Flow is a familiar experience among designers: we become deeply engrossed in a challenging activity, losing track of time and feeling completely in tune with what we’re doing. We may even experience transcendence — a deep connection with something outside ourselves, something greater and more permanent than ourselves. But what is transcendence? Is it just an aspect of flow, or is it something else altogether? What’s distinct about transcendence, and why does it matter? And how do we design technology to facilitate it? (Can we actually design for transcendence?)

Transcendence shares some key features with flow, such as focused attention and altered senses of time and of self, and the experiences differ in some fundamental ways as well. Researcher Gayle Privette captures one major distinction: transcendent experience “is mystic and transpersonal”, and “flow is fun”.

Transcendent experiences elude description and resist planning: we cannot define or anticipate them reliably but can only invite them. This renders inadequate the direct approaches of classic UX work: we must instead take an oblique approach. Design for transcendent experience requires new methods.

Elizabeth will explore in this talk the nature of transcendent experience — contextual elements that can foster transcendence, the kinds of perceptions and reactions that can constitute a lived experience of transcendence, some words we use to characterize a transcendent experience, and the impact such an experience can have on our lives. She will describe and illustrate some tools and methods that she developed during her PhD research on design for transcendent user experience. Finally, she will invite the audience to try out one of the tools.