Hosting An Internal Design Conference

I helped the UX team at my company, AppNexus, organise an internal design-thinking conference. We wanted to share our love for design with the rest of the company. Most of the UX team spoke, as well as some AppNexians (our corporate demonym) from other disciplines. It was a lot of fun, and lead to a lot of great learning.

Our opening keynote speaker, the amazing Dr Deidre Kolarick

Why have a conference

AppNexus is an enterprise software company — we make software for large companies. At these large companies the person buying the software is different from the person using the software, which means that “the user experience is split from the buying experience”. Splitting these experiences makes it difficult to prioritise the one that doesn’t directly pay the bills (user experience.)

This meant that the design team needed to explain to the rest of the company why the user deserves to have an amazing experience. (What makes for an amazing experience with enterprise software is a different discussion). We were lucky, everyone at the company believed that we should make useful, useable software. We just had to encourage them to take the step to making delightful software. One of the core values at AppNexus is to ‘learn and teach’ so people were open to learning about it.

Me introducing the conference

How did it work

With this in mind we decided that throwing a conference would be a great way to connect with other employees. We spent about six months planning, including:

  • Finding a keynote speaker
  • Planning our talks
  • Finding swag to give out
  • Promoting the talks and workshops.
Handing out swag

On the day, we used an internal space called the Razzle Dazzle for the keynote and many of the talks. Some of us (myself included) were a bit intimidated about talking, so we spoke in smaller rooms. There were also some workshops on specific skills (Prototyping and Usability testing).

It was a great activity for the UX team as it gave us all a chance to think deeply about something and then share it with people. We had a wide variety of topics, from how to conduct user observation studies, to the history of design, to how the learning team designs their classes.

The conference was a ton of fun. We had about fifty people show up for our morning keynote, which is a good turnout for a single office of a mid-size company. People also filtered in and out to the rest of the talks throughout the day.

Most of the UX team after the conference