Hello Jéromine, could you present the theme of your conference and tell us who this conference is for? BlendWebMix positions itself as a unique and inspiring conference on new professions and uses of the new technologies of the Web industry. It’s been on the local Web scene for the...
Hello Marie-Cécile, could you present the theme of your conference and tell us who this conference is for?
interaction 18 was the 11th edition of IxDA’s yearly event dedicated to interaction design. Every year, local IxDA teams worldwide apply to be organisers. We at the Lyon IxDA chapter applied in July 2016 and promoted our beautiful city to the IxDA board. This is how after New York, Helsinki, San Francisco and many more, the 2018 conference was held for the first time in Lyon (and in France) and was organised by our local team of 18 people and 50-ish volunteers. IxDA is a worldwide association dedicated to promoting interaction design and fostering its development. There are more than 200 chapters worldwide gathering together 100,000 people, holding monthly events and meetups, federating interaction designers and supporting design education.
Interaction 18’s theme was the confluence of designs, through its motto “Dissolving boundaries, building connections”. The conference itself was part of a whole week of events starting with the Education Summit, followed by a full day of workshops held by industry professionals, ending with 3 days of talks and keynotes. All talks were given in English and given by designers and professionals coming from all corners of the world. Interaction conferences gather around a thousand attendees every year, a cheerful and friendly audience made of interaction design professionals, students, academics and renowned authors and speakers from within the industry.
What's your background and what is your role in organizing the conference?
My name is Marie-Cécile Paccard and I am 36 years old. I have myself been an interaction / UX designer for 14 years. Since 2016, I have been a freelancer and chose to settle back in the beautiful city of Lyon after a year abroad in England.
Photo: Thibault Paccard / Alice Dardun
Within the core team of Interaction 18, I was responsible for production, logistics and sponsor support for the entire event. I handled the realisation of the ideas and concepts created by the Experience team. I oversaw the planning and onsite management of our 4 major venues (Musée des Confluences, La Sucrière & Le Sucre and Le Transbordeur) including technical setup, provider relationships, catering and venues accessibility assessment. On top of this, I was the primary contact for all corporate sponsors, including Amazon, Spotify, Adobe and many more. The result of this was me running around for 5 straight days, surgically attached to a walkie-talkie. Lots of fun!
What is the philosophy/purpose of your conference?
IxDA’s Interaction conferences are a particular kind of “family reunion” in the design world. They are highly anticipated and have a strong reputation amongst interaction designers. Interaction’s specificity is that each edition is made unique by its new location and the special craft that each local team puts into its organisation.
Each edition is embedded into a week of events around interaction design and its audience is very faithful to the opening and closing parties given every year.
This year’s philosophy was defined around 8 main design principles: diversity as a must, cross-pollination, insightful delight, conference impact, accessibility guaranteed, contextual relevance, IxDA rituals and network of partnerships. We had the hard task of continuing the IxDA spirit and we added on top a few specificities. We wanted the conference to have a traceable impact on our attendees as well as a local influence. We chose our providers accordingly, favouring local partners. Diversity and accessibility were instrumental values that we promoted into the way the conference was implemented. For instance, our captioning partner was working on all 3 tracks to provide with real-time captioning in English and all conferences were recorded and are now available on the IxDA Vimeo channel.
IxDA’s Interaction conferences are a particular kind of “family reunion” in the design world. They are highly anticipated and have a strong reputation amongst interaction designers.
How do you attract attendees?
Our conference’s audience was composed of a lot of returning participants who enjoy IxDA’s famous family atmosphere. Every year is made unique through a location and a theme defining the special angle from which we tackle interaction design. Of course, the speaker lineup is a huge selling point and Interaction conferences make a point of inviting great speakers and having them tackle important topics, giving each year a special perspective.
Social media and community targeted communications are a great way to attract new attendees and make sure that veterans return each year. We also addressed other local groups and associations to make sure that French participants would be part of the event.
What are the 2 ou 3 main problems you have encountered in organizing your conference?
The fact that every year, a new local team handles the whole organisation can sometimes be tough. We are of course design professionals and the skills inherent to our discipline definitely helped us. Even if we got a lot of support from the IxDA board-, we still had to learn on the job, and oh my, event organisation is a heck of a thing to learn! 99% of the core-team was working on a volunteer basis… Having high professional expectations as you work on an event that size and during your spare time is definitely a challenge ;-)
Our team was scattered around Europe and had a lot of moving parts. It is not easy to maintain everyone’s level of information in real-time without frustrating or bothering people with too little or too much data! Building a team from scratch, and in a very short timespan, was also a challenge. We had to work out everyone’s needs regarding data & autonomy. It worked well in the end and it was a fantastic experience to work mostly remotely and gather everyone together during the two last weeks in Lyon.
One of the most difficult things to handle as a newbie conference organisation is spending months planning, imagining and designing something that does not take shape until one or two weeks before the event. It was a great exercise in meta-thinking and the art of letting go, as many things could not be foreseen before we would actually step into the venue for the final technical meeting with the providers, for instance.
How did you solve these problems?
Designers are usually systematic and pragmatic people, so we approached our issues from a design perspective and used a lot of design methods to help us through the effort. User tests, personas, user journeys, iteration, agile collaboration… We ensured we would offer a high quality experience to attendees, sponsors and speakers.
A lot of problems were human related though, like dealing with distant collaboration or communication between overlapping teams / committees. You still have to approach some parameters linearly, not everything can be ad hoc and agile when you have deadlines to keep. Defining clear responsibilities and areas of autonomy from the beginning is really helpful when decisions need to happen fast.
Designers are usually systematic and pragmatic people, so we approached our issues from a design perspective and used a lot of design methods to help us through the effort.
Have you found tools or services particularly helpful?
Our main intelligence center was kept on Basecamp and Google Drive. We kept track of our time spent and expenses on Harvest and used Submittable to support us through the Call for Papers and speaker selection process. Tito was our main ticketing tool and we spent ages designing artefacts in Sketchup, as we had very sporadic access to the main venue prior to the event and there were no 3D plans available.
What's your advice for conference organizers who are organizing their first event?
Organising a first event is a wonderful but stressful race. My main takeaway is that it is instrumental to lay down the right foundations, both for the event to come and for the team who will organise it. Think about a code of conduct very early and make sure that everyone in the team applies it to their work too. Lay your values and principles down from the very start, and use them to drive your decision making process all across the organisation. Apply those principles to the big missions and subprojects. Challenge your assumptions and define what words like “openness”, “diversity” or “inclusivity” mean to you. How will this affect the way your event is organised, the speakers selection or how you will sell tickets?
Using design techniques was also very useful. Write stories and prototype fast: sketch, draft and render your ideas into visual results in order to better communicate with your team and confirm your intentions. These artefacts don’t need to be hi-quality ; basic sketching and low-fi rendering are powerful tools. Write down the stories of your attendees and speakers, define their experience down to the tiniest detail. They matter, and they can make a big difference in the general perception of your event. Handle travel costs and accommodation for your speakers, they literally create your content therefore you should value their work and the time they invest in your event.
Photo: Thibault Paccard / Alice Dardun
Team work is difficult. In some cases, you will have to learn to work with people you've known for a long time as friends, and things might not go as expected. That’s okay! Learning to work together and finding the right processes will require a lot of trial and error. Challenge the way you collaborate along the path. Don't hesitate to iterate and test many collaboration setups: change the schedule of the weekly call, ask everyone how they like to work and what makes them efficient, be flexible and open minded about methods. It could be useful to have someone in charge of your team flow, connecting the dots between people's feelings and making sure no negative thought is left behind.
Last piece of advice: if you are new to organising events and if you plan on going 100% homemade, make sure you hire at least a technical manager and a scenographer. I promise the financial investment of these two positions will be worth it. You cannot know everything, it is their job to know and advise you accordingly, and they will quicken the process around many technical aspects of your event.
Thank you Gilles, and I would also like to thank Guillaume Berry for proofreading this interview.
Thanks Marie-Cécile for your participation in this interview.
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And don’t forget to take a look at this amazing interaction design event: interaction 18
If you are a conference organizer yourself and would like to be interviewed, please do not hesitate to contact me.