Why I spent a week as a gopher at TEDSummit 2016
Last week I took a break from being UX Architect at TED. Instead, I was on-the-ground support — a gopher — for the conference team at TEDSummit 2016 in Banff, Canada. I spent my days, and a good portion of my nights, at the InfoHub, the help center located in the most active spot in the venue. When I wasn’t there (or asleep), I was available online. It was the first TED conference that I didn’t attend a single session, but there was a reason.
I did everything from addressing general attendee questions—Where’s lunch? Can I switch sessions?—to bringing a toothbrush to an attendee’s hotel room at 10pm. I supported Gigi, our 24/7 virtual concierge who’s there to answerany and all attendee questions. (“How do Unicorns have sex, Gigi?” Yes, that was an actual question.)
I also got to work with many of the tools and products that make our conferences such an incredible experience for attendees, including our bespoke Event Management System (EMS) and the TEDConnect conference app for iOS and Android.
I was able to experience firsthand how our conference support team works with these tools and interacts with our attendees. Bonus: I got to meet some of the most engaged members of the TED community, including volunteer translators, TEDx organizers, and TED-Ed members from around the world.
Well, for one thing, every TED staffer who attends a conference is expected to help in any way possible, even if it’s not directly related to their day job. But there’s another reason: as I look for ways to improve the tools and products that make our conferences so special, I need to understand exactly how they’re being used and where we can make improvements. I also need to understand how our attendees use and interact with our conference products like the TEDConnect app. What better way than eating our own dog food?
Getting to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” is why I work the front door and registration desk, checking people into lunches, etc. The engineers and I always come away with a long list of things we want to build or fix.
— Ladan Wise, Senior Product Development Manager, TED
Much of what we do in UX is based on observation and inquiry, plus a healthy dollop of speculation (if we’re being honest). However, there’s nothing better than actually stepping straight into the shoes of the people you’re trying to serve.
I came back from the conference with invaluable insights into how our tools and products work, where they succeed, and where they need improvement. I’m developing recommendations based not just on feedback and assumptions, but on my own firsthand experiences.
Frankly, being a gopher was one of the purest, most effective UX activities I’ve ever undertaken. If you’re in the UX field and you get the chance, try doing the job of your support team; use your own products in real-life situations; and find opportunities to spend time with your core customers.
As always, we made sure to have some fun.