(I’m one of those people guilty of not posting on the blog enough, this post has been a draft for over a week now…)

Something in design I am very interested in is ambience, and I would like to make it the subject of my collection (thought I don’t know exactly how yet).  Ambience is hard for me to describe; I think it is similar to the idea of atmosphere, but that doesn’t solve the descriptive problem here because I can’t describe atmosphere either.  I have a book on my shelf–the Bedford Glossary of Literary and Critical Terms–that has this definition that I find useful:

“Atmosphere refers to the general feeling created for the reader or audience by the work at a given point, whereas tone refers to the attitude of the author towards the reader, audience, or subject matter.  The atmosphere of a work may be entirely different from the tone, although the two inevitably affect one another.  Mood is probably closer to atmosphere than to tone, but, as a general term, it can correctly be applied to either.  One could say that an author creates a somber mood, thereby using it as a synonym for atmosphere; one could also say that an author’s mood is somber, thereby using it a synonym for tone.”

I can see parallels between this and the idea of experience design; that what we can design to communicate particular experiences but that doesn’t ensure the user will actually have them.  It may be that ambient design is experience design that isn’t in your face about it.  Regardless, the ontological implications of ambience in design is something I’d like to explore by expanding the collection, and this is only the first entry!  The first ambient design I would like to critique is a restaurant experience.  I think restaurants do a lot to create particular ambient experiences because they have a lot at stake with them.  For instance, I have noticed that a lot of professional restaurant reviewers talk about ambience when writing their critique, so it seems clear to me it is an important part of holistic restaurant design.

Two weekends ago I was in Indianapolis and I ended up going to The Cheesecake Factory with a few friends from HCI/d (who wanted to remain nameless!).  I know it is a huge chain, but I had actually never been to one before.  I used to be a chef and cook professionally, so the business operation of restaurants isn’t something completely foreign to me, but when presented with The Cheesecake Factory I had a WTF moment like Rayne with her giant breasts artwork.  I looked at what was around me, and I couldn’t comprehend why this business was successful (and very successful).  What I’d like to critique is the ambient aesthetic experience of the restuarant, and I’m going to try to do it in the “Carroll-style” we did last Thursday; in that regard I expect to fail and then learn from it.  A final note: I started this post not long after I had this experience.  Then Connect happened.  Now I am working on it again, and the experience isn’t fresh in my mind anymore.  That is a first lesson learned, that it is difficult to critique an experience that isn’t fresh in your head.  Therefore what I have is kind of unfinished, but I am going to have to post it anyway without being able to really fully finish it.  I’ll just have to do better next time.

Description: This place is a restaurant, and a very busy one–we waited nearly two hours.  It in a busy mall (which is where we spent that waiting time), which is itself is in a very busy consumerist-oriented part of Indianapolis.  There were several styles of architecture used outside and inside.  There was a low light level inside, with mostly warm colors but occasional cool colors (is describing colors as warm and cool description since it is objective?).  There were a lot of columns, and also murals painted on the ceiling.  I am providing some pictures I took there because I think they speak better than my description.

Classification: This is a chain restaurant, I think that is an important classification to make because it implies people go to it for familiarity and consistency.

Contextualization: I really don’t know what to say about this one.

Elucidation: Again, I’m not sure what to say for this one.  In classification I talked about how the fact of it being a chain means there are certain assumptions that I think people who eat there make about it, is it pushing it say that is a convention?

Analysis: The indoor architecture seemed to be conflicting, as in multiple styles used that didn’t seem to go well together.  There were a lot of ceramic faces that seemed very ancient Egyptian, combined with murals that seemed more north Mediterranean.  The walls had an odd texture that seemed to be replicating some kind of older building material.

Interpretation: The styles seemed like they were clashing.  It almost made me feel uneasy; it seemed like four or five aesthetic styles were all smashed together to create this place.  Nothing seemed to fit together well with anything else.  As a result of that, I thought the ambience of the place had a rather surreal quality.

That’s all I think I can do having had my writing interrupted by Connect and then picking it back up a week later.  I plan to do another restaurant ambience critique to try and get this better though.

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