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Using the "Technology as Experience" framework


McCarthy and Wright (2004) propose four core threads that make up our holistic experiences in their Technology as Experience Framework: sensual, emotional, compositional, and spatio-temporal:

  • The sensual thread. This is concerned with our sensory engagement with a situation and is similar to the visceral level of Norman's model. It can be equated with the level of absorption people have with various technological devices and applications, most notable being computer games, smartphones, and chat rooms, where users can be highly absorbed in their interactions at a sensory level. These can involve thrill, fear, pain, and comfort.
  • The emotional thread. Common examples of emotions that spring to mind are sorrow, anger, joy, and happiness. In addition, the framework points out how emotions are intertwined with the situation in which they arise – e.g. a person becomes angry with a computer because it does not work properly. Emotions also involve making judgments of value. For example, when purchasing a new cell phone, people may be drawn to the ones that are most cool-looking but be in an emotional turmoil because they are the most expensive. They can't really afford them but they really would like one of them.
  • The compositional thread. This is concerned with the narrative part of an experience, as it unfolds, and the way a person makes sense of it. For example, when shopping online, the options laid out to people can lead them in a coherent way to making a desired purchase or they can lead to frustrating experiences resulting in no purchase being made. When in this situation, people ask themselves questions such as: What is this about? Where am I? What has happened? What is going to happen next? What would happen if . . . ? The compositional thread is the internal thinking we do during our experiences.
  • The spatio-temporal thread. This refers to the space and time in which our experiences take place and their effect upon those experiences. There are many ways of thinking about space and time and their relationship with one another: for example, we talk of time speeding up, standing still, and slowing down, while we talk of space in terms of public and personal places, and needing one's own space.

To show how the framework can be used to think about and inform design, we present two case studies. Both used it to guide their initial ideas for the design of two different websites: (i) an online fundraising site and (ii) a site that reviews men's clothing, intended to appeal to men who do not enjoy shopping.

The first was written by Heather Collins when she was a graduate student. She used primarily the sensory and compositional threads of the framework, leading to insights on how fundraising organizations can maximize their website to tell a compelling story to a potential donor that is balanced in content and emotion. Her design combines elements of storytelling, appropriate emotional triggers, and a welcoming atmosphere to encourage potential donors to act by making a donation, volunteering their time, telling their friends, or attending a related event. Through this process, the donor can create a meaningful connection to a cause or problem directly impacting their community. The personal connection makes the online donation experience pleasurable for the user.

The second was written by Aaron Loehrlein when he was a graduate student. He used all the threads to think about designing a website for a pleasurable experience for clothes shopping among men who ordinarily hate clothes shopping. Because the website is a consumer guide for men's clothes, and not a retail site, it encourages a more relaxed emotional interaction with its users. The website does not present clothes as part of a larger fashion trend, but describes how the clothes are likely to fit into the life of the wearer. The descriptions are meant to provide an entertaining, non-challenging experience by using simple, jargon-free language, familiar metaphors, and sarcastic humor that is never aimed at the wearer. He found the emotional and sensual threads to be particularly useful to design for this.

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