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.