Experience-scapes

Hird & Kvistgaard wrote “Oplevelsesrum. Turisme, kulturarv og oplevelser – et krydsfelt” in 2010. Sadly, this book has never been translated into English but with permission from the authors, I will share a few of the main ideas from this excellent book with you.

Based on a phenomenological approach, Hird and Kvistgaard present their tool “Experience Matrices”, which combine Heritage, Tourism and Experiences into an Experience-scape. Heritage, the authors explain, provides the content,  experiences the means through which the intersecting experience-scape is sold in the marketplace: tourism.

As a method, Experience Matrices involve stakeholders in a process of rediscovering a particular area, destination or attraction with the intention of creating a set of values, characteristics and understandings for which these stakeholders have a high sense of ownership, so that those elements from the process are selected for which participants feel motivated and enthused.

The process starts with facilitators identifying the stakeholders to invite. This is based on a preconception of the site. Next, participants are given an understanding of the method, before they are invited to experience and interpret the area with brand new eyes, even in the case of a site which is very familiar to them. The observations collected are sorted and analysed by the facilitators, who end up with one or more sets of values, syntheses or representations of participants’ evaluation of sensory strengths of the site. These results are then fed back to stakeholders, while remaining very open to how these results are received. Questions are asked and answered, and ownership and enthusiasm are very important goals. Context and meaning,  part and the whole are constantly compared and adjusted, until alignment is reached, which ensures quality. Based on these final definitions, socially constructed and hermeneutically tested, the site is then strengthened through changes in content, focus, logistics and structure to best bring to life the identified values.

Experience Matrices use 5 categories to investigate the Experience-Scape in question. The 5th category has two different versions. Let us look at them.

Characteristics try to describe the physical space. Is it a modern or old place? Tidy or disorderly? What feelings and thoughts come to mind? What is unique.

You might have heard of the 4 Es of the experience realms by Pine and Gilmore. Or you might not. But this looks at the types of experience you can have here. Aesthetic, Escapist, Educational, Entertainment; and Excitement or Action. And included then the 5th E of Excitement or Action.

The 3rd area is your senses. What can you smell? Salt water or diesel oil? What can you feel? Wooden interpretation panels, concrete walls, the cold air of a wine cellar? And how is your gut feeling about the place? Eerie? Calm? Curious?

The 4th area looks at what stories are there: Why is this important to me? What stories are NOT told but could be? What connects people to this place? This is about the emotional connection to the location and about ways to make it relevant to other people, as well.

The first version of the 5th area is about music. Both the music that is composed, such as ‘This is a folk music place’ or ‘Arabic music comes out of all the shops here’. But it’s also about the music of the seagulls and the sea, or the sound of birds and waterfalls and the musical qualities of places – the rhythm of people, cars, movement – you get the idea?

The second version of the 5th area is about the economic potential. Is there a chance in this area of giving visitors more than they expected, to give them added value and, you know, those things which make them leave wonderful reviews on TripAdvisor etc. Also, is this a place where you could attract investors, and how would you do that? Who might see the opportunities here? How could we sell the area to them? And can this area cope with tourists? Are the experiences likely to be sustainable over time?

Something that might be negative at a first glance could perhaps be turned into something positive or distinctive about the place. Old disused factories have been turned into culture houses, and now new buildings are being built to fit in with the raw, naked, and possibly beautiful industrial heritage in some areas. A multi-cultural market is disorderly, sometimes a little scary for some – but that is part of the experience – the smells, the sounds, the chaos, the rhythm of people bargaining, moving, gesticulating.

The collected data to create a picture of the place to guide your development, your choice of marketing, your messages, your audiences – in close connection with the stakeholders who will be the driving forces long after facilitators, project managers and tourism planners have moved on to other jobs, other challenges and other destinations.

Creating Unique Experiences

Not too many years ago, it was a struggle for most people to get their basic needs met. My dad, for instance, started working on the neighbouring farm when he was 6, in return for 2 meals a day – oatmeal, potatoes – simple things to fill your stomach. His parents did not have the money, nor the forethought, to care for him among many other siblings. His children, however, have had all that they needed, and we, like most of our generation are not concerned with the basic needs, or the simple foods. No, we have had access to it all just like most people in our generation in this part of the world.  

Thus, when we want to do something special, we look for things which are different, unique, things which have an air of exclusivity. We look for experiences shared, not with everyone else, but with a select group based on our interests and our identity. Maybe we keep it to ourselves until after the fact and then post pictures on social media as support for our persona, the face we show the world. In the Western world, goods and services are commoditised at an ever increasing rate and at the same time, we wish to stand out from the crowd, we want to feel special. 

Indeed, as Pine and Gilmore have explained, we have gone from commodities and goods (the economy of things) over services (the economy of actions) to now experiences and transformation (the economy of meaning). That means that for the most part, the steps up until the economy of meaning are taken for granted. 

Model of Experience Economy

From Commodity to Transformation

In order for experiences to appeal to people in this situation, when designing experiences it should be considered what can make this experience unique. In most cases, it won’t be possible to make a brand new category of experience. Most fall into categories such as meals, travel, music, culture, nature and so forth and probably that is how it will largely stay, so if you as a business want to make money by creating something exclusive, something unique, you have to identify some areas which could make your product stand out from the rest of them. 

An obvious example often used as an example is the location: You offer people a coffee, not only served hot in a beautiful cup, by pleasant staff, but you offer it in the Eiffel tower and as such, you’re offering something which people can only buy from you. The experience of eating an Italian pizza in Italy is more unique than eating it in London, probably. A potter around where I live, incorporates local seaweed and other plant material into his work – you can’t get that anywhere else. 

Another aspect could be time – your event only takes place once a year, or once ever. Miss it and well, you’ve missed it. The experience of fishing mackerel around where I am from is unique as well. Under certain circumstances, mackerel will come very close to the coast. When they do, you can catch them very easily and it’s a right mayhem of people landing mackerel by the bucket load and it’s quite strange to witness (or take part in). But if the weather is not right, there will be no such event, regardless what we might have had in mind. 

But there are other aspects to consider when you wish to make your product unique, such as the social setting it occurs in, whether it can keep providing new experiences for people visiting more than once, and whether to allow co-creation. And much more. 

What makes the things you work with unique?

Working on the Project

Had a long meeting with my group mate yesterday in the library. We were discussing where we are going with the project – theories, viewpoints and how it all relates to the degree we’re doing.

Because it is a new professional degree, only 5-6 years old, it’s still very much up to us to define what we want to do with it and exactly what the profession should be. At the same time, of course, it is important that we are sufficiently in alignment with what our lecturers think it is about, so on Friday we have a group meeting to bounce some viewpoints off our supervisor, also. See what that does.

In order to get some empirical material, I did a telephone interview with a female naturist yesterday, it was a very lovely lady who was friendly, open and happy – very pleasant to talk to, and I had multiple laughs along the way. She is also a model, so I got a few bits of input on that front, too.

She also told me of their mobile sauna – an old camping caravan stripped of all the furniture and fitted as a sauna, so they are going to drive that one around on the beaches this summer, inviting people in. I’ll admit to giving them a great LIKE on Facebook. What a great idea for an experience design. And simple, too.

Apart from this, I still take some photos, and try to make time for some good long walks.

Purple Flower

Oh what a day

No lectures today so what do I do…

Tidy a bit, go for a walk…

Well, and study Business Strategy, Management and Gamification on Coursera of course. At this point in time, my head is spinning a bit with social constructionism, gamification of the efforts to reduce speeding in traffic, 5 factor analysis and so on.

I like trying to analyse these situations and attempt to come up with recommendations and predictions and I quite like trying to identify patterns and processes. It’s fun because it combines so many different aspects of what I enjoy doing and much of my past experience.

Who doesn’t like motivation, strategy, sweet spots and lateral thinking…?

I like them anyway. The interesting bit will come later when I try to properly apply it to heritage management and experience design along with my other ideas. It’s still a bit soon for that though, but we’ll see what happens.