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VI.4 July-Aug. 1999
Page: 17
Digital Citation

Design: Expressing experiences in design

Bill Moggridge

Take, for example, a very simple object such as a champagne glass. If you think of it as a static object, you can design the shape, the proportion of the base to the stem, the material thickness, and flow. To successfully design the static object, you must also think about the requirements for manufacture and the challenges of market and distribution. On their own these aspects offer interesting challenges, but the opportunity to create an aesthetic design is richer when you design for the whole experience. Does the stem give the tips of your fingers a little tingle of pleasure? Does the aroma of the wine float toward you as you lift the glass? Does the rim feel just right against your lips? Does the sound of the material ring true and clear as you touch your glass against another? Add together the chance to design what the glass looks like as well as the experience of using it, and you have a traditional design opportunity; the challenge is simple enough for one person to be able to design for the expression of the full experience.

Compare the champagne glass to a cell phone. Both are handheld objects that you lift to your face, both are intimate, and both are designed to help you do something. The design of the shape of the cell phone has challenges similar to those of the glass and can be authored by an individual designer. The object as a whole is likely to be designed by a team that includes industrial design, interaction design, ergonomics, mechanical engineering, and hardware and software engineering. The experience of using the phone will also depend on the design of the service and the supporting infrastructure. What is it like to navigate around the software to make the call? What messages does the system give to the user? How is each transaction supported? The infrastructure is normally transparent to the user. You hope not to notice the transition between cells. You do not notice whether a satellite or a landline is being used for long-distance calls. You just assume that the conversation will be clear and uninterrupted. Creating a beautiful cell phone is similar to creating a beautiful champagne glass. Designing an engaging expression for the glass can be intuitive. For the cell phone a host of design contributions from people from many different backgrounds will be needed, so the design of the expression is more difficult. To successfully influence the whole experience, we need to know how to design for the way we speak, listen, find the right person to speak to, make connections, leave messages, know what a dial tone and a ring sound like. We need to be able to rely on an infrastructure that is smoothly engineered for seamless connectivity so that the technology is not noticeable. We need to be able to create an instrument that is small and light but also robust and reliable. It will need to be crammed with chips, circuitry, display, battery, and so on. The complexity of this combination of opportunities and challenges is impossible for a single designer to grasp, even the most renaissance person. Now we need a renaissance team, made up of people from lots of different backgrounds, dedicated to expressing experiences for objects and interactions and infrastructures. The people in the team need to trust each other to let their work overlap. They need to thrive on confusion and to be willing to experiment all the time with who does what and how it is done.

Case Studies

Following are 12 case studies about expressing experiences in design that IDEO has been involved in recently, ranging from the future of the information age to simple, everyday objects.

The first three examples are about being connected: connected listening, connected reading, and connected learning. As an infrastructure the Internet is revolutionary. Suddenly it is possible to connect any device to any other device, creating for communities new uses and services that are unrestrained by place and distance. We need to think about the way that the product or service is represented on the Web, so that the experience of being connected through the Internet helps and supports the whole experience.

The second group of three examples deals with the impact of digital technology in areas with an established tradition: listening to the radio, taking photographs, and printing images. Here the impact of technology need not be noticed if the value that is gained supports the traditional value. The expression can be designed to remember the past, and the new can merge with the old to create improvements without losing the essence of the experience.

A keyboard, an exhibit, and a space—the third group of examples—are very different from each other and yet share a common theme of interacting with complex ideas or experiences. An interactive keyboard makes music more accessible for children. An interactive exhibit discovers what people carry around with them. An interactive space helps people to work in teams with the information that they need, including those who cannot be there in person. This trio celebrates the overlap between real and virtual worlds, so that both beauty and smiles are represented seamlessly in electronic and physical embodiments.

The last three examples are unencumbered by the realities of market need and business success, exploring experiences for their own sake: the ritual of eating chocolate, a communicator to express a message between lovers, and a feather lamp that delicately combines light and motion. The chocolates express ideas about taste and feel as well as appearance and aesthetic ideas. The kiss communicator expresses the most ephemeral and emotional of messages through the medium of electronic technology. The expressiveness of the light seems to hypnotize you and keep you spell bound indefinitely.

Making Connections

bullet.gif Connected Listening

Net Audio for Audible is like an Internet Walkman for the spoken word. Download spoken books or radio excerpts, grab your player, and just press "Play." It sends a radio signal so you can throw it in your car and listen through the car radio, or carry it with a portable radio, or plug in earphones to listen directly.

There are new challenges in designing this kind of connected information product. How does the Web site help you to browse through the library of spoken books and radio programs? Is it easy to download from the computer? What does a digital audio player look like? Can you see how to use the controls? Here is an unusual chance to set a precedent, because this is the first of an emerging category. The design contains the familiar controls from tape players, in a nautilus shape reminiscent of the human ear.

Figure 1. Net Audio for Audible.

bullet.gif Connected Reading

The portable electronic book for SoftBook is designed to replace textbooks, business documents, or reference books. It is an information appliance rather than a computer: it connects automatically and directly to the Web site when plugged in to an ordinary phone line. It has a letter-sized display that turns on automatically when you open the leather cover. A monthly subscription allows you to freely download books to read. A stylus is used to search and edit content, which is then stored in your own personal library at SoftBook Press.

Why do we need an electronic book? Browsing paper books is a pleasure, with the smell of fresh ink and the feel of crisp pages. The advantage of an electronic book comes from new ways that you can read, learn, and remember: the cross-reference easily found, the notes and sketches you can add, or the highlighted summary. The design retains the familiar behavior of using a book, such as page turning and opening the cover, but exploits the power and flexibility of the new technology. The interface is not like a computer; it offers simple and direct controls, with sophisticated new options accessible using a stylus and gestural commands.

Figure 2. Portable electronic book for SoftBook.

bullet.gif Connected Learning

The StudyPro computer for NetSchools has an infrared link to connect children to the teacher in the classroom, to each other, to the school server, and to the Internet as a whole. They can browse and search for information, or send messages and work back and forth. The design has a magnesium case with rubber corner bumpers, creating a rugged but friendly form. The floating screen absorbs shock, so that it can be dropped without harm, and the keyboard will survive a spilled drink.

The StudyPro is a general-purpose computer rather than an information appliance, but it draws its power from being connected. The challenge was to design it for the rough–and-tumble of life at school and home. Its curvy bumpers offer a friendly expression as well as protecting the corners.

Figure 3. StudyPro Computer for NetSchools.

Turning Old into New

bullet.gif Digital Radio

An exploration for the BBC examines the potential opportunities of new digital radio transmission technology and demonstrates them as scenarios of use. One scenario shows a radio that is shared by everyone in the family; another shows a personal radio that can learn about its owner; a third shows a series of special-purpose radios used by one person in different situations.

Radio is a strong auditory medium, allowing the imagination to roam in the visual realm, painting vivid images to support the sound picture. Visible radio needs to be separated from the stream of sound, rather than being integrated with it like television. Digital radio can be used to make your choices visible, to help you to know what’s on and to find your way around. It can add new services like games or audience participation, but it should be designed with a polite deference to the tradition of radio, from wireless to digital audio broadcasting.

Figure 4.

Figure 5. BBC Digital Radio

bullet.gif Digital Moment

The interaction architecture of digital cameras and other imaging products and services makes manipulating digital images easy and intuitive and allows the camera user to concentrate on pictures and not process. The filmstrip idea on the little screen makes it easy to find the picture you want. The architecture is applied across the whole system, so that the user has a consistent experience, whether capturing, reviewing, or outputting images, networking with a personal computer, or setting preferences.

A camera is a good example of an information appliance. Just a few years ago, a camera was a mechanical and optical instrument with a chemical film. Little by little the computer chips invaded. First it was automatic exposure, then auto-focus and red-eye removal; now digital memory is replacing film. We still think of it as a camera, though, dedicated simply to the task of capturing images, but it is not just a camera anymore. It’s a camera, an album, and a way of editing and choosing. Somehow the design expression has to support all of these things. For Kodak the challenge is to create an interactive experience that supports the brand and the feeling of the right "Kodak moment."

Figure 6. Digital Camera for Kodak.

bullet.gif Digital Printing

Printing technologies, with high resolution and speed at low cost, are matching the qualities of the developed photograph, blurring digital and analog. Printers have evolved as computer peripherals in an office. As they start being used to print photographs in the home, they deserve a different tradition. This project, working with a team of designers at Epson, explores ways in which digital printing can fit into our lives and the domestic environment. A "drawer for drawings" houses the printer in a wooden cabinet. "Kinetic deliverance" supports the print on a delicate wire frame that moves out with the print. "Memory developing" delivers the print into a tray that is reminiscent of the darkroom developing. "Mysterious thoughts" is covered in a white fabric that moves slightly as the print head travels back and forth. These ideas attempt to place the value on the printed image rather than the printer itself. Abstracted references to the act of making a photograph, or the use of a piece of furniture, allow people to use their own remembered experiences as a key to the new uses and functions.

Figure 7. "A drawer for drawings", "Memory developing", "Mysterious Thought", and "Kinetic Deliverance" for Epson.

Giving and Taking

bullet.gif Interactive Keyboard

The orange, yellow, and blue buttons on this interactive keyboard for Yamaha are coded to the selection of tunes and rhythms and presented in instrument groups indicated by icons. Children can experiment with and enjoy sounds without needing any skill with the piano keys. This setup can lead naturally into learning to play the keyboard.

There is a delicate balance here between inviting kids to experiment without destroying the inherent qualities of a musical instrument. Somehow the experience has to be both easy and challenging at the same time. The shape is like a pillow that protects the piano keys and contains the bubbling music, so that the object invites play. The traditional keyboard demands patience and skill to learn, but the synthesized sounds and music are made easy to access by the color coding and grouping. Projects like this need teams of contributors with strong points of view: the musician, the industrial designer, and the interaction designer.

Figure 8. Interactive Keyboard for Yamaha.

bullet.gif Interactive Collections

An interactive exhibit sponsored by Interval Research examines the things that people carry with them in their bags and pockets. The resulting information is compiled into a digital database and forms part of an ongoing research inquiry into portability. Photographs are taken of the visitors’ feet and everything that the visitors are carrying. Ergonomic carrying advice is offered, and questions are posed in the form of text and voice messages. The database can be browsed through a "fruit machine" station that allows visitors to compare the information about themselves with data gathered from people who came before.

The design of the exhibit must be engaging and entertaining enough to make you feel willing to give information about yourself. The system is gathering lots of useful and interesting information about each individual and putting it into a large database. Conversely, the user gets to have personal insights about what she carries around and why. She also gets to see the big database and experience this slightly voyeuristic insight into what lots of people carry around.

Figure 9. Interactive Collections exhibit by Interval Research.

bullet.gif Interactive Space

People want to work together in a space that helps them to access information fluently and connects them to others who are far away. Networks allow people to work from home or contribute to teamwork without physically being with the other people. This is making the office more of a social place, improved for collaboration and knowledge transfer. Media-rich spaces create a more seamless integration of physical and virtual. A collaborative environment for Steelcase allows team members to manipulate both the information content and physical characteristics of the space. The space becomes the surface on which information can be displayed, whether electronically or with traditional media.

The room is becoming a computer and the computer is becoming a room. This merging of physical and virtual space is exciting, but we also want to be able to move fluently between information that is represented electronically and physically, for example, between a projected display and a whiteboard. The designs of real and virtual information can be separate but linked.

Figure 10. Interactive space for Steelcase.

Adding Expressiveness

bullet.gif Expressive Tastes

The unique qualities of chocolate inspired a group of IDEO designers to search for new ways of both manufacturing and eating, resulting in a collection emphasizing ritual, delight, inquiry, and surprise. One example is a kit that you can assemble yourself, lick and stick, and eat everything, including the frame. If you don’t like chocolate, choose the gel capsule with the chocolate inside. It will dissolve gradually in your stomach, postponing the effect of the caffeine and inhibiting the taste of the chocolate. Try the coffee experience: a chocolate spear seals a hard candy filled with liqueur. Stir your coffee with it, so that the chocolate melts, making liqueur coffee and leaving chocolate for you to eat.

The idea of designing chocolates reminds us that there is potential to design for all five senses. We are used to designing to please the eye, and designing the sound and the feel. Here is a chance for a richer sensuality as we also design for taste and smell.

Figure 11. A Chocolate Kit that you assemble and eat, gel capsule w/ chocolate inside, and coffee experience chocolate spear.

bullet.gif Expressive Messages

This exploration allows an exchange of emotional information between two lovers through a handheld device that sees the pattern in a blown kiss. You blow on the central slot and the electronics translate the impulse into a series of pulsating lights, which are then transmitted to your partner.

Your partner far away sees a slow glow on an equivalent device, showing that a message has arrived. Unless it is touched, it will fade away, but if it is picked up and squeezed, it will play a repeat of the message that was transmitted, but in complementary colors. The ephemeral message plays back only once and, like a wave across the room or a touch on the arm, is not stored or retrieved electronically.

Figure 12. Blown Kiss.

bullet.gif Expressive Lamp

Light, shadow, motion, and reflection—the feather lamp forms an environment through the behavior of light and the gentle motion of the cast shadow, integrating high-technology carbon fiber material with eggshell and feather.

A carbon-fiber rod extends vertically from the supporting base. A horizontal rod is balanced across the top, with a halogen lamp at the end, half enclosed by a cast form made of eggshells. The counterbalance is formed by a third rod that positions the feather of a dove just above the lamp. As the feather approaches, the convection current from the light source wafts it gently upward, casting a varying shadow on the ceiling above. The gently expanding and contracting shadow soothes with a hypnotic delicacy.

Figure 13. Expressive Lamp.


This column is adapted from material first published in the Royal Society of Arts Journal, London.


Bill Moggridge
IDEO Design & Product Development
700 High Street
Palo Alto, CA 94301 USA
Fax: +1-650-322-6321

Design Column Editors
Austin Henderson
Rivendel Consulting & Design, Inc.
P.O. Box 334
8115 La Honda Rd. (for courier services)
La Honda, CA 94020 USA
fax: +1-650-747-0467

Kate Ehrlich
Senior Research Manager
Lotus Development Corporation
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Cambridge, MA 02142 USA
fax: +1-617-693-8383


The following collaborators contributed to each of the foregoing case studies.

Connected listening. Working with Audible, IDEO contributors were Thomas Overthun (industrial design), Sam Hu and Greg Hayes (mechanical engineering), Scott Brenneman and Tony Rosetti (electrical engineering), and Tim Billings (manufacturing liaison).

Connected reading. Working with SoftBook Press, IDEO contributors were Dennis Boyle (project lead), Joost Godee (industrial design), Duane Bray (interaction design), Leon Segal (human factors), and Phil Hobson (mechanical engineering).

Connected learning. Working with NetSchools, IDEO contributors were Gretchen Barnes (industrial design) and Alex Kazaks and Rickson Sun (engineering).

Digital radio. Working with the BBC, IDEO designers were Tracy Currer and Nick Dormon.

Digital moment. Working with the Eastman Kodak Design, Usability and Engineering staff, IDEO contributors were Larry Shubert (project lead), Mat Hunter (interaction design), Jane Fulton Suri (human factors), and Nick Oakley (industrial design).

Digital printing. Epson designers were Mugio Kawasaki (kinetic deliverance), Hirokazu Yamano (mysterious thoughts), and Shoichi Ishizawa (drawer for drawings). IDEO designers were Naoto Fukasawa (project lead) and Sam Hecht (memory developing).

Interactive keyboard. Working with Yamaha, IDEO contributors were Takeshi Ishiguro (industrial design) and Hector Moll-Carillo (interaction design).

Interactive collections. Working with Rachel Strickland, Jonathan Cohen, Laurie Vertelney, Rebecca Fuson, Lorna Ross, Bill Verplank, Russell Zeidner, Maribeth Back, and Lauren Page at Interval, and Daniell Hebert, Jim Phillips, and Gordon Fair at MOTO, IDEO contributors were Colin Burns, Peter Spreenberg, Hector Moll-Carillo, and Dennis Poon.

Interactive space. Working with Steelcase, IDEO contributors were Jim Yurchenco (project lead), Bob Arko (industrial design), Marion Buchenau (interaction design), Chuck Seiber (mechanical engineering), and Ed Kirk (electrical engineering).

Expressive tastes. Frank Friedman, Naoto Fukasawa, Philip Grebe, Sam Hecht, Takeshi Ishiguro, Nick Oakley, David Peschel, Matthew Rohrbach, Gary Schultz, Christopher Weeldreyer (design).

Expressive messages. Duncan Kerr and Heather Martin (design).

Expressive lamp. Takeshi Ishiguro (design).


F1Figure 1. Net Audio for Audible.

F2Figure 2. (above) Portable electronic book for SoftBook.

F3Figure 3. (bottom) StudyPro Computer for NetSchools.

F4Figure 4. (above)

F5Figure 5. BBC Digital Radio

F6Figure 6. Digital Camera for Kodak.

F7Figure 7. (clockwise) from top left) "A drawer for drawings", "Memory developing", "Mysterious Thought", and "Kinetic Deliverance" for Epson.

F8Figure 8. Interactive Keyboard for Yamaha.

F9Figure 9. (top) Interactive Collections exhibit by Interval Research.

F10Figure 10. (bottom) Interactive space for Steelcase.

F11Figure 11. (clockwise from top left) A Chocolate Kit that you assemble and eat, gel capsule w/ chocolate inside, and coffee experience chocolate spear.

F12Figure 12. Blown Kiss.

F13Figure 13. Expressive Lamp.

Copyright is held by the author
©ACM 1072-5220/99/0700

The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 1999 ACM, Inc.


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