Updated: Sep 7, 2019
I just returned from a weekend in Berlin where I attended the Experience Design Challenge. An international group of experience designers came together for this event to spend two days in teams of 5 to 6 people to design experiences for an audience that would arrive on Sunday.
The experiences should be around 15 minutes long for groups of 10-20 people and guided by the theme Dealing with Uncertainty through Humor.
The participants were a colorful mix of creators coming from the world of gaming, Escape Rooms, Immersive theater, Interaction Design, LARP. There were even quite some people with no design background but a burning interest in experience design. It was a great illustration of how broad and sometimes undefined this field is, but also how rich the opportunities are for collaboration and cross pollination.
Our location was an old and abandoned distillery with dramatic sceneries and a wide spectrum of different settings. While some groups created site specific experiences that made a strong use of the atmosphere and the affordances of their space, others created more universal designs that could be repeated at other locations.
Overall the name Challenge is no joke. Creating an experience under time pressure with a team of people from a wide range of backgrounds and tastes is a true challenge in flexible thinking process management and group decision making. I learned that when you load a transporter van full of people and perform wild driving maneuvers it is easy to mistake their screams of terror for screams of excitement but I also had a few slightly less specific insights:
- There is demand for a common language: There is a large overlap between some of the concepts of theater, gaming and interaction design, but everyone uses a different terminology. Developing a universal language for common tools & mechanics will be useful for such collaborations. An interesting starting point for this could be Ida C. Benedetto’s Vocabulary for Patterns of Transformation - There is a strong need for community: At each experience design event I go, I encounter people who are excited to finally meet people with similar intentions. It seems that in this field there are many people who experiment in isolation and are craving for a community with people that share their vision.
- Ego and Perspective: It is difficult to find the sweet spot between contributing with one’s full potential and expressing a creative vision while keeping a flexible mindset and without becoming too attached to certain ideas. It is also difficult though to create a shared vision and align everyone with it. Besides the advantage in branding, this is another reason why many large productions rely on existing IP’s. If you make a Game of Thrones or Star Wars experience, it is easy to make sure that everyone shares the same vision and tries to create the same universe. Especially in teams with flat hierarchy it is much harder to make sure that everyone in the team shares the same understanding about an original idea and contributes with parts that coherently fit into the overall narrative. One trick is to create a concept that is original but still allows many different artists to work rather independently on their own parts and their own ideas don’t threaten the coherence of the overall project. Examples for those are for instance the House of Eternal Return by Meow Wolf. An experience that forms a multiverse of different realities that can co-exist in the same space.
This was my second challenge of this kind and while I experienced it as stressful and frustrating at times, it is exactly those experiences that help to learn a lot about one’s own habits and personality. I am very thankful for the organizers to create such a platform and I think back fondly of this event. If you are interested in experience design and you ever get the opportunity to join such a challenge yourself, I can only recommend it. Throw yourself into the unknown, take it serious and you will be rewarded with personal and professional insights.