11: Offering Depiction: Varying The Variables

The author distinguishes between the role of the designer and the explorer: the explorer discovers new possibilities; the designer depicts the way in which they might be realized. (EN: This seems similar to the scientist/engineer relationship, which also distinguishes the process of discovery of knowledge from the use of knowledge in practical application).

In this regard, he suggests an "Experience Design Canvas" as a tool for "designers of experiences" as a tool for depicting how digital solutions would be crafted to leverage discoveries. The author presents a hexagonal diagram: three axes that depict time, matter, and space, and shading he 'pie slices" between the vertexes, and then attempts to explain it.

(EN: It's a very awkward graphic that doesn't seem particularly meaningful, and the explanation is not very enlightening. I did a search to see if someone else explains or demonstrates its usefulness better, but the term is only used in reference to this book, or another by the same author, which is a strong sign that it's not something that is particularly meaningful or useful.)

Depicting Experiences

Existing and familiar experiences can be depicted on the Experience Design Canvas to appreciate their nature in terms of time, space, and matter. This is a prerequisite step to comparing present experience to a proposed alternative (which will be discussed afterward).

Start with a bicycle ride through a park, which is a thoroughly real experience: real location, real bicycle, real time. How much do each of these factors contribute to the user's enjoyment of the experience?

Altering the variables does not necessarily push us into different realms of the multiverse: riding a different (but still real) bicycle might improve the experience and remain grounded in reality, or riding through a different (but still real) environment might be more enjoyable.

Naturally, the consequence to replacing reality comes with various costs: if the rider would better enjoy a different bicycle, he must make a purchase; if he would like a different location, he must travel there; if he wanted a different sequence of events, he must take a circuitous route.

Already, we begin to see how virtualization can alter the experience: a virtual bicycle can be changed and reconfigured easily, as can the projection of a different environment or sequence of events.

A Variable Design Expedition

The approach discussed in the previous chapter involved grounding one or more of the parameters of time, space, and matter to the constraints of reality while treating the others as variables. The "varying the variables" exercise ignores the realms of the multiverse and instead focuses on the variables themselves.

The exercise begins with depicting a familiar offering, yours or someone else's, and mapping it on the time/space/matter axes just as it is. Then, consider the position of the variables and the reason that they are configured such as they are. The author poses a number of questions to ask, but they essentially boil down to three:

  1. What is the reason each variable is plotted where it is? The answer may have to do with a constraint of technology, the nature of the experience, or the desire of the customer.
  2. How can I change that variable? It may be obvious, or it may take some brainstorming to determine what might be done to move a given variable to one direction or the other.
  3. What would be the consequences of this change? Consider, from the user's perspective, how the change would give him more or less value, and more or less cost (money, time, effort) as opposed to the present solution.

In addition to considering the changes to one variable, consider covariance: two variables may be in conflict, or changing one might impact another.

Ultimately, this exploration will generate a number of new ideas but, more significantly, it will give you a better sense of the consequences of change, for better or for worse, to assess whether the idea is valuable - not all "new" ideas are.

Customer Sacrifice

This exercise brings us closer to experience design, where we consider not only what might be possible, but evaluating whether the consequences of making such a change are ultimately beneficial. It forces us to recognize that changing an experience has detrimental consequences, and assess whether the user will be losing more than he will gains by using a new/alternative method of accomplishing his goals.

And further, we can consider whether "customer sacrifice" can be mitigated. It may be possible to increase the reward with a lesser impact on the increase in cost, or to decrease the cost with a lesser impact on the increased reward, and to further refine the raw idea until it becomes viable.

The author provides an extended consideration of the progression of music, from gramophone to vinyl records, then to compact disks, then to electronic downloads. The user gained the ability to make music portable, easier to sort through and play a given tune, less cumbersome in the size of the device and the media, etc. What is overlooked is that the user gave up the jacket artwork and liner notes that used to accompany a record, were minimized to a small booklet for the CD, and are utterly absent for MP3 music. To some, that was a sacrifice, but most users don't consider it to be a major drawback - what they gained from the change is so much more than what they lost.

(EN: The author misses an earlier stage of music, before it was recorded and you had to either hire musicians or go to a live concert. In that sense, the gramophone was a device that delivered virtual reality and liberated music from space, matter, and time. But in another sense, people still go to live performances and have a much different and richer experience that demonstrates that the experience of recorded music is different and in many ways inferior - the real trade is richness of this experience for the convenience of having a recording.)

A second example involves human interaction. The telephone overcame the need for people to be in the same physical location to converse with one another, and the cell phone extended this ability by cutting the physical cord to allow people to do so from anywhere. But the telephone conversation lacks the visual component. To get this back, teleconferencing and video chat enable people to see one another, though the experience is still somewhat lacking" people appear in small windows, and never can quite look one another in the because the camera is not in the monitor, but slightly off. To go a bit further, many companies have telepresence, which moves things in the opposite direction: people now have to go to a specific room in their building to participate in the illusion that people they are speaking to are sitting around the same table, taking us back to an even stricter limitation of space than the land-line telephone.

Both of these examples demonstrate ways in which technology has liberated us from time, space, and/or matter, but to gain this benefit, the customer has had to settle for something that is not quite as good in other regards. Assuming that the sacrifice is acceptable is where many inventors go wrong, and fail to gain or sustain significant adoption.

Variable Guidance

Tips and guidelines: