Out and About with . . . Delight 2014

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When I think of the word “delight,” I see the ocean, kittens, and ice cream in my head. I don’t tend to think of shopping, brands, or anything to do with consumption.

The Delight Conference aims to change that.

Held yearly in Portland, Oregon, Delight brings together designers, technologists, and businesses from all walks of industry to focus on creating great customer experiences. The conference motto proclaims that “the companies that are loved win.”

After attending, I have to admit, I’m more convinced than ever that it’s true.

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The speakers were thoughtful and varied, from representatives of the world’s most admired brands (Google, Facebook, Intel, Zappos, anyone?). It soon became clear there is no single A-to-B path toward delighting customers. But if I had to create a sort of “recipe” for delighting customers based on the conference talks, I’d include stories, community, authenticity, humanity and attention to detail as the core recurring components.

Top Four Talks

I wish I had both time and space to unpack how the above five components infused every talk at Delight. Instead, I’ll focus on the top four talks, which comprise my personal “highlight reel.”

Genevieve Bell
“Being Human in a Digital World”

Genevieve Bell of Intel launched the conference to a strong start with “Being Human in a Digital World.” Arguing that technology was built for humanity, not the other way around, Genevieve demonstrated while the “digital revolution” has changed the human mind in some ways . . . in many others, humans are the same creatures we’ve always been . . .

Especially when it comes to our craving for stories and interaction with other humans—two urges that the best technologies seamlessly enable.

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“What hasn’t changed with technology is that we still love a good story.” – Genevieve Bell

Christopher Stapleton
“Design as if Your Life Depended on It”

Picking up Genevieve’s thread of inviting humanity into technology, Christopher Stapleton of Symiosis shared his experiences designing experiences for everything from museums to aphasia therapy sessions. He advocated creating something he called “the playtank.” (That’s a “think tank for play,” by the way.)

In the playtank, a group of intrepid users are unleashed in a mock-up of the experience to test every aspect “to find the sweet stop between boredom and frustration.” A critical component of this assessment is whether or not the experience requires human beings to make real choices that affect the course of the interaction—rather than passively taking in a pre-determined course of events (or media).

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“Make a safe zone for technological play.” – Christopher Stapleton

Golden Krishna
“The Best Interface is No Interface”

From Christopher’s emphasis on bringing play and choice into multi-sensory, real-time experiences, we moved to Golden Krishna‘s (Zappos) hyper-focus on UI (user interface) . . . or rather, lack thereof . . . in the digital realm. Golden argued that the best experience, whether live or on a screen, should be so seamless that the method of interaction (website, app, button-activated mechanism, path, etc.) should disappear.

With the battle cry of #NoUI, he ran us through a range of fascinating examples of digital and tactile interfaces that fail primarily because they don’t unfold the way s human mind naturally would. Which goes back to Genevieve Bell’s talk about creating technology that’s really for human beings . . .

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“Dream of a screenless world.” – Golden Krishna

Aubrie Pagano
“Throwing the Curveball of Delight”

Rounding out my top picks was Aubrie Pagano of the clever and engaging site Bow and Drape, which allows visitors to design and customize their own luxury fashion. Like Christopher Stapleton, Aubrie took us tactical, showing off clever “delight moments” built into every Bow and Drape customer experience.

Google for photos. You’ll be amazed. From a mailer that transforms into a tote bag, to the bottle of nail polish “extra” tucked into every purchase, Bow and Drape’s example sent my mind racing with a million ways I could incorporate more surprises into my next experience design project.

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“Humans are built for novelty.” – Aubrie Pagano

While all this might sound like it’s mostly for marketers or designers at big brands, I’m convinced these insights are just as powerful for smaller businesses and even creative entrepreneurs. We each have a story to tell, no matter the size or scope of our product. We each design and deliver a product for human beings. The customer experience path for an independent artist can be just as human, story-driven, authentic, community-focused and detailed as for a larger brand.

As an experience designer for large brands “by day” and a creator/writer/designer/marketer/entrepreneur for boutique story experiences “by night,” I see equal application in both parts of my life for what I learned at Delight 2014.

Because at the end of the day, no matter what their size . . . “the companies that are loved win.”

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