Design Thinking for events. A new fad?

Not sure if it’s a case of the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon (aka the Frequency Illusion) taking over our brain, but it seems as though everyone involved in events is suddenly talking about Design Thinking and its sibling, Experience Design. Just see this article, this podcast series and there’s even an event.


Not a bad thing of course. We’ve long been advocates for it. Nor is it a new concept. This PCMA article already championed its use way back in April 2020.


Its recent rise in popularity is not really a surprise either. Event attendance is in decline, and as event hosts, we all need to revisit our playbooks to reverse the trend. And no question about it, Design Thinking is a good place to start.


But it does strike us that, amidst all the commentary and theory, there’s still limited focus on the most important part that underpins success: market research with end users. But before we unpack that...


For the uninitiated, the principles of Design Thinking are simple enough. Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test are the 5 rather self-explanatory phases involved. The idea is you redefine problems so as to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be apparent initially.


Success comes from designing the right thing in the first place. That’s clearly easier said than done however, because so many people mess it up!


The problem is, you can pretty much design and build anything. This is certainly true of events. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.


What’s the way to avoid a failure? You need to identify and validate the problem to be dug into.


The only way to do that? You need to talk to people about your idea to let it be criticised.


Then you iterate.


It’s not just about asking questions though. And it definitely isn’t a case of sending a survey. You need to have conversations. And in doing so, unpack the issues as they’re revealed.


It seems that’s where the challenge lies for many people in events. We know it’s a skill. And a rare one at that.


Here’s a tip though: A good designer believes they are “done” when there’s nothing else they can take away from the design nor is there anything else they can add. An excellent designer approaches it from the perspective of “what can I simplify and reduce so that this is down to its basic, most essential, core”.



Can’t picture it? Just think of Google’s homepage.


The same applies to events. And especially anything online. The old days of “500 speakers across 37 tracks in 3 days” creates the paradox of choice, which leads to FOMO, paralysing potential participants into inaction.


And finally, we know you’re probably thinking “Great, but can you give us an event-related example?” Our friend Seth Godin does so here, with his post on how to rethink that age-old institution called the “graduation ceremony”, and we love it! Amazingly it was written well before dreaded Covid struck, but it's more relevant than ever.


Go forth and (re)Design. Our participants need us to.


#designthinking #experiencedesign #marketresearch #conversations #virtualevents #eventprofs