What’s At The End Of The UX Road? (Part 1 of 3)


My First “Created” Experience

When I was about 10 years old, I would gather all of my neighborhood friends and create plays. I’m not talking Thespian caliber but the story of the growing flower had some serious potential. Remembering that glorious play specifically, it was an early indicator about my desire for creating experiences.

It was July, and the summer was especially hot that year so we spent more time than normal indoors. I had been hard at work created the story about the growing flower and decided it was time to bring in the actors, aka my neighborhood friends. Like any great director, I drove the actors to nail the emotion and gestures just right. (Did I mention, I am a recovering over-achiever.) We practiced day and night until I could FEEL the story coming from the actors words and movements. And at the moment, when I felt we were ready for the curtains to open to the public, I had to focus on the guest experience.

I gathered all of my hard earned chore money and walked 5 miles to the local corner store where I proceeded to spend every penny I saved on the perfect food for the theater guests. I then walked the 5 miles back to my home and we started setting up our basement for the big opening night. Lights, seating, stage, props, everything was attended to with one thing in mind…to make the best possible experience for our theater guests.

Pre Launch

The next day, we hit the streets, going door to door to delivery the perfectly crafted invitation letter to the big production. We went to every door within a 5 miles radius and put that invitation in at least 50 hands.

Then finally, the big day arrived, and we spent all morning going through the scenes one last time. We were ready! More importantly, the basement was set, the food was out, the whole room was a giant happy space that would ensure an amazing theater experience.

Launch Time

4pm…ding-dong….our first guest arrives. I run upstairs to greet them but my Mom answered the door first. “Hi, we are here for the play.”

My mom looks down at me in puzzlement. Oh shoot…I totally forgot to let her know we would be inviting guests over. I smile at my Mom, hoping she won’t stop the sheer genius she is about to witness, and open the door more…”Yes, Yes..come in. We have everything set for you. Right this way.” (Whew…mom let me slide.) For the next 30 min, guests arrived, about 20 in all. Not bad for opening night (40% conversion rate…not too shabby).

At 4:30pm, it was time. I turned off all the lights and as the 20 neighborhood guests sat in the pitch black basement, I walked out onto the make-shift stage, took a deep breath, and turned on the flashlight to highlight my face. In that light, with my best storytelling voice, I started the story about the growing flower, the play had begun.

The Target Audience Response

As the actors played their part I watched the audience. I was looking to see if they smiled at the intended funny moments, and if they teared up at the intended sad moments. I wanted so badly for them to feel what I had intended them to feel in the crafting and telling of the story. As I watched over those 20 faces in the audience, some responded just as I had hoped. NAILED IT! But others, nothing! They just sat there. Some even were looking elsewhere! Huh?

The final line was delivered and the curtains closed. Everyone clapped and some laughed. The actors came out and took another bow. And then everyone started to converse with one another, some discussions about the play and some discussions about completely unrelated topics. I loved it all though. I loved the energy that filled the room after having shared this experience. And I loved the smiles on people’s faces and the accolades they gave us. I was hooked. And that night as I drifted off to bed, I would obsess over the faces in the audience, and how do I make all of those faces respond the way I want for the next play? I drifted off to sleep with this obsession, which I don’t think I have every fully let go of. I was obsessed with created experiences that promoted an emotional response and drove connections.

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The Il-logic Of Creating Experience

30 years later, I reflect on that early seed that was planted and I see now the beauty and the fallacies that were born as that seed grew. I since have had a long career in human-centered product development. I have spent 10 years getting a Ph.D. in Human-Computer Interaction with an emphasis on how companies increase their UX capacity. I have spent 18 years trying to create products that satisfy, delight, support, and connect humans. I’ve spoken and educated on the topic to audiences around the world and it’s only now that I fully see and accept the absolute illogic needed when “creating” experiences.

When you look at the research and science exploring the phenomenon (observable) and noumenon (non observable) of experience there is much we know it is not. And often, when trying to comprehend complex concepts, knowing what it is not is easier than articulating what it is.

We know that we are not ONLY subjects of or subjected to experiences (e.g. Romano, 1998; Waldenfels, 2011). So in the case of my well-meaning play experience, the participants in the audience were not JUST innocent bystanders upon whom the play was thrusted upon nor were they participants in an emotional experiment I was creating.

We know that experience is not isolated to a purely cognitive and rational response. Going back to my play, just because I intended to promote a specific emotion at certain parts that does not definitely result in that emotion in the audience. (I could go down the theoretical rabbit hole that emotions are 100% defined by the individual experiencing them but I’ll save that for a later article.) Basically, there is no logical formula that will ensure an emotional response. Control and rationality have very little impact on experience (Wong, 2007, p. 192).

In their Power Of Moments book, the Heath Brothers gave us many examples of defining moments, which are directly connected to reported “great experiences.”

Disney, Pixar, AirBnB all have proven time and time again that if key patterns and principles are followed, the likelihood of people saying they had a “great experience” is high.

I have spent most of my life looking for, studying, trying to implement these patterns that we know have a higher likelihood to result in great experiences. But at the end of the day, I cannot shake the very unsettling feeling that no one can MAKE an experience for another person. It is not possible for me to CREATE an experience for another. The vastness of what happens between my delivering a simple play and the audience member’s response is enormous. The environment, the culture, the context, the inner world including emotions, cognition, memories, sensations, stories, programming, and on and on that all contribute to how that audience member experiences the play is beyond any logical control or manipulation.

When I reflect on what is it exactly then that I do when I engage in “creating” experiences? I think the most honest answer I can give is that I create spaces that have a high likelihood in resulting in the intended experience. But I have to remind my rational mind every day that there is nothing short of magic between the experience I design and the experience felt by the humans I want to serve.

So where does that leave the field of UX, where the concept of magic would surely be shown to the exit door upon arrival? Stay tuned for part 2 of “What’s At The End Of The UX Road?”


Dewey, J. (1929). Experience and nature. London, UK: George Allen & Unwin.

Romano, C. (1998). L’événement et le monde [Event and world]. Paris, France: Presses Universitaires de France.

Vygotskij, L. S. (2001). Lekcii po pedologii [Lectures on pedology]. Izhevsk, Russia: Udmurdskij University. (A translation of Lecture 5 to which we refer here exists as Vygotsky, L. S. (1994). The problem of the environment. In R. van der Veer & J. Valsiner (Eds.), The Vygotsky reader (pp. 338–354). Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.) (First published in 1935)

Waldenfels, B. (2011). In place of the Other. Continental Philosophy Review, 44, 151– 164.

Wong, D. (2007). Beyond control and rationality: Dewey, aesthetics, motivation, and educative experiences. Teachers College Record, 109, 192–220



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