Defining “Experience”

brightspot’s focus is improving people’s experience with strategies for the spaces they use, the services in the spaces, and the people working within the spaces.

So, we are frequently asked how we define “experience” since it’s a broad term, and like culture, often an “I know it when I see it” kind of thing. However, there are a variety of different ways to think about experience and talk concretely about it.


In this post, I’ll give our definition and give a quick roundup of some of the other way to define and describe experiences. Here goes:

activities + interactions + mental state = experience

In short, we tend to agree with Bill Moggridge that “All design is interaction design.” So, for us, an experience is the combination of:

  • the activities someone is engaged in (i.e., “entering”)

  • their interactions with information, environment, objects, and other people (i.e., “asking for directions”)

  • their mental state, or thoughts and feelings along the way (i.e.,“uncertainty”)

The way these three elements come together over a period of time, can also help identify the “key moments” along their journey when the activities, interactions, and their thoughts/feeling about them are particularly good or bad and therefore memorable and meaningful.

We often map journeys or experience using this approach, plotting the activities out on an x-axis timeline and some other key factor as the y-axis, such as positive/negative, inside/outside, individual/group, active/passive, and so on, and then plot the kinds interactions associated with each activity, thinking about the mental state along the way – like this:


To see how this plays out, here’s an example of a project in which the “employee experience” was stated as the guiding principle for allocating, configuring, and operating spaces, services, and technology. So, describing the experience that workplace needed to enable was critical.


Based on interviews, observations, and workshops, we were able to distill the employee experience to 5 key activities: Focusing is concentrative time alone; Pausing is taking a break, reflecting, retreating; Jamming is hands-on collaboration at a whiteboard, at a screen or elsewhere; Connecting is meeting and mixing with people, on a break or on task and in-person or remotely; and Caretaking includes people taking care of themselves and their “life stuff”

Crucially, we then described two higher-level aspects: how it was critical for people be able to FLOW among these activities with limited friction, and being able to CHOOSE (a) which activity and (b) where, how, and with whom to do these activities (for instance, connecting over a meal or via a videoconference).

Once you have a tangible sense of what people are doing and how they need to be supported by the workplace, for each of these activities, you can describe the spaces, technologies, and services people would interact with and allocate, configure, and operate them accordingly.

This approach and technique works for us, particularly as it translates well into analyzing and developing concepts for spaces, services within them, and organizational aspects like culture, structure, and processes. However, there are some other ways to go about this, including:

  1. The 5Es(pdf) that describe the phases of an experience: entice, enter, engage, exit, extend, developed by Conifer Research

  2. The 5 Senses, where you can describe how each sense is engaged overtime; for instance, with table with senses as rows, time as columns

  3. The AEIOU framework often used for ethnographic observational research where you describe the Activities, Environment, Interactions, Objects, and Users, often done over time with these as rows and time as columns

  4. The Customer Journey Canvas/Map/Plot (or its variations..) where time is the x-axis (e.g.: pre-service, service, and post-service) and the y-axis can be touchpoints (moments of interaction) or some combination of the above (e.g: Senses, AEIOU, Satisfaction, etc)

  5. Variation of Workstyles or Personas that describe motivations, behaviors, expectations, limitations and the like, perhaps in a “day in the life” narrative describing their experience

  6. Modes or Moments used to more loosely describe the key activities people are engaged in, usually as a verb or gerund (e.g.: focusing, retreating, connecting, etc)

There’s no right or wrong answer here, just what works better for you to (a) concretely describe the experiences people are having (b) envision and communicate the experiences you want them to have, and (c) plan the spaces and the activities, information, technology in them to enable these experiences.

It’s always good to keep in mind that enabling an experience is the best you can do, since in the end it’s up to the person. All you can do is improve the potential for something to happen. There are no guarantees. Happy designing!