Of Experience…and movies.

One of the thing that really amuses me is watching movies and the experiences that it creates. Thus it was befitting that Jeff started the class with the movie! After a couple of readings, I am trying to answer this question why a movie creates a better experience , which is a better than watching an image, which in turn is better than a plain text.
Well… i am sure you would agree that the degree of experience is not the same in all of these. Most of the people would say that the movie watching is perhaps the best experience amongst all. I agree to that as well.

So getting a bit more into the anthropology of experience, we try to analyze why this is the case. Why a movie makes me go more wow as compared to a novel?
The answer lies in the way we define reality (what is there is there… ), expressions (how individual experience is framed and articulated) and experience (how the reality presents itself to the consciousness).
Experience is valuable only if its affecting the inner consciousness and that affect stays with us for long. Expressions or an experiences are short lived and we tend to get over it soon.

We know as discussed, that experience is a collection of a group of expressions or the “an experiences”. Anthropologists and ethnographers aim at experiencing the cultures and look at retelling in their words. This often leads us to believing what they say. However, there is a difference in the life lived ( the reality) , the life experienced (the felt) and the life expressed (the told).

Now there are two kinds of experiences. Felt experience and the Told Experience. More often than not, these two fail to match up. This thus, results in the an indifference in the way we interpret the experience and the way the person narrating the experience tells it. As Kapferer puts it, “I do not experience your experience, I experience my experience of you.” This means that the actual experience of the thing is lost.
There are also some inexperiences that are called the inchoate experiences i.e. the experiences that we are unable to understand. Like many a times we say, I feel good, but don’t really know why we are feeling good. These experiences are the ones that are the most often left out in the process of retelling and narration.
Quite often we tend to confuse between the experience and behavior. Experience is more personal, whereas behavior is what some outsider describes. Experience thus is more self referential. Therefore it is concluded that experience is also subjective.

Which brings me to my question!
How can we as designers of user experience, create designs that are objective in experience? How can we remove the element of subjectivity and try to look into a common thing amongst mind of users across a demographic, who will experience the design in the same manner in which I as a designer am experiencing?

There have been different ways of conveying experiences. The oldest way was perhaps Narratives. (Rosaldo, Bruner) This was often in the form of speech or written text. Story telling also forms a part of the narrative. However, if an incident has occured to the narrator, there is often a case of over emphasizing a certain chapter / portion in order to enhance the experience while saying it.
However, the narrator fails to understand that in the absence of an imagery, there is a picture in the mind of the listener that is constantly changing. Thus, the felt experience of the listener and the told experience of the narrator is not the same.

However if the context has been set, if the images (Fernandez, Kapferer) are used to give a clear indication of the culture in which the enactment had taken place, the listener (user in case of a design) is more likely to develop a better picture of what is being said.

And when this is attached to a movie, where we not only have a cultural context prior set, but also some parameters that help in increasing that experience. There is an enactment (Stewart, Babcock, Schechner) A movie is composed of those numerous expressions or say numerous moments of an experience. A movie makes us go wow, because these expressions are not just a collection, but a proper connected timeline of whats going on. This consummation of experiences over a period of time when presented to us, increases the felt experience thing and hence we get a better experience.
In a movie the reflexivity (Gorfain, Boon, Myeroff) factor also plays an important role. Here we couple the frames with our reflection with our own interpretation and hence the experience is enhanced.

As Kapferer puts it, we transcends individual experiences through the participation in the cultural expressions. While watching a movie, we are so deeply engrossed and our mind is full of these expressions, that we forget completely what is outside. This engrossment further enhances the overall experience.

Movies are thus, a field where the art of creating experience has been perfected!
It is now completely understandable why I watch so many movies!
Yes, its the experience!


  1. Gim Hyewon

    Wow… You have your own interpretationof theory of watcning Movie !!
    And You already know about the definition of narrative experience.
    I am glad to meet a new big thinker, YOU!!!

  2. wodom

    “How can we as designers of user experience, create designs that are objective in experience? How can we remove the element of subjectivity and try to look into a common thing amongst mind of users across a demographic, who will experience the design in the same manner in which I as a designer am experiencing?”

    Can we? Should we? If we’re designing for deeply personal, felt experience, should we not consider ways of provoking people to reflect on and engage their own meaning making processes, rather than striving to objectively reproduce certain experiences? Should we stay open to interpretation or narrow meaning making opportunities in hopes of achieving one “optimal”experience?

  3. seanconnolly


    I love this post! I think I agree with everything, except for one thing.

    Movies don’t actually go for structuring a completely objective experiences. The experience is entirely subjective and is firmly grounded in the artists who put time into the work.

    What I think film does very well – that we don’t often see in interfaces – is that it takes the time to center a plurality of subjective interpretations around on core story point. In the MATRIX, everyone in the audience is asked “is Neo the One?”.

    The audience may have a plurality of relationships with the characters, and the plot points, and the morals and the values, but everyone is wondering “is Neo the One?” (Or, since we are educated audiences in the modern day and we all know that the question asked by a Hollywood film will end with a “yes”, the excitement is really in wondering, “how will Neo become the one?”).

    What film does use well – what interfaces often neglect – is the passage of time and the juxtaposition of images across time. People develop different relationships as the artifact passes through time [and cultural interactions]. That can’t be objective. That’s very personal. And it’s the paradigms of interaction we seek to understand. And I think in the class, Jeff is relating the tropes of story telling, to the paradigms of audience-artifact interaction.

    .. that’s my two cents anyway


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