I don’t have much to say with this post, except that I have received word that my thesis has been placed in the Northumbria Research Link. Here’s the link to it. I’d love to know what you think, and if you’re interested in collaborating on future research, please do get in touch.
In any research study, the researcher must discuss the limitations of the work, how they might have influenced the results, and what further research might be done to address the limitations. This blog post is a slightly condensed version of the discussion of this that appears in my thesis. Some of the phrases used in this discussion refer to findings described earlier in the thesis; in particular, they refer to the components of transcendent user experience that my grounded theory identifies as “creating the context”, “living the experience” (which consists of perception and reaction subcomponents), “integrating the experience”, “using artefacts”, and “desiring enhancements”. The discussion also refers to the Transcendhance game, a summary of which can be found in this PDF of the late-breaking work I presented at CHI 2014.
Discussion of Methods
This section discusses the methods I used in this research, focusing mainly on their limitations and how those might have influenced the results, and speculating about further work to address open questions.
Consideration of Existing Experiential Technologies
My analysis of transcendent user experience (TUX) and my exploration of peripheral design might have been enhanced by a more in-depth consideration and analysis of the attributes of existing technologies and how they do and do not support transcendent experience (TX). Further work in this area should consider explorations of this topic such as Mossbridge’s (2016) analysis of “transcendence tech” (p. 1).
Application of Grounded Theory Methods
The Grounded Theory methodology calls for interleaving data collection and analysis, so that emerging themes and emerging theory can influence further sampling. My study required a sample of interview participants with a breadth of religious and spiritual perspectives, and adjusting the sampling in this way would have been problematic because of the difficulty I encountered in recruiting the last few. I could have started coding the data with the first interview and interleaved collection and analysis more tightly. I do not think my failure to do so affected the results in any meaningful way, but doing so might have smoothed the analysis process.
Game and Workshop Design
Some aspects of the Transcendhance game appeared to work well:
- The “reaction” subcomponents of lived experience seemed particularly effective. Even though feelings and emotions are elusive with respect to the provision of direct input, they are easy for nonspecialists to understand, and they give a depth and richness to TX descriptions for which players are generating design ideas.
- Participants shared components of ideas. For example, a figure called Daniel featured in ideas from different participants in one session. This kind of sharing indicated a camaraderie and congeniality that I was hoping to foster among the participants.
- Participants seemed to enjoy the game; one group even said they would play it just for fun.
Several aspects of the game and workshop design could be improved:
- The game required participants to consider context in creating their ideas.
- The game did not ask participants to consider aspects of integrating the experience, even though some of its aspects appear high among interview participants’ desires for TX enhancement.
- The game treated internal perceptions as separate from context, and workshop participants found this difference difficult to grasp.
- The game did not have clear criteria for when to move on to the next round or end the game.
- Recruitment for the workshop used mainly convenience sampling, with no attention paid to design education or training among the participants.
These aspects may have contributed to the results. First, context was the only TX component that participants were required to use in their ideas — and it turned out to be the easiest component to consider. Future versions of the game may experiment with which components are required.
Second, the subcomponents of integrating the experience came into play only to the extent that players inferred them from interview participant desires, which were provided in the last phase of the game and which players were not required to use. This omission seems likely to have contributed to the very low number of workshop ideas that addressed desires related to integration.
Third, the difference between some of the context and lived-experience subcomponents of TX can be very difficult to grasp, and the instruction given to workshop participants may have been insufficient to enable them to understand the difference. Smell, for example, can belong to context, such as the smell of candles in a church; or it can be a perception belonging to the lived experience, such as the scent of perfume accompanying the presence of a deceased loved one. Evidently this distinction was not clear to workshop participants: many of their ideas translated inputs for lived-experience perception into sensory input supplied by the envisioned artefacts. Unfortunately, this problem may not be surmountable: although the distinction is defensible as an approach to the issue of external reality vs a person’s perception of it, the limitations of current technology make subjective perceptions nearly impossible to control directly, and from a design perspective the difference may not matter.
Another possible explanation for the very low numbers of ideas that addressed lived experience, despite the fact that the game involved three times as many inputs for it as for context, is that it is far easier to imagine technologies that influence lived experience indirectly or peripherally, by contributing to context, than it is to imagine ones that directly produce a perception, an emotion, or an interpretation.
Fourth, a game should normally have clear criteria for moving to a new round and for ending the game. The next time I run Transcendhance I will ensure that I have developed such criteria.
Fifth, the workshop participants varied quite a lot in their familiarity and comfort with generating design ideas and representing them in sketches. Not all of the most evocative ideas came from people with design training, but I did notice a difference in participants’ comfort and fluency. It would be interesting to discover whether and how design training influences the transcendence possibilities in the ideas that workshop participants generate, and even whether such training might limit it.
As I reflect on my work on design fiction for techno-spirituality, viewing it through the lens of the grounded theory of TUX that I later developed, I notice that my background work in design fiction (Blythe & Buie, 2014a, 2014b; Buie & Blythe, 2013a, 2013b) imagined TUXs in relatively little depth, focusing on people’s immediate reactions to the technologies without exploring how they might integrate the experiences into their lives. Pilgrim Trail, for example (Blythe & Buie, 2014b), mentions subjective experience only briefly — participants felt “inspired and moved” (p. 3) — and relegates TX to future work; and it completely overlooks possible integrative effects such as transformation even though pilgrimage is often described as a transformative experience and the growing phenomenon of “transformational tourism” is beginning to receive research attention. Ganesha Me considered neither transcendence nor long-term effects, but to be fair it was aimed at educational rather than transcendent aspects of techno-spirituality. The Chatbot (Blythe & Buie, 2014a) was aimed at numinous experience but considered very little of the quality of that experience.
Blythe, M., & Buie, E. (2014a). Chatbots of the Gods: Imaginary Abstracts for Techno-Spirituality Research. In Proc. NordiCHI 2014 (pp. 227–236). Helsinki, Finland: ACM.
Blythe, M., & Buie, E. (2014b). Digital Spirits: Report of an Imaginary Workshop on Technologies to Support Religious and Spiritual Experience.
Buie, E., & Blythe, M. (2013a). Spirituality: there’s an app for that! (but not a lot of research). In Extended Abstracts CHI 2013 (pp. 2315–2324). Paris, France: ACM.
Buie, E., & Blythe, M. (2013b). Meditations on YouTube. In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Designing Pleasurable Products and Interfaces – DPPI ’13 (pp. 41–50). Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: ACM.
Mossbridge, J. (2016). Designing Transcendence Technology. In S. Imholz & J. Sachter (Eds.), Psychology’s New Design Science and the Reflective Practitioner (pp. 1–27).
This post is a somewhat condensed version of the Conclusions chapter of my thesis, listing and summarizing the original contributions to knowledge that my thesis provides. I’ve got nine such contributions, which for a PhD is rather a lot, but the examiners didn’t object to that number and so they stand as written.
Original Contributions to Knowledge
The research I present in this thesis makes nine original contributions to knowledge. These contributions cover both of the fields my research bridges: seven apply to my “home” field of design for user experience and two apply to transcendent experience (TX). My contributions to design cover both design fiction and techno-spiritual design.
Contributions to Knowledge — Transcendent Experience
My research contributes to the knowledge of transcendent experience in two key ways:
- Recognition of transcendent experience as phased and cyclical
- New thoughts about the position of ineffability in transcendent experience
This subsection summarises these contributions.
Recognition of transcendent experience as phased and cyclical
Although previous literature has noted the largely sequential nature of TX components (Garcia-Romeu, Himelstein, & Kaminker, 2015), this thesis is the first to describe them as phases (Chapter 4). Additionally, I explicitly recognise that the effects and actions arising from a transcendent experience often include changes to beliefs or practices that formed part of the context of that experience, and that those changes sometimes facilitate further transcendent experiences. Although the cyclic potential of TXs can be inferred from literature on various types of transcendent experience, I have found none that states it explicitly. This thesis is the first work that combines the sequential nature of TX components with the recognition that a TX can be followed by changes in beliefs or practice, and depicts the top-level components of transcendent experience as a cycle of phases.
New thoughts about the position of ineffability in transcendent experience
The TX literature has long considered ineffability as one of the most common characteristics of transcendent experiences, but most of these works say merely that the experience is ineffable. Studies of mystical experience constitute an exception in that many of them assign ineffability to a position in the structure, placing it in either introvertive mysticism or the interpretive factor. My interview analysis suggests that ineffability falls within living the experience of TX — primarily in perceiving the phenomena and to a much lesser extent in reacting to the phenomena as the experience unfolds. All interview participants who struggled to put words to their experiences had trouble describing what they perceived. A small number also had difficulty in describing the emotions they felt while the experience was unfolding. This suggests that identifying an experience as ineffable requires attempting to put it into words — i.e., interpreting it.
Contributions to Knowledge — Design Fiction
My research contributes to the knowledge of design fiction in one main way:
- Proposal and exploration of three new forms of design fiction
My exploration of design fiction yielded the creation of three proposed new forms. The first two are variations on the imaginary abstract:
- Extended imaginary abstracts: longer abstracts that describe in greater detail the envisaged prototype, test conditions/procedures, and findings
- Comparative imaginary abstracts: co-ordinated variants on an idea, exploring differences in design, testing, and/or results
The third proposed new form does not summarise an imagined research paper but aims to convey a sense of the experience:
- Design poetry: poems written to convey ambiguous, subjective, and ineffable aspects of the envisioned user experience
[descriptions omitted for reasons of space]
It will be interesting to discover how these forms of design fiction might be useful to HCI research and design in general, beyond techno-spirituality.
Contributions to Knowledge — Techno-Spiritual Design
My research contributes to the knowledge of techno-spiritual design — in particular, design for transcendent experience — in five primary ways:
- A grounded theory of artefact-supported transcendent experience — transcendent user experience (TUX)
- Identification and analysis of a rich body of transcendent experience literature that very rarely appears in techno-spirituality work
- The Transcendhance game, which elicits speculative, generative TUX design ideas that explicitly draw on aspects of the target lived experience
- A framework for mapping artefacts and design ideas to components of my grounded theory of TUX
- An understanding of design fiction’s benefits to techno-spirituality
The remainder of this subsection describes these contributions.
Grounded theory of transcendent user experience
My grounded theory of transcendent user experience provides an in-depth understanding of how artefacts support spiritual practices and transcendent experiences, and supplies insights into what people value about those experiences and what they desire in the way of enhancements and specific artefact support for them. This knowledge can aid designers in identifying needs for techno-spiritual products. It also provides a set of attributes of transcendent user experience that can support techno-spirituality research and design.
Identification of transcendent experience literature on which HCI can draw
In Chapter 2 I showed how very few studies of experiential techno-spirituality cite any literature on transcendent experiences or define the experience of interest beyond the vague “spiritual experience”, despite the common UX practice of describing target experiences and the abundance of TX literature on the nature of transcendent experiences. The experiences themselves thus remain elusive to HCI research and design. My review of extensive literature on the nature of transcendent experience reveals a rich source of descriptions of such experience that HCI researchers and designers can use to understand the nature of the experiential aspects they are studying or for which they are designing.
Transcendhance game for eliciting speculative, generative design ideas
My design game, Transcendhance, provides an oblique approach to generating design ideas for artefacts intended to facilitate experiences that are tricky to define, difficult to discuss, impossible to anticipate, and thus challenging to design for in a direct manner. Even with the aforementioned rich description in the TX literature, these ineffable experiences remain elusive and difficult to imagine, especially for designers who have not had one themselves. Using insights from interviews in a congenial atmosphere of imagination, fun, and play, Transcendhance evokes design ideas that not only address the components of transcendent experience and respond to expressed desires for enhancement and artefact support, but can generate further ideas when considered in light of relevant research.
Framework for mapping artefacts and design ideas to components of my grounded theory of transcendent user experience
The Transcendhance workshop analysis presents an initial mapping of the generated ideas to the phases and subcomponents of transcendent experience, furnishing insights that could help facilitate design for transcendent user experience. This may allow for more specific tailoring of designs to address TX components that researchers or practitioners wish to support, and it lays the ground for a more detailed mapping following further research.
An understanding of the benefits of design fiction to techno-spirituality
In exploring design fiction for techno-spirituality research and design I have observed that, by virtue of its position as imaginary, design fiction offers the opportunity to tap into Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief”. Design fiction thus allows us to suspend disbelief not only about the narrative and the diegesis, as we usually think of such suspension, but also about the spiritual and religious beliefs that the fiction portrays and the fictional artefacts support. In this way, design fiction can help us envision and even become engaged with artefacts to support spiritual and religious practices involving beliefs that we do not ourselves hold. This additional suspension, I argue, can aid us in designing for people who hold such beliefs.
Contribution to Knowledge — Peripheral Design
My final contribution to knowledge draws on contributions 3 and 6, above:
- Peripheral design as a synergy of the Transcendhance game and design fiction
Transcendhance game can use imagination, fun, and play in a non-competitive environment to elicit generative ideas for artefacts aimed at enhancing transcendent experience. New forms of design fiction can help in building on ideas by increasing detail, by varying certain characteristics, and by conveying envisaged experiences in poetry. These methods take a sideways approach to techno-spiritual design, drawing on unconscious contents via playfulness and “indirect metaphors that refer to something without explicitly naming anything” (Robins, 2014, p. 4). Both are peripheral, oblique approaches, I argue, and I call the combination peripheral design.
Garcia-Romeu, A., Himelstein, S. P., & Kaminker, J. (2015). Self-transcendent experience: a grounded theory study. Qualitative Research, 15(5), 633–654.
Robins, S. F. (2014). Expressing the Ineffable in Performance Poetry. Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies, 10(3/4), 1–27.
Today I received the official word from the Northumbria Graduate School on my viva results:
I write to advise you that following your research degree examination, the University’s Research Degrees Committee has approved the outcome of your research degree examination as follows:
Award the degree, subject to corrections being carried out to the satisfaction of a nominated examiner
A copy of the Examiners’ joint report and recommendation form is attached – section 6 lists the exact requirements which you are now required to meet.
The deadline by which you should submit your corrections/resubmission to The Graduate School is 24/02/2018 at the latest.
Once all of the corrections have been made, please submit to The Graduate School an electronic copy (formatted as a single pdf) of your corrected thesis/portfolio.
It is good practice, and will assist the examiner who reviews the corrections, if you can indicate where in the thesis you have made the corrections; e.g., by providing a separate list showing on which pages of your thesis/portfolio the corrections have been made, or by making the corrections using a different colour of font from that in the main body of your thesis (or portfolio).
This letter came about two weeks before I expected. I still think the bureaucratic process will prevent me from getting the degree before late October, but at least now I can start working on the changes. Two of them will take just a few minutes each; the other two will require some thought. But yee-haa, the end is in sight!
(The only downside is that I will lose access to Eduroam after I lose my Northumbria email account.)
I’d like to go ahead and make the dedication and acknowledgments public, so I’m posting them here.
I dedicate this thesis to Timothy Kendall, music director of Collegium Cantorum. Without Timothy’s acceptance of me as a Collegium singer in 2007 and his provision of MIDI files to help us learn the music, I cannot begin to imagine having had a transcendent user experience like the one that sparked my research. Timothy, gratias maximas tibi.
My PhD programme and this thesis have been for me an extraordinary adventure that would simply have been impossible without support, encouragement, and guidance from both sides of the Atlantic and even beyond. Deepest thanks go to Professor Mark Blythe, my primary supervisor, for taking me on, helping me learn, suggesting research ideas, encouraging me when I despaired, bearing with me when I was slow to grasp what he had in mind, and generally being an amazing design researcher with whom I have had the privilege to work. Heartfelt gratitude goes to Professor Gilbert Cockton, without whose urging Northumbria would not even have been on my radar, and for his feedback and guidance as second supervisor and his insights into the workings of the university. A tip o’ the hat to Dr Colin Cameron, whom I met doing academic stand-up comedy and who joined my supervision team in media res to provide his expertise on grounded theory. Further appreciation goes to Dr Joyce Yee, Jamie Steane, and Professor Paul Rodgers, who sat on my internal review panels and helped sanity-check my process. Without any one of you, this thesis would not be what it is.
Andii Bowsher, the university’s Co-ordinating Chaplain, expressed great enthusiasm for my work and helped recruit the last few participants for my interviews. Eben Haber pointed me to VideoNoteTakerUtility, an IBM tool he had developed for controlling playback and transcription of recordings; its ease of keyboard control greatly eased that task. And of course I am grateful to Northumbria University itself, for taking me in and providing me the required academic resources, and especially for giving me a three-year studentship to help fund my research.
I have received tremendous support from family in the USA and from friends here, there, and everywhere. Rosamund Stansfield took me in when I was new to the North East of England. She introduced me to Grainger Market and other shopping in Newcastle City Centre, advised me on how to navigate the NHS, and checked in occasionally to see if I could use a friendly chat over coffee. My fellow PhD students acted as sounding boards, workshop participants, and sources of information about the programme. The warm and generous people of Newcastle Unitarian Church welcomed me as a visitor and then as a member; they must have been interested in my thoughts on spirituality and technology, as they kept inviting me to lead the occasional Sunday service. The lovely people of Cappella Novocastriensis gave me a weekly uplift via choral singing in good company, in a church several centuries more ancient than anywhere I had sung back home. Friends are still telling me how much they enjoy reading about my saga on Facebook and in my blog. And in my final year the kindred spirits of RSA Newcastle provided stimulating conversation in a convivial atmosphere.
And, of course, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the participants in the interviews and the workshops. Each person I interviewed took me through a spiritual autobiography and the story of an event or two that meant a lot to them, sometimes getting emotional but always willing to forge ahead. Dear people: I found your stories fascinating and inspiring, and I felt close to you every time I read or listened to your words. Profound thanks to you. The people who joined the workshop didn’t know exactly what they were being asked to do, but they plunged right in. Dear people: It was a joy to see you laughing together as you sketched your ideas and described them to the rest of us. Heartfelt thanks to you.
These acknowledgments would be incomplete if I didn’t mention Facebook, the NHS, and the Oxford comma. By making it easy to keep up with family and friends everywhere, Facebook made it thinkable for me to move across the Pond alone, which allowed me to feel mystified that people kept admiring my courage in doing so. As a full-time student I qualified for health care under the NHS; and although it could at times be excruciatingly slow and inexplicably conservative, it was there when I needed it.
And finally, I must honour the memories of three special family members. My late husband, Antonio Vallone, has been with me in spirit during this fascinating journey of mine and has often helped me in my imagination, grabbing pen and paper and saying encouragingly, “Facciamo un’analisi.” My mother, Beverly Buie, always wanted to hear about what I was doing and was always proud of me even when she had no clue what it meant, and I often imagined explaining my research to her. My grandmother, Kathryn McNairy, shared my interest in extraordinary experiences and once confided to me her own near-death experience, saying “Somehow I just knew you’d understand.” It gives me warm fuzzies to imagine how proud you all would have been.
 Most likely they’re trying to avoid spending money until they’re convinced that it’s necessary.
 Italian for “Let’s do an analysis.”
During the months between when I submitted the abstract for the assignment of examiners and when I completed and submitted my thesis, the abstract changed slightly. The main difference is that the thesis included a greater focus (a whole chapter, in fact) on design fiction and its possible contributions to designing for transcendent user experience. Here’s the abstract that appears in my thesis. The examiners didn’t ask for any modifications to it, so it’s extremely unlikely that it will change in any way.
This thesis presents a study of transcendent experiences (TXs) — experiences of connection with something greater than oneself — focusing on what they are, how artefacts support them, and how design can contribute to that support. People often find such experiences transformative, and artefacts do support them — but the literature rarely addresses designing artefact support for TXs. This thesis provides a step toward filling that gap.
The first phase of research involved the conduct and analysis of 24 interviews with adults of diverse spiritual perspectives, using constructivist Grounded Theory methods informed by relevant literature and by studies performed earlier in the PhD programme. Analysis found that TXs proceed in three phases — creating the context, living the experience, integrating the experience — and that artefacts support two phases and people desire enhancements to all three. This TX framework supports and extends experience structures from the literature: it recognises the top-level categories as phases in a cycle where integration may alter future contexts, and it extends the structure of TX by incorporating the relationships of artefacts and of enhancement desires to the phases of these experiences. This extended structure constitutes a grounded theory of transcendent user experience (TUX).
The second phase involved the design and conduct of three “Transcendhance” game workshops for enhancing transcendence, which incorporated themes from the grounded theory and aimed to elicit design ideas in an atmosphere of imagination, fun, and play. Participants sketched 69 speculative ideas for techno-spiritual artefacts, and analysis mapped them to TX phases and identified possible extensions inspired by relevant research. The great majority of ideas mapped to the phase Creating the Context, with very few mapping to Living the Experience, which suggests that context may be easier than lived experience to understand and address directly. This point is especially important for experiences such as TX that are tricky to define, impossible to arrange or anticipate, and thus unsuitable for straight-forward “classic” user experience methods.
The final phase involved the elaboration of workshop ideas to explore the extension of design fiction for TUX. Analysis related design fiction to the TX phases and suggested features that affect design ideas’ potential for TUX design fiction. This phase ended with the proposal and analysis of three new forms of design fiction — extended imaginary abstracts, comparative imaginary abstracts, and design poetry — using workshop ideas to illustrate the forms, their construction and use, and their benefits to TUX design.
Transcendhance workshops and TUX design fictions approach techno-spiritual design peripherally, “sneaking up” on lived experience by addressing context and enabling the consideration of ineffable experience through storytelling, metaphors, and oblique imagery.
This thesis combines the grounded theory of transcendent user experience with the Transcendhance workshop process and new forms of design fiction, presenting peripheral design as a promising strategy for facilitating design to enhance transcendent experience.
It’s been almost five years in the making. I landed in the UK on 18 October 2012 to begin working on my PhD, and on 2 August 2017 (yesterday, as I write this) I passed my viva voce examination, the defense of my thesis.
My examiners (one from Northumbria and one from another UK university) were friendly and positive. They had lots of questions, some of which sought clarification on what I had done or what I meant by something I had written and others wanted my thoughts on related but tangential subjects. Evidently my thesis offered much food for thought. I’m very glad of this.
I ended up being given four modifications to make, mostly having the purpose of clarification. In each case they said that our conversation enabled them to understand, but they were concerned that it wouldn’t be clear to someone reading it without having the opportunity to ask me about it. Fair enough, I say.
Three months ago I wrote that there were five possible outcomes of the viva, but things have changed and now Northumbria defines only four. No longer do the examiners decide whether changes are major or minor; they just write them up and the Research Degrees Committee makes that call, also assigning a deadline for completing them. I’m certain mine will be defined as minor, especially because the examiners said they should take me only a couple of days to do.
One of the examiners said to me afterward that he’s read a lot of PhD theses where he kept wishing the writer would just get on with it, but he really enjoyed mine. I loved that.
From what I understand, I’m not supposed to use the title of Dr. until I’ve made the corrections and have received word that they’ve been approved. So don’t call me Dr. Buie quite yet! Soon, however, soon…
I plan to write a bit of reflection on my PhD process and how I got to where I am, but that will take more time than I have today.
This will be short, as it’s after midnight, but under the circumstances I thought I’d better post a quick update.
I went to Newcastle to submit my thesis in person on Friday. (I did manage to move to Cambridge in February.) Everything went well, I had a good weekend there, and I’m glad that’s finally behind me.
Here’s what’s next:
- The Graduate School will keep one copy of the thesis and send the other two to the examiners who have been appointed. One of those (the “internal examiner”) is at Northumbria but has not been involved in helping or overseeing my progress. The other (the “external”) is at another UK university.
- In maybe 2-3 weeks, I’ll receive a notification of the possible dates for my viva voce exam — dates roughly 2-3 months from now that all the other parties have indicated they can make — and I’ll be asked to choose one. This exam should be similar to what in the US is called a “defense”.
- We’ll meet for a couple of hours. They’ll ask me questions. I’ll answer as best I can. I’ll leave the room. They’ll decide on the outcome. I’ll come back into the room. They’ll tell me the outcome.
- There are five possible outcomes:
- Pass with no corrections.
- Pass with corrections required, which I have to complete within six months. My supervisors can sign off on this; the examiners don’t need to review them.
- Revise and resubmit (also known as “major corrections”) within a year. This will involve another viva.
- Award of a lower degree. (In the case of my research programme it would be a Master of Philosophy.)
- I follow up with whatever is required.
I would say that #1 is highly unlikely and that #4 and #5 are not going to happen. I think #2 is more likely than #3, but I wouldn’t rule out either one and I don’t want to second-guess anyone or contaminate the process. So I won’t say anything else about this except the viva date when I have it, until I know the outcome.
More information is here: https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/static/5007/graduateschool/submittingforexam.pdf
I’ll write a long post soon, about various things.
I should have waited until today before posting the abstract, but I was too excited about it to let it go any longer. Today I had a meeting with my second supervisor, who explained the feedback he had emailed me and told me I didn’t have to stick to 300 words. So here’s the revised version. (I’m leaving the original version up because I did say it was the original version. <smile>)
Design Strategies for Transcendent User Experiences
This thesis presents a study of spiritual and transcendent experiences (STXs) — experiences of connection with something greater than oneself — focusing on what they are, how artefacts support them, and how design can contribute to that support. People often find such experiences transformative, and artefacts do support them — but the literature rarely addresses artefact support for STXs. This thesis provides a step toward filling that gap.
The first phase of research involved the conduct and analysis of 24 interviews with adults of diverse spiritual perspectives, using constructivist Grounded Theory methods informed by relevant literature and by studies performed earlier in the PhD research programme. Analysis found that STXs proceed in three stages — creating the context, living the experience, integrating the experience — and that artefacts support at least two stages and people desire enhancements to all three. This STX framework supports and extends experience structures from the literature: it recognises the top-level categories as stages in a cycle where integration alters future contexts, and it extends the structure of STX by incorporating the relationships of artefacts and of enhancement desires to the stages of these experiences. This extended structure constitutes a grounded theory of transcendent user experiences.
The second phase involved the design and conduct of three “Transcendhance” workshops for enhancing transcendence, which aimed to elicit speculative design ideas in an atmosphere of fun and play. By playing a game that incorporated themes from the grounded theory of transcendent user experiences, workshop participants sketched 69 design ideas for techno-spiritual artefacts. Analysis mapped the ideas to the stages of STX and drew on relevant research to inspire possible extensions to the workshop-generated ideas. By far the largest number of ideas mapped to the STX stage Creating the Context, with very few mapping to Living the Experience, which suggests that context may be easier than lived experience to understand and address directly. This point is especially important for experiences such as STX that are tricky to define, impossible to arrange or anticipate, and thus unsuitable for straight-forward “classic” user experience methods. Transcendhance workshops approach techno-spiritual design peripherally, “sneaking up” on the lived experience by addressing the context.
This thesis combines the grounded theory of transcendent user experience with the Transcendhance workshop process, presenting peripheral design as a promising strategy for facilitating design to enhance spiritual and transcendent experiences.
Throughout my PhD program(me), the title I’ve been using — which I always have to enter on administrative forms — has been “User Experience and the Human Spirit”. That title captures the spirit, the motivation, but gives no information about the content of my research. Today my supervisor and I settled on what I am going to use for the title of my thesis:
Design Strategies for Transcendent User Experiences
I also had to write a 300-word abstract for the purpose of assigning examiners for my thesis. I’ll find out if I can post that here too.
When I find myself thinking that two-days-plus was a very long time to take for only 300 words, I console myself with the famous quasi-quote: “I’m sorry this letter is so long, but I didn’t have time to make it shorter.”