Why Experience Designers are the New Event Planners

UI and UX roles are evolving. Now XD, Experience Designers, are on the frontlines of the event planning battlefield.

Anybody living and breathing in the agency world for the past two decades knows these two acronyms. UI and UX—short for user interface and user experience. Agencies, studios, and boutique garage shops alike understand the importance of beautiful, frictionless user experiences. But previously, this terminology has been reserved for web work.

Both in-house and freelance UI/UX designers have been wireframing websites and applications for years, making sure that by the time the end user stumbled upon it, the experience was painless and intuitive. In fact, the previous definition of experience design, in short, was to make technology easier to use. But the paradigm is shifting. No longer is XD just about the technology.

Today, experience design, as defined by Wikipedia, is "the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, omnichannel journeys, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions." Thus, these days, the Experience Designer is the brand experience's best friend.

XD in the Brand Experience Age Goes Beyond 2D

While the output may have evolved, experience design truly hasn't strayed far from its core competency—user centricity. Experience designers must first and foremost understand the user's needs, and the clients' goals, and then map out a journey that meets those needs holistically, on a bridge between the digital and physical.

Yes, journey mapping is still the most important element of experience design, and that couldn't make more sense in the world of events. After developing your target audience personas, journey mapping ensures that every possible different touchpoint is thoughtful, personalized, and engaging. Journey mapping allows you to identify gaps in the user experience and determine when and where you need to support, inform and educate, or have some fun.

Whether we're talking about a patient's journey through the medical system, from getting sick to seeing the doctor, through to treatment and adherence, or an attendee's journey through a user conference, from awareness, to registration, schedules, presentations, breakouts and networking, understanding and mindfully designing for the journey is everything.

Frictionless Event Experiences

What do we mean by frictionless? Peanut butter and jelly in the same jar—frictionless. Only one dirty knife! On perhaps a more relevant note, Telepathy defines friction in user experience as:

Interactions that inhibit people from intuitively and painlessly achieving their goals within a digital interface.

Friction is, of course, a bad thing. On a website or digital interface as noted above, it might reduce conversions, but at a trade show, friction may reduce conversations. So how do we lower bounce rates? How can we give people what they want before they know they want it?

Start by analyzing attendee data from past events to understand how your users previously interacted with certain vendors, spaces, content, technologies, and each other. You have the ability to learn where an experience fell apart and failed to engage an attendee, then empathize with their issues and figure out how to make the experience more compelling.

It is also worth understanding that the event itself is certainly a tent post and a huge driver for engagement, bringing people together for a point in time, but XD goes much deeper than the event. There are conversations happening before and after the event that must be included in your journey map, and you must be creating appropriate content for your audience at every step.

Think live events, virtual events, inbound and outbound calls, community websites, registration microsites, email and print communications, social media, segmented information for multifaceted audiences such as sales forces, customers, ambassadors, and more.

The key to frictionless is thinking of, and providing, everything before the user or attendee feels they need it. That means user and context-first predictive behavior modeling to understand how your attendee will experience and flow through a particular environment. That means, covering your bases.

Experience design is iterative

Once you launch a website, even after multiple prototypes and user testing, it will never be perfect for every user. Someone will break something or be unsatisfied in some way. That's just the way it is. And it's the the same with events. Maybe your sales meeting wasn't introvert friendly enough. There is never a one size fits all when it comes to experiences, but through the principles of experience design, we can do our best to make the experience, at worst, mildly pleasant.

The excitement in the experience design space right now is simply the massive amount of new technologies. And the challenge is how to create a journey that is enriched, that is helpful, and that isn't just using new tech for tech's sake. How can we best use the tools at hand to better design a memorable experience?

Utilizing personas, journey maps, interviews, prototypes, ideation workshops, and co-creation sessions, in designing brand experiences will ensure those experiences include more thoughtful touchpoints and create more meaningful, lasting connections with our attendees.

The future of event planning will lean heavily on the shoulders of experience designers who, with a background in digital, are experts at combining user data, research insights, and brand strategy, into end-to-end, innovative omni-channel behavioral solutions.

Aileen Wong

Director, Experience Design

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Jonathan Ronzio

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