MX Conference

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the MX Conference in San Francisco. MX stands for Managing Experience, and is targeted at people like me: managers of creative teams attempting to produce great user experiences. The conference is put on by the folks at Adaptive Path, who have a fair amount of experience managing experience. Given that it was a conference about providing great user experiences, I thought I'd pick out a few details that struck me as surprising and extra-nice (in order of appearance):

  • Location: OK, this is not a small detail, but it was an important one. The conference was at the beautiful Mark Hopkins hotel, at the top of Nob Hill. The hotel was beautiful, and even getting there was pleasant: from where I was staying, I took BART downtown, and then hopped a cable car up the hill to the hotel, catching view of the bay at each cross street. Pretty sweet.

  • The detail that made me smile every time was the Return to Your Seats music -- at the end of each break, they played 1970s game show theme music to signal that it was time to sit down.

  • Video clip strategery: Refocusing an audience's attention after a break is a challenge, and I really liked AP's approach here. After the return-to-your-seats music, rather than tapping a microphone for attention, they simply started playing a movie clip. Clips were selected from films shot in San Francisco (Bullitt, The Rock, In Harms Way), and usually lasted a minute or two. Slowly, audience members noticed the clip was playing, and by the end of every clip, everyone's attention was focused on the front of the room.

  • A/V: I've put on my fair share of seminars and workshops, and I know that getting presentations to work smoothly (or at all) is an oft-fumbled challenge. The folks at AP did a really good job in this department, and even took it a step beyond basic competence. The end result was an experience more akin to watching the Oscars than attending a conference, complete with animated introductions, zooming text, fading transitions, and embedded video. The A/V staff in the back of the room seamlessly cross-faded between conference graphics and presenter decks, pretty much without missing a beat. Absent were blue screens, choppy transitions, and cluttered desktops. Nice work, guys!

  • Winner for most useful detail: graphic recording. During each session, AP staffers in the back of the room graphically recorded the presentation, in the end producing a large set of illustrated note-diagrams. I first learned about graphic recording in college, when, on the first day of my Community-based Planning class, our professor surprised us by taking notes this way. Since then, I've learned that graphic recording is really hard to do. I was particlarly impressed by the conference-wide summary graphic, and the process by which they produced it. After the last session, recorders went through each session's board and made post-it notes of the key points. Then, they arranged the post-its on the summary board until they came to a sensible layout, after which they removed the post-its and drew in the final graphics. Check out the flickr pool showing all the boards. Update: Alexa from AP muses about ways to encourage more audience participation in graphic recordings.

  • Online community: Alongside the real conference was the virtual conference community, powered by CrowdVine, which is another build-your-own social network tool (similar to Ning). I didn't really clue in to the online community until the end of the conference, but I'll be interested to see if it stays active. At the very least, it was cool to browse profiles of other attendees and see tag clouds of people's job titles and companies.

My only critique was a minor one -- that the nametags, worn by everyone around the neck with a lanyard, should have names printed on both sides, rather than names on the front and schedules on the back. I'd say that about 50% of the time (funny how it works out that way...) people's nametags were hanging backwards, defeating their purpose. I mentioned this to an AP staffer, who asked "but isn't the schedule important?". I suppose, but not as important as people's names, and especially not in a single-track, single-room conference. So, next year, names on both sides, OK? All in all, it was one of the best executed events I've attended (haven't been to Macworld yet, though), so bravo, AP team!

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