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Living Experiences

Understanding Experiences

Experiences are easy to have, but hard to reason about (Coxon, 2015). There are a number of obstacles in our way when we try to understand experiences.

First, as discussed, we experience the world as a continuous flow of events. But in order to be reasoned about, researches need to adopt an experience into a unity: a boundary must be set around it. For example: the experience of working in an office could reasonably start when entering the office building and ends when we leave the building. In reality, we wake up, travel to the office building, leave for lunch... all of which shape our experience of working in an office. This artificial barrier around the experience may not be realistic, it is a necessary evil if we want to be able to say anything concrete about the experience.

Second, groups of experiences (one person, multiple experiences) and group experiences (multiple people, one experience) are even more impossible to grasp objectively.

Experience is always phenomenal and therefore shared experiences are literally and theoretically unattainable. What we are really describing is an episode of interaction or communication between two people about or in a similar event space.

The third obstacle is a version of the Hawthorne effect (Landsberger, 1958), where the simple fact that an experience includes observation changes the context and thus the experience, and observer bias (Angrosino, 2004), where a researcher will interpret someone else's experience differently based on their own phenomenal view.

While it is impossible to measure experiences in an objective manner, researchers' aim should be to gain as deep an understanding as is feasibly possible.

In order to deeply understand experience and the life-world in which it takes place, it cannot be simply observed, it must be experienced.

This process of "getting into" an experience by living it yourself is called embodiment. We place ourselves within an unfamiliar context in order to blend ourselves with the world. This practice is also one of the foundations of Design Thinking, in which an empathic understanding the user and their context is central to the process (Kelley and Kelley, 2015).

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Designing Experiences