Andrea Mignolo
Nov 22, 2015 · 6 min read

Panel-oke combines panels and karaoke to create a more participatory and fluid approach to panels by inviting the audience to not only become the questioner, but to become the panel as well. The basic idea is that panels are re-formed in response to each question that is asked. While in play, the panel is a fluid entity and can become larger or smaller as answers are explored. In this format, the distinction between audience and participants fades away and the panel process becomes a fully collaborative event.


Traditional panel interactions happen between questioners and panelists, while the audience assumes a passive role of consumer/observer. Audience members become active when they take on the role of questioner, but their participation is strictly limited to the initial proposition statement. In this format only a very small percentage of the passive audience becomes active questioners.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is karaoke, participatory and open at the core, its form and structure shift from moment to moment. At times a practiced veteran might skillfully control the audience and demand utmost attention and devotion. Other times a classic tune might incite the entire room to belt along with sloppy grins on their faces, swaying and singing together.

Panel + Karaoke = Panel-oke!

John and Peter, both New York IxDA Leaders, take part in the panel on visual and interaction design.

Why Paneloke?

Panel-oke was hatched at Interaction ‘11, the annual Interaction Design Association conference. Several tracks of the conference consisted of five 20 minute long lightning presentations, followed by a panel session with all of the people who had just presented. With an audience of 650, the panel was able to field four or five questions before the moderator wrapped-up with a quick summary and sent us all off to lunch (or drinks). The panelists were great, the questions were great, but when you have such a high concentration of experts in one room — such a large and diverse pool of experience and knowledge to pull from — why not tap into that as well?

Over lunch Ian Swinson and I were discussing the panels when he brilliantly mashed up panels and karaoke and exclaimed, “Panel-oke!” We pushed our mediocre noodles aside and explored the idea more. It made sense, it was plausible, and it fit with the ethos of interaction designers. Over the next couple days we bounced the idea off of people and the reception was positive. Panel-oke was viable.

Testing it out

It just so happened that Ian was going to be in New York in early March, so the New York branch of the IxDA sprung into action to put on the inaugural Panel-oke event. Originally we thought we’d just have a small group of guinea pigs, but with an overwhelming 72 RSVPs we realized we had a larger event on our hands. Experimental events need a few things to work successfully: alcohol, willing participants, and in the case of Panel-oke, enough room to move about and re-form panels at will.

To help execute the event, Pivotal Labs offered their new space and InfinityPlusOne (aka Jonathan “Yoni” Knoll) plied the group with wine and beer to loosen tongues and boost courage. Mix in the enthusiastic participation of the New York Design community and it’s hard to go wrong. Unexpected enhancements came by way of the PA system with two mics, and a mini-gong mysteriously housed above the fridge.

Ian and I kicking off the inaugeral Panel-oke event.

Ian has a great write-up of the event (check out the full post) and sums up the logistics of Panel-oke as,

a pretty easy event to organize and set up. The room was generously sized but not overwhelming at about 30 by 75 feet. Against one long wall we place a whiteboard and four chairs. The whiteboard displayed the rules, the hashtag for live tweeting (#paneloke), and the @IxDA_NYC twitter handle. Facing the four chairs we had fifty seats arranged in three rows and forming a slight arch to center the audience on the panel. In the fridge there was beer and wine (thanks again Yoni!) and near the fridge we had name tags, slips of paper and pens. Since this was primarily intended to be a social networking event the name tags are a given. The paper and pens were for preparing questions in advance of the actual discussions. We allowed folks to either hold onto their questions or drop them in a bag for possible inclusion in a discussion round as a wildcard and anonymous submission.

The biggest unknown was how long a panel should last, how actively we should moderate, and how to keep the flow going. We started out with a 5 minute limit, but it quickly became apparent that a good conversation between 3 to 5 people takes somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes to get to a satisfactory concluding point (and perhaps even longer if the audience has had a shared experience). When time was up someone would bang the gong and we’d check-in with the audience to see if they wanted a new song or to continue with the current one. Using the room as a sounding-board, we navigated our way through 4 panel topics in a little under an hour.

Participants look on from the vortex of the insanely-comfy lounge chairs.

Questions asked (roughly summarized):

  • What is Agile UX?
  • How do you integrate accessibility into *all* stages of the product design/dev process?
  • Success and horror stories trying to convince the client your solution is right.
  • IxD and Visual Design — should we all be visual designers? Where is visual design in the process and how do we communicate with visual designers?

Retrospective Feedback

Feedback was overall positive, and unified in the desire to encourage even more participation. Suggestions included:

  • More audience participation — using props for people to signal additional participation/a change in topic.
  • Too much light makes the baby go blind — an improv technique I’m not too familiar with, but the gist is that there is a string of theme labels hanging near the panel and participants can change the topic by coming up and grabbing one off the line.
  • Better seating arrangement — our configuration didn’t do much to disrupt the traditional seating structure for panels.
  • Documentation and moderation — putting follow-up questions in a parking-lot on the whiteboard, summarizing the points covered, and actively moderating the panel makes everyone happy.
  • Bring in the WWF — more tag-team style participation to increase audience involvement and magnify spontaneity
  • Bigger gong — designers are unhappy with small, tin-sounding gongs. Make sure the gong really means it.
Have gone, will travel.

Major thanks

Huge thanks to Pivotal Labs for the great space, @yoni for the generous libations which kept the whole shebang going, the IxDA NYC local group for making the entire thing happen, Eastmedia for making sure it happened in the first place, Samuel Lee for photographic documentation, and the New York Design community for their engaged and supportive collaboration.


Originally published in 2011 on

The Design of Things

What does it all mean?

Andrea Mignolo

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Civilized disaster.

The Design of Things

What does it all mean?

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