LOOP: AIGA Journal of Interaction Design Education
June 2003 Number 7
How are they made and what do they offer?
|Margaret Morris and Arnie Lund Sapient|
The authors describe Sapient?s development of experience models and the collaboration that takes place among researchers, visual design communicators and information architects. Case examples illustrate the value of experience models, most importantly as tools to identify strategic business and design opportunities not previously considered by clients.
simple line intersected by arrows was drawn across a white board. The
arrows pointed to anecdotes including those of a 60-year-old man who calls his
mom at the first sign of a sniffle, a mother who insists that her children
discard their toothbrushes if they are coming down with a cold and a 30-year-old
professional woman who continues to take vitamin C for two weeks after
recovering from a cold. A team of researchers had been developing this diagram for six hours when one of them pronounced, “It’s
not just about having a cold, it’s about getting it and getting over
This may not sound like a major breakthrough, but to the
researchers at E-Lab (which is now Sapient’s experience modeling
group) and to its client, a large pharmaceutical company, the insight
was profound. From this revelation, the group went on to create a graphic
model outlining four distinct phases to experiencing a common cold. Why
is this significant? As it turns out, the experience of common colds has
previously not been well understood. Pharmaceutical companies, including
Sapient’s client, tended to view getting sick as a one-stage phenomenon,
so they sold products targeting only that one stage.
The practice of breaking down an experience
and visually communicating its key elements is what we at Sapient call “experience
modeling.” We see this modeling of user experience—a practice
developed by E-Lab—as a crucial step in helping our clients identify
strategic business and design opportunities.
Experience modeling begins with ethnographic
data collection. Sapient, with the acquisition of E-lab, has been a pioneer
in this observational research approach. Our research team consists of
anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, literary theorists, historians
and artists—all trained observers of human behavior and cultural
context. Instead of relying on focus groups, we collect data from the
contexts of people’s everyday lives. This can involve videotaping
people washing their hair or observing site developers as they register
for a program license online. Instead of quizzing consumers directly about
what they want, we observe behavior and ask open-ended questions in order
to surmise how people will respond to new offerings. The goal is to look
at a small number of people in great detail rather than try to establish
statistically significant results through quantitative research.
However, what separates Sapient’s
approach from other consulting firms is how we analyze and use the data
we have collected. Typically, the results of any user research might be
summarized in a research report, which may also include user profiles
and scenarios. But at Sapient we distill our collected research into experience
models. Models have long been used by scientists as tools to think with—representations of
complex relationships that provide others with an “a-ha” moment
of insight. With the same goal in mind, we create experience models to
capture and convey our analysis of the data we’ve collected in the
Our method of modeling experience has evolved
through years of experimentation and improvement at E-Lab and now at Sapient.
We continually develop new types of models to meet each unique
situation. We generally provide each client with a number of experience
models to address a range of issues and user groups. One of our most common
approaches models the evolution of an experience over a distinct period
of time—segmented into phases that are meaningful to the user. As
demonstrated by the common cold example above, the difference between
how a company and its customers define the phases of an experience can,
by itself, be illuminating.
Another common approach
is to model the course of customers’ relationships with a product
or service. An example of this type of model—looking at cellular
phone usage—follows. Models such as this one were developed to show
how different user types evolve from viewing a cellular phone as a single-function
appliance to experiencing it as an essential life tool. These lifecycle
models outlined what customers valued at different stages in the adoption
path and what prompted them to upgrade their service. The insights from
the models led to design recommendations that would allow the client’s
website to accommodate the specific information needs of customers with
different orientations to cellular phones, and at different stages in
their evolution as cell phone users. For example, the finding that certain
users rely heavily on peer advice when deciding on service options led
to the inclusion of third party input in the forms of links and reviews.
Other types of users were found to purchase phones primarily as tools
to manage family and social relationships. These users were likely to
fully adopt the phone as a tool and maximize its capabilities to the extent
that it allowed them to manage these relationships with increasing sophistication.
As a result, it was recommended that the website highlight features such
as multiple-person information management. The model provided an understanding
not only of the different ways that people make cellular phones a part
of their lives, but also of how these different approaches to cellular
phones evolve over time. This understanding informed the effective bundling
and linking of types of information in the site design.
This model shows how one type of user evolves
from viewing a cellular phone as a single-function appliance to experiencing
it as an essential life tool.
Team members sketch out preliminary frameworks
using precut “shapes” to illustrate the relationships among
data points (e.g., quotes, photographs and other images). As the team’s
frameworks and ideas evolve, so does the appearance of the room. Researchers
continually “turn the room,” replacing older content with
newer ideas. To maintain a running history of the analysis, contents
are captured with text or digital images before they are replaced.
How do we go about making these models? The process of distilling
data into a meaningful and accessible representation generally takes anywhere
from several weeks to several months and requires the involvement of core project
researchers and sometimes also members of design and consulting team. We start
by setting aside a project room lined with white boards, tack boards and
poster size post-its. This room becomes the container and catalyst for
the group’s analysis. Researchers move in and out of this room, alternating
between individual and group work.
The final models are then developed primarily
through close collaboration between researchers and visual communicators.
Visual communicators join the research team at the very beginning of the
project and for periods of analysis. After learning about initial findings
and observing the frameworks that researchers are using to represent them,
they generate draft models. These models are posted in the project room
with two goals: to get feedback on the models and to stimulate the team’s
analysis. These preliminary models may be refined or completely discarded—the
important thing at this stage is that they generate critical thought.
Early on, the models are often paper drawings; later they are represented
digitally—sometimes in interactive forms.
The diagram below shows an experience model’s
phases of development for a project on workspace design. This model was
created for an internal project about how people at Sapient work in teams
and use work spaces. The model originated from a data sort of all
the work activities observed by the researchers and evolved as these activities were collapsed into broader conceptual categories.
The final experience model illustrated that productive collaboration
requires spaces that support individual as well as group work and spaces
that allow for workers’ varying degrees of tolerance to interruption.
At various points in analysis, story review
sessions are held in the project room with a larger audience that
includes additional researchers, visual communicators (graphic designers
trained in interpreting and communicating research findings) and sometimes
also strategists, information architects, designers and site developers.
The project team presents an initial story about how the data fits
together, pointing to visible data and preliminary models to convey
key themes. The audience then collaborates with the team to develop
the story and to refine the models.
Final experience model
How are experience models used?
Experience models should not only provide understanding but also advance
thought. An early draft model provides a visual representation of the
team’s thinking that serves to propel the analysis forward. Once
a model is complete—when the team feels satisfied with its coherence
and complexity—it is shared with the client and with other members
of the consulting team, who use it as the basis for honing the client’s
business and design strategies. With the model, the consulting team and
client collaboratively identify business and design strategies through
a process called “opportunity mapping.” They analyze the gaps
between the client’s current offerings and what its customers want
and expect. The team and client then prioritize identified opportunities
in terms of their business value and importance to customers.
However, even before opportunity mapping
begins, experience models provide value to clients. Models allow both
the client and the consulting team to get under the skin of the user
before they plan new business or design strategies. This is key, as the
frequent failure of business initiatives and web offerings clearly indicates.
Like all of us, corporate executives and their marketing teams often overestimate
their ability to assess others’ perceptions and motivations—even
when it comes to something as familiar as getting over a common cold.
The authors wish to thank Nicole K. Farrar, Simon Pulman-Jones,
Jeanette Blomberg, Mark Burrell and Martha Cotton for their contributions
to this article.
Margaret Morris is a senior experience modeler in
Sapient’s San Francisco office. At Sapient, she has primarily concentrated
on the user experience of technology products and services. She is a psychologist
whose research focuses on how people respond to the environment, broadly
defined to include architecture, products and the Internet. She has studied
how aspects of the environment affect emotional states, self-perception,
consumer-behavior, social interaction and work processes. In addition,
she has examined how people express personality in their immediate environments
and how people assess other’s personalities based on their living
and work environments. Other areas of past research include self-schemas,
cultural differences in health psychology, narrative analyses of development
and change, and process and outcome research on traditional and alternative
health care. Prior to joining Sapient in July of 2000, Morris completed
her postdoctoral work in clinical psychology at Stanford University.
Arnold Lund is a director of User Experience and
Thought Leadership in Sapient’s Denver office. He is responsible
for identifying new user-centered design techniques, and in ensuring compelling
user experiences are created that deliver business value. Lund has spent
more than 20 years working in the area of human factors, conducting user
research and designing for a variety of emerging technologies. He began
his career at AT&T Bell Laboratories and was subsequently hired by Ameritech
as senior director of Human Factors and Emerging Technologies where he
helped start the Science and Technology organization. Before joining Sapient,
he was director of New Media Design and Usability at Qwest Advanced Technologies.
He served as the general and technical program cochair for the 1998 ACM
SIGCHI Conference on Computer-Human Interaction, and currently is the
program chair for the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s Computer
Systems Technical Group. He has been active on the HFES/ANSI-200 human-computer
interface standards committee since 1989. He is also on the board of the
BCPE (the board of certification in human factors and ergonomics). He
has published nearly one hundred articles and chapters in the areas of
human-computer interface design and research, emerging technologies and
R&D management, and has more than 13 patents and patents pending.
Sapient, a leading business and technology consultancy, helps its
clients successfully deploy technology that results in high-value,
explicit business outcomes. Founded in 1991, Sapient employs
approximately 2,300 people in offices in Atlanta, Austin, Cambridge
(Mass.), Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Düsseldorf, Houston, London, Los
Angeles, Milan, Munich, New Delhi, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo,
Toronto and Washington, D.C. Sapient is included in the Standard &
Poor's (S&P) 500 Index.