ISSUE 39   July 2003    |  updated 7/30/03    [ List of ALL BOOK REVIEWS ]


First I hated it, now I love it: why I changed my mind. Things to like about the book. Things to dislike. Buying advice.


Experience Design cover
Experience Design 1
Nathan Shedroff, 2001, New Riders Publishing, paperback: 352 pages. ISBN: 0735710783
[ more information, buy at Amazon]

I bought this book nearly a year ago and tried "reading" it. I hated it: annoying, distracting, a book trying to be a website. I have a particular dislike for designers who feel compelled to try to make print into something it's not by adopting the visual cues of websites: little graphic icons, tabs, etc. At first glance that's how I pegged Experience Design.Hell, I even hated the title, a term created and relentlessly promoted by AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) as a better description for what most of us call "interface design," "interaction design," "interactive design," etc.

While I have an immense amount of respect for the people involved in this effort, including author Shedroff, I still find the term Experience Design to be more confusing than useful. Read about it and decide for yourself at the AIGA Experience Design site.

But back to why I couldn't get past a few pages of the book. It's laid out horizontally, similar to a computer screen. It's profusely illustrated with photos, graphics, and web screenshots. The typography is often dense and hard to read. It seems to scream "I'm really, really cool!" Take a look at some sample two-page spreads from book's website.

See what I mean?

But now I'm here to tell you: if you're interested in interactive design (experience design, whatever), read (look at, scan, experience) this book. It's got more food for thought about the topic than anything I've seen since The Interactive Book by Celia Pierce (review of The Interactive Book). It also inspired me to work on a couple of interactive projects that would have ordinarily remained wishful thinking. That's saying a lot.

Cover detailWhat made the difference for me in being able to appreciate the visually rich but potentially confusing volume is reading it while on vacation. With no pressure to get a dozen other things done in the day, I was able to appreciate it in little bites rather than trying to digest it in a marathon meal.

The book's organization lends itself to this approach. Each two-page spread deals with one topic: wisdom, data, meaning, feedback, technology, about 50 in all.

Each topic is grouped with examples, often websites, sometimes places, things or activities. The detail of the cover at right shows how this works: the white type is the idea, the examples are indicated by gray. The cover, a 3-panel foldout, is the book's table of contents. Page 2 immediately launches into a description of (what else?) Experience Design. It gives a rationale for the term and the book itself:

Most technological experiences—including digital and, especially, online experiences—have paled in comparison to real-world experiences and have been relatively unsuccessful... What these solutions an understanding by their developers of what makes a good experience; then to translate these principles, as well as possible, into the desired media without the technology dictating the form of the experience.

This book contains real-world, "offline" examples to counterbalance the online examples so that we can learn from them how to create more successful experiences in new media. (pg.3)

The book's last chapter discusses "Symbolism" and is grouped with the theatrical production of The Lion King. Having seen and enjoyed the play I understand why it's included in the book, yet I'm still scratching my head as to why it's the last chapter. Since books typically wrap up, summarize, and/or draw a conclusion at the end, does this seems mean that The Lion King is the ultimate experience? Has Disney, the master of experience creation, done it again?

  • Lots of visual stimulation
  • Not a lot of text to read
  • Descriptions of great websites you probably don't know about (VirtualTourist, Haring Kids. akaKurdistan, Earthcam)
  • Insights on experiences you've had—or would like to have—yourself (Cirque du Soleil, the Vietnam Memorial, Fireflies, Emeril's Delmonico)
  • Excellent book and website resource list (also available online)
  • Energy & enthusiasm
  • Too much visual stimulation
  • Too little text to read
  • Design that frequently sacrifices readability/legibility for style

Buy it. Look at it. Read it. Do it.

PS: I bought mine used via Amazon and got a virtually perfect copy for much less than the cover price.