Conference Connect

Conference Connect (ConConn) is a web-based event planning application allowing conference attendees to make the most out of their conference experience. It differs from existing conference planning tools by supporting professional networking before, during, and after the conference. It also informs attendees about relevant and interesting events based on individual interest. With functionalities catering both novice and experienced attendees, ConConn provides a holistic experience of making new and managing existing professional connections throughout the course of a conference.

Role: Interaction Designer
Duration: 02.2011 – 03.2011
Skills: User Research, Wireframing, Tablet Application Design
Tools: Illustrator, inDesign, html

User Research

To identify the opportunities in the space of conference planning, we first conducted a quick and dirty survey through online survey forms. From this, we saw that last minute planning is surprisingly common. Also, “networking” and “learning” are the two major goals for attendees.

To further deepen our user research, we interviewed both masters and PhD students at CMU with conference experiences. We took the directed storytelling approach where we prompt them in a few directions and have them “tell us stories” about their previous experiences. The two directions we focused on were:

Conference planning process

To understand the process participants take in planning for a conference and have them reflect on the pros and cons of the approach. We also seek to identify the emotional needs in this process.

Networking methodologies

To understand how participants go about meeting new people throughout the course of the conference. Do people normally plan whom they want to meet in advance? What are some of the difficulties people encounter?

Given all the online professional networking platforms and conference planning applications out there, we took some of the more well known ones and conducted a general competitive analysis to identify the opportunity gap our solution can come in. We saw that although these applications and sites address both networking and scheduling, they are often separated if not poorly integrated. Furthermore, social elements are usually not seen in common scheduling tools. Thus, we feel that there is an opportunity to provide a better tool for conference attendees by offering a holistic experience that integrates social networking and event scheduling.

Design

Before diving into a particular design direction, we wanted to make sure that we are constantly empathizing with the users. So we synthesized all the participants we saw in the research process into three “personas”. Personas are archetypical users that represent the variety of people we encountered in our research or identified as potential users.

Besides personas, we also drew design implications by identifying the emotional needs of expert users (such as a college faculty that has been to countless conferences) and novice users (such as a graduate student attending his/her first conference):

Novice users always want to be prepared and informed to establish a sense of confidence and security in attending the conference. Thus, we want to support them by providing advanced planning, coordination with peers, and automatic updates of changes.

Expert Users want flexibility and freedom, they know what to expect of conferences. We support them by giving them something that requires minimal hassle, minimizes the need to be “wired,” is versatile, and supports spontaneous decisions.

In sum, both groups of users can really benefit from a portable tool that supports informed decision-making on the go. That said, we believe that recent advancements of tablet and mobile technology provides what we need to make this happen. Thus, we decided that designing for tablet view would make the most sense in this context.

We then brainstormed and constructed a moodboard to define some of the elements we want in our design.

Final Prototype

The following diagram illustrates the overall features we support and how they are derived from the user needs:

We analyzed the needs by differentiating the point of time they occur, namely before, during and after the conference (the three color-coded segments on the top). System features are organized based on the three menu items that are presented to the users on the top (see below). At anytime using the system, users can specify their status of availability on the top-right corner of the screen.

The event list allows user to users to easily browse events with an option to filter based on categories. Events can be quickly added to a temporary schedule by starring it.

Event details page provides relevant textual and visual information about a particular event. Also, discussion board allows ConConn users to share information or comment about the event in real-time.

In the contact view, all contacts are initially organized by conferences. On the left panel, the system will recommend people the user might be interested in connecting with and allows users to manage contacts during the conference. Contact’s profile can be viewed by clicking on them (similar to the account page below).

In the account profile page, users can edit their personal profile. They can also control the kind of information that is available for public view under the privacy page on the left panel.

By clicking on the activity tab (on the right of the profile page), the activity view (see above) will show all the previous account activities. The details of events can be accessed here by one click.

We also envisioned the use of ConConn on the smartphone (iPhone in this case). This screen shows how the event list view would look like under limited screen asset.