How to Design a Conference Experience (for Experience Designers)

March 27, 2010

in Ideas

How do you design an experience for experience designers? Interaction10 was the third edition of an annual conference hosted by the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) that gathered the interaction design community to connect, educate, and inspire each other. Jennifer Bove, co-chair of Interaction10 together with Bill DeRouchey, describes the process of designing the experience of the conference in this article published in FastCompany. The lessons learned during the process are perfectly valid for other events.

Follows an extract of the main points described by Bove (I recommend you to read the full story):

Collaborating with a large team of designers, who all worked as volunteers, we decided to approach the conference experience as designers creating a service, taking every aspect of the experience into account. We thought through the lifecycle of the event, in light of the needs and motivations of the 600+ participants at the event, in their various roles from attendees and speakers to sponsors, volunteers, and conference staff. We used our empathy as designers to imagine what was important to each user at each stage of the experience.

Celebrate the diversity of the community

We had so many quality submissions that we decided to lengthen the curated short sessions, add more community-sourced sessions, and extend the conference from 2.5 to 3 days to make more room for both discussion and content. […] With a diversity of topics, and more concurrent sessions, there would be something for everyone.

Create space for engagement

Instead of booking a sterile convention center, the conference was designed around the idea of a mini-village, with a tented square at the center, an old theatre, an even older restaurant, a pharmacy, a blacksmith’s quarters, and a library. Each of the venues was within walking distance, and each had a distinct character. We matched activities to venues–whether facilitating presentations, discussions, or a quiet crowd–and we designed the flow of traffic to encourage people to engage with the city, and each other, as they walked between venues.

Design for flexibility

While we tried to plan the hell out of everything we could control, we still had to be ready for the unexpected. […] We quickly came to understand that, like a service, we’d never be able to specify how everything would work out to a T, and that we needed to create a framework for the weekend to flow in the ways we’d intended.

Think of the little things

The joy, and challenge, of designing a conference for designers is that they can be the most vocal critics when something doesn’t “feel” quite right. Experience is attention to detail. Much like any other design project, no one particular detail should necessarily steal the show, but the sum of the little things should expose a narrative through which the experience unfolds. […] From “Welcome Interaction10” banners in the airport to the soundtrack between sessions, to the amenities in the restrooms, we worked to weave a narrative that evoked surprise and delight, as well as anticipating the needs of attendees during different stages of the event.

The badge design was a key area of improvement for us, as we wanted attendees’ badges to merit their usage throughout the event. We saw this as an opportunity to rethink a traditional conference artifact with an aim to make it more useful, more relevant, and environmentally friendly. Our design team worked diligently on prototyping badges that would fit the bill, and settled on folded cardstock that featured each person’ first name in  large bold letters for easy scanning and quick identification. The folded badges formed a pocket that fit a conference map and daily schedules, easily to pull from the badge quick reference and recycle after use.

We took a similar approach to recognizing our speakers, sending them Scott Bekrun’s book Confessions of a Public Speaker (ndr: Amazon link) as a pre-conference gift that they could read as they prepared for the event.

Feed people well

In collaboration with local restaurants and caterers, he chose a conference menu that challenged traditional conference food, with enough sweet and savory/soy- and veggie-friendly/protein-rich and low-fat fare to keep people going throughout the day.

Document everything

[…] all of the talks were recorded and are available online. Essential for a conference with four tracks of programming, as no one can take everything in at once, recording sessions for later viewing allowed the attendees, and the committee, to relax about what they were missing, with the knowledge that they could experience the weekend as it happened, and catch up with the content at a later date

Previous post:

Next post: