Designing for Self-Discovery: Towards a framework for the design of transformative experiences in higher education

Project dates: 2020 - 2022

This research project (Master of Philosophy) explored how transformative experiences can be collaboratively designed in extended service encounters. Set against the context of higher education, this study sought to understand how diverse collaborators in risk averse environments conceptualise transformative experiences in service environments that involve a customer and an organisation for multiple years.

Why is this important?

Driving Innovation in Higher Education and other risk averse service organisations

Reconceptualising the role of higher education as a celebratory experience that has an enduring impact on personal values may enable the university to better compete with the growingly competitive knowledge market. To be able to undertake this conception and development of transformative experience concepts requires new ideas to be conceived in creative ways that moves away from the current state of status quo adherence, risk-aversion and incremental change (Marginson & Considine, 2000). Using different workshop approaches was intended to aid the process of divergent thinking and creative idea generation for the design of transformative experiences in higher education.  ​

What did we do?

The project involved an interdisciplinary and diverse sample size of 36 participants from the university eco-system (Alumni, Students, Academic Staff from each discipline, Professional Staff) in three co-design workshops to reimagine the university of the future. The workshops varied in how abstractly the design task was represented to explore the ways in which the creativity of these different participants could be supported to aid concept generation for transformative experiences:

  1. Concrete Approach of Experience Design Thinking: Imagining the University as a Transformative Institution
  2. Analogical Reasoning Approach: Imagining the University as a Tourism Experience
  3. Abstract Approach of Narrative Storytelling: Imagining the University as a Hero’s Journey

Project Process:

  • Diverse sample intentionally recruited​ (n=36)
  • Participant allocation in one of three creative workshops to reimagine the university system​ (Experience Design Thinking, Narrative Storytelling, Analogic Reasoning) ​
  • 3 hour co-design workshop ​
  • Post-workshop interview using the Creativity Support Index (Cherry and Latilupe, 2014) to identify perceptions towards creative approach used (n=29)

What did we find out?

Findings on transformative experiences

  • Transformative experiences in extended service contexts involve three stages (Foundation, Fortification and Fruition), with different customer experience dimensions (Emotional, Sensory, Cognitive, Pragmatic, Relational & Lifestyle) related to each stage.
  • Initially, a service provider must emphasise the creation of Foundation-specific experiences by emphasising a high frequency and breadth of relational and cognitive experiences.
  • The next stage of experiences builds upon the Foundation dimensions and involves deploying Fortification experiences, where customers are able to deeply connect with their sense of self, passions and place.
  • Lastly, the model suggests a need for Fruition, with this stage referring to opportunities for continuity and connection for customers even upon service conclusion.
  • Discomfort by design and practical aspects of the customer experience are considered fundamental design features.

Findings on creativity support environments

  • For diverse collaborators to ideate on a major design challenge, creativity needs to be supported by a structure.
  • Creative approaches that are more abstract, such as the Hero’s Journey and Analogy, generate novel experience concepts.
  • Formal opportunities to reflect upon workshop participation and demonstrate how the work and effort expended has been actioned can generate transformative value for workshop participants.


To learn more about this project, please contact

Chief Investigators


Other Team Members

Project Summary Poster:

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