Summary: Co-experience: user experience as interaction

A summary of:

Battarbee, K. & Koskinen, I., 2005. Co-experience: user experience as interaction. CoDesign, 1(1), 5-18 (online article).

In recent years, the idea of user designing for experience has emerged as an important concept and goal for the field of interaction design. Experience has been a useful notion for helping think beyond usability as the primary goal for interaction design. This is necessary, because although usability is itself still important, a focus on usability alone does not give insight into other aspects of interaction, such as pleasure, desirability and so on.

The authors point to the following three approaches to the study and interpretation of user experience in design

  • Measuring approach: builds on the approach that experiences can be measured by emotional reactions. This can be either by directly measuring physiological reactions that are linked to emotional states (skin conductivity, heart-rate) or by assessing people’s emotions subjective reports.
  • Empathic approach: seeks to link experiences to the emotional needs, desires and motivations of individuals. This leads to the need for designers and researchers to develop rich empathic understandings of these aspects of people’s experiences.
  • Pragmatist appproach: borrows from pragmatist philosophy and proposes that experiences grow from interactions between people and their environment. Fleeting, fluent subconscious experiences can form meaningful chunks of experience for people and be demarcated as ‘an experience’. These may in-turn be elaborated through stories into ‘meta-experiences’, collections of individual experiences.

The authors point out that each of these approaches to the study of experience for design has focussed on experience as an individual phenomenon. They propose that interactional aspects of experience should also be considered. They draw on a symbolic interactionism approach, and propose ‘co-experience’ as a framework within which individual experiences emerge and change as they become part of social interaction. This is based on three principles from symbolic interactionism. First, that people act towards things through the meanings that those things have for them. Second, that meanings arise from interaction with others. Third, that meanings are part of an interpretive process of a person encountering things (I’m not entirely sure about my use of the word ‘things’ in this sentence).

The authors then use this model to explain how experiences migrate from the unconcious background of ongoing experience, to concsious and deleniated experiences (an experience), to collaboratively elaborated and shared stories (meta-experiences). This is proposed through the mechanisms of ‘lifting up experiences’ (communicating an to others about an experience), ‘reciprocating experiences’ (acknowledging and responding to an experience that another person has shared) and ‘rejecting and ignoring experiences’ (rejecting or downgrading an experience that another person has shared).

The researchers explore, elaborate, and illustrate these processess of migration with the results of a study into the use of a multimedia messaging service. They show how the back and forth of message between people using this system functioned in terms of establishing meanings around the experiences that were shared. A methodological difficulty of the study (one acknowledged by the authors) is that the study only captured interactions that took place through the medium of the multimedia messaging service, so other channels of communication that might have served to lift up, reciprocate, or reject experiences are not visible.

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