Issue 9:
Myths
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
objects and things
11.06.2023
How to Design for Experience

Abraham Burickson embraces the intimate, ethical, and painful sides of design.

portrait of abraham burickson standing in garden outside of historic building
Abraham Burickson. (Photo: Christina Chahyadi)


Abraham Burickson remembers when it all started to click. The sometime poet, sometime writer, and sometime performance artist took a break from architecture school and traveled to Istanbul to study Sufism. There, he visited famous destinations such as the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque—spaces that are known for their intricate tile mosaics and spectacular scale—but also smaller mosques outside the tourism circuit.

What he remembers most is how all the details imparted a sense of transformation, from passing through thresholds to seeing ritual washing areas to being in a prayer room where he was oriented toward Mecca along with dozens of other worshiping people. The architecture helped him feel deep spirituality in an embodied way. “The building was absolutely engaged in some crazy mojo,” he says. “It seemed like a superpower, like magic.” But this wasn’t how he was learning about architecture in school, nor was it like what he saw while working in architecture firms both large and small. So he created his own niche in the profession: a practice that he defines as “experience design.”

Burickson’s philosophy leads him to design experiences, not things. What this means is that the end result of his creative work is at least a budge, and at best a shift, in someone’s worldview. It’s not about bringing another user-friendly object into the world. Burickson has achieved this through The Long Architecture Project, a studio he runs that makes homes that reflect the values of the people who live in them, and through Odyssey Works, an artistic collective he co-founded in 2001 that stages elaborate performances, some lasting several weeks, each for a single person. These events have included creating a temporary utopian community, writing a “lost” book by an early 20th-century Argentine author for a literature buff, and producing a radio talk show for an NPR fan.

These performances offer moments of wonder, fear, tenderness, and empowerment—a full spectrum of emotions that afford someone a deeper understanding of who they are as an individual. “I was driven to look more carefully at my life and live it more carefully, and that’s transcendent in the actual sense of the word,” said the novelist Rick Moody after participating in an odyssey that sent him to a remote field in Canada to hear a cellist perform.

When Burickson began describing his work as “experience design,” in the early aughts, it wasn’t the buzzword that it is now. The concept has since been mainstreamed by UX designers, the entertainment industry, and (especially) marketers. Amid this boom, Burickson has shifted his attention from an audience of one to an audience of thousands by writing Experience Design: A Participatory Manifesto (Yale University Press), a book out this month complete with illustrations by Erica Holeman and a foreword by Ellen Lupton.

It lays out how this approach to making is relevant for anyone, not just designers. Like George Nelson’s How to See, Burickson’s Experience Design is about adopting a new perspective. He invites readers to host dinners for their friends, muse on artworks such as Walter De Maria’s “The Lightning Field,” and even rip out the book’s pages in order to get to a place of “more sensory engagement, more liveness, and more connection,” as he writes. I recently spoke with Burickson to learn more.

An illustration from the book Experience Design that lays out examples of experience, content, and form.
An illustration from the book Experience Design. (Illustration: Erica Holeman. Courtesy Yale University Press)


In simplest terms, how do you define experience design?

Experience design is the practice of making the human experience the product of the design practice. An experience designer first identifies the experiential aim then decides what approach will be necessary in order to achieve that aim. This can be applied to any creative process, from theater to architecture, from HR to political activism, from journalism to science. Experience design is not about categories of practice; it’s about relationality and how something is received in the end. We can use any tools we want—including designed objects—to achieve that.

You view experience design as not merely solving problems or making life easier; rather, it’s about making someone feel something and changing their lives through interactions. It’s not about the thing, but how the thing impacts a person. Tell us more about this perspective and what brought you to it.

So much of what I call “thing-based” design is creating the “thing” and putting it out in the world—sort of like how the Voyager probe is searching for alien life to listen to the Golden Record. We design a spec house or chair, but do we ever meet the person who’s going to live there or sit in it? There’s something very “gods up on Mount Olympus” about most design processes, which is, We’re casting down the solution to you from a hole in the sky. It’s a modernist vision.

This kind of industrialized design process is not old. Before, design happened through a community of engaged people. How else could a cathedral get built over a course of one hundred and fifty years? Design was always relational. On a personal level, I think that being in relationship with other people is what makes life great and if I’m making things, I want to be in relationship [with one another].

For much of my life there was no role of “experience designer” to lean in to, so I always felt at odds with the design practices I was involved in. I often felt like an outsider. The way I was trained in architecture, [was to] largely sit in front of a screen and move a mouse around to make a projective visualization. It’s sort of like the architect in The Matrix Reloaded: thinking through something but not actually living it. We begin in this intellectual space.

But everywhere I went, I was encountering this question: How is design affecting me and those around me? I remember going to a Tennessee Williams play and walking out with my eyes crossed and seeing the world differently. Or watching Playtime by Jacques Tati and understanding the world as a space of absurdity. I’m not that interested in the film Playtime; I’m interested in the fact that this French filmmaker was able to change the way I engage with my world.

Through Odyssey Works, you design these elaborate, highly personalized experiences for people that sometimes last for months. This work is similar to what you do in The Long Architecture Project, where you design homes for clients that facilitate experiences they want in their lives. How do you figure out what to create for people, and what they really want and need?

We spend time with the client. Sometimes we go on walks with them. Once we started the interviews at the Russian and Turkish Baths, in New York.

So you’re getting to know people in an intimate and vulnerable way.

Absolutely. And I’ll also add that I was in the sauna, too.

After learning all this information about somebody, we ask ourselves and our collaborators, What do you wish for this person? It’s a question that is structured by what’s at the essence of relationality, and perhaps, of loving somebody. It’s a wish for them on a life level. And we as artists have a wish to create a new experience. We’re not asking ourselves, What do you think this person needs? Or, What do you think this person wants? It’s not that interesting to simply realize someone else’s wish. Like, if someone says, “I want to jump out of an airplane and learn how to fly,”—that’s great; go do it. People should realize their own wishes.

One of our clients was a teacher and the odyssey we designed for her was a pilgrimage. We wanted her to engage with this from a place of empowerment, so an experience we designed for her was leading a workshop. We wanted to create a scene for her of going into her strong place, of embodying her intelligence. The next part was this wild self-interrogation and then a long journey quite far.

It would be very different to engage with that from a place of surprise. Surprise makes us open, delighted, and receptive, but we don’t become empowered. Delight isn’t good preparation for an analytical understanding of your life. So much of experience design is preparing conditions so that a person can move onto the next stage of what you’re creating in an appropriate way.

An illustration from the book Experience Design of a hand reaching out of a book at the person reading it
An illustration from the book Experience Design. (Illustration: Erica Holeman. Courtesy Yale University Press)


When you started discussing design as an experience, you were defining what that meant. Now, as your book is published, it’s widely discussed. How do you feel about the mainstreaming of this concept?

I feel extremely hopeful that experience design is entering into the vernacular, but it is an emergent moment. There isn’t an orthodoxy right now, and that’s really exciting. That means that we’re in a time where we can debate and develop and advocate for the proper application of what I believe is an incredibly powerful, culture-changing approach to making.

At its core, experience design invites us into an ethical starting place for design—because what is ethics if not the effect we have on other people? We have an opportunity to rethink the ways we approach all of the huge, seemingly intractable problems we face. Experience design isn’t really about designing interfaces or immersive spaces. It belongs in so many places and in asking how we address problems of loneliness or our relationship to the environment.

I’d like to explore the ethical side a little more because we see experience design play out in a lot of unethical ways, like making it difficult to cancel a subscription or terms and conditions that are too long for anyone to read, among other so-called “dark patterns” that incentivize specific actions. What are your thoughts on this?

Any tool can be used for good or evil, and I think it’s really instructive to look at the ways experience design has been used brilliantly for evil. For example, Vladimir Putin basically has been rethinking what Russia is in order to defend his actions in Ukraine. It’s an enormously extensive world-building effort: he’s rewriting history, he’s restructuring education in schools, he’s changing language. These are all experience design projects at a very large scale. We’ve seen similar things happen throughout history because these efforts can be effective and powerful. At the same time, in Ukraine, you see another kind of world building going on. This is all experience design.

An ethical activity means it’s about the effect we have on others, and your ethics could be on the good side or the bad side. Just because you understand you are having an effect doesn’t mean you’re doing the right thing with the effect. If we put out these tools and say, “Do what you want,” things can be rendered to the lowest common denominator. These tools can be used to get more eyes on a social media account as your anxiety jacks up and your loneliness increases.

But what if we say that the most important questions to ask are: What is the real effect you wish to have on the world? What is your ethical purpose as a designer? And then, How does that render down from career, to job, to project, to design moment?

Much of so-called “good design” has been created from an experience of “user friendliness,” which often translates to removing pain points. But what is there to gain from pain?

Pain is movement away from comfort, and we can put things on a comfort-pain spectrum. To bring it back to the notion that every design move has a set of affordances, we can re-ask the question: What is our reason for designing for ease and comfort? What is our reason for moving away from that?

I recently had a conversation with a group of experience designers about how nothing can change without breaking habits. That seems pretty obvious. But when you think about design, it’s mostly about building comfort around the habitual and making things more efficient. Pain points are the problem, right? We never ask if it’s actually a good thing to be making everything about comfort. But if you add pain points, there is a break with the ordinary. If we want to change things, we need these pain points. And if we’re smart about them, pain points aren’t just things to cause reactions; we’ve designed a way to prepare our audience or user to be affected by those pain points in a positive and attentive way.

This makes me think of the chapter in my book about empathy. As a practitioner, empathy may be what you gain the most from pain. Empathy forces us to project ourselves into the understanding of another person who may have pain. The only way to really have empathy for that person is to really go into that pain—and you might not be ready for it. Empathy, when rigorously engaged with, forces us to recognize our own limits. I can have empathy for you, but I don’t know that much about you. The risk is for me to make a whole bunch of assumptions about you and call that empathy.

Then we get into this problematic, arrogant mode of empathy that makes us feel great about ourselves and makes us disregard the realities of others. There’s a kind of painful humility that needs to be applied in order to say, “I need to step back, do some research, ask some questions,” and also ask, “Am I the right person to do this?”

These are painful moments for a designer. But this is the real work of real empathy. And without the real work of empathy, how can you presume to have any role in designing an experience for another person in an effective or ethically rigorous way?