Experience Designer – A Modern Myth

So, who wants to be an Experience Designer? Apparently everyone in the design world. The term “Experience Design” or “Experience Designer” has become today’s unicorn of titles. The term conjures up  images of designers dressed in black contemplating great things, and then, designing happiness and wonderful actions, places or things.

The world as we know it, tends to over use a term, not for its accuracy, rather for the attention or superiority of a given term. People and companies want to be seen as trendy or leading edge. So, by using terms such as Experience Design or Experience Designer, most people are unfamiliar with, the person or company is perceived to be exceptional.

I challenge you, the reader, with this simple question, do these “Experience Designers” really exist? Are these magical creatures walking among us?

Before I offer my answer or ask you to answer this, let me take you on a tour of terms and truths. Let’s begin with design or designer. Here is how Webster Dictionary defines Design.

“…to intend for a definite purpose, to form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan.

Now Designer;

“…a person who devises or executes designsespecially one who creates forms, structures, and patterns, as for works of art or machines.

Okay, I agree that designs and designers come in many forms and can plan many various things or actions. I do not question that designers exist. These are not the design world’s magical mythical unicorns.

Next, let’s see how Webster Dictionary defines “Experience.

…a particular instance of personally encountering or undergoing something:

…knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed, encountered, or undergone:”

Just as there are animals that possess a single horn in our world and the fact that horses do exist does not give enough proof that unicorns, a horse with a single horn, are real. Taking two true things does not always provide the possible actuality of a mythological creature existing.

I digress. Lets get back to the “Experience Designer”, the so-called modern super designer. If we look at the title in its literal intent, we can begin to see some questionable issues immediately.

Take the designer, a planner of intent of action or thing, combine with an experience, a personal observation or encounter occurring over a period of time, add the description of an Experience Designer and the final definition would be something like…

“…to intend for a definite purpose, to form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan of a personal observation, encounter or undergoing over a period of time.”

For me, it’s about three issues, the first being the issue of being personal. To be personal, means it is internalized by the person who has encountered or observed something. Each person perceives, encounters or observes input differently and a differently at various times.

The second issue is memory. In essence, an experience is a memory of something observed, encountered or undergone. It is personal construct interpretation of that thing or action reflected upon. Notice the tense of this statement as it leads to my third issue.

The third issue is of tense. By the basic nature of what an experience is, the timing of an experience is in the past. Experiencing, present form, is the combination current events and comparing to past experiences or memories if it is similar and a duration of time as the event unfolds. An experience is the refection or memory of that occurrence. We are looking back upon that which has occurred, not looking ahead of what will occur, that is anticipation, not an experience.

My question about the mythological Experience Designer is this, how can a single individual or discipline have the ability, extensive knowledge and personal insight of a single individual, possibly never having previous knowledge of, have the ability to understand and design for that person and others and anticipate how they will respond, at any given point in time, to the design as well as how that memory will be formulated and constructed?

Simply, no one I know. Someone would have to be a mind reader, be able to see in to the future and have the mental compactly to design at multiple levels for endless possibilities and conditions. Makes you wonder who fits this criteria. Who could actually design how people remember?

All I ask is that the title to be true in application to avoid “Busswordiness”, be more accurate with your terms. For instance, I believe designers can design the staging of an experience or even design the environment encapsulating the space an experience could happen. I believe branding designers can create communications that speak to a possible experience through narrative storyline. I would even go as far as to say that I believe there are performance designers who can educate and train people on the best possible performance to support an experience, but, until we can implant custom designed and engineered memories, to me, the mythical “Unicorns” of the design world called Experience Designers or Experience Design does not exist.

Terms that are truer: Experiential Environment Designer, Experience Stagers, Experiential Event Designer and Experience Economy Experts.


What do you think? Do Unicorns exist in your reality?

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