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Experience Themes: An Element of Story Applied to Design

Aug 17, 2014



This presentation was presented at IA Summit 09 in Memphis, TN. It explores a new way of thinking about holistic design, by envisioning experience themes at the start of project.

An Experience Theme is basically an over-arching statement or phrase that encapsulates the value and focus of the experience we intend to deliver to users.

It may sound like a strategy or "vision", but at its core, an Experience Theme identifies what the product/service/system is all about from the point of view of users engaging with the product.

Once agreed upon, the theme can not only be used as a conceptual frame for design solutions, but can serve as the foundation for the Product Concept and Experience Strategy, a clear set of goals for the product/service/system design.

The slides explore how this idea was developed in the context of an interactive agency and how it was applied to several projects. It also shows how teams can generate experience themes.

And it's only one small part of a larger conversation about what user experience design can learn from storytelling. Enjoy... Thanks for your comments!

  • Experience Themes: An Element of Story Applied to Design [email_address] @cchastain Cindy Chastain
  • content : Whats This About, Anyway? Characterization of a Theme A Story of How This Bloody Idea Came About How Experience Themes are Applied to Design How to Find a Theme Final Thoughts
  • Storytelling and UX Design Frame Communication Tool Vehicle for Engagement/ Response methods purpose value Team Building Persuasion Marketing Selling Validating Comics Storyboards Scenarios Concept Narrative Shared Vision Understanding Unifying Sharing Validating Theme Comics Storyboards Scenarios User Flows Emotion Meaning Identification Immersion Coherence Fun ? Theme Scenes Structure Pacing/Flow
  • Whats This About, Anyway?
  • Parti & The Design Sandwich Luke Wroblewski at interaction09
  • Experience Strategy
  • Holistic Design
  • Characterization of a Theme
  • We will NOT be talking about a theme that is
    • A design for a PowerPoint template
    • A message conveyed by a work of art
    • The focus of brand image or promise
    • The subject of an academic paper
    • The main administrative divisions of the middle Byzantine Empire (themata)
    • The 2000 album by Moravian ethno metal band Silent Stream Of Godless Elegy
  • the subject-matter, topic or idea on which a work of art or literature is based
  • A true theme is not a word but a sentence---one clear, coherent sentence that expresses a storys irreducible meaning. Robert McKee, STORY
  • The [theme] shapes the writers strategic choices. Its yet another Creative Discipline to guide your aesthetic choices toward what is expressive of your [theme] and may be kept versus what is irrelevant to it and must be cut. Robert McKee, STORY
  • Impact of theme on response decisions reader writer
  • So what can themes do for user experience design?
  • For the design process, experience themes can
    • put experience at the forefront of product concepts
    • unify teams
    • lead to strategy
    • inspire design solutions
    • help teams make choices
  • On the flip side, a theme, when manifest in a product, can also induce
    • pleasure
    • emotion
    • meaning
  • Whats not to like?
  • A Story of How T his Bloody Experience Theme Idea Came About
  • Case 1:
  • The Nixon family would like to leverage their tremendous library of content in a new, engaging, interactive video-centric web property.
  • So where does one start?
  • Question: Whats this site ABOUT?
  • If flickr had a theme Story Premise: A playful, fun to use site helps people to easily manage their vast store of digital photos and share them with one another. Theme: Define yourself with photos
  • As experiences now span multiple media, channels & formats, we need to look to narrative, interaction, emotional elements to sustain transitions across channels and formats. Joe Lamantia, in the Beyond Findability Workshop at IA Summit 09
  • Gasp! I am the beast that is part website, part software, part product, part service, part interactive multimedia experience. What will you do with me? user technology product
  • To create a truly memorable and satisfying experience, a UX designer needs to understand how to create a logical and viable structure for the experience and needs to understand the elements that are important to creating an emotional connection with the product users .
  • tangible intangible emotion meaning pleasure characters setting scenes visual design content pages flows images
  • The meaning of meaning what this is about what this will do for me how it works where this fits into my life
  • Pleasure, Meaning, Emotion
  • Three Levels of Processing Experience reflective behavioral visceral
  • Donald Normans 3 Levels of Processing
    • The visceral level is pre-consciousness, pre-thought. Its where appearance matters first and first impressions are formed. Its about the initial impact of a product, about its appearance, touch, and feel.
    • The behavioral level is about use, about experience with a product. Its about function, performance and usability.
    • The reflective level , is the level at which the full impact of thought and emotions are experienced. Its all about message, about culture, and about the meaning of a product or its use.
  • optimal user experience function performance ease of use beauty emotion meaning
  • New Elements User Experience? beauty emotion meaning function performance ease of use intangible tangible
  • Writers and filmmakers design, if you will, for emotion and meaning all the time.
  • The tangible elements of experience in a visual design image/cinematography Website Film actors locations/sets music/sound editing copy/text information/content navigation interactions/system response processes animations music/sound error messages help lighting words/lines layout/content presentation coordinated in service of story not coordinated desktop widget mobile app
  • An example of the uncoordinated elements of a web experience visual design copy/text information/content navigation layout/content presentation processes animations creative marketing business information architecture/ interaction design error messages outside resource music/sound help engineering product VPs assistant Note: This is for illustration purposes only and not mean to be an exhaustive list of elements of a web experience encountered by users. interactions/system response
  • If emotion and meaning can emerge from the harmonizing of elements that make up a story, then to design for optimal experiences we need a story by which to harmonize the elements of a product, service or system.
  • From the point of view of design, the STORY can be used as frame that defines the product, service or system. visual design copy/text information/content navigation interactions/system response processes animations music/sound error messages help layout/content presentation Story frame
  • theme
  • Given his choice [of theme], the writer sharpens and clarifies his ideas, or finds out exactly what it is that he must say, testing his beliefs against reality as the story represents it, by examining every element in the story for its possible implications with regard to his theme.
  • theme focus design process define product and/or strategy
  • The Legacy of Agnes Nixon The Story of a Soap Reliving All My Children
  • Possible themes
  • How Experience Themes Can Be Applied to Design
  • Case 2: Showtime Sports Redesign
  • Shared Qualities of Experience for Fight Fans
    • A feeling of excitement around the pure spectacle of a fight
    • A need to understand the complete fight story from the lead-up all the way to the post-fight commentary
    • Pleasure in knowing and possessing deep knowledge of