I recently took an online class called “Design Thinking” through iversity.org, a platform for Massive Open Online Courses based in Germany. One lecture sparked an interest in designing user experience and made me think about travel.
The simple visual above perfectly describes my travel experience.
Stage 1 is The Vision. When I know that I will be taking a trip, I begin to imagine the experience as I plan activities. Anticipating the journey, I am already experiencing it in my mind. I can almost feel the cobblestones under my feet, smell the sea breeze or hear the animated chatter in the marketplace.
The next phase is The Experience. While I’m traveling, I tune into the moment with intensity. Unfamiliarity sharpens my senses, as I notice every detail around me. Colors seem brighter, tastes more memorable and sounds that might go unnoticed at home form a cacophonous symphony. I feel awake and alive.
The 3rd stage is Reflection. When the journey is over, I return home and reflect. Instead of being just a checklist of tourist attractions, each experience becomes embedded in my psyche and changes my perspective.
The final phase, which may last a lifetime, is The Story. This is the memory that becomes a piece of well-worn quilt that I wrap around my shoulders. Over time, the memories may lose intensity, but they are still colorful tiles in life’s mosaic.
Thinking about the entire process makes me realize how wonderful it is to incorporate design thinking into the trip. When I become the creator, each journey is unique and the experience is entirely mine. Instead of standing behind the crowd that glances at the Mona Lisa and heads to the next destination, I turn around and discover a joyful masterpiece on another wall. Walking the streets of a German town, we happen upon a tiny printing museum and are treated to a leisurely private tour with a knowledgeable master. On our way to the Alamo, we take a detour and find the peaceful garden at the Spanish Governor’s Palace. Allowing time to get lost and time to explore, we discover forgotten paths and hidden treasures.
Experience design means paying attention to the details and thinking about the entire process – before, during and after. When it comes to travel, it means creating a loose plan and allowing plenty of time and opportunity for exploration and serendipity. Planning means that I know the address to plug into the GPS, the names of cities I’ll visit and the place I might sleep. But the time in between unfolds as it unfolds. I design the experience, do my research and plan the “ingredients,” but how it all comes together is something totally unexpected and memorable.