Taking a Design Thinking approach to event organising
By Inez Patel, UX Designer at Freethinking Business Consultants
‘We can only ever deliver what we know’, or so the saying goes.
When I was given the opportunity to head up the Ladies that UX Johannesburg, I didn’t approach it as an event organiser, as I had no experience in that field. My sphere of reference lies within design thinking. So, how could I use this to my benefit? Was I not trying to reach like-minded women in the industry? I decided to treat the event in the same way that any of us would approach a design project: using the well-known stages of a design process.
Our industry is saturated with design-based events. Was there a need for yet another? What was working? Which events did better and why? Are there specific pain points for women that are currently unaddressed? These were the questions at the forefront of my mind while I did my research. The three methodologies that gave the most insights were surveys, research (attending all, and I mean ALL the meet-ups) and guerilla testing (talking to individuals about their experiences at these events).
What I discovered was that there were several factors that contribute to successful events including: specific themes, interactive experiences, convenient venues and, unsurprisingly, free food and beverages. Yet these didn’t always promise a great turn-out. By putting myself in the shoes of the attendees, I became empathetic as to why they didn’t always attend an event. The answer was that in some way we are all still stuck in high school. We are scared that we won’t know anyone, that we won’t be seen, or worse we will be seen – we will be SEEN and JUDGED for having blue hair! The biggest problem was anxiety. This feeling is heightened at functions where networking seemed to trump content.
“I decided to treat the event in the same way that any of us would approach a design project: using the well-known stages of a design process.”
How does anyone cope with high school? Get some friends. At this point, it was essential for me to start brainstorming around solving the problems. My A-team initially comprised of Lauren Strydom, Experience Design Lead at Freethinking Business Consultants and Ridhwana Khan, Co-founder of Zero-One Bespoke Software Development. As I’ve continued, the team has continued to grow thereby alleviating our own anxiety as we seek to do the same for our possible attendees.
We knew that we had to make our event as ‘friendly’ as possible. By this, I mean remove any and all forms of uncertainty, starting with the smallest details such as the wording and tone of the invite, to giving clear directions to the venue. But we wanted to make sure that this feeling of support and safety was in every fibre of our community. For us, the structure of an evening is the equivalent of the spine to the body – it holds everything in place and provides the ethos of the relationships that we hope to develop. We therefore wanted to structure our evening so that there was constant flow and attendees were continually challenged through workshopping and interactive learning experiences.
This was where our anxiety peaked. Although we had everything in place, from concrete themes to influential speakers, we needed sponsors to complete the experience for the attendees. We were generously sponsored by Freethinking Business Consultants, Stephan Hambsh, Open, Domains.co.za and Zero-One Bespoke Software, all of whom it would not have been possible to launch without. This phase was definitely a big learning curve. We were happy that on the whole our structure worked, attendees felt comfortable and challenged, and beneficial relationships were developed. Of course, no initial round of usability testing would be complete without learnings and we have had to iterate in order to improve the experience as a whole. One of these learnings was that our themes could relate more to individual needs such as building confidence for public speaking, which didn’t occur to us when initially conceptualizing for LTUX JHB needs.
Our learnings led us to making a number of smaller shifts, such as when to serve the food, an appropriate start and end time, etc. However, the biggest shift that we’ve applied was to focus our energies on our attendees. We have really had to re-evaluate the time given to speakers vs. time spent on skill-based learning so that there is more of a focus on the participants. Through the application of these findings, we have seen an increase in attendance and social media interactions. It has been most rewarding to see actual friendships develop and to hear that participants have found value in the content.
The unspoken phase of design. We all know that when working with people, it is very hard to get a project to perfection on the first try… sometimes even the second, third and fourth. But this is perhaps also the joy. We get to go back again, listen again, try again and hopefully provide a service that is never complacent but rather constantly seeks to address the ever-changing needs of its members.