Book Notes: “Orchestrating Experiences”

Orchestrating Experiences: Collaborative Design for Complexity
By Chris Risdon and Patrick Quattlebaum
Rosenfeld Media, 2018

Before I tell you about Orchestrating Experiences, a disclaimer: the authors and publisher are my friends. I won’t lie and tell you that doesn’t affect my perspective. Still, that shouldn’t keep you from knowing about this important book.

Yep, important. Why? Because it tackles one of the most challenging and impactful aspects of contemporary design practice: how to design coherent systems that span multiple touchpoints and interactions. Such systems typically have multiple stakeholders, many of whom work towards objectives that may not align neatly with other stakeholders’. These systems also require moving around lots of information and making it findable and understandable to people with varying degrees of competency.

Many design books focus on the tactical aspects of this work. For example, you need not search too long for good titles about producing usable interfaces or creating compelling content. There are also good books that deal with more strategic concerns. Where Orchestrating Experiences shines is in bridging the two: it’s a how-to guide for clarifying a strategic project vision and articulating it in terms that will inform tactical design artifacts. The result is a complex system that is nevertheless coherent and directed.

So how does one pull off this tricky challenge? The answer, you won’t be surprised to learn, is by collaborating with the people responsible for the system. Because of this, designers operating at this level will often be called to facilitate workshops. Orchestrating Experiences addresses this reality in its structure: most of the book’s chapters deal with a particular area of focus (e.g., how to define experience principles) from a conceptual perspective, which is then immediately followed by instructions on how to structure and facilitate a workshop to help the team produce the work that satisfies that particular area of focus.

When I say “conceptual point of view,” you may get the impression that these are abstract subjects. And that is indeed a risk when writing about design at this level. However, Orchestrating Experiences features plenty of real-world examples, including (clear and beautiful) deliverables and photos of in-process workshops. This makes the material very accessible. I left Orchestrating Experiences with a clearer understanding of the importance of working at this level and concrete tools to help me do it. I highly recommend it.

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