September 9, 2020

Virtual Events Are Experiences. Why Aren’t They Designed That Way?

by Brett Renfer, Creative Director

Re-imagined virtual event venues

Zoom is a very general tool. Most of the time, for most purposes, it works (mostly). Webinars are fine, until your host can’t stop sharing their screen. Virtual conferences are fine, until you want to exchange contact info.

Right now, solutions are being hacked together to make Zoom sort of work in a lot of scenarios that it frankly was not built for. As designers, this has been frustrating to watch. A virtual gathering is an experience like any other, and it should be thoughtfully designed and considered.

What else might be possible? Starting with a design scenario, a science-heavy virtual product demonstration, we asked our R&D team: how would this event run if you built it from the ground up? Could you prototype a better digital gathering experience?

The Brief

Our team broke the day down into three segments: arrival, the demo itself, and a post-event happy hour. At each stage, they thought about the pain points and missing opportunities in traditional product demos, as well as their Zoom-ified counterparts.

Segment 1: Arrival

What should it be like to enter a virtual event? Hint: it’s not a mix of half-on, half-off cameras or a cacophony of unmuted microphones with kids and coffee machines in the background.

A user sets up their profile.

First, we give visitors a chance to set up their profile: Add an avatar, confirm your name and company affiliation, and let the hosts know what you are most interested in learning about at the demo.

A user enters a virtual waiting room.

In lieu of being “dropped in” to a big video chat, we propose a waiting room that allows guests to get acclimated, check out who else is there, and say “hi” if they’d like to. The facilitator can see who’s present, and begin the program when they’re ready.

Segment 2: Demo

How can presentations flow smoothly, and with more engagement from guests? How can a sales pitch feel more welcoming, especially when there is no way to shake the client’s hand?

Exploring the virtual lobby.

A good experience center, museum, or conference creates spaces where participants can get a lay of the land, figure out what they’re interested in, and even browse around. A virtual “lobby” lets guests preview multiple concurrent events. They’re offered a range of things to do, allowing for exploration based on individual interest.

Watching a presentation.

No matter the setting, presentations should be engaging, which usually means doing more than sharing a deck. A product launch space can provide more opportunities for live interaction and rich content: guests can interact with a 3D molecule and see a live “whiteboard” as our facilitator dives into the underlying science. This same platform might allow for multiple cameras and “pinned” content — a dream for a virtual cooking class, for example.

Collaboratively exploring a 3D model.

What opportunities exist for digital interactions that are not possible at a traditional physical event? Another room can offer product tours, a collaborative 3D space where participants can explore while chatting with their facilitator. They can spatially pin questions, and see where their fellow participants are in virtual space, enabling new types of collaboration.

Segment 3: Happy Hour

How can an event be extended into an informal setting without overextending guests with video conference fatigue? What can a digital experience bring to a networking happy hour so that it is both fun and functional?

"Walking" around a virtual happy hour.

Breakout rooms are one way to make digital group gatherings run a bit smoother. Our mixer goes a step further, allowing visitors to freely move in and out of rooms, creating fluid video chat groups. In between these defined spaces, other participants’ visibility and volume depends on your virtual proximity — you can “walk” around and chat with people you bump into, or stay off to the side to recharge.

Conclusions

Working from home is just the beginning. At Bluecadet, we anticipate a blossoming of many new video and collaboration tools as an ever-wider range of experiences comes online. Treating these more like their real-world counterparts is a start. Webinars should have “backstage” technicians and producers with more power. Networking events and conferences should allow for multiple simultaneous conversations that are easy to move between. Classrooms should allow students to get “hands on” with virtual models.

Each kind of event will need its own set of tools, it’s own unique solutions. A school is not exactly like a conference, and a conference is not exactly like a musical performance. The possibilities are nearly endless — once you begin to apply the same design thinking to a virtual experience as a real one. We’ve just begun to scratch the surface.

Have an idea, space, or existing experience that you’re hoping to investigate? Connect with Brad Baer, our Chief Strategy Officer, about working with Bluecadet on a rapid concept development engagement.

See how we took these ideas a step further in a recent FastCompany article

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