The meetings business was not an obvious choice for Convene founders Ryan Simonetti and Chris Kelly. Then a chance to adopt an existing corporate conference facility developed. Initially, they saw it as an opportunity to make a business out of as-built spaces. But their view changed. They quickly discovered an entire population of meeting planners who were underserved and discontent with the services and spaces that were available to them. That’s when they began to form a shared vision for what the future of conference centers could be.
They studied the changing nature of work and found an opportunity to develop better workplaces and services at the center of three converging trends: communications technology, globalization and decentralization, and workers’ changing perceptions and preferences. While technology had rapidly mobilized work and communications the workplace, its design and services had evolved very little since the typewriter era; the two entrepreneurs were determined to close that gap. In the current state of the world, work effortlessly spans time zones and geography. Global corporations and their workforces now work as one, in real time across a distributed network of places that very much includes but, for the first time, is not limited to the office. However, to the same extent that technology was bringing workers together, it was simultaneously putting more distance between them on a day-to-day basis. Chris and Ryan understood that, as a result, the occasions when people actually did meet face to face would become even more significant. They began designing and prototyping the types of spaces and services that would be required to facilitate these infrequent but ever more important interactions. They examined the future of the workplace, conducted visioning sessions, identified trends, explored the mobile environment, and generational differences in the workforce. When they couldn’t find an existing solution worth emulating they decided to create their own.
Working with The Bromberg Group, they set upon an intense period of self – examination, research and strategic planning using a method known as “Human Centered Design* or “Design Thinking”. One of the best examples of Human Centered Design is Apple’s iPhone. Years ago, if cell phone manufacturers had asked users what they wanted in a better device most would have requested longer battery life and better reception. No one would have suggested the unique features and ground-breaking innovation Apple developed. Why? Because most people couldn’t describe those needs despite the limitations of their existing product. But through Human Centered Design, even those features and capabilities users can’t articulate become visible. The process starts with the needs and activities of the people who will be utilizing the product, service, technology or space that is being designed. It is a method to understand the key elements of a given situation. Who is doing it? What is their process? Where is it done and how do people interact with their physical environment, the folks they are working with and the technology they are using? When do they do it? How long? How often? Why do they do it? What are their goals and aspirations?
The answers to these questions are gathered in three ways: We ASK people what they do and why they are doing it. Then we OBSERVE what they do because sometimes what people say they do is very different from what they actually do. Finally, we ENGAGE them in a participatory design activity that allows us to uncover latent needs; those they might not be able to articulate or even know they have. We take hundreds of digital photographs to capture the events as they occur. Armed with this information, the research team pins everything to the wall and begins a process of analysis and synthesis. They share what they’ve uncovered by telling stories and sharing photos. Soon patterns in the data begin to emerge and are clustered into insights. The Insights are filtered through the lenses of Desirability, Feasibility and Viability. Do people want and need it? Is it possible to build or create? Can our clients afford it? Can we afford it? Once answered, our Insights become Design Principles, the criteria that are used to create or select our spaces, menus, technology and experiences.
Seems like a lot of work and a messy process, right? But think of the results: taking one of the most common interactions in business – the meeting – and elevating it to enhance productivity, increase satisfaction, and be a more memorable experience. At Convene, Research and Human Centered Design have become the tools and engine of our innovation process – and our customers are enjoying the results.
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VP, Strategy and Research
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