This week features a series of posts endeavoring to draw themes from the Delight Conference 2014 in Portland, as well as Design Week Portland. I shall each day post some thoughts collected in categories of creativity, curiosity, meaning, community, and empathy.

Meaning, Experiences and Making Sense of the World

V0015848 A humorous image of two men wearing revolving top hats withWhen it comes to finding meaning and making sense of the world, Christopher Stapleton is in a world of his own. His presentation at Delight 2014 was stunning, and merits more detailed reflection than I shall do here. Suffice to say that our existing pretensions to enhancing the user experience (slapping a screen on it, per Golden Krishna) actually diminish our engagement with the world, whereas Stapleton pointed to a more philosophical, existential approach to our embrace of potentiality (plus a range of new words to articulate this altered paradigm). Stapleton illustrated a variety of approaches to multi-sensory, multi-dimensional, virtual and temporal experiential exploration, all of which demonstrated the possibility of divergent thinking around how we conceive of user experience as an endeavor.

Although abstract in many respects, Stapleton’s ideas had practical application. Whereas Genevieve Bell had called on the cognitive firepower of Martin Heidegger, who bemoaned the distractions found in our contemporary lives from our awareness of the enormity of our simply existing in an infinity of nothing, Stapleton offered what might be thought of as a phenomenological perspective, as in the ways things appear to us, how we may experience them and what meaning they have in our experiencing them. Finding purpose in something larger than ourselves is an inherent feature of our humanity, Bell told us, and Stapleton showed us how we might use other pathways to finding meaning in alternative experiences.

Perry Hewitt from Harvard had remarked on the pointlessness of five year plans given that the accuracy of our ability to predict the future goes down about 20% each year. That seemed a good enough reason to focus our endeavors on experiences that resonated in a precise, present moment. Being present was inherent in some of Stapleton’s illustrations, albeit that those experiences were transporting and unbound. In the context of finding undistracted presence, Patrica Colley‘s improv exercises during her Serious Play workshop were anchoring. The exercises brought our focus into a realm of immediate experience that, notwithstanding its boundaries, was freeing.

After the Delight Conference, I heard the Metropolis editor in chief, Susan Szenasy, in conversation at a Design Week Portland event. Although Stapleton had stated persuasively that storytelling and their consumption is a passive form of experience,  Szenasy indicated it still has remarkable power to affect us. Fiction is something she reads because it provides insights into narrative, storytelling, plot, character, language and dialogue. I couldn’t help feeling that those who declare proudly that they do not read fiction are to be ignored, as they either starve or are afraid of their imaginations. At the very least, if you read fiction, you are at some level ready to step into Stapleton’s heady world of experience…


Tomorrow: The next post in this series reflecting on Delight 2014 looks at the theme of empathy…