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Once upon a well-laid plan.

I’m sure most people think of quarter one as a cold, blustery season situated early in each calendar year. Maybe they cringe as they think about paying off those holiday credit card purchases or giggle thinking about their Valentine’s Day adventures. For sure, quarter one drums up thoughts of the three months that start of a year. However, if you’re my friend, you immediately think of RQUG. Why?

Because, for me, it means a complete and total sprint to the biggest event our department plans...our user conference. It means late nights and even a few weekends are spent toiling away. It means logo development, layout bonanzas, and printing galore. It means program and traffic flow, add-on events, strategy sessions, brainstorming and ideation (yes, those are a bit different). The end of that mad dash means packet assembly, button adhering, badge sorting, packing...packing...packing, oh and we pack too. (If you’re my friend it means you receive chaotic texts and only rare social sightings.)

The key to all this annual craziness is a well-laid plan. Yes, there are still late nights and frenzied moments but they are far fewer and shorter because we have developed a solid system to execute each year. Much like any design solution, there are some important steps our team must employ in order to succeed.

First, and always at the forefront, is the absolute requirement that all decisions be made with the customer in mind. Without this first step, often called empathy in Design Thinking, we wouldn’t know how to plan a user-centered event. Understanding their needs helps us dive into the next phase.

Understanding the users’ needs is a first step, yes. But almost directly following that comprehension is a need to define it. Our Conference Committee helps the marketing team with this through frequent meetings to assess attendee feedback from the prior year, plot sessions content, and secure first-rate speakers to address our attendees’ needs.

From there, it’s time to ideate. At this point, a great deal of our conference is set in tradition and muscle memory. As a department, we each know our role for every planning phase and we step up when it’s time to...say, design the conference logo or reach out to vendors for descriptions. However, we still brainstorm new ways to improve the attendee experience every year. Just last year we rebranded and launched an updated look for the user group and, along with that fun project, we added a new, interactive networking app to support that launch. We immediately saw an uptick in exhibit booth traffic, engagement, and social media activity. Well ideated!

One phase of the Design Thinking process we are rarely able manage is the prototype phase. We do, however occasionally manage to dip our toe in here. For instance, several years back we reinvented name tags and tested several solutions that could improve readability and act as an attendee trinket. Just last year (in addition to the fun noted above) I completely redesigned our program to better fit into pockets and purses.

For us, the testing phase is always a live environment and the best I can say for that is, like prototyping, testing is handled the best way we ranges from instantaneous to post-conference and adjustments are considered for the following year when, once again, quarter one is filled with planning adventures and a plethora of design fun!

Through carefully planned Design Thinking we tackle those first three months and deliver a customer-inspired and focused adventure, every year.

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