‘Experience Design’ explained in 16 delicious plates of food

Last Saturday I took my wife to the Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal’s 3 Michelin starred restaurant. It promised to be a delight for all the senses and to score hundreds of husband-points to make up for the suffering  bank balance.

This meal is an analogy for good Experience Design; our approach to face to face learning, based on the Affective Context model coined by the boss, Nick S-J. I’m not going to say much. I hope the techniques are a clear enough demonstration of best practice face to face learning.

1. Entering a new reality.

We were greeted outside the restaurant and were held momentarily between the front door and the inner restaurant door. The waiter began his well rehearsed narrative.


2. Story-telling.

The whole concept of the meal was a journey – a holiday in fact. Following Heston’s childhood memories from breakfast to dinner to bedtime. We were invited along for the ride. Better still would have been, if the story was totally ours, but I’ll come to that.


3. Shareable everything. The first bite was an amuse bouche. An alcoholic spirit (I had tequila) of our choice in an egg mixture, then dropped into a vat of liquid nitrogen. Why not?

4. Personalisation.

Before the meal we were asked to give some details about ourselves, where we met, what our passions are, that sort of thing. This was incorporated into our experience.

5. Surprise and delight.

Everything was not quite what it seemed. We even has a cup of tea that was hot and cold at the same time!


6. Value.

It’s difficult to justify how a £500 meal could be value for money. The value wasn’t in the food, it was in the story, the design and the time of all the people that made it come together. We were served by about 8 separate people and I’m told there’s something like 70 staff and about 30 covers a day. I know 2 day learning conferences that cost more than this, and people actually pay to go!


7. All the senses.

Taste obviously being the central theme, it wasn’t the only thing addressed in the dishes. The ‘Sound of the Sea’ course involved putting headphones in your ears, while you ate a plate of seafood on a bed of sand.

8. Artifacts.

We never really grow out of ‘goodie bags’ do we? Having something tangible to take away can be a great way of inserting a reference into people’s lives away from the experience. From the Fat Duck we took away a couple of these breakfast boxes and a beautiful bag of chocolates.


Wow what an experience. Once in a lifetime. Literally, couldn’t afford it again. So for those who haven’t made the link, storytelling, theatre and value is what you should be striving for in learning. If you go content first, people won’t remember anything and they won’t like you.

Finally, we can push this analogy even further. In this courses to resources world, what’s a resource? Well, in the catering industry there’s a backlash against this kind of narrative-driven dining experience. It’s the ‘food first’ movement which is characterised by minimalist decor. El Celler de Can Roca, Girona was voted the best restaurant in the world in 2016 – check it out.

celler_3 (1)

This could be your quality resource. It only gives you what you need, and the context you bring to the table, is all yours. I don’t think this is pure ‘Performance Support’ in the sense that the ‘experience’ is a key component. This is probably your bottle of Lucozade Sport, which literally gives you what you need, when you need it.

So, what are you going to feed your learners? Whatever it is, don’t feed them a Mcdonalds. The traditional classroom of the restaurant world – soulless grub that lacks quality and nutrition. Or Elearning, orphanage gruel, which nobody likes, no matter how many raisins you put in it.


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