In a time when everything is changing, we all need to innovate the design of experiences we offer our customers. What we did last year is unlikely to work today. We’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime. Well-worn best practices are suddenly obsolete, making innovation a required skill for survival.

Innovation is not about new technology. Technology is just a tool, and too many people focus on it. It’s the experience that matters. Sometimes new technology enables the creation of new innovative experiences.  But focusing on the tech would be like a restaurant highlighting the new Sous-vides cooker in the kitchen instead of the perfectly cooked steak savored by the guests.

juicy meat steak in the restaurant

I’ve been innovating for more than 30-years, and those innovations have always centered on consumer experience. Way back in the 1980’s I helped create the 30-minute or free pizza delivery guarantee, which gamified food delivery.  I built the first themed laser tag games (Stargate and X-Men) that enabled people further to suspend their disbelief and experience immersive fantasy worlds. I licensed the first AAA consumer games for the arcade industry (EA’s PGA Tour Golf) that let people play as their favorite pro-golfer on the world’s greatest golf-courses while drinking their favorite beer with their friends. These innovations, and more, are about delivering a fantastic experience to the consumer via technology.  But it was never about the technology.

Laser Storm Themese

Innovation is a Science

Over those 30-years, academics have studied innovation and experience design. They’ve created language and frameworks taught in schools.  What used to look like divine inspiration or blind luck, now has a curriculum.

As I highlighted in my Reboot, Relaunch, Reimagine keynote, I’ve been running an innovation project within the virtual event market. We’ve now settled on an event to run; if you want to know more about it, you can register for a first look here.

Last week I talked about the framework we are using. Now I want to go into how we are designing the experience. There are five key areas I will focus on over the next several blog posts.

  1. Consider all of the stakeholders.
  2. Ask “Why”, a lot!
  3. How do you want people to FEEL?
  4. Define your Design Principals.
  5. Consider your competition.

I will break them out and deliver one each day this week, so you have time to digest, reflect on, and integrate them. I will go back to weekly posts next week.

1: Consider all the stakeholders in your experience design.

My partner, Kylie Savage, comes from the human-centered design and innovation world. She’s worked with government agencies and large enterprises where innovation doesn’t come naturally. Once you go from startup to scaleup, you move from discovery and innovation to efficiency and process. So large organizations have people with “innovation” in their title, and they bring people like Kylie in to help run structured programs to make sure they are continually innovative.

One principle of human-centered design is always to take a holistic approach. You must consider everyone that will be affected by the system you are designing. Too often, we create from the perspective of the organization’s needs.

  • “I want to make more money.”
  • “We need to keep our guests busy.”
  • “How can we design something easy for our employees.”

Sometimes we design from the customer perspective, and that’s better than solely from the organizational one.  But if we don’t create from everyone’s perspective, the things we design become unsustainable.  If the staff finds delivery exhausting, even the best guest experience in the world will fall flat. Or if the organization can’t make a profit delivering the experience, then what’s the point?

Interview your stakeholders

In our event, we are designing for the Attendees, the Exhibitors, the Speakers, the Sponsors, and the Organizers. Those are our stakeholders.  In each category, there are subcategories. It’s critical to speak to stakeholders to understand their perspectives. Fortunately, I know lots of people who have played these roles at various events.

Exhibitors often feel undervalued. When you set up a trade show booth at the Nightclub and Bar Show, buried behind the gargantuan Budweiser booth with no visibility or traffic, was the organizer thinking about the exhibitor experience for everyone? Or just those with the most significant budgets?

Speakers speak for free, and some organizers require them to cover their travel expenses. When a speaker’s attempts to sell books from the back of the room, they’re sometimes forbidden. Some conferences don’t even provide water bottles on the stage. Other’s offered $10 Starbucks cards, which makes a speaker feel undervalued.

Event sponsors sometimes felt like they’ve been the victim of a money grab by the organizer. $10K for a logo on a sign can feel like highway robbery.

As an attendee, I have seethed as I sat in an auditorium listening to a sales pitch instead of being taught something valuable. At virtual conferences, attendees are being lured by “immersive” events only to find out “connection” with others is via a chat function straight out of the ’90s. And who hasn’t been the victim of spam from event organizers selling the list of attendees to every exhibitor?

Holistic approach

A Holistic Approach

For our new event, we have been thinking about everyone who will participate. It’s called a holistic design approach.

  • Why do they attend?
  • How do they want to feel?
  • How can we design an experience that delivers on those principals?

Over the next four days, we will cover those topics in depth.

Meanwhile, I invite you to consider:

  • Who are your stakeholders?
  • Are you designing with them in mind?
  • How might you change your experiences to broaden the consideration of all the stakeholders?

See you tomorrow.