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Nathan Shedroff on Experience Design
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message n 123]

Nathan Shedroff, one of the main gurus of User Experience Design speaks for InfoVis.net in the frame of the Istituto Europeo di Design ID3 course held in Stockholm.

Nathan Shedroff

I’ve met Nathan Shedroff in Stockholm last week during the ID3 course where we, along with Yuri Engelhardt, from the University of Amsterdam, and others, were speaking about InfoVis and Experience Design respectively.

Nathan is a disciple of Richard Saul Wurman and has studied techniques used by many people for understanding user needs and has integrated them into the concept of experience design. He, in fact, is the most prominent guru of this field. 

But, beyond the technical aspects, Nathan appears to be a very accessible person --one you can speak to knowing that he’s trying to understand your point of view. He teaches using many examples and exercises (see the interesting slides of the course) and he gave me the impression that he is always learning and acquiring new knowledge while communicating the considerable expertise he already owns. A very interesting person.


What is Experience Design all about and what is the its relationship with Information Architecture, Information Design and related disciplines?

Nathan Shedroff:

I think that Experience Design is an approach more than it is a field and encompasses a wide variety of issues --some of which are Information Design or Architecture issues, some of which are Interaction Design issues, others are sociological issues business issues, etc. In some way, it’s a very wide, thin umbrella that encompasses a lot of what makes the interface successful on the front end.


And what would be the role of information visualisation within this umbrella.

Nathan Shedroff:

Well it’s critical because that’s how you communicate. You know, it’s one thing if you are making your personal website where the information is not only personal but idiosyncratic or heavily textual, for instance. 

But when you are talking about large data sets, when you are talking about libraries online or lots of data in scientific fields or financial data, for instance, the only way to make that clear --to make it useful for people-- is to pay critical attention to its appearance, to its visualisation. So, whereas advanced information visualisation may not be used for a lot small common problems, it’s critical for all the big, important problems.


During the course you’ve been talking about taxonomies and dreams. I think that these, especially dreams, aren’t a common approach. So how do you fit them into Experience Design and how could you explain it. 

Nathan Shedroff:

These are all techniques that people have developed to understand their users better and, specifically, to understand them on a social level, on a personal level, and an emotional level, but they are not really useful tools for prototyping, in development and testing, for instance. They are tools specifically to be used in a conceptual phase, to help in generating new ideas. 

One of the problems I see with the Web right now is that we have a sort of crisis of innovation. There really isn’t much new in the web. In some ways the Web is stagnating. Everyone’s sites look and act the same. Every website has the same functionality within its vertical category, but there’s so much more we can do. 

So I think too many people have settled too quickly and they've stopped innovating. The tools I presented can help us to innovate new ideas about what the Web or interactive media can do for us on a more human level. I don't think that we should allow the technology to drive solutions.


Making new things but don’t forgetting the user.

Nathan Shedroff:

Yes, new things that actually help us and actually let us do interesting things, exactly.


When I was reading Information Anxiety II there was a part you wrote about Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom. Where does Experience Design fit in this process of converting data into information, information into knowledge, or even into wisdom?

Nathan Shedroff: 

You can’t really make someone knowledgeable. That is something they have to do for themselves but you can set up the conditions where, that can happen. You can transform information into knowledge --display it, for instnace, in a way that, if people have the skills or the interest to build knowledge, they can easily do so. 

You can even set up some of the conditions for people to become wise but, once you get them to that point, they must take their own initiative. Experience Design (and any kind of user centric design process) is involved with the whole sequence. It’s creating information from data, it’s creating experiences because that’s how we build knowledge. 

You don’t build knowledge by reading, for instance, you build knowledge by experiencing things and, specifically, experiencing the same things in different ways. That's all about creating experiences. If we don’t do that we can’t be knowledgeable.


What are your current passions? What new projects are you pursuing? What are you doing now?.

Nathan Shedroff:

Well, (laugh) I’ve a lot of different things going on at once. It’s been a chaotic year. I currently have a software company and we’re developing tools for small businesses and it’s been a very interesting set of problems to solve but I can’t say it’s necessarily my passion. 

I’ve been working with the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea in Italy for the last year being an advisor for the second year thesis studies. So that is coming to a close as graduation is nearing in about 3 weeks. And that has been a really rewarding opportunity to work with students so closely --specifically where students are looking at ideas in ways I’ve never thought of before.

And then, on the side of all of this I have a few books in development. It’s been a very tough year for publishers --especially technical publishers, so it hasn’t been easy to get new books published, and you probably know about it yourself. I currently have now about seven book proposals waiting for some publisher to be ready to start publishing new books again. So who knows what will happen with those?. 


Thank you very much for being so kind to answer our questions. It's been a real pleasure to speak with you

ID3 (Interaction Design, Information Design, Interface Design) is a an advanced training course organised by Ars Media and Istituto Europeo di Design within the MEDIA programme of the European Union. This year it takes place in Torino, Italy; Stockholm, Sweden and Barcelona, Spain.

Links of this issue:

http://www.nathan.com/me/   Nathan Shedroff's personal page
http://www.id3online.com   The ID3 Course
http://www.infovis.net/printRec.php?rec=persona&lang=2#Wurman   Small bio of Richard Saul Wurman in InfoVis.net
http://www.nathan.com/thoughts/newmethods/   SLides of the ID3 Course
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0789724103/infovisnet   Information Anxiety II
http://www.interaction-ivrea.it/   Interaction Design Institute in Ivrea, Italy
http://www.ars-media.it/   Ars Media
http://www.ied.it/   Istituto Europeo di Design
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