Origin Story: From Event Design to Experience Design. How The 4D Framework Came to Be.

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How, When, and Why I Decided to Make the Leap from Event Design to Everything Design

Learning That How You Do One Thing is How You Do Everything.

Did The 4D Framework and its application strike me like a lightning bolt? Not exactly. Early in my career, I worked for various professional associations managing all manner of conference and tradeshow components, first building educational programs, then branching out into coordinating meeting logistics, developing sponsorships and exhibit offerings, promoting membership benefits, and creating all the corresponding marketing outreach.

After unexpectedly losing my job—door closing, new windows opening—I started event planning on my own and quickly realized that a scattershot approach – designing just the meeting logistics, educational program, or other compartmentalized areas of an event experience – wasn\’t generating the knock-your-socks-off change my clients truly desired. Nor was it infusing too much pep into my proverbial step. While I was able to make improvements to their event processes, the piecemeal approach meant that while reinvigorating redesign might have been happening in one area of the experience, others continued to feel flat, stale, and like the status quo which meant that desired results (growing audiences, revitalizing event products, and boosting revenues) remained elusive.

Fast forward and I was certain I\’d solved the problem by insisting upon a design approach that allowed me to create experiences from start to finish. Surely having my hands on each and every touchpoint would result in dream outputs for my clients, their clients, and me, their designer.

Wrong again! While the unified approach moved the needle and represented a marked improvement over the siloed one, events continued to feel typical, expected events. Sure the planning processes were dialed in, venues were sterling, F&B and A/V precise, but even as I created stellar event experiences, the tangential, undesigned elements (culture, organizational structures, physical spaces, and more) were misaligned and the mismatches resulted in experience design plans that were quickly shelved and teams who were even more quickly frustrated when efforts stalled and their once high hopes of designing a truly new experience that they could get excited about began to wane again.

In light of this realization, it was time to launch a new way of thinking, or rather feeling. It was time for The 4D Framework… or maybe not quite yet.  No, instead of diving headfirst into the pool of feelings-led design, the next phase of The Framework’s evolution centered around convincing existing and prospective clients that event planning services, even the best, most comprehensive ones, weren’t sufficient to bring about real experience design change or the feel-it-in-your-bones outcomes they were clamoring for.

It was then, and only then, that I realized a feelings-led approach to experience design, that The 4D Framework had to be applied not just to event experience design but to the tangential team experiences and individual members’ experiences both in conceptualizing the final event product and in design their experience producing that product. Ultimately, what I came to recognize was that how you (royal or individual) do (or think or feel) about one thing is how you do (or think or feel) about everything!

No team, no matter how great, could transform a humdrum event experience into an effusive one if they were unwilling to dedicate the same level of feelings-led experience design intentionality to the experience of their interactions with one another, selection of vendors or venues, consideration of long-held views on customer service or even the program\’s overall structure as they were to the two, three or four days they welcomed guests onsite. Or better said, no team, no matter how bizarre the members might feel evaluating each of their design decisions against the simple question, \”Does this create a more or less effusive feeling?\” could create the same humdrum event they always had!

The 4D Framework: What It Looks Like Beyond Event Design

Start Today. Start with Anything.

In case you don\’t, won\’t, can\’t, or have no desire to design event experience, fear not! The 4D Framework\’s application is so broadly applicable that the type of experience becomes irrelevant. Case in point below is just one example of how I\’ve applied The 4D Framework to event experience design challenges and those that have nothing to do with event design whatsoever.

Event Experience Design

Rather than designing each event touchpoint in insolation, even if that isolation is exceptionally executed, begin by identifying the unifying Feelings Outcomes that people involved are looking for, both as event experience designers and for their customers. If they are aiming for a Feelings Outcome that creates a fresh, airy, uplifting experience, then every facet of the event design experience from the marketing collateral to the selection of planning committee members and even how F&B is chosen should all lead back to what introduces greater feelings of freshness, airiness, and uplift.

Any Experience Design

If you were to apply the same Feelings Outcome to say undertaking a home renovation, you would then spend less time thinking about what you think you want and more time contemplating how you want the space (your \”customer\” in this parallel) AND the renovation process itself (your experience designer) to feel. You would evaluate each step in the design process as well as decisions about the design materials themselves against the simple question, \”Does this choice create more or fewer feelings of freshness, airiness, and uplift?\” Those feelings would guide the design of every step of your renovation experience: selecting design elements, the designer, even the construction start date and the interactions with your contractors. Pick a Friday start if it feels more uplifting than a Tuesday. Celebrate milestones by sharing a cake with your drywallers. Opt for cheerful greens, pale blues, and bright white instead of the trend du jour modern farmhouse neutral pallet.

Define: Don’t Wait. Experience Differently Now.

Shift the paradigm now and start enjoying more.

Event Experience Design: Start today. When you know how you want an event experience to feel—even if that event is weeks or months away—begin to design a different event planning experience right away. Weekly or monthly check-in calls? You can bring new energy and vigor to them. Selecting a new vendor partner? Don’t just pick the biggest name or the lowest bidder. Look for teams who evoke the same feelings as the Feelings Outcome identified for your event itself. If your experience doesn’t feel the way you want your customers to feel, what hope do you have of creating it for them?

Any Experience Design: Embarking on a wellness quest? Good for you! But don’t wait until you’re ready for the cover of Shape magazine to experience your Fresh, Airy, Uplifting Feelings Outcome. Consider how you want to feel all along your health journey; then design your experience with an eye towards maximizing those feelings from the jump. Don’t focus on sacrifice, ardor, and rigidity (unless those were the adjectives you identified for your Feelings Outcome).  Instead, pay attention to electing behaviors, actions, thoughts, heck everything, that create a greater volume of those feelings you actually want to experience. Take a walk in the part rather than a gym (fresh), opt for low-key Hatha yoga over its intense power yoga counterpart (airy), or even dance to show tunes in your PJs if it boosts your spirits (uplifting).

Has it Worked for Me? Indeed.

Since I embraced this paradigm shift in designing experiences, it’s become a simple, easy and fun means to design experiences on behalf of G+A\’s clients and for myself and the G+A team all along the way. And in case you think feelings-led experience design is nothing but fluff and rainbows, since implementing The 4D Framework approach, G+A has achieved 100% revenue growth in each consecutive year the business has been open – even during a pandemic.

Until next time, dream boldly, dream beautifully,
Mallory Gott, Founder + Creative Director, G+A | An Experiential Design Firm

Want to learn to use the feelings you value to design the experiences in your life?  Join The 4D Community of experiential design thinking enthusiasts for more great content and check out Define The Dream. Design the Dream.: The Course.

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