November 2014

Event – The Experiential Turn

On  November 12th it was my great pleasure to host The Experiential Turn, a lunchtime discussion exploring the nature of experience and how researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines account for the subjectivity of experience in their work.

The event was the third in the Turn series. I am part of a small group of early career researchers (ECRs) that is organizing the series with RMIT’s Design Research Institute.  Each month, we offer a provocation for discussion, which is conducted in a varying format.

The first event, A Wicked Turn, hosted by Dr Malte Wagenfeld, explored interdisciplinarity and wicked problems. The second, a Public Turn, hosted by Anthony McInenny, explored the public space as a site of research and art practice.

The success of the first two events presented an opportunity to explore an area of interest: the nature and quality of human experience and how such an all-encompassing term can be dissected or documented in a meaningful way. We invited 7 guest ‘conversationalists’ – Associate Professor Pia Ednie-Brown,Associate Professor Lawrence Harvey, Riza Manalo, Associate Professor Jessica Bugg, Dr Jason Downs, Ben Cittadini and Darrin Verhagen – to lead discussion at tables of 7 participants.

On arriving, guests selected from an assembly of bright, textural tokens that allocated them to a particular table. Their selection, based perhaps on preference for a colour, texture, material or form, ended up shaping their experience quite significantly. The was commented on by several participants – did this choice of token lead to gathering people with common traits at each table? Perhaps. This certainly set the scene for a playful engagement with the subject of experience.

The Experiential Turn


I introduced the event as follows:

The Experiential Turn

The nature and qualities of human experience are at the heart of activity and research across a wide range of disciplines, from human-computer interaction to art, education, marketing and health sciences.

Long before Pine and Gilmore proposed a shift from an economy based on products and commodities to one based on transformative experiences, designers, exhibition makers, artists, performers and others have been working in the field of experience creation. Such practitioners and researchers recognise the value and impact of sensory, spatial, experiential forms of engagement with their audiences.

An ‘experience’ comprises many micro-experiences gathered moment by moment. Memory, perception and performance interact to produce subjective understanding and personal meaning.

But how do we talk about experience in meaningful ways? Is it so multi-dimensional and all-inclusive that it becomes a meaningless concept? How can we can account for the complexity and subjectivity of experience in our research. How do we articulate the visceral, the ephemeral, the personal? And in turn, how do we seek to shape the experiences of others?

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Prompted by these questions, our invited conversationalists spurred stimulating discussion in small groups over lunch. The summaries presented by each group at the end of the session demonstrated the unique direction of each table’s discussion, spanning scientific measurement of sensory stimuli, performance and perception, materiality, memory and association, and cartographic approaches to documenting aspects of experience.

It was a fascinating discussion and I suspect that the level of excitement in the room was generated by the rarity of such an opportunity to engage informally with people of shared interests from quite different spheres of research and practice.

We will continue the series in  in Feb/March 2015. We publicise the events within RMIT, on the DRI website and on The Turn blog.

The DRI-ECR team: Kylie Wickham, Anthony McInenny, Dr Jeremy Yuille, Dr Malte Wagenfeld, Dr Charles Anderson, Ceri Hann, Simone Steel and myself, Dr Toni Roberts.

Photography thanks to: Ramesh Ayyar