Want to Create Amazing Experiences? Start With Design Thinking.

Author: 
Pete Dufner

As a creative director in a past life, I witnessed Natasha Jen’s “Design Thinking is Bull***” presentation back at the HOW conference in 2017. That’s why I approached this article carefully, with eyes wide open and BS detectors set on high. (If you haven’t seen her video yet, it’s 13 minutes well spent.)

Alexa, what’s design thinking? “Design thinking is a design methodology that provides a solution-based approach to solving problems. The five stages of design thinking are: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.” Ok, now hold on for a minute…is anyone else confused? Isn’t all problem-solving a solution-based approach? The answer would be, yes, but the real question we should be asking is HOW are we solving problems?

What if we started to solve problems with empathy, setting aside our own assumptions to get to the heart of what really matters? THAT is the beauty of design thinking. To those of us who have spent our lives sweating it out in creative departments, it really isn’t all that new. The process may not be perfect, but it lays the groundwork for us to ideate and execute programs that work harder, with greater return. Say it with me folks, empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. And can I get an amen?

Changing participant behavior

Here at Creative Group, design thinking helped lead to the genesis of i|xperience® – our proprietary, human-centered design methodology. (Your BS detector might be going off, but stick with me.) It’s focused on one thing: changing participant behavior in support of our client’s goals. We use it to create meetings, events and incentive programs, but it’s really at the core of everything we do. It centers on the participant’s entire journey and infuses all the things that make up an amazing experience: intrigue, inspiration, influence, impression, interruption and immersion.

For example, we have a client that was set on having its event in the same tried-and-true destination, with the same tried-and-true activities. At the same time, they were amid a major culture change, as they looked to elevate their brand with a newly introduced luxury product line. The challenge was to get their team to elevate their game – their service, professionalism and brick-and-mortar aesthetics. By understanding their objectives, and applying our i|xperience methodology, we helped them create much greater impact by moving their event to a state-of-the-art NFL stadium – inviting their audience to go “Pro!” Participants were invited to run onto the field from the locker room (amidst adoring cheerleaders), see themselves on the JumboTron, attempt a few field goals and meet their favorite players. There was even a motivational “coach” who spoke on the topic of elevating their brand. Suddenly, an otherwise typical event became an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime, behavior-changing experience.

Another client had the all-too-familiar challenge of engaging a group with a broad variety of backgrounds, interests and ages – from twenty-somethings to baby boomers. We used i|xperience to create a program that offered a variety of different experience “paths” for participants to select from. For those looking to relax, we offered a serene, mountaintop sunrise yoga session. Others that valued hands-on learning (and tasting), enjoyed an afternoon with a local brewer, joining in on the beer-making process. And the thrill seekers? They had an epic off-road adventure awaiting them. These were just a few of the ways we offered personalization. And, by delivering the element of choice, it let employees know that their company was truly focusing on their desires – allowing them to enjoy their experience the way they wanted to.

Our philosophy is simple – it’s not just an event, it’s a journey. We do our best to walk in the participant’s shoes to ensure that we have engaged them at every touchpoint throughout the program – before, during and after the experience. To quote someone who said it better than I ever will – Charles Eames – “The role of the designer is that of a good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.”

Pete Dufner is the Experience Design Director for Creative Group, a company that creates business-changing experiences that help people thrive. He has spent over 20 years crafting brand stories, and some tasty beers too.