Designing “Delightful” Conference Experiences

Designing experiences for experience designers takes intention and a meta perspective.

Last Friday, out of curiosity, I attended the Warm Gun “Designing Happiness” conference on Measurable Design. One of the more powerful themes running through the talks was designing for a powerful emotional response. While triggering delight is great, hatred can provide valuable feedback and the opportunity to convert someone into a raving fan. The real enemy is apathy.

A second theme was the value and use of feedback loops – for engineers, designers, product owners and customers to continuously learn how to nail the problem and find the optimal solution using a Build – Measure – Learn approach (Ries) or Think – Make – Check approach (Fraser).

There were some great perspectives, stories, tips and tricks presented (see stream, when it’s posted: As is typical for conferences, though, each speaker presented what s/he is talking about these days.

We also spent the day listening vs. doing something that made us walk away thinking differently. While I love hearing thought-leaders speak, I left feeling unfulfilled. For me, the “meta” theme of the conference – “Designing Happiness” wasn’t realized.

Going “Meta”

A few months ago, I designed an internal conference for researchers, designers, writers and leaders of the experience design (XD) function of a large consumer software company. The intent of this conference was to transform XD staff from playing a reactive role in the software development process to proactive solution innovators.

One support structure for behavior change is the power of story. After synthesizing interviews and observations of people in the target job roles, I crafted a story of transformation based on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey (think Luke in Star Wars). This story served as the framework for the overall flow of the conference – taking participants from where they were, through challenges, learning and reflection to exit with new behaviors and, if not a new mindset, at least some cognitive dissonance to chew on.

To support this overall theme, and transmit the vision to conference committee members, I developed:

  • a mood board depicting the overall experience (a metaphorical & physical excursion)
  • a musical soundtrack
  • the hero’s journey rendered in graphic novel form

From this overall experience design, it was easy to define design principles for the conference (delight, relevance, connected, spacious, sustainable). It also enabled committee members to prioritize speakers, activities, food, ambiance and other decisions to ensure a delightful first impression and end-to-end experience, before, during and after the conference.

Principles Not Methods

A number of design thinking tools exist – often in the form of method cards. While these cards are handy for design-thinking types, they tend to create complexity for business folks who just want to get work done.

After months of teaching design thinking methods to product teams, I realized the immediate value was helping them understand which way to navigate: getting more customer empathy, coming up with more diverse ideas, narrowing and prioritizing, or experimenting to learn quickly.


Indicators that more empathy is needed:

  • We’ve asked customers what they need and built it.
  • We don’t know how important this problem/solution is for this customer.

Indicators that more broad thinking is needed:

  • We have one great solution we think will work.
  • We are really comfortable with all of the ideas we’ve come up with.

Indicators that the team needs to narrow:

  • We have lots of ideas, but are having trouble recognizing the great ones.
  • We are unable to make our prioritization decisions “stick.”

Indicators that the team needs to rapidly experiment with customers:

  • It’s difficult to distinguish facts from opinions and guesses.
  • We don’t know which customer problem to solve first.


Having your team intentionally select and focus on a direction accelerates learning and the liklihood of delivering solutions that delight customers.