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Augmenting subjectives experiences (part I)

[Incrementando experiencias subjetivas (Primera Parte)]

Oscar Tomico
Department of Industrial Design, University of Technology, Eindhoven

Product design deals with a broad number of aspects, as it is the link between different product characteristics, functions, usage and user’s needs, desires and fantasies. The role of the designer consists of designing new complex and dynamic interactions with converging hardware and software, spaces and services. This emerging field demands new design approaches, specific considerations and, ultimately, the design of integrated experiences set in context, rather than of individual components to go beyond and attain a deeper relational sense with the user, especially on the emotive level.

Too much effort has been put into the functional area of perceived experience (form, color, texture and material). In fact, dynamic aesthetics not only considers how humans perceive products, it also shows how to respond to them (i.e. the resulting effective relationship ensuing from the encounter between the product and the user). Therefore, the design effort and creativity have to be focused on creating enriched interfaces that fulfill users’ expectations and desires and also evoke pleasurable experiences. Precisely, interaction design has to move from communicating product characteristics and functions through physical appearance and behavior to envision contexts for enriched subjective experiences.

This article explores the complex field of study of understanding user experience and focuses on defining the users’ subjective experiences. It then describes the design for experiencing as an approach for augmenting subjective experiences, positioning it in user experience frameworks and, in a second part, illustrating it with some examples of smart textiles designs.

Reaching the subjective side of user experience

Different studies on the topic of user experiences have lead to a variety of definitions of the term. User experience can be considered as a very dynamic, complex and subjective phenomenon based on appreciation and the resulting relationship ensuing from an encounter between the object and the observer:

• It is something that occurs continuously, because the interaction with the environmental conditions is involved in the basic process of living.1
• Depends on the perception of multiple sensory qualities of a design (visual, taste, olfactory, kinesthetic, auditory and touch).
• It is interpreted through filters relating to contextual factors.2

Sanders describes the experience domain relating it to present, future and past times (see figure 1).3 Present experiences last only for the moment and are ephemeral. Past experiences are memories. Future experiences (not yet lived but imagined) are dreams. Finally, experiencing the present is the point where memory and imagination meet.3 The present moment is based on past memories as people interpret what is happening around them, referencing past experiences (memories) while also relating to the dreams of our imagination. People interpret what is going on around them in anticipation of their hopes and fears for the future.

Figure 1. The experience domain related to the present, past and future by Sanders3

Gathering information about user experience can be done in many ways, but each route to experience reveals a different story:3

• Listening to what people say tells us what they are able to express in words (explicit knowledge).
• Watching what people do and seeing what they use provide designers with observable information (observable knowledge).
• Discovering what people know helps us to communicate with them. Understanding how they feel gives designers the ability to empathize. This form of investigation provides knowledge that cannot readily be expressed in words (tacit knowledge).
• Evoking people’s dreams shows their personal aspirations for the future. It can reveal inner needs not recognizable in the present time (latent knowledge) through a guided discovery process, putting them in touch with their feelings and dreams.

These aspects of user experience involving feelings about accomplished needs, desires and fantasies are called subjective experience information. To obtain this kind of information and use it for design purposes, user experience design process needs to be analyzed from a different perspective, focusing on the psychological relationship between users and their personal world of products and services.

Design for experiencing as augmenting subjective experiences

Design for experiencing addresses the whole user experience considering the product related to the environment, the social situation, knowledge, culture and personality of the user.3 It puts human experience first and builds to support and enhance it (starting with real people and their needs and expectations, not with technology).3

Although the common use of the term «user experience» is recent, experiences have always been a design related topic. Nowadays, the term experience has become an umbrella concept that encompasses different aspects of the user-product interaction, including usability as well as more ephemeral feelings and additional aspects such as entertainment and events.4 Despite the fact that the term is used widely and is related to the complex domain of personal emotions, there are key differences between the study of product-related emotions and user experience studies.4

The aim of augmenting subjective experiences is to create enhanced contexts for experiencing. Focusing on an interaction-centered framework can lead designers to develop design and information methods from an experience of interaction point of view as experiences happen in a scene of various dynamic aspects.5 In an active relationship with other people, places and objects.2

Considering design for experiencing as augmenting subjective experiences, designers should focus on unveiling people’s inner needs and desires (i.e. consumers’ unmet and unconscious fantasies for a broad spectrum of product experiences with the purpose) to forecast future interaction behaviours and increase people’s awareness and acceptance of technological developments. Thus, the aesthetic understanding is sought through the subjective experience of the object to establish guiding ideas of aesthetic sensibilities and product appreciation for improved design practice. Intrinsic and affective product qualities that a designer needs to take into account in the object-user relationship were studied, so as to incorporate them into the design object and/or the design process.

To apply this approach based on augmenting subjective experiences into interaction design, different themes need to be addressed in the product development process:

• From the design team point of view, designers need to acquire a sensitive and emphatic understanding of what user-product interaction consists of and also creative skills to comprehend and assess it.6 In order to consider designing subjective experiences as a way to design a product that is multi-sensorially delightful.
• Based on this participatory approach, designers take into account the user’s point of view. Subjective experience design is about designing with people and not just for them.6 This leads to the development of new tools of design for subjective experience based on collective generation and a participatory culture.7 Generative methods are a new language that enables all stakeholders to contribute directly to the development of products and services. Participatory methods allow for the people’s need to express themselves and to participate directly and proactively in the design process.
• Thinking about integration into product design process, there are three different kinds of activities where a subjective experience approach should be used:2 understanding and evaluating existing user experiences and contexts, exploring and generating new design ideas and communicating this ideas among the design group and with the users.


This essay was partially extracted from:

- Tomico, O., Hailahti, H. and Lloveras, J. «Augmented subjective experiences: a non-intrusive way of introducing smart textiles into the everyday life», In: User Experience – Towards a unified view workshop at NordiCHI 2006, Oslo, Norway. October 2006.

- Tomico, O.: «Subjective psychological exploration techniques based in the constructivism paradigm for informational and inspirational purposes», PhD thesis, Technical University of Catalunya, 2007.


1. Dewey, J. (1934): Art as experience. New York: Perigee Books (reprint 1980).
2. Fulton Suri, J. and Buchenau, M. (2000): «Experience Prototyping», In: DIS’00, Brooklyn, New York.
3. Sanders, E. (2001): «A New Design Space», In: ICSID News: Special Congress Edition, October-December.
4. Battarbee, K. (2004): Co-Experience, Doctoral Dissertation. Publication Series of the University of Art and Design, A 51. Helsinki: UIAH.
5. Jääskö, V., Mattelmäki, T. and Ylirisku, S. (2003): «The scene of experiences», In the Proceedings of The Good, The Bad and The Irrelevant Conference, 3-5 September 2003. University of Art and Design, Helsinki.
6. Klooster, S., Appleby, R. and Overbeeke, K. (2004): Design (Education) Moves International Engineering and Product Design Education Conference. 2-3 September 2004. Delft, The Netherlands.


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