Designing the UX of a UX Conference
Organizing a conference about User Experience can be a bit more challenging than the usual. An audience with considerable experience on interface and service design, as well as a keen eye for detail can be a tough crowd to please! As UX professionals, our team at UX Alive use our UX skills to shape the conference experience in the best way possible. We analyze the motivations and barriers of the attendees, and we’ve come up with a process that conferences can follow to improve the experience.
For a better UX conference experience, our stance on UX Alive can be outlined in eight steps:
- Adopt a lean methodology
- Shape the customer ecosystem
- Define the target audience
- Choose the “type” of conference
- Create a journey
- Treat content as King
- Design the speaker/attendee interactions
- Gather post-conference research
In this article we’ll walk through all eight of these steps, and show how they can apply to other conferences, and even smaller events. As a conference attendee, this information will help you select future conferences to attend — and as a conference designer, it may serve to benefit your future work!
1. Adopt a lean methodology
Unfortunately, we can’t perform A/B tests on our conferences. They involve rigorous preparation and everything flows very swiftly during the conference itself, to the point that no conference designer could imagine running two simultaneously! Instead, we adopt a Lean Startup approach.
Tomer Sharon has written about how Lean Startup is a good way of packaging UX. This process has a rising popularity, in large part due to the simplified phrases such as “get out of the building” — which is language everyone can understand.
When it comes to conferences, we follow The Lean Startup methodology and created an MVP first. UX Alive has 30 speakers, 16 workshops and lasts 3 days now, but when we first organized it in 2013, it was free of charge, lasted only 2 days and had 2 keynote speakers. Between then and now, we have had the time to grow slowly, identify the things that worked well, and grow a community.
2. Shape the customer ecosystem
In shaping a customer journey, we look to the full ecosystem, including what happens before our interaction with the customer, during our service, and after we part ways. We do the same when designing a conference. The conference itself is certainly a focus, but that doesn’t mean ignoring the before and after interactions, which add to its value. For example, before the conference, we build attendees’ excitement, and after, we immediately begin to gather as much feedback as possible. These are all part of the the experience!
It is also important to map out both the online and offline elements of the experience. One of the first things we did when we began UX Alive was to get together with our marketing team and map out the full experience journey.
3. Define the target audience
There are hundreds of conferences held every year, and the success of a conference is in large part dependent on pulling together the target audience. The target audience for UX Alive is everyone connected to the creation and success of UX projects. For us, this contains three main groups:
- Business development
Business development can include marketing teams, business development teams, and even product managers. What defines these people is that they are attending to make strategic decisions and see what global companies are doing, where UX trends are headed.
Designers comprise a large group, actually encompassing UI and UX designers, as well as front-end developers. This second group is interested in learning more about technical details and the things that can positively impact designer-developer relationships. They want to learn the latest trends and new methodologies and working processes. They also want to network with other designers and developers.
Management, or “the bosses,” is the third, and an often overlooked category. UX conferences are usually not focused on management, but they are the ones who approve design related decisions and UX budgets! They are definitely part of our target audience! They are usually looking to talk one-on-one with speakers and find out more about the possible benefits of investing in UX.
Much as a UX practitioner would do, we look at these three target users as though they were personas. We look at what their goals are, and design our conference to help them accomplish those goals.
4. Choose the “type” of conference
Jared Spool says there are 5 types of UX conferences:
- Tribal community events: These are things like the IA Summit, UXPA, and Interactions. Their primary purpose is to bring together people who share a common bond over the work they do. In many cases, the attendees don’t meet anyone else that does what they do except at a conference like this. The program is typically about sharing experiences and techniques.
- Networking events: These are what the VC community does to get people in the same room. The program plays second fiddle to the social activities, where folks get together to meet and greet, see and be seen. Longer breaks and receptions are more important than a lot of informational sessions.
- Trade show events: These are pop-up malls for selling and trading. The trade show floor is significantly more important than the sessions, which are usually sponsor-paid infomercials. Macworld and CES are examples of these.
- Educational events: These are where the attendees come to learn new techniques and skills. They have a heavy emphasis on who the speakers are and the topics. The social elements for networking are played down, but still present. Most practitioner conferences are educational.
- Academic events: These are conferences aimed at getting publishing credits. Examples are CHI, UIST, and SIGGRAPH. Submissions need to be peer reviewed and published in a volume for the authors to get the credit they need to complete their degrees.
UX Alive fall under the Educational event category due to the needs of its target audience. The type of conference, and thus the content to include, should fit the needs of the target audience.
5. Create a journey
When attendees first look into a conference, they are motivated — but that motivation to explore and learn more will quickly dissipate. It’s up to the conference designers to make sure the exploration actually turns into a journey, where attendees can learn about conference benefits, workshops, the location, and ultimately buy a ticket. By making use of the ecosystem we designed earlier, we can pick out how we want to interact with attendees, and what to steer them towards.
For websites with high traffic, Live Chat applications can also factor into the journey, and perhaps speed up the decision making process. The UX Alive web siteuses a live chat feature to provide quick solutions to any problems that might occur during the payment process, as well as providing fast feedback to those in the decision making stage. We found it was especially valuable for attendees from abroad.
6. Treat content as King!
The speakers, their presentations and workshops, and attendee interactions are all content types that contribute to the conference itself. In a way, conferences are both made up of content and generate new content in the form of tweets, emails, and other interactions.
At UX Alive, we also created a large amount of content that was in line with the conference for our target audience. This included web sites, microsites, videos, blogs, visuals, banners and social media interactions, offering UX focused content ranging from UX visualization tips to UX Designer resources.
We also created content in mediums that attendees could use. For example, we always support digital content with hard copy material, enabling attendees to access the information swiftly. A program, extra information sheets and even a map of the city that they can carry around with themselves go a long way toward improving the experience. We even created an ”Istanbul Experience“ booklet for the foreign attendees of UX Alive to use before, during and after the conference.
By focusing on creating valuable, user-centric content, we managed to generate an interaction rate that climbed up to 40K between ourselves and our target audience in a month’s time.
7. Design the speaker-attendee interactions
Networking is a must for conferences. What’s more, every time that attendees and speakers interact, it’s an opportunity to improve the experience for all. Here are a few of the interactions that we’ve made a point of designing at UX Alive.
- Opening Dinner: we always kick off with an opening dinner, so that companies and people get the opportunity to discuss their work with others in detail, and get to know one another in a relaxed setting.
- Design Clinic: for the past two years, we’ve offered a workshop where a team of experts can prepare “Usability Prescriptions” for personal and corporate web sites, services and apps. What makes a workshop like this successful is finding a way to be unique, while also meeting specific attendee needs.
- Career Coaching: the concept of UX has swiftly evolved. Given the mix of managers and practitioners, UX Alive is a great place for this sort of event. Plus, we created a “UX Career Journey” e-book for those interested in UX to improve their qualifications.
- After Party: at the end of a busy conference experience, everybody deserves a rest. A well-organized after party becomes the cherry on top, as attendees form stronger bonds and interact more. (The After Party for UX Alive will be revealed soon!)
8. Gather post-conference research
While it’s impossible to A/B test a conference, we can absolutely gather feedback after the fact. Activities like sharing the speaker presentations continue the conference experience, and give us an opportunity to get feedback.
Details we might miss will make an attendee’s experience a wonderful or miserable one. In order to learn from one year and minimize the possibility of future mistakes, the feedback from attendees is crucial.
A conference is an experience
To summarize, events and conferences require tremendous effort and diligence. To ensure that the conference experience is good, every possible problem, feedback and minute detail has to be analyzed. As hard as the process of organizing a conference may be, it is definitely worth the joy of sharing that excitement and mutual exchange of ideas with like-minded people.
Enjoy this list of UX conferences from all around the world — and pick some to attend!