UX Design for Events

We don’t often talk about user experience or UX when organizing events, but we should. How is it for a guest to queue up at the entrance of your event? And how easy is it to figure out who’s on stage when and where at your conference? Kevin's studio guest today is Eric Reiss.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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We don’t often talk about user experience or UX when organizing events, but we should. How is it for a guest to queue up at the entrance of your event? And how easy is it to figure out who’s on stage when and where at your conference? My studio guest today is Eric Reiss.


Hi Eric, welcome to our studio.


Well, thank you, Kevin, it’s a pleasure to be here.


We’re going to talk about user experience, but then my question should be, what is user experience?


That’s a very good question because there are lots of definitions out there and they all boil down to, happy customers buy more. Dirk Nymar has written some wonderful stuff, Jesse James Garret. The problem, I think, is that the business community gets a little confused, because either we state the obvious - happy customers buy more - or we get down into some very tactical things like, “Oh, this is how you do wire frames, this is how you do something else.” And there is something in the middle that’s missing. And about 10, 15 years ago I came up with a definition that we have used in my company, FatDUX, that has been very successful, and that the business community understands. Basically, user experience is the net impression left after a series of interactions. And these interactions can be between people, devices, and events. They can be between you and me as we’re interacting on Skype now, or devices. My computer is talking to your machinery down in Holland. It can also be events like, it’s going to rain, I can’t really stop it from raining. But anyway, the net impression after all these things. And so if you start to chart out these touchpoints, or interactions, or whatever you want to call them, then you’ll discover that there are things that are important for the business and there are things that aren’t important for the business. And there are things that you can do something about and there are other things that you can’t do anything about. And if you chart them out on an axis and say, this is the stuff we can do, this is the stuff we really don’t have control over, Or this is important to the business, this isn’t very important for the business. If you’re not doing the stuff up in that corner there, you’re not really doing user experience. But the business community understands that and even though it’s a subjective, sort of, this is more important than that, the point is that you can start to make an action plan and say, all right, this is stuff that we need to be working on. And then you can figure out, you know, is it wire frames, is it something else. All of this stuff is important and not very difficult to figure out. And what I like about this definition, what our clients have liked about it, is that it doesn’t really disagree, with any of the more academic descriptions out there and it doesn’t disagree with any of the tools that one uses in the UX toolkit. And so it served us very well and I’m happy to share it with your audience. It works and it’s easy.


If you applied this idea to an event, then I suppose a touchpoint can be queuing up to buy a ticket, walking, experience to order a drink, all those kind of touchpoints?


Oh absolutely, and then the degree of granularity depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Let’s say there’s a walk-in. So, how is the signage? Can people find the venue? How do they get the address? Do they get it from Eventbrite? Do they get it from your website? Is there a link to Google Maps? Can they find the site once they get there? Is there a sign on the door saying, go in and go up to the second floor? Or whatever they have to do. So the signage, that’s a touchpoint, the Google Maps is a touchpoint. There are a lot of things before somebody actually gets up to the registration desk. And then the next thing is, are you going to write them a badge by hand or do you have a printer, so that you can make a nice badge that looks like all the other badges. All of these are touchpoints and many of them are controllable.


The whole point of talking about user experience is of course that you want to improve the user experience on your event. I think that should be the goal.


Of course.


How would you do that as an organizer? Where do you start if you say, okay, I want to improve the user experience on my events?


Well, you can use a customer journey map or something like that, where there are tools that have been used in service design for 50 years. Now, mind you, just between you and me, the user experience community thinks they invented all this and they didn’t. The tools have been around for a long time. But just chart out the touchpoints. If people are going to register online, are they getting confirmation, can they pay by credit card or can they pay through PayPal. Can you send an invoice to a company so that people don’t, ? These are all touchpoints that you can arrange. You want to make it better for the user? Yes, get the program out there, put it in a readable form. Maybe you’re going to print it on the conference badge so that people don’t have to keep going to their smartphone or whatever. Or a big board, to find out what’s going on. I’m thinking here about a conference type of situation. Otherwise, it could be an event like a company picnic. And then, all right, so where is it going to be, where should one meet up, what kind of clothes should one wear. Is there anything that one should bring with them? Oh, there’s a chance to go swimming so bring your swimming suit. The more information that you can get ahead of time the better, so that people have that shared frame of reference.


So that shared reference, what is that about?


Right. Well, a shared frame of reference means that the designer has something in mind and the person who’s going to use, or interact with whatever the designer has built or designed, that they’re all on the same page, that they understand each other. We see this in website design where there isn’t sufficient content to actually explain what it is you are about to buy, or what the app is going to do or whatever. For example, if I say, I am holding in my hand – can you see it? – an ordinary 60-watt lightbulb. And it has an Edison E27 screw in base. E27, that stands for Edison 27 millimeter, which was the standard he introduced in 1909. All right. So, screw in base, E27, standard 60-watt lightbulb. Do you know what I’m holding in my hand?


The lightbulb, yes.


Yes. Okay, good. So we’re on the same page, right? We have a shared frame of reference? Okay, good. What color is it? You see, the thing is, is it red, green, blue, clear, a frosted, is it 110-volt, is it 220-volt, is it burned out? There are all kinds of things that I didn’t tell you about that lightbulb. And so we don’t really have a shared frame of reference. I tricked you into thinking that we had one - I’m going to put the lightbulb down. I tricked you into thinking that we were on the same page. And I gave you a lot of information about the E27. Which is all true except it’s not really all that relevant. This is where a lot of marketers go wrong and say, oh, this is our unique feature and we’re going to talk about that. But then they forget to just say very basic information about their product. When Amazon…


Because they think people will already know?






Yes, and it’s wrong. You can’t take these things for granted. There have been all kinds of studies the last 10, 15 years, that long content outsells short content. And that the better your description the more you will sell. But, still there are things that live on the Internet forever, like, links should be blue and underlined. Text shouldn’t be longer than ten lines and so on. Are you familiar with Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol?


Yes, yes, I am.


Yes, okay. So Alice, she’s gone down the rabbit hole and she’s in this crazy world. And she runs into the Queen of Hearts who is playing croquet with a flamingo. And the Queen of Hearts keep saying, off with her head, off with her head.” And Alice is very flustered and the King of Hearts says, look, where did you come from? And Alice stammers and stutters and the King of Hearts says, now, calm down, you start at the beginning, and then you go on until the end and then you stop. And that’s how long web content should be. You tell your story. And there are too many companies that don’t tell their story and in terms of events, also: what’s the event about? What is the purpose, what kind of people are going to be there? What is the program, when is it going to start? All of these things are important to establishing that shared frame of reference. If you’re going to arrange a picnic and people are going to be outdoors, then if there’s a chance it rains, I mean, I live here in Denmark where we have 161 rain days a year.


You have an umbrella by default.


I have an umbrella by default. If you’re going to arrange something outside you at least have to have a plan B. That people can go indoors or there are pavilions set up in the garden so that people can get out of the rain. Or umbrellas if they’re going to go for a walk through the woods, whatever. But you have planned for something perhaps is going wrong and certainly rain at a picnic is kind of a big deal. So, that’s something that certainly you should think about. In terms of a speaker not showing up, yes, it’s good to have a plan B to at least understand that you may have to rearrange for the order. For example, find a speaker who is there, who is willing to do their talk earlier, maybe extend the lunch hour. There are a lot of ways you can do it. But you don’t want to have to be thinking about this thing at the very last minute. You want to have a plan. Generally, speakers don’t cancel ten minutes before, I mean, happily, sometimes they do. But you at least need to have an idea what you are going to do to cover that gap. It may be somebody who’s there who has a talk, that they would be glad to give. Something that they can just pull out of their pocket. I certainly have a couple of those and on occasion I’ve attended conferences where I was not a scheduled speaker, and the conference organizer has come up and said, oh, will you talk to us tomorrow because somebody’s cancelled. I said, sure.


Eric, I really want to thank you for your time and sharing your ideas on user experience.


Well, thank you for having me Kevin. It’s been a pleasure being there.


Okay Eric, thank you very much. And you at home, thank you for watching our show, I hope to see you next week.