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The complexity of designing simple experiences

I'm at the Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum today, and thought I'd take the lunch break to give a couple of tidbits about the sessions so far.

(FYI - the forum is the brainchild of Sam Lippman, president of integrated show management & marketing, and is not affiliated with ASAE & The Center, except Associations Now is a publication sponsor of the event.)

The first keynote was delivered by Mickey McManus, president & CEO of MAYA Design. The message was simple. And by that, I mean the actual message was "simple." McManus took attendees through a quick tour of the experience design process. What is the experience design process you might ask? It sounds pretty simple, until you dive into, and it gets pretty complex. The simplicity of it is this: if you're in charge of a meeting, for example, your job is to create an experience where your users can easily find the answers to the questions they have.

He had one terrific slide that I will try to get and place up here for you. McManus' mantra is to study the user experience from their perspective. A poorly designed meeting (or website or product or anything) leaves the user confused, feeling dumb, and even apologetic. We're in membership organizations, so you can add to that things like frustrated, angry, and looking for somebody to blame. A good design, makes your users feel empowered and even, as McManus puts it "smug" as they discover for themselves where they need to go and how to get the information they need.

This isn't especially groundbreaking stuff. But McManus shared the story of taking his son to the emergency after he had basically run over his own foot with the lawn mower. McManus dropped him off at emergency and then parked the car. Going back into the hospital was a maze of corridors and elevators and signs with no discernable direction to the emergency rooms. Being a design consultant, McManus went back later with a map and a camera and showed just how impossible the situation was -- and add to that the stress of trying to find a son who had just mowed over his foot.

The point is, even if you think you've designed a user-friendly experience, you should look again. Go at from the perspective of someone who has no familiarity of your meeting or your organization. There should be no compromise in which complexity wins over simplicity.

I'll post on this topic a little bit later as one of my favorite association execs -- Ralph Nappi, president of the Graphic Arts Show Company, talks about what he learned about his large tradeshows by videotaping how attendees got into and around the show.



This is something I've been thinking about recently... I read a suggestion somewhere online that conference managers should do an 'exchange' with a colleague, i.e., you come to my meeting, I'll go to yours, and we'll trade feedback. I'd love to hear from anyone who has done this, how it worked, whether or not it helped, and if they'd do it again.

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