I volunteered for the 2012 Design Research Conference within weeks of starting my first semester at IIT Institute of Design. As the Interactions team, we were responsible for designing the experiences surrounding morning registration and lunch time. Not only did this give me access to the event, but I got a chance to play a key role in the planning of the event and crafting experiences for conference-goers. I was intrigued by the opportunity to encourage fun networking and social interaction.
Every week for a month and a half, our team met to discuss what might be most appropriate for the conference audience of professional design researchers, design strategists and students.
After several brainstorm sessions, we decided to maintain a similar model for the name tags, but we added a slight twist. We wanted attendees to engage with the large name tag structure, but we saw two challenges: 1) get attendees talking to each other early on, and 2) find another purpose for the boards beyond holding the name tags.
We ultimately hit upon the idea of a yearbook. What if we could take pictures of every attendee and speaker when they arrived, then the board could be a “Whose who” that could help folks put names to faces. At first, we were anxious about attendees reactions to such a request, but one of our team members has recently gotten a polaroid camera. The sweet nostalgia of polaroids combined with the analog process meant we might be able to ease the fears of those camera shy. In order to fully comprehend the flow and pacing of the process, we tested our ideas in short behavioral prototypes. We determined the number of photographers needed and how it would effect the checkin process.
Our team knew that by the time lunch came around, attendees would be ready to socialize. However, we knew that would be easier for some than for others. We considered speed networking, musical chairs or assigned seats. And each time we prototyped and designed the interactions, we found it difficult to balance structured activities with the freedom that should come at lunchtime. We decided that less structure would provide everyone more room for socializing. We knew we could get access to a large volume of Legos (a designer’s dream!) and crayons, so we decided to keep the lunch time light and playful by setting up each table with an optional lunchtime craft.
At the conference, attendees seemed to be amused by the Polaroid photo concept. My team members reported that only a single person refused to have their photo taken. As the conference wore on, the wall began to serve as a reference point and attendees photographed the board. When it was time to bring the conference to a close, attendees asked for their photos with giddy smiles on their faces. A few even asked to take other people’s photos!?!
During lunch, half of the tables dumped out their lego bowls and started building. We were also glad to see that our “power tables,” with extension cords and outlet access, were put to use without us providing any special directions.
The interactions executed by the team earned significant attention in a Core77 post describing the conference.