User Experience is more about technique than technology

Simon Clayton says UX stretches beyond websites and gadgets

There’s a great deal more attention being paid to user experience (UX) these days. Unfortunately, most people see this as applying only to websites. Obviously the UX of an event website affects reactions to an event, so it’s important to get it right. In reality, though, event planners need to think about the UX of the whole event.
But let’s start with websites, since that’s usually an attendee’s first contact with an event. It’s very easy to get the UX wrong, as demonstrated by any number of sites. Maybe they make it almost impossible to locate interesting breakout sessions. Or they provide only meaningless titles for sessions with no details. Some even forget to show the date and location of the event on the home page.

There are many traps waiting for web developers who don’t think about the users. What planners need to do in these cases is to see the site through a user’s eyes or even get a few who will be brutally honest to tell them what’s wrong.

That same approach needs to be applied to the UX of the event itself. The planner needs to look at it through the eyes of an attendee. This applies to everything from the mundane but essential factors, such as room temperatures and light levels, to the more difficult, such as event signage.

After all, if attendees can’t find their way around easily and quickly, it won’t take long before some get really annoyed. Worse than that, if they can’t find a session there will be disruption as people arrive after the start and try to locate empty seats.

Yet signage is one of the areas in which technology can be a real help.

Eye-tracking glasses enable a planner to understand what people are looking for as they arrive at an event. It’s a technology that’s already being used by retailers and, perhaps most significantly in a meetings context, by Visit Scotland in their visitor centres. They used eye tracking glasses combined with IR markers attached to walls in order to understand, among other things, the effectiveness of their signage. They used the result to improve the layout of their visitor centres with benefits to Visit Scotland and visitors.

This same technology could be used by a meeting planner to understand their event from an attendee’s point of view and make the UX better.

One of the difficulties is that all sorts of technology are being promoted as helping to bring about real improvements to the UX. Very often the equipment being promoted is irrelevant. What amounts to indoor GPS, for example, is being sold in order to identify hot spots at events, yet most planners will know where the hotspots are; they don’t need a gadget to tell them.

In reality, it’s more about a point of view than about a gadget. To go back to signage, if planners thought about it from the point of view of a new arrival at the front door, they might realise that the signs need to be relocated.

It’s true that some technologies can provide measurable improvements for planners, but it’s actually more important to think about the event from the individual attendee’s point of view. Planners who can perfect that technique might find that their event doesn’t look nearly as good as they thought.

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