Designing Experiences

PROVO, Utah – Oct 24, 2019 – While working as a white-water rafting guide in central Idaho during high school, Mat Duerden got his first taste of how experience design can impact lives. As he led the trips, Duerden would see his groups’ demeanor slowly change but wasn’t sure why. Now an associate professor in BYU Marriott’s experience design and management (ExDM) program, Duerden has found the answer.

“I would see people on a five-day rafting trip change and relationships develop in surprisingly fast and deep ways,” he says. Over the course of the trips, he noticed how people’s stress decreased, they laughed more, and friendships formed quickly. “Even as a teenager, I thought a lot about this experience and what was leading to these changes,” he says. These initial questions helped Duerden discover his interest in learning exactly how experiences have the ability to shape people’s perception of an event.

After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Hamburg, Germany, Duerden decided to study German at BYU. However, through serendipitous connections and heartfelt prayer during his undergrad, Duerden connected with his future BYU Marriott coworker Mark Widmer when Widmer reached out for help organizing and running a wilderness program for disadvantaged kids. It was while creating the program with Widmer that Duerden was introduced to an academic field that directly studied experiences. Duerden received his BA in German in 2003 but had finally found a field he was passionate about after helping create and design the wilderness program.

As Duerden continued to learn from Widmer and other faculty in what was then BYU’s recreation management and youth leadership department, he realized what they were studying is how experiences impacted people—exactly what he had pondered years earlier during his time as a whitewater rafting guide.

Duerden’s realization led him to pursue an academic career focused on studying experiences. He received his master’s degree in youth and family recreation at BYU in 2006 and a PhD in recreation, parks, and tourism sciences at Texas A&M University in 2009. Seven years after graduating, Duerden came back to BYU Marriott to help transition the recreation management department into the current experience design and management department. BYU Marriott’s ExDM program teaches students how to manage experiences across a variety of industries.

While as a professor teaching experience design classes, Duerden couldn’t find a single textbook that offered all of the information he wanted to teach, so he cobbled together resources wherever he found them. Frustrated at the process of trying to find relevant materials, Duerden and his longtime associate Robert Rossman decided to compile their years of research and practice into a single book, which was published this summer by Columbia Business School Press.

Duerden first met Rossman nearly ten years ago while teaching at Texas A&M—he would use Rossman’s first book in class and frequently contacted him for clarification on his work. The two formed a friendship, and when Rossman wanted to write another book three years ago, he reached out to Duerden for an opportunity to work together. Their book, Designing Experiences, teaches people to think intentionally about how to design experiences—both for a company and their personal lives.

“Writing the book has been helpful for me to think about the contribution the new and emerging ExDM program makes and where we as a department want to go,” says Duerden.

Duerden hopes his book provides an accessible entry point for people and companies that want to create a systematic process for designing intentional experiences but don’t have massive amounts of resources to put into development. “Rossman and I are trying to prepare our students to go into those spaces and empower people to help realize this is something you can do regardless of your job title,” says Duerden. For his students, the book provides both a psychological understanding of how experiences can be designed and instructions on best practices.

Through his book, Duerden also wants to teach people and organizations that in order to design an experience for people, they have to have empathy for their needs. “We're each unique,” he says. “What we bring into an experience is going to influence what we take away from it. Without understanding who people are and what their needs and motivations are, you can't design experiences for them.”

Duerden is grateful to have helped shaped BYU Marriott’s ExDM program into what it is today. “A core foundation of who we are as a department is a belief that the right experiences can promote well-being and that, if you have the goal to promote well-being through experiences, you can successfully impact organizations and your own personal life,” he says.

Mat Duerden
Mat Duerden
Mat Duerden
Mat Duerden river rafting. Photo courtesy of Mat Duerden.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Natasha Ramirez