.

After deducing new experiential points of balance through the above methods, the next step is to find an effective method to provide a balanced experience to people. Think about what important experience elements can raise or lower the sense of presence, externalize or internalize the locus of causality, and raise or lower relational cohesiveness. Then, consider what design features are needed to express these experience elements in an actual product or service.
Products and services that present a “point of balance” had dominant positions in their respective markets, and were deemed as a “dominant design.” However, as is the fate of all organisms, a dominant design eventually undergoes its ups and downs over time and changes in the environment and eventually dies. Although digital products and services may evolve towards increased economic value over time, the majority of them these days are rejected and dismissed at a faster rate than ever. Until recently, a lot of studies tried to explain this phenomenon only with technological elements. But can we indeed say that such technological elements alone determine the rise and fall of a dominant design? Could a person’s experience, as we have been contemplating in this book, be the answer to this question rather than technological elements? The important frame of innovation can be reclaimed as people’s experiences that digest and apply this technology. So when thinking about a person’s experience, why is a dominant design gradually destroyed over time? Through which principles are new dominant designs created?

There is No Eternal Winner

Sometimes I find myself observing people in crowded places. The subway in particular is an interesting place in Korea, especially during rush hour, where more than 90 % of the people repeat the same behaviors in the same positions. They stare at their smartphones, which is a scene that can also be observed while waiting for the green light at a crosswalk in Metropolitan Seoul. Studies have reported the so-called “Turtle Neck Syndrome,” which occurs to people when sitting in front of a computer in the wrong posture for prolonged periods of time. This phenomenon can be found even in very young children using smartphones, and it shows just how much the smartphone is being used nowadays. The first smartphones were luxury items for businessmen and CEOs but now they have become an undeniable paradigm in our lives. How can we explain this rapidly changing world of digital products and services?

At this point, we need to review how digital companies create UXs and integrate it into strategic products or services. Over the past 6 years, I have been a board member of a company that owned Korea’s leading internet portal site. In the beginning when discussing the agenda at a board meeting, management performance was tracked mainly through three categories: general finance, marketing, and tracking reports of users’ degree of service usage. I was reported periodically on the influx of new users every month, the number of users using the portal service, and how long they stayed on it.

But one day I realized that the reports on the users were old-fashioned. In fact, the method of measuring the tracking performance itself was old-fashioned because it was done based on data that was collected by installing special equipment on a limited number of users’ desktops, which created log data by tracking the order in which the services were used. By doing so, un-sampled end users were completely ignored, and with the increasing number of smartphone users, we could not examine
the users connecting from mobile devices rather than desktops.

But tracking mobile device users was relatively difficult. Because the Privacy Act of Korea maintains very strict standards for such methods, it was difficult to collect sufficient information to understand the users. Within the Act, we decided to monitor the users connecting through smartphones. Only after a year or so, there was a complete reversal in the results: the number of mobile users surpassed PCbased visitors. While the curve for mobile users rose steeply, PC-based users fell gradually, showing a graph with a clear intersecting X mark.

In fact, signs of such changes had been apparent for some time. In the early 2000s, 3–4 years before the introduction of smartphones, people were purchasing feature phones in increased numbers. At this time, new service development departments of telecommunication companies were filled with countless proposals by small and medium sized companies offering additional software functions and services for mobile phones. By adding many additional services on new mobile phones and raising the price of the existing ones, the revenue from each user increased continuously in a rising curve.

During this time, I was working as a member of a future strategy group for one of the top domestic mobile carriers in Korea. One day, I had a chance to talk to the CEO who was full of insights on the developments in the IT industry. He told me, “Jinwoo, I have had terrible recurring dreams recently. Do you know how expensive the telecommunication bills per family are in Korea? A family of four pays several hundred thousand won [several hundreds of dollars] in telecommunication expenses. The situation may be better if the breadwinner earns a lot but even disregarding our average national disposable income, the fact that each family is wasting several hundred thousand won is a major social issue. The problem is—what benefits are people getting after spending so much money? They are limited to just a few minutes of phone calls and text messaging services. The companies should thoroughly reflect on whether they are returning the benefits to the consumers.”

Such a confession by a CEO of a telecommunications company was a big shock to me. In fact, at the time telecommunication companies developed numerous content for the mobile phone market that were mostly unsuccessful. The only profitable business models were SMS and phone calls. But even these were not the result of solid strategies by the company, but rather a natural result due to the oligopoly state of the market. In other words, this was a result of operating in an extremely closed
form of market.

But in 2009, the iPhone was introduced in Korea and the application services market became increasingly more active. An environment was created where anyone could use applications that were developed with global standards regardless of specific carriers. Meanwhile, mobile application services with immense profits emerged, weakening the telecommunication companies’ influence in the mobile industry. Text messaging service, which was once a dutiful business model, had now suddenly become a neglected service, and the telecommunication companies’ struggles to retain the rapidly falling profits from phone calls had begun. From PC to mobile, and from telecommunication companies to manufacturers and application markets, the landscape had changed in just a few years. Looking at this macroscopic flow of events, I became curious about where the next change would occur.

Changes of Dominant Design

Take a close look at your keyboard if you have a computer nearby. The keys on the upper left most likely spell out ‘QWERTY,’ which is why we call such keyboards with these layouts “QWERTY keyboards.” The QWERTY layout was initially designed for mechanical typewriters in order to avoid the type bars from jamming. Almost all keyboards today come with the QWERTY layout, which is an international standard and a dominant design as well. This layout is still being used even after the transformation of computing to mobile, where no jamming bars exist. Of course, there were many other keyboard layouts that enabled faster typing and more convenience, but they were all shunned in the market.

According to INSEAD Professors Henrich Greve and Seidel, entering the market first is more important than product quality in order to secure more power (Greve and Seidel 2014). Once a company becomes the first to enter a market, the majority of people will become most familiar with its products amongst the product group. Steadily, this company’s product can become the dominant design in which other companies must adapt to this company’s technologies and application methods. This becomes a practical standard and a kind of norm that creates competition in a similar manner between products and services. Once a company acquires the dominant design it has greater market competitiveness and can reduce costs through economies of scale. Also, users tend to stick to what they are already familiar with, because they consider it a waste of time and money (called transaction cost) to adapt to something new unless its effect is powerful and certain.

However, once a dominant design is determined, it does not last forever, and for whatever reason, it falls out and a new dominant design emerges. Let’s examine how dominant designs fall out and emerge based on the perspective of human experience. Specifically, we need to examine how the dominant design of a product or service adapts and changes regarding sensual, judgmental, and compositional elements of experience. Before we start discussing products and services, I would like
to first talk about how the characteristics of a dominant design changes in the field that is easily accessible by the general public, such as art, cars, and music.

Sense of Presence Varies with Time

Regarding sensual experience, the sense of presence is an important variable. However, a high sense of presence does not always result in a positive experience. At times, changes in external environments lead to lessened sense of presence and sometimes the opposite happens. Let’s look at this through the history of modern art.

During the Middle Ages when Christianity dominated all aspects of society, provocative and excessively immersive art was forbidden. Byzantine and Gothic paintings excluded three-dimensional effects and were painted as flat as possible. The motifs were usually biblical situations, resulting in artwork that had a low sense of presence. In the 14th century, however, after the bubonic plague and the merciless deaths of young people in religious wars, people started to realize that their current lives were more important than the afterlife. In particular, movements to revive human- centered thinking emerged. An increasing number of artists, such as Petrarca and Dante, praised the “current era” as the best times for people to live in. These ideas brought forth the Reneissance of human-centered culture.

During the Renaissance, the main subjects for painting and sculptures were all focused on people and the portrayal techniques also changed strategically. Artists like Caravaggio (1602) proposed a sensory recreation method that created a three dimensional space through clear contrasts and hues, similar to chiaroscuro. Thus, during the Renaissance, the sense of presence of the artwork had increased.

As the Baroque style, which was centered on absolute monarchy, began to thrive after the Renaissance, art started to take a new direction. Painting styles, such as mannerism, began to show increasingly stimulating content. The most representative works are Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (1614) and Tintoretto’s “Last Supper” (1570). Hence, representation methods of increasing sense of presence had intensified.

However, the Rococo style, late impressionism, and the modernism era brought a change in painting patterns that were more and more understated. Simple, rustic expressions took the initiative rather than pursuing detail and extreme contrast, apparent in Hogarth’s “Marriage à-la-mode” (1743–1745) and Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (1889). The modernism of Matisse, which strategically selected and expressed points that were important to the painter rather than stressing the environment and individuals equally, is also a form of art that significantly lowered a sense of presence.


As shown in Fig. 4.1, the level of sense of presence in the history of modern art draws a curve similar to a sine wave, changing according to the situation and context of the time. It changes dynamically according to the era, from low presence to high presence, and from high presence to low.

Locus of Causality Changes with Time

We can take automobiles as an example for the change in points of locus of causality for judging what is useful according to the times and situations. The history of the automobile can be divided into three stages depending on the judgmental locus of causality: pre-World War II from 1920 to 1940 when the modern automobile first came out, post-World War II from 1940 to 1960, and during the oil crisis between the 1970s and 1990s.

From 1920 to 1940 was the time when the automobile’s structure and functions were being established in order to replace the horse and carriage as the method for transportation. During this time when the automobile’s functional value was emphasized, it was of utmost important to get to the desired destination quickly and safely. Also, there were no customizable options in the purchasing process that we are used to today. In those days, people utilized automobiles as a means to go from
one point to another rather than enjoyed the driving process. During this time, the locus of causality was external as people put more meaning into automobiles as a mode of efficient transportation.

Between 1940 and 1960, with the development of electric ignitions and standardized braking systems, the convenience of automobiles improved to the point that the general public could drive them with ease. This was followed by paved roads and people found various reasons in their daily lives that required driving. Now, the automobile had added value beyond a mere mode of transportation. In particular, cars were being manufactured in a variety of forms as people began to
view the automobile as an extension of themselves. While there are those who preferred small cars like the Mini Cooper and Volkswagen Beetle, there are those who enjoyed muscle cars like the Jaguar or Chevrolet Impala. Furthermore, there are people who completely customize the interior and exterior of their cars to suit their own tastes. By this time, people enjoyed the driving process itself and felt they controlled, to some extent, the processing of getting valuable experiences. In other words, people’s judgmental experience steered towards an internal locus of causality as they started to consider options and controlled what they wanted in their automobiles.

In the 1970s, many complex actions required by the driver were automated to ease the burden on the user, for example automatic gears and control systems. During this time, roads became more complex and crowded and nations started discussing the harm of vehicle exhaust emission on the environment. Especially after the 1973 oil crisis that led to soaring oil prices, the fuel efficiency of cars emerged as an important issue. During this time, Japanese automakers received attention, as their cars were fuel-efficient, had almost no breakdowns, and had fully automated equipment. The car’s functional value, its ability to move from one place to another with the lowest fuel consumption possible, was highlighted once again. In other words, the values and changes of the times shifted people’s judgmental experience to an external locus of causality.

We examined how the locus of causality of judgmental experience can change according to the situation of the times. As shown in Fig. 4.2, an internal locus of causality is more relevant to people at times, whereas an external locus of causality is held in more value at other times. In addition, we saw that the locus of causality of a dominant design was not oriented to a specific direction, but rather swayed both ways.

Relational Cohesiveness also Changes with Time

The appropriate level of perceived relational cohesiveness can differ from person to person depending on the times. Similarly, the level of relational cohesiveness that products and services with dominant designs bring can also change, an example being the change in musical trends.

During the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, the Medici family of Florence started what we all know as the opera (Hanskins 1990). The opera originated from the Medici family’s special plays that were mixed with singing. The Medici family wanted a place to spend quality time with acquaintances and other family members and installed a small stage in the living room. Some composers were also commissioned to write songs appropriate for dining and drinking wine. This type of community was an innovative one as there were scarce opportunities to meet people with the exception of going to church. The opera needed specialized music, which led to the development of chamber music. Chamber music is usally performed for a limited audience and each part is played by a solo leader of the chamber. In chamber music, the collaborative ensemble is important without master-slave relationships between the solo and accompaniments. Chamber music was mainly played in palaces and residences of nobles or small areas such as concert halls for a small audience, who enjoyed the music with meals and refreshments. Chamber music is an example of high-level relational cohesiveness, which considers the close relationship between the audience and music important.


However, in the early nineteenth century, with the appearance of Beethoven and the advent of conductors, Western music became highly oriented to a specialized system (Horkheimer and Adorno 2001). Composers were divided into specialized categories in music, such as keyboard, strings, and vocal, while musicians were affiliated with a symphonic orchestra, a professional organization, bringing a highly structured environment. In other words, for both the music listeners and performers,
the musical trends in this period changed towards lower relational cohesiveness in terms of compositional experience. Even musicians had fewer opportunities to mingle as they focused only on their own parts. Also, the audience gathered for listening to the works in theaters and halls rather than socializing like in the past. Even in Mozart’s times, it was not unusual to drink coffee while seeing a performance of the “Magic Flute.” However, since Beethoven, theater etiquette evolved to disapprove
noise from the audience at un-appropriate times such as coughing or small talk during a performance. In this sense, symphonies have opposite characteristics to chamber music, which possesses weak relational cohesiveness between performers and the audience.

But this did not last long. There was a sharp twist in the history of Western music with the introduction of Richard Wagner. Wagner had an unusual propensity with a very short temper, and was expelled from Germany until he was 50 years old for being involved with communist ideas. However, King Ludwig of the Kingdom of Bavaria (Munich is Bavaria’s largest city) built a large theater after desiring “national music”, “national music,” or “music that symbolizes a nation” in the area of Bayreuth, a part of Bavaria. Under this slogan, Wagner created masterpieces such as “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg,” “Tannhauser,” and “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” which were all based on northern European mythology that depicted “Great Germany.” This was the moment when the level of relational cohesiveness rose again in the history of music. Since then, Brahms, Bruckner, and even French composers began to study the forms of expression by Wagner. Composers from nations that were not-so-friendly with Germany, such as the Czech Republic and Russia, began coming up with music that represented nationalism. Examples of such composers are Czech’s Smetana and Dvorak and Russia’s Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin, who expressed the culture of their nation and people through music while escaping from the symphony orchestra’s quantitative music that was centered on mechanical techniques. By using ethnic melodies and musical structures that were passed on for generations as a theme, musical content that strengthened national consciousness had begun to spread. This kind of music had a major impact on promoting social unity in times of wars and division. Thus, the change from symphony to nationalist music is an example of change from low-level to high-level relational cohesiveness from the perspective of the audience.

Conflicts and Contradictions that Power Innovation

Russian scientist G. Altshulle has an unusual past. He went into exile to Siberian camps for political reasons during the Stalin era while working at a patent office. While at the camps, he and his fellow prisoners analyzed hundreds of thousands of patents that were filed to the Russian government to find commonalities. The long Siberian winter had given him an opportunity to gather and analyze massive amounts of data. While analyzing inventions that once dominated, he discovered why and how they were made. As a result, he explained that the leading cause of new technology was conflict and the development process was the resolution of such conflicts (Kuhn 1962). In other words, he stated that the emergence of new technologies was the solution to conflicts of existing technologies. For example, the automobile was invented to help move from point A to point B. This invention was good for transportation but created a conflict by polluting the environment. We can see that, to address the conflict of air pollution, an environmentally unfriendly issue, electric car technology was created (Buchanan 1992).


In fact, many thinkers in the past had already claimed that conflict powered social changes. In his book “Leviathan,” political philosopher Hobbes stated that the essence of humans was violence and conflict (Hobbes, 1928) while Hegel, who viewed the world in three stages—in itself, out of itself, and in and for itself, assumed that conflict was an inevitable element that occurred in the making of history (Hegel 2004). In “Capital,” written by communist philosopher Karl Marx, human history starts a revolution to solve the past’s contradictions but conceives a new contradiction in the process.

Interestingly, conflicts and contradictions also result in innovation in companies and academics. When faced with problems, people search for new ideas and methods to solve them. However, there are times when we overlook new problems in the new ideas and methods, as we are only human. As time goes by, the new ideas and methods can become authoritative by becoming the dominant design. Eventually, they become another source of new conflict.

Thomas Kuhn calls the process that rejected such conflicts “the history of science.” He stated that the history of science was the developmental process of New Science, which solved the contradiction of Normal Science that accepted the pulpit as authoritative and rational (Kuhn 1962). He also stated that the textbooks, research methodologies, and experimental procedures learned in school were political tools to hinder the creativity of scientific thinkers and cover the contradictions of Old Science.
What is the relationship between a dynamically created balance and a product that sells well? In many markets including the digital device and service markets, there is a “winner takes all” effect. A product that sells well takes the entire pie while other competitors end up in the dust. In the marketing and economics studies, this term is known as “herd behavior” (Banerjee 1992). Researchers who study herd behavior claim that by studying the diffusion or network model of how information spreads from one person to another, the origin of how it spreads can be identified. They also claim that mimicking consumption patterns of others based on word-of mouth and reputation will naturally lead to dominance in the market. However, can herd behavior explain how a product like the iPhone dominated the market? In fact, critics said that the iPhone was basically an iPod with a phone function when it was first released. How could an iPod with a phone function succeed based on herd behavior? There seems to be something missing here, and we need to approach this phenomenon with a different perspective than that of herd behavior.

We can think about the concept of dominant design in order to explain this phenomenon from a different perspective. Dominant design refers to a general design that applies to the entire product or service group (Abernathy and Utterback 1978; Sahal 1981; Utterback and Suarez 1993a, b). In other words, it is a design generally applied by a specific field or market during certain periods. For instance, let’s think about the design of the smartphone.

Whether it be Apple, Samsung, LG, or HTC, the external designs are hard to distinguish from each other when seen at a faraway distance. Furthermore, most other smartphones apart from Apple use the Android operating system, which makes their phones even harder to distinguish. From far away, they are rectangles with rounded edges. There is a screen that covers the front of the phone, and there are one or two buttons in the lower center of the front. When you turn on the power, a home screen appears with a grid view of square shaped applications. Take out your smartphone right now (this book is published in 2015) and you can see that your phone is quite similar to what I am describing. The concept of dominant design doesn’t only apply to smartphones, it can be noticed in many other mature markets.

Dominant design is a crucial concept in explaining the technology life cycle theory as shown in Fig. 3.3. According to this theory, a fermentation process takes place when an innovative technology is invented. During this stage, different technologies engage in a heated competition for dominance. As time progresses, a repeated reorganization of these technologies leads to a single dominant design. Once a dominant design is formed, a time of incremental developments to the dominant design takes place without much volatility to the dominant products and services. Then when a disruptive technology is born, another round of competition, the emergence of the dominant design, and incremental improvements takes place.

Professor James Utterback of MIT refers to the automobile market of the 1900s to describe the technology life cycle theory. From the emergence of the automobile market in 1894 to numerous automobile models released throughout the early 1900s, the industry hit an important point in 1923 when a total of 75 automobile manufacturers competed in the same market. So what happened in 1923? American automobile manufacturer Dodge unveiled a design that separated the interior and exterior of the car through the frame and windows, the first of its kind at the time and today a standard. Two years later, 50 % of all productions followed that design, and by 1926, more than 80 % of manufacturers were utilizing the design. A dominant design was instated in the automobile industry. After this point, designs changed incrementally, but the same dominant design still dominates the U.S. automobile market.

Dominant Design and the Synchronization of Experience and Environment

Through what process is a dominant design created? Utterback and Suarez explain this process as a process of experimentation (Utterback and Suarez 1993a, b). A process of experimentation is a repetitive process in which diverse technologies in the form of different designs is presented to users and their feedback and reactions collected.

However, a design does not dominate the market simply through technological excellence. Only a design that “makes sense” to users can become a dominant design. A good example is the Hoover, a vacuum cleaner brand. As the GDP and consumption increased in the U.S. after World War II, almost every household was able to afford a Hoover. The Hoover in turn came a symbol of American wealth and a standard in every household and the word ‘Hoover’ replaced the term ‘vacuum cleaner’ for the entire product group. Other examples of brand names that replaced the relevant term for the product category were the Xerox photocopy machine and the Jeep automobile.

How do such brands get so strongly placed in people’s minds? I think this is due to the synchronization of the environment and experience. People are influenced by socio-cultural, technological, and economic environments while using products or services. Oppositely, people also influence these environments through sensual, judgmental, and compositional experience. As mentioned previously, a person can have a real experience only when a point of balance is achieved between the external environment and human experience and additionally when a product or service is able to provide that point of balance to users. Basically, socio-cultural, technological, and economic environments influence human experiences of sense of presence, locus of causality, and relational cohesiveness, and vice versa. A point of balance is created through a tight relationship between experience and environment, and when this point of balance is expressed appropriately through a product or service, people are able to have a real experience. A real experience leads people to the belief that their lives have become more fulfilling. This is the point when a product or service will most likely be recognized as the dominant design.

For example, let’s think about the history of Hollywood sound films. With the introduction of sound films in the 1930s, the American movie industry hit a golden age. However, the 1930s was also the period of the Great Depression. Millions of people were affected by the economy. However, the masses were partly able to heal their fatigue and devastation through the fantasy worlds shown in the movies. People watched movies through large screens. A high level of a sense of presence was important as people immersed into the movie’s context and characters. Hollywood introduced the sound film method to meet the innate needs at the time and thus introduced changes to the socio-cultural and technological environments. Furthermore, the alignment of the external environment and innate experiences of people led to the recognition of the sound movies as a dominant design.


As a more recent example, let’s think about the iPhone. Desktop computers that take up a lot of space on desks are fast losing their position as the main device that people use when searching for information. People today are busy and possess the need to get things done on the move, and smartphones such as the iPhone have the potential to effectively provide a solution for this need. Furthermore, the advancement of mobile processors has led to matching levels of performance with desktops. Prices of full touch LCD screens that are able to support multi-touch functions have decreased dramatically, and the combination of multiple sensors has led to the iPhone being able to take care of most of our work. This shows that a technological environment has been formed where user initiative is high and the locus of causality is internal. The iPhone was able to provide the point of balance that experience and environment created to become a dominant design.

The Dominance of Dominant Design

The greatest influence of a dominant design is the effect of creating a de facto standard. A de facto standard causes competitors’ products and services to fall in line with the dominant design. Technically, it is not a standard, but in reality, it does possess the advantages of a standard. When a dominant design becomes the de facto standard, the providing company gains a competitive advantage that is hard for other firms to replicate. First, the scale of economy cannot be ignored. Since its product dominates the market, the relative cost of production will be lower than for other companies. Also, users will become accustomed to their product through learning effects, and their production methods and service distribution quality can all be increased quicker than their competitors’.

Intellectual property such as patents for a dominant designs can further enhance competitiveness. Let’s go back to the example of the Apple vs. Samsung lawsuits, mentioned earlier. Whether it was a coincidence or not, when the U.S. court ruled that the Galaxy model of Samsung infringed upon Apple’s patents, many of those elements were similar to the elements of the dominant design. What is the reason for this? When a dominant design surfaces, competitors must apply that dominant design in order to survive in the market because most users want the same experience under specific contexts. The dominant design offers that experience to users.

An Exception to Every Rule

The socio-cultural, economic, and technological
environments of a specific age influence human experience. Oppositely, the sensual, judgmental, and compositional experiences of users influence external environments. The dynamic interaction between environment and experience creates a point of balance that can then be utilized to offer real experiences to users through products and services. These products and services are then recognized as dominant designs in their respective markets.

A principle is better when it can be simply applied. The simpler the principle, the wider its area of application. However, we need to discuss a few points before being able to generally apply the aforementioned principles to a wide range of products and services.

The experience of a current product or service is created through comparisons with past experiences of products or services. While it is important to consider the absolute degree of sense of presence, locus of causality and relational cohesiveness to provide the experience, comparing the degrees with a prior product or service may be more important. Therefore, no matter how high a sense of presence a product provides, it needs to be higher than its prior product for people to feel a high sense of presence.

Secondly, in an age where numerous products and services are launched everyday, it becomes unclear which products and services should be compared. The most common method would be to compare a new version of a product or service with its prior version.

For instance, it’s not difficult to compare the sense of presence, locus of causality, or relational cohesiveness between the experience of iOS 7 and iOS 8. But what about when we have to compare between two value systems? If a person uses a smartphone to kill time by surfing the web and watch webtoons (a Korean style webcomics), the subject of comparison in terms of relative sense of presence, locus of causality, and cohesiveness should be news apps, magazines, and games rather than the smartphone itself.

There are instances when the same type of environment can influence the characteristics of specific products and services. Let’s return to the example of the Hollywood sound film. A decrease in economic assets leads to lower consumption in general, and people are indifferent to a low degree of sensual immersion. However, the distinct characteristic of movies as a form of culture led to the preference of a high immersive experience. Although people were in a dire economic state, they sought to escape reality for a short period of time and delve into an ideal, imaginary world. This is how they wanted to relieve their stress from everyday life. Therefore, the relative comparison to a sound movie can be the settings and characters within that movie. For example, Roman Holliday, starring Audrey Hepburn, reveals a higher sense of sensual immersion through a sound movie than a silent movie, but nowhere as high as going to Rome for a date and sightseeing. But considering the context of the economic depression at the time, the film may have provided a higher sense of presence since it gave people an escape from reality (the reality in which they would never be able to afford to visit Rome) and helped them promote their imagination.

The Experiential Point of Balance

In order to successfully overcome the above constraints, a careful analysis needs to be conducted on the interaction between environment and experience of a product or service.

Firstly, deduce as many socio-cultural, economic, and technological elements that may directly or indirectly influence a product or service. However, keep in mind that elements will differ based on whether you look at a specific product or service, or a general market that includes many products or services.

Secondly, accurately measure the current levels of experiences that a product or service provides to users. What is the level of sense of presence that a product or service provides in terms of sensual experience? What is the locus of causality in terms of judgmental experience? What is the level of relational cohesiveness that the product or service provides? These questions will be able to provide answers for measuring the levels of experience. It would be more efficient to define the extreme points of each dimension and then place the product or service between the extreme points.

Thirdly, compare a product or service in order to infer people’s preferences. Do people want a higher, lower, or current level of sense of presence in terms of sensual experience? Do they want an internal, external, or current level of judgmental experience? Do they want stronger, weaker, or the same level of cohesiveness in terms of compositional experience?

Fourthly, analyze the effects of each environmental element on the three threads of experience. In the case of sensual experience, will the current environmental elements lead to a higher, lower, or similar level of sensual sense of presence? In terms of judgmental experience, will the current environmental elements lead to a more external, internal, or similar level of judgmental locus of causality? In the case of compositional experience, will the current environmental elements lead to a higher, lower, or similar level of relational cohesiveness?

Lastly, find a new point of balance for the product or service where people’s experiences and external environments meet.
It is important to note that the dimensions of experience in using a product or service are not enough to understand the present and predict the future. In order to explain where a product or service is positioned in the three dimensional model and predict in which direction it will move, it is imperative to consider the relationship between a person’s present experience and the environmental elements surrounding the person.

Experience is created through the constant interaction between a person and the environment surrounding that person. In addition, let’s think from the perspective of a company that provides a product or a service. A product or a service that provides a great experience to users is constantly influenced by external factors, and vice versa. Under the same context, renowned organizational behavior scholar James March of Stanford University claimed that as the organization adjusts to the environment, the environment adjusts to the organization (March 1991). Then, what kind of external factors interact with human experience? In fact, most experiences are prone to be influenced by external environments.

Of course, there are other external factors that influence human experience such as political, legislative, and ecological environments. More complex systems of analysis do exist (such as PEST, SLEPT, and STEEPLED), but their influence on human experience is quite similar to SET and I decided not to include them. I want to approach the complex subject of experience in the simplest frame possible as stated in the law of parsimony.

Many studies from different fields have used SET to understand the influence of macro environments (Law 2006; Cagan and Vogel 2013). However, I believe SET has not been applied in understanding human experience before. It is ironical that external environments have been used to analyze political policies or product development processes, but their influence on the people that need to follow the policies and processes have not been investigated yet. Let’s find out how sociocultural, economic, and technological environments influence human experience of a product or a service and vice versa.


The Characteristics of the Socio-Cultural Environment

The socio-cultural environment is related to the awareness and behavior of a person who uses a specific product or service. This includes population demographics, lifestyle, and miscellaneous cultural anthropological characteristics as well. Let’s take the example of the cultural dimensions of different countries. Individualism and collectivism refers to whether a person within a group considers the individual’s or the group’s benefit as a priority (Hofstede 1980). A society with high individualistic tendencies is centered on the self, considers personal goals to be important, and individuals seek to be evaluated as such. On the other hand, a society with high collectivism considers other people’s opinions to be more important than the individual’s and shows high interest in how others are evaluated.

I conducted a research on the differences in individualism and collectivism among users of mobile data services in seven countries (Lee et al. 2010). The results of my research revealed that Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong showed high individualistic tendencies while Japan, Australia, Greece, and Denmark showed high collectivistic tendencies. Due to differences in these tendencies, I discovered that how users in each country experience a similar service differed vastly. For example, people in Hong Kong, who scored high on individualism, used personalized health services widely whereas in Japan, which scored high on collectivism, personalized health services were not widely utilized.

Companies constantly need to consider how to make a more successful product or service by adequately reflecting a target population’s socio-cultural elements. A few years ago, I collaborated with Samsung Electronics that wanted to develop new mobile phones for different countries. A specialized product was created through the results of this research. One of those examples was an application with a special alarm targeted towards countries in which the population was predominantly Muslim. The application alerted the users of the times for call to prayer, showed a compass that pointed to the direction of Mecca so that users would know in which direction they should pray, and provided relevant information guiding users during a prayer.

In general, the speed of change of socio-cultural elements is relatively slow. Prior research on patterns of human reaction based on external changes to the environment reveals that awareness and attitude do not change easily (Ram and Sheth 1989). Nevertheless, there is a user category that is sensitive to the release of a product or service and seeks to spread relevant information about the product or service to other people. These people are often called opinion leaders or lead users (Von Hippel 1986). Socio-cultural elements initially tend to put a strain on new experiences, but the product or service tends to diffuse into the population rapidly once it is approved by opinion leaders and lead users. A great example of this can be found during the release of the smartphone into the market. Experts and amateurs alike in many countries, including Korea, wondered whether the smartphone would be able to effectively replace the feature phone market. However, the image of the
smartphone as an intelligent and modern device spread through opinion leaders in their 20s and 30s. This change in awareness was an important element in supporting
the diffusion of the smartphone into the mainstream market.

Recently, the speed of change that socio-cultural elements bring about has increased mainly due to the wide propagation of online environments and the development of social computing environments such as social networking services (SNS). Most people between ages 10 and 50 own smartphones, and so they have access to a wide variety of online environments and social computing. SNS such as
Twitter and Facebook are designed to share social issues and events in real-time to as many users as possible. Since most of these people are connected to diverse SNS at all times, the rate of change that socio-cultural elements bring about is increasing at greater speeds.

The Socio-Cultural Environment and the Threads of Experience

Socio-cultural elements share a close relationship with the sensual, judgmental, and compositional threads of experience. First, let’s take a look at the relationship between socio-cultural elements and sensual experience. Among socio-cultural elements are those that gear towards influencing the sense of presence. For instance, there is a growing demographic of single people around the developed world that possess economic power, utilize the internet well, and are not afraid to enjoy their lives. In Korea, we call them the “single-joks.” The single-joks have a strong desire to live a free life and consider their freedom, rational thinking, and jobs rather than being enclosed in the traditional frame of marriage. They purchase products and services that help express their individual personalities such as cars. Several automobile models have been released to suit the demands of the single-joks and many of the automobile companies are targeting them through designs and colors that help express individual personalities. Therefore, the proliferation of the single-joks is acting as a stimulant for the release of products and services with a high sense of presence.

On the other hand, there is a socio-cultural element in society that is steering towards a low sense of presence. A good example is the rise of flat style design. Flat style design seeks to express every design element in the simplest way possible and is closely connected to minimalistic design. As products and services begin to prefer flat style design, visual stimulation has weakened in the perspective of sensual experience as designers have shifted their focus on expressing meaning through compact and implied designs. In the Apple iOS 7, it is clearly evident that they have replaced skeuomorphic elements that induce a high sense of presence with a flat UI that emphasizes typography, single color tones, and pictograms.

As socio-cultural elements are becoming more important online, especially social media, the tendency to emphasize a high sense of presence has become more concentrated. Under the context of the online environment, a product or service that cannot quickly grab the attention of a user will quickly stumble in the market Information that does not immediately stimulate a user’s sense will end up not getting any “likes” or “views” in the vast ocean that is the internet. Therefore, the increasing intensity at which mobile phones and social media develop will cause experiences with strong, sensational stimulations.

Socio-cultural elements are also closely related to the judgmental thread of experience. Clay Shirky points out that people, who were used to passive external stimulations in the past, are now showing the desire to directly experience and control things (Shirky 2010). One good example of this is the popularity of user-generated content (UGC). While users in the past enjoyed watching video content provided by broadcasting companies or the movie industry, they now create and edit their own content and actively share it among other users. Even the behaviors in which they utilize broadcasted content show differences. For the 2014 FIFA World Cup, users were able to watch matches on multiple screens not only the default angle the broadcasting station provided but with the freedom to choose a camera angle that focused on a single player of their interest, for example. Users’ utilization of social media, an element of a socio-cultural environment, shows that judgmental experience possesses an internal locus of causality.

Socio-cultural elements also heavily influence the compositional thread of experience. Recently, the desire to share information and communicate with people in different areas is growing. This means that experience is leaning towards a strong relational cohesiveness. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social networking services, as an example, provide a function often called the activity feed or dashboard that combines a real-time feed on other users’ activity on the network. This function has helped these services to evolve into supporting stronger cohesiveness among users.

In the perspective of compositional experience, diverse services are heading towards providing a strong cohesive experience. As most age groups possess digital devices and utilize the internet, people are ready to use services that posess strong cohesiveness. For example, Google offers a cohesive and seamless experience for all of their services such as Google+, YouTube, Google Maps, Gmail, and many others across many device platforms such as mobile, tablet, and PC.

In a reverse perspective, the experience of using a product or service can have an effect on socio-cultural elements of the environment. A highly cohesive social computing service causes people to worry about security breaches, for example, leaking of private information. There is a growing number of people that do not use mobile messenger services like KakaoTalk because they are afraid that their information may be accessible by others. To reduce such privacy issues, messaging services have surfaced that limit the amount of time a user’s message stays online until it gets deleted and cannot be accessed by the users themselves. They attempt to solve the problem of privacy leaks by setting limits to keep the level of cohesiveness to an appropriate level while maintaining social relationships. These services are examples of how users’ experiences of using products or services influence the socio-cultural environment.

The Characteristics of the Economic Environment

Elements of the economic environment comprise of macroeconomic variables such as economic volatility, inflation, and interest rates. As the economy slows down, people spend less, i.e. consumption decreases, which leads to the reduction of “available assets,” as production decreases as well. In other words, the willingness to pay for the same product has reduced. However, macroeconomic changes do not affect all people in the same way. Some people can barely afford a one-room house but at the same time own a luxury car. In an ancient oriental classic, Mencius speaks
of “no stable living, no stable mind.” How a person feels about his/her quality of life changes based on the state of a person’s economic power and the economic environment. This leads me to assume that the quality and direction of experience is influenced by a person’s willingness to pay for a product or service.

Generally, government officials in charge of economic policies reduce interest rates or expand financial policies in order to boost consumer confidence and increase consumption. However, it is questionable whether such economic policies can lead to the consumption of specific products such as digital devices. The decision to purchase products that are now a necessity in daily life such as PCs or smartphones may actually be influenced more by how much convenience they offer compared to their competitors rather than the consumption pattern of the economy. Economic variables that affect human experience tend to be influenced by artificial change, and its effects may be uncertain. Therefore, the macroeconomic environment can be changed arbitrarily with policies.

The Economic Environment and the Threads of Experience

Firstly, let’s think about sensual experience. When people think they have a good amount of economic power, they tend to care for a high sense of presence. On the other hand, a high sense of presence may not be important for people that do not possess that level of economic power.

For instance, the economic prosperity of the United States after World War II led to the production of automobiles such as the 1957 pink Cadillac and 1959 Chevy. These automobiles entered the market when the United States reached a golden age and became the most powerful country in the world. The end of the war led people to believe that an age of suffering and depression had also ended. As the economy picked up rapid pace and economic scarcity became rare, people started to express their personalities and started to seek enjoyment in their lives. In order to meet these needs, automobile manufacturers produced models that looked different than conventional automobiles. Sensual colors such as red, pink, and green, and special exterior designs like the shark tale shape provided a high degree of sense of presence. Companies led people to believe that their automobiles reflected individual personalities and preference. On the other hand, small, fuel efficient cars were preferred during the oil crisis of the 1970s and 1980s when economic power was low. During that period, the degree of sense of presence was not very high.

The economic environment also influences judgmental experience. In the 1980s, economic depression and the effects of the oil crisis led to a continued state of economic instability. During this time, automobiles were perceived as vehicles that moved people from one point to another. Since automobiles were used for functional purposes, users were not interested in changing the exterior design or tuning the engine. They merely used the automobile in its original state. Therefore, the locus of causality was external. On the other hand, the previously mentioned 1950s was a time for expressing individual personalities as seen in the automobiles of the times; hence, the locus of causality is internal.

The economic environment also influences compositional experience. During the economic boom of the 1950s, Americans moved away from cities into suburbs and created close-knit communities. However, modern humans who feel that they lack economic power are crammed in endless rows of houses and apartments and lack relationships with their neighbors. When the economy is in a good state, people show a high degree of cohesiveness, whereas the perception of a faltering economy shows a low degree of cohesiveness in general. But interestingly enough, there are cases when cohesiveness increases amidst a dark economic situation. Let’s think about the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s. The dire economic situation actually increased the cohesiveness of the Korean society, and citizens actively participated in donating gold for the economy. In the eyes of the western world, the fact that an economy the size of Korea’s received IMF help may have seemed like an exception. But an even greater exception was that people were determined to help save the economy, and so even amidst turmoil, cohesiveness among the people became stronger.

The Characteristics of the Technological Environment

Elements of the technological environment include everything from the maturity of a piece of technology, the potential to develop an innovative technology, the development process of a competitor technology, and complementary technologies. But while technology itself is important, there are other factors surrounding technology such as laws, policies, and intellectual property that influence human experience in significant ways. There are several characteristics of the technological environment.

Firstly, the technological environment, unlike other environmental elements, is characterized by its extremely fast-paced change. According to Moore’s Law, the performance of a semiconductor will increase by two times every 18 months. Based on this law, a semiconductor 10 times faster than the semiconductor today should be developed within 6 years. Now compare that to the possible feeling if your height would double every 18 months. This is the current speed at which technology is
developing.

Secondly, the technological environment is often times difficult to predict due to the inconsistency of technological changes. For instance, no meticulous analysis of the current state and future of analog film could have foreseen the emergence of the digital camera. A phenomenon, called technology discontinuity, is the source of the difficulty in explaining the influence of the technological environment on human experience.

Thirdly, the characteristic of technological elements is that it not only influences technology itself, it also has a vast influence on the experience of people using the applications of technology. CEO Joseph Fan of Taiwan Mobile once said that there are no companies that fail because of technology. What he meant was that the key is the business model that the technology creates and how the technology changes people’s awareness and experiences. Therefore, the ways that technology is applied, rather than the technology itself, is how technological elements influence human experience in a large way.

The Technological Environment and the Threads of Experience

The influence of the technological environment on sensual experience tends to flow towards the direction of increasing immersion and sense of presence. For example, since the cathode ray tube (CRT) was first released in 1987, TV technology developed towards a larger screen and higher resolution. In the 1990s, flat screen technology developed through LCD or PDP methods, and now OLED, UHD, and curved UHD methods are being developed further. These developments are evolving towards providing higher immersion and sense of presence. In terms of audio technology, stereo systems were developed as Dolby technology in 1968. Now, audio technology focuses on getting rid of noise while enhancing sense of presence. In addition, audio technology has merged with 3D video technology, known as realistic audio technology, to predict the distance of a sound in order to further enhance immersion and the sense of presence. Furthermore, tangible technology utilizes
Xinput and direct input (mobile gaming pads) to create faster reaction speeds and provide more realistic experiences to users. Game controller technology has also adopted the dual vibration motor in order to enhance the sense of presence of, for example, virtual collisions and explosions and provide more realistic experiences to users.

Changes in the technological environment themselves do not provide a clear answer to whether the locus of causality is moving toward a more internal or external direction. For instance, big data technology, which is receiving a lot of attention nowadays, weakens user’s initiative and the locus of causality becomes external. Oppositely, a surgical robot arm like ‘da Vinci’ provides control up to degrees that humans were previously unable to manipulate on their own; user initiative is greatly strengthened and the locus of causality becomes internal. But generally, technology for many unspecified users such as automatic payment systems in banks and search functions in search engines tend to become an external locus of causality, whereas technology intended for professionals with specific objectives has the tendency to possess an internal locus of causality.

The technological environment also influences relational cohesiveness in the perspective of compositional experience. SNS such as Facebook and Twitter provide diverse methods to communicate with other people. However, the compositional relationship between products or services tends to reveal both technologies with high and low cohesiveness. This is because technologies with high cohesiveness are often times a required necessity. As technology shifts towards high cohesiveness, a product or service’s functionalities increase as well as the connection between them. But many functions that are connected together in a complex way can increase users’
fatigue and, in turn, weaken cohesiveness. To solve this problem, new functions are created to increase compatibility while reducing complexity, or new products or services aim to outright reduce cohesiveness. For example, the mobile phone started out with calling and texting functions. Then, the camera was added, and together with MP3 functions the mobile phone enabled greater functionalities. As functional cohesiveness increased, it led to the development of the smartphone. However, as users felt fatigue and stress from such high cohesiveness, companies have started to develop technology for products such as wearable devices that focus on a function’s usefulness under specific contexts. In this way, human experience also influences the technological environment.


A person’s everyday experience is a complex web of sensual, judgmental, and compositional threads. This complication applies to a person using a product or service as well. Therefore, the experience of using a smartphone or a internet portal service can be approached with those same three perspectives. While understanding present experience is important in order to provide a real experience through a product or service, it is even more important to consider a more strategic approach, especially the understanding of the inevitable influences of the environment to people’s experiences such as socio-cultural, economic, and technical environments. Additionally, a counter approach of analyzing how human experience influences the environment is also necessary. Real experience can be achieved only when environments and experience harmonize. Firms that produce products or services based on this real experience can acquire the possibility to secure strategic competitiveness. So what are the specific environmental elements that influence human experience while using products and services? On the other hand, how does human experience affect its environment? In addition, what is the relationship between the balance of experience and a successful products or services?

Tuning with the World’s Frequency

Breakfast meetings are quite common in Korea. Usually, a breakfast meeting will start at seven in the morning and will last for around two hours. Then, a light breakfast is served and participants socialize afterwards. Perhaps this distinctive culture arose as a desperate measure to try to meet everyone’s schedules while trying to avoid official working hours.

There were special breakfast meetings I attended for about five years. The meetings were held at the headquarters of Samsung Electronics. Participants included representative of the Samsung Group, executives, the members of an advisory committee on future technology, opinion leaders who were invited from universities and research institutes, and other key people at Samsung. At the meetings an  expert in a certain field gave a lecture about its developments, which was then followed byan open debate among the attendees.

One of the things I learned at these meetings was what I call “tuning to the world’s frequency.” We were able to learn new things by developing diverse perspectives and getting in tune with each other through the experts’ stories and debates.

One day, a lecture on the economic ripple effects of a large-scale canal project in Korea, which was hotly debated at the time, and a possible water shortage in Korea was given. One of the experts, who was seriously concerned about a possible water shortage, explained the reasons why a premium global brand like Perrier was more expensive than Samdasu, a local brand. He said that Perriers water sources were of higher quality than those of Samdasu and therefore the water they produced was more expensive.

At another meeting, flexible displays, a technology that was very new during that time in the late 2000’s, were presented. We learned that the degrees of permeability and integration played a very important role in technological advancement. We took turns touching and bending a flexible display prototype while discussing potentials of how flexible display products could dramatically change our daily lives.

At yet another meeting, a very interesting discussion on socio-cultural topics took place. One professor discussed his researches on “mega trends” and gave examples of what consumers will demand and desire in the near future. His claim was that consumers integrate their self identities with the products they purchase. He had conducted a research on consumers who had bought “knock off” products, or fake products. When asked what they would do if they earned a lot of money, a majority of consumers answered that they would “purchase the real product of the knock off.” His research provides an insightful aspect, that firms do not heavily engage in the crackdown of knock off manufacturers because, after all, the knock offs can act as a powerful marketing tool for leading consumers to purchase the real products.

These examples above reveal the sensitive approach of Samsung Electronics when it comes to changes in economic, technological, and socio-cultural environments. Those free discussions among decision makers in the company and with academics might have paved the way for the creation of innovative products such as the Galaxy S and the Galaxy Note series. Perhaps their spell of success was their insight into how future environments would change combined with analysis of the effects of their former successful products and services on the environment.

What Does Confucius Say About Experience?

The Doctrine of the Mean possesses concise yet logical oriental philosophy. Former Tokyo University professor Shizuka Shirakawa, a renowned scholar of the research of Confucianism who recently passed away, praised The Doctrine of the Mean as a realist doctrine that provides a clear path for our existence and experience of being (Shizuka 2003).

The Mean refers to the state of fundamental and absolute balance of the environment that surrounds humans. On the other hand, Harmony refers to the balance of a person’s heart based on the elements of the mean. While the mean always exists in the natural environment, Harmony can only be achieved through the specific experiences that we, as humans, go through and how we feel about them. Once the mean and a person’s Harmony meet, then a perfect balance is achieved between the human and his/her environment.

By applying the concept of mean and harmony to the three threads of experience (sensual, judgmental, and compositional threads), the mean refers to the three threads of experience before reflecting on human experience. When human experience is reflected in the threads, a person attempts to organize the three threads of experience into a harmonious state. Of course, not all experiences achieve harmony. A state of harmony for a specific experience is achieved only when the level of sensual, judgmental, and compositional threads achieve a balance based on their relative positions.

One of the points that The Doctrine of the Mean emphasizes is the point of balance among the threads of experience. Let’s look at another passage from The Doctrine on the balance of experience. One day, Confucius was having a conversation with his disciple Zilu about what strength is. Confucius answered him like this: Do you mean the strength of the South, the strength of the North, or the strength of selfmastery? 

To be broadminded and gentle in teaching and not rashly punish wrong-doing is the strength of the South. The Superior Man abides in this. To be able to make a bed of weapons and armor and die without grief—this is the strength of the North. The forceful are at home in this. Therefore the Superior Man is harmonious without getting sloppy. He stands in the center without leaning to either side. How correct his strength is!

Here, Confucius claims that the Superior Man keeps his balance and does not sway to one side while maintaining the tension of balance between various elements in life. Whether issues grand or miniscule, the Superior Man always maintains balance because he is sturdy in his fundamentals and has taken this principle to heart.

Human experience can also be explained from the perspective of the balance of the Superior Man. The three threads of experience are in danger of being emphasized too much individually. The compositional thread, which emphasizes the relational aspect of experience, could easily be in danger of constant changes towards increasing connections between people and things The sensual thread has the possibility of creating powerful stimulations that lead to addictions due to its volatile reactions. The judgmental thread, by itself, will promote endless automation and externalized logic that ends up becoming a system for the system itself rather than a human-centered system. When human fundamentals are excluded, even a product built to provide users with a really great experience can degenerate into a piece of machinery. Therefore, “real experience” can be created only when a tense balance between the elements of experience can be achieved.

The Balance of Experience as a Three-Dimensional Model

We need to take a more integrated approach to achieve a balance between the three threads of experience. In order to look at the relationships between the threads, their external environments, and their specific experiences, the three threads need to be seen in a single integrated frame. Therefore, I want to present a three dimensional model of experience that can help explain the integrated threads of experience.

The model is divided into three axes. The y-axis indicates the sensual thread and expresses how high or low the sense of presence is in an experience. The higher the value of the y-axis, perception of sense of presence is increased due to external stimulants. On the other hand, a lower value indicates a relatively lesser degree of a sense of presence. The z-axis, or the judgmental thread, describes whether the evaluation of an experience results through internal or external locus of causality. The higher the value, the more external the value and control of human experience; the lower the value, the more internal the value and control of experience. Lastly, the x-axis refers to the compositional thread of experience. The more the value of the x-axis shifts to the right, the more cohesive a relationship is, whereas a shift to the left reveals a lesser degree of cohesiveness.

There are a number of merits in expressing our experiences of using a product or service as a point in the three dimensional space as shown in image below. Firstly, experience does not exist as three different parts based on the three threads but rather exists as a single integrated point. The three dimensions must combine as a single point in order to fully and properly express the holistic nature of experience. Secondly, the three dimensional space provides a simple way of describing human experience in using a specific product or service. Figure 3.2 shows the results of a survey on the executives of LG Electronics, a Korean electronics company. They were asked what kind of experiences consumers who had bought UHD (ultrahigh definition) TVs from LG would go through. In terms of the sensual thread of experience, the results indicated that users would feel a high degree of sense of presence due to the quick reflection of a minute screen for setting changes and high resolution that would make them think the characters in the TV were almost real. As for the judgmental thread, the popular opinion was that users would feel a slight internal locus of causality for their experiences since the content of what they enjoy watching on the TV screens such as dramas and sports cannot be controlled. In the perspective of the compositional thread of experience, both the lack of connections between TVs and the use of a TV to communicate with other people would lead to users feeling a relatively low level of cohesiveness.



Figure 3.2 also shows the results of a survey on the employees of a portal site (NAVER) on what they think people’s experiences would be while using their mobile internet messenger (MIM) In terms of the sensual thread of experience, the limited screen size and difficulty in interacting on that small screen would seem to lead to a fairly low degree of a sense of presence. They also think that the distinctive user interface of the messenger would provide a greater degree of a sense of presence compared to competitors’ mobile messengers. In the perspective of the judgmental thread of experience, the enjoyment users feel while exchanging messages with other users and the direct interaction they conduct to send a message was expected to stem from internal locus of causality. The employees said that mobile messengers provide a means to communicate with other users and enable intimate interaction between close people. Therefore, the level of cohesiveness that the compositional
thread of experience provides would be very high.

The two examples of the UHD TV and the internet messenger reveal that a three dimensional representation helps in expressing what an experience entails. In both cases, the executives, in the UHD example, and the employees, in the MIM example, were briefed about each dimension before they were asked to express their opinions on the product or service within the three dimensional model. Participants did not have much difficulty understanding the concept of the dimensions while they filled in their survey. Almost none of the 40 executives of the electronics firm and the 300 employees of the internet portal company that were surveyed held differing views regarding its product or service. This is how easy it is to create a three dimensional model of a human experience of a product or a service.

 Finally, a three dimensional model provides the advantage of an easy and quick method for gathering opinions within a company regarding how to provide a better experience to users. By understanding the position of the current experience and the direction a future experience should shift towards, a point for the future experience can be created. In other words, the three dimensional model can be used as a tool for deciding the strategic goals of a user’s next great experience.

The Mean and Harmony in the Three Dimensional Model of Experience

The Doctrine of the Mean is often misunderstood as a guideline towards a middle point that is neither too much nor too little. If this was true, the origin of the three dimensional model of experience should provide the best experience. However, the origin of the model is not a real experience that people can perceive. A sense of presence is neither high nor low, the locus of causality is neither internal nor external, and cohesiveness is neither strong nor weak. Basically, the origin of the graph is like food that doesn’t taste like anything at all. In fact, the Doctrine of the Mean emphasizes harmony that enables an optimal balance of emotions in the human heart. When applied to products and services, harmony refers to a point that maintains and tunes itself based on the relative balance between the three threads of experience. Every product or service possesses differing degrees of experience, but harmony is achieved only when the three threads of experience meet at a single point of optimal balance.

Let’s think about a middle schooler who enjoys playing the video game League of Legends. He experiences enjoyment through the desire to control every aspect of what is controllable. Therefore, its judgmental experience expresses an internal locus of causality. Also, a realistic expression of monsters and other players can provide a high degree of sensual experience. Furthermore, a stronger perception of cohesiveness with other players can provide a more harmonious compositional experience. By expressing the experience of playing League of Legend onto the three dimensional space, the point of balance will probably be somewhere on the upper left quadrant. However, if the game is neither realistic nor unrealistic, the locus of causality is neither internal nor external, and cohesiveness is neither high nor low, the gamer’s experience will end up being bland.
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.
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