Jan-Christoph Zoels & Experientia

September 27th, 2010 by NearInteraction

Jan-Christoph Zoels

Photo: Thanks to Matt Cottam

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a fascinating lecture by Jan-Christoph Zoels entitled “Imagining behavioral change”.

Jan-Christoph Zoels is a senior partner at Experientia, based in Torino, Italy. His credentials are rather impressive; have a look at his public Linkdin profile here: Jan-Christoph Zoels on Linkdin.

Experientia is an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

- Jan-Christoph Zoels on Linkdin.

Jan-Christoph Zoels

Photo: Thanks to blese

What is experience design?

As a person travels through the various “touch points” of a brand like say, the City of London for example, they will come into contact with numerous interactions, communications, products, services and people. These all require designers working on very focused outcomes, but it’s often the job of experience design to envision and guide the overall journey, the bigger picture.

Society has made incredible progress on the backs of specialists working in narrowly focused disciplines. But today we face complex problems with no single owner or discipline capable of providing comprehensive solutions. Not unlike cooking, the solution today is not in any one ingredient, but in the mix.

-Marco Steinberg; from the Stroke Pathways Project, Harvard Design School. From low2no.org

Designing the bigger picture implies a far more integrated and strategic approach. You work with larger and more complex variables like societal values, cultures, governments and global issues. Experience designers envision mid to long term scenarios and rely on contextual research to thoroughly understand and frame the problem. This means that the work is generally a lot more challenging and complex than more focused design, but often the impact is often more profound. If you are one of those designers who wants to be involved in “change the world” type design, then you need to work in experience design. Be prepared to work in large teams though; effective experience design means bringing a vast array of skills to bear on any one project.

People are our key reference point. They guide us when we conduct research, develop creative strategies, create solutions, design prototypes and test results.

- Jan-Christoph Zoels on Linkdin.

Complex and strategic projects with high stakes imply a heavy emphasis on research. Jan-Christoph stressed the paramount importance of understanding the people and the context for which you are designing.

Designing change.

A powerful example of their approach is their work on a challenging “Low to no” carbon emission district for twenty-five thousand people to work, live and play in Helsinki, Finland.

Recognizing the need and opportunity to improve sustainable building practices, Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, in collaboration with the City of Helsinki, invited partnerships of design, architecture and business to propose solutions to a truly complex and fundamentally important challenge that has every potential to become a benchmark in the design of sustainable urban development:

Experientia was part of the winning team which included ARUP, Sauerbruch Hutton and Galley Eco Capital.

c_life 1

The challenge implied unraveling an incredibly complex set of contextual design problems:

• Envision and design a sustainable development framework (for the site) that is both replicable, adaptable and has large-scale applicability.
• Design a vision for the project that will create and facilitate systemic change.
• Design a robust means of evaluating sustainability performance.

c_life 2

c_life3

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Above are highly cropped versions of the project slides, see the full slides in full size along with other project info on the low2no site here. The entire proposal is available here as a PDF: Download PDF. Below is a recording the project presentation:

Research in design.

Its clear that a primary role that Experientia played in this project was in understanding and framing the problem, generating the contextual insights on which an effective design could be based. Jan-Christoph explained some of the methodology that was employed.
They believe on a thoroughly hands-on and user-centered approach that includes, besides the usual, bodystorming (knowledge gained through engaging with the actual activity/ problem physically), shadowing (observation of people as they go about their lives), and participatory design (shock and horror – involving the actual users in the design process).

knowledge wheel

The idea that business strategy needs to become more “design-like” has been kicking about for some time now. But, as Experientia was able to demonstrate in this project, creative strategy and strategic design is not enough, you need solid research.

Interaction design in general, as a inter-disciplinary activity concerned with complex interactions and systems is likewise reliant on research to be truly effective. I think we are going to see a lot more ethnographic researchers finding their way into strategic and interaction design agencies. Traditional universities and design schools are perhaps going to need to meet half way: designers need to understand and respect the need for research while not necessarily being research experts, and social researchers need to understand innovation, business strategy and the design process.

Explore further.
Articles by Jan-Christoph on the Expeientia blog.
Pre-presentation interviewJan-Christoph at LIFT07
Keynote speech at LIFT 07