Designing the experience of community

I’ve always found myself deep in the details.

Some have called it overthinking, some have called it getting lost in the details, though I’ve always found so much value in thinking and reflecting down to the smallest of details.

As a copy editor (talk about getting deep into the details!) in my high school and college newspapers, I made sure each and every comma was in its proper place and the right words were consistently capitalized every time. Why? So our readers were engrossed in a story without mishaps to distract them.

Any copy editors out there? How satisfying are these red pen marks?! :)

As I’m packing for a weekend trip to the beach, I think about every single moment of what that experience will be like and what I’ll need to ensure a comfortable and happy time. Why? So I can fully enjoy the experience.

As I write questions for Buffer’s weekly Twitter chat, I think about how people could possibly answer each question, and make sure each question is open-ended enough to ensure a wide variety of answers but specific enough to stay focused and elicit valuable advice. Why? So participants actively learn and can be part of a truly meaningful discussion.

As an event planner throughout my career, I’ve always thought down to the tiniest of details — how will someone feel when they walk into the event? Will they know where to go first? Will the location of the food support social interaction? Will everyone have something actionable to do before the event begins? What kind of music will set the right mood? How can the tone of my voice get people energized instead of bored? Why? So event attendees to leave feeling fulfilled — mentally, socially, intellectually.

A recent workshop I organized in an art gallery at Indy Hall in Philly. So. cool.

As a community builder, I ask myself — how can I properly describe this community event so that people participate meaningfully and feel value from the experience? How will someone really feel like they belong to the community? How can my phrasing in this message empower this community member to contribute to the community instead of standing by passively? Why? So community members feel like they belong.

Like I said… I’m swimming in details.

It’s only been recently —aka since last week — that I’ve been able to articulate exactly what I’ve been doing all of these years.

I’ve been designing experiences.

Experiences for me, for the people reading articles, for the people participating in and attending events. That “why” I kept coming back to is what I’m working toward — the experience I want to foster.

It’s a small realization, though a powerful one. Words and mindset matter — it’s why I don’t call myself a community manager. I don’t think my job or role is to manage anyone or anything — it’s to build, grow, strengthen, support, facilitate, and foster connections. My mindset is to intentionally design and foster meaningful experiences, not really to manage people.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been diving into the world of design thinking and human-centered design and soaking it all up. I’m excited to apply these design concepts to my experience-focused mindset and create awesome things from there.

On design thinking:

“Design thinking utilizes elements from the designer’s toolkit like empathy and experimentation to arrive at innovative solutions.” (IDEO U)

On human-centered design:

“It’s a process that starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs.” (IDEO U Design Kit)

💡 Lightbulb moment. 👆This sounds like what I’m trying to do as a community builder!

In everything I work on — events, Slack, #bufferchat — I always come back to asking myself — what experience am I creating for these community members? What needs do these people have that this community can support them with?

So, am I an event designer? A community designer? An experience designer? A community experience designer? I suppose I’m sort of a UX community designer! Or maybe a HX (human experience) designer… . Is that a thing? 🤔

I’ll keep thinking on this and, in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

You can always find me on Twitter to continue the conversation. :)