Encounters And Experiences

I was glad to come across the blog Design for Service recently because it helped me to better grasp and articulate the difference between what normally happens at our service desks and what could be happening. I had been referring to desk interactions as “transactions” which is not entirely inaccurate but it just sounds inappropriate. To my way of thinking a transaction is what happens when you conduct business at an ATM – something mechanical in nature. Consider checking out a book. I see people using our self-check machines, and for them it is a convenient transaction – much like using an ATM. When I observe people doing the same thing at our circulation desk it might be a routine transaction, or depending on the people involved in the exhange it might be more than that, quite possibly an encounter but rarely an experience.

In his post “The Experience Pledge” Jeff Howard’s point is that not everything – in fact most things – is not an experience. What are they? He writes:

Our lives are mainly composed of encounters, not experiences. The difference between an encounter and an experience is the difference between a gathering and a party. It’s the difference between eating and having a meal. It’s the difference between stepping and dancing; and between speaking and singing.

The difference between these encounters and experiences is that in the case of the experience we are recognizing that something special, unique or memorable is happening. You might not remember what you had for lunch a few days ago if you simply eat the same boring few things week in and week out, but if you had a fantastic dining experience some time ago it’s likely you still remember it well. But that’s not all. Howard points to three distinct feature of well-designed (they don’t happen by accident in most cases) experiences:

* It’s an encounter with a clearly articulated beginning, middle and end.
* It’s so compelling people would pay admission just to be part of the interaction.
* It’s designed so that people must be there directly to benefit.

Where Howard confuses me though is his distinction between a UX Designer and an Experience Designer. He believes that most UX Designers only design enounters, and that the people designing products and services that meet his three criteria are actually Experience Designers. That difference may be a bit too fine grained for me. I’d like to think that in our library environments a person or team that designs experiences can be called any number of titles, but what really counts is their ability to turn encounters into experiences. 

2 thoughts on “Encounters And Experiences”

  1. Hi Steven, I agree that experiences can come from people with many different titles; I was mainly pointing out that most UX designers are falling short of designing experiences, so we should recognize the difference. Transactions, encounters, occasions, occurances. I started this train of thought in Creating Killer Services.

  2. In practice, doesn’t a series of encounters create an experience? After multiple encounters, I tend to start to form opinions about a service. Those opinions are fortified and validated the more encounters I have. For this reason, creating a good experience design has to mimic the formation of a good experience. This is why the service design process is iterative, why a good research methodology is comprised of analyzing encounters and then reflecting on them as a whole, time and time again. An experience designer will never be out of work: this iterative process means that the job is never done!

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