What is UX?

User experience, (UX for short), is an all-encompassing term for how engaging with a product or service makes a person feel. Is it easy to learn? Convenient?  Does it add value to your life? Is it accessible to people of various abilities? Does it feel satisfying to use? These musings can be boiled down to one essential question: Is using this product a chore? UX design seeks to improve our interactions so that the delivery method doesn’t interfere with the product.

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Live Stream Conversation during Teach For America

Where did UX come from?

The idea of improving the things we use to best suit the way we use them has been around for centuries. Around 4000 B.C. the concept of Feng Shui highlighted the importance of arranging spaces in the most useful and human friendly way possible. Later, the Greeks pioneered the idea of ergonomics or human use based design. Hippocrates described how a surgeon’s workplace should be set up. He specifies the surgeon’s positioning, “the surgeon may stand or be seated, in a posture comfortable for him”and the arrangement of tools; “they must be positioned in such a way as to not obstruct the surgeon, and also be within easy reach when required” and more.


What happens when we design with the actions of humans in mind?

In more recent history, the factory boom of the 19th and early 20th century caused entrepreneurs to study the human element in the factory assembly process. They noted that a simple change in policy or layout led to faster production and lower costs. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth studied what they termed “work motions.” The pair filmed everyone from assembly line workers to physicians going about their duties, then broke down the work into individual motions. By studying these motions, they highlighted inefficiencies, and came up with solutions to improve worker productivity. For example, they discovered that surgeons routinely spent more time looking for instruments than they did performing surgery. This study led to the now ubiquitous practice of a surgeon, without looking up, asking “Scalpel please.” and being handed the instrument in question.


How can studying the step-by-step actions a task requires improve the life of the person performing it?

In their work studies Frank and Lillian were not strictly seeking to improve interactions for workers, only to improve productivity. And yet the practice of breaking down the step by step actions of performing a task is the cornerstone of the later user experience design movement. By taking what they learned at work and applying it to the management of their 12 children the couple improved their family life, saving time, energy, and frustration. Two of their children would later document the experience of growing up in this household in their book Cheaper by the Dozen. The story details the many ways in which careful consideration and intentional design based on the scientific method improved the experience of living in such a large family.


How can saving time and frustration improve the bottom line?

From these early roots, the study of human focus design enjoyed a steady rise through the middle of the 20th century. Many workplaces found that applying these tactics improved not only the speed of manufacturing, but also the quality of life of their workers. For example, Toyota installed systems for workers to stop the production line if they thought of a new or better way to do something. And actively encouraged feedback. In his 1955 book Designing for People Henry Dreyfuss wrote “If people are made safer, more comfortable, more eager to purchase, more efficient—or just plain happier—by contact with the product, then the designer has succeeded.” Succinctly summarizing the goal of a User Experience Designer.


How Does User Experience Apply to Events?

Among the first to take these principles from the manufacturing world into the events world was the late great Walt Disney. In creating his magical parks, Disney did not want to simply delight guests. He envisioned a fully immersive experience, pushing his imagineers™  to experience the parks through the guest’s eyes. He believed in making changes that added value instead of adding ‘stuff’. To this end he not only designed rides and attractions, but the whole experience starting from the moment guests arrived at the gates. His team created an environment that told his story as you walked through it.  Waiting in line gives you opportunities to see behind the scenes material and interact with actors trained down to the signature to emulate your heroes. Buying food makes you feel as though you are a character in your favorite movie. And delightful surprises are hidden where children will easily find them, but adults may miss.


How can theme park design translate to event design?

There is a lot of valuable information to unpack from the Disney strategy. The thing to keep in mind is that the designs were human focused, data driven, and highly specific. Nothing was added or changed on a whim. And this is the philosophy that we as event planners and designers must adopt. Every piece of our guests’ experience, from invitation to end of the night, is an opportunity to draw them into the story we are weaving around them. To change their perspective, make them feel our cause, and achieve our goals. We must have the story. We need the delightful details with as much urgency as we need our headlining act.

media production


How can I achieve that level of detail with a Virtual Event?

Once again, we find a parallel between today’s cutting edge and historic turning points in UX design. The field continued to evolve and develop through the latter half of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st. In 1995 tech giant Apple hired Donald Norman as the first ever user experience architect. A position designed specifically for the Cognitive Scientist who coined the term “user experience.” Norman was a founding father of UX design for technology. He believed the key to success for personal computers lay in improving the experience. Not only of using a computer, the hardware and operating system, but every step of the customer journey. Glimpsing it in a store, touching it, carrying the box to your car, unpackaging, setting up, reading the manual, the list goes on. His influence helped move Apple to the sleek, intuitive design that made them famous and built a following of loyal customers.

By building on the shoulders of these brilliant researchers and designers we create experiences that feel natural and build a story our virtual guests can experience from the safety of their homes. Our team works relentlessly to improve the experience of both our clients and our guests. We follow the example of Feng Shui and create virtual spaces that are comfortable to navigate. We take Hippocrates’ advice and lay out tools in comfortable reach of users, without distracting from the main content. We study our interactions like the Gilbreth’s, constantly tweaking our process to remove frustration and using feedback to give our clients what they need. We put the Disney method to use, building stories, and making adjustments that add value instead of just ‘stuff’. And we live by the words of Don Norman “With the passage of time, the psychology of people stays the same, but the tools and objects in the world change.” Crafting a virtual event takes the same devotion to the user experience we have built into every aspect of our events.

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