home organizers call for participation (pdf) extended abstract accepted papers workshop details community page

important dates:

Feb 11, 2011 submission dl

Mar 1, 2011 Notification of acceptance

May 7, 2011 workshop @ CHI2011


Designer Experience:
Exploring Ways to Design in Experience

Extended Abstract (in PDF)


User-centered design (UCD) under the umbrella of user experience (UX) has gained momentum as the de facto standard to produce successful products and services. Use of products is seen as a highly personal and context-sensitive balancing act that derives its uniqueness from the actions and emotions of the users.
While the definition for user experience is still in the making, it is hoped to extend the designing of products beyond functionality toward users’ perceptions and emotions. As the practices for designing UX are emerging, we would like to address the UCD challenge from a different perspective. Therefore, in this paper we introduce designer experience as means to design products in an experiential level, that of beyond contextual or empathic design. We welcome critical discussion on the existence and feasibility of designer experience, seek out available methodology to reliably invoke it and collect practical future uses for designer experience.


User-centered design, user experience, designer experience, designing in user’s experiential system


User-Centered Design (UCD) has established itself almost as de facto standard for the design and development of quality products and services (hereinafter products). It’s rationale being to understand the needs of the users and then provide a good and desirable solution for them. Of late the term user experience (UX) has become an umbrella for all design activities. It aims to maximize product’s impact on the users on a subjective and context-sensitive manner over offering merely the needed functionality [1].

User-Centered Design in General

A good designer knows the users and their environments, she understands their needs and by combination of learned designer skills and intuition she can create for them the best possible product. Unfortunately, the level of skill and use of available methodology varies from stereotypical and inaccurate prejudices, copying the competitors’ prior solutions to use of state-of-the-art co-design and inspirational tools (as depicted in table 1). Regardless of methods used, the designer wields absolute power over the final design. These decisions are made based on her personal judgment and designer skills.
Designers aim to narrow the gap between the product and its users, the design intention and users’ product perceptions. At the same time a good designer understands the impact of her design. This is not only a question of how well the designer understands the people for whom she is designing for - she must also acknowledge that the observable human is not a user before there is a product or a service that can be used [2].

Table 1. Levels of Intimacy between designers and future users.
Table 1. Levels of Intimacy between designers and future users.

We argue that this requires deeper intimacy between the designers and the future users of their products. This intimacy can be understood also as a likeness in actions and thinking between the designers and the future users.

The worst case scenario is that a designer only recognizes groups of people with common characteristics. As the designer gets closer to the future users by employing various design practices, she eventually becomes able to understand the future user’s thinking and behavior at a certain situation on a rational level (q.v. level 5 in table 1). However, this is not the ultimate level of likeness.

Designer Experience

Often is said that designers are not users, and they should not design for themselves, but for the users. What if a designer could be more like a user, would it automatically improve the quality of design?
In this workshop we explore ways to enable the designers to get closer to their target audience and experience like the future users. As a basis for discussion we propose a new approach called designer experience (DX). With designer experience we mean the designer’s ability to accurately and truthfully immerse her into the same or similar experiential system (ES) as the future users. We propose that if a designer can reach the same experiential system as the future user, she may be able to capture a glimpse of the irrational, non-deterministic side of the users. These psychological and experiential aspects are generally seen as the most challenging part of user experience and design for experience.

In method acting, an actor immerses himself deeply to his role character’s experiential system to create and master the character he seeks to portray, “The method actor creates an organic and imaginative performance by experiencing or living through the role [3].” By doing so the actor lessens the impact of his acting education, factual knowledge and provided script to give more weight to the experiences and emotions invoked by the experiential system and their own memories. We see value in similar approach to design, where the designer seeks the best solutions by exposing herself to the future user’s experiences – even to the ones that do not yet exist as there is no product or a user yet.

Designer Experience is a holistic understanding and a state of mind towards the users, their contexts of use and competencies during the design process. In table 2 we correlate the most relevant aspects of experiential systems to the levels of intimacy. This table suggests that social, psychological and emotional dimensions are more difficult to transfer to the designers.
Understanding how to invoke designer experience requires understanding the fundamentals of the experiential systems. The closest comparable fields are designing for user experience or emotional design.

Table 2. Aspects of UCD leading to Designer Experience

Table 2. Aspects of UCD leading to Designer Experience

Level of Systemic Mastery:
+ = low
o = medium
X = high

Goals and Themes

The goal of this workshop is to bring together researchers and designers in order to explore the existence and feasibility of designer experience or designing in experiential systems. What methodology is available for invoking designer experience and what are the relevant research topics and practical future uses for designer experience?

Existence and feasibility of DX

Designer experience is multifaceted and multidisciplinary design paradigm by nature.

Ways to invoke DX

Methods and arrangements to emulate user’s experiences to the designers enabling the use of shared experiential system to assess users’ irrational needs.

Research topics and future uses for DX

The usage of the DX paradigm requires changes to both attitudes and methodologies of design activities.

Workshop Activities

During the workshop above themes are addressed. Firstly by short presentation of participants’ own position papers and ideas, which are then harmonized under the themes via mind maps and affinity diagrams. Results are gathered to posters that are then presented and debated among all participants.


The research leading to this paper has been partially funded by Tekes - the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, and Nokia Research Center.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of these organizations.


  1. International standard ISO 9241-210:2010(E). Ergonomics of human-system interaction -- Part 210: Human-centred design for interactive systems. 2010.
  2. Redström, J. Towards User Design? On the Shift from Object to User as the Subject of Design. Design Studies 27 (2006), 123–139.
  3. Krasner, D (ed.). Method acting reconsidered: theory, practice, future. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY, USA, 2000.