Is Event Design a Wicked Problem?

Post authored by Cynthia Hornketh, CMM, VP, Experience Design, Experient

event-designI’ve heard a few university professors suggest design thinking is best when applied to wicked problems. I’m “all in” when it comes to design thinking, so not knowing exactly what they meant, I was curious to learn more about wicked problems and how they relate to meetings and events. First off, though, I do reside in Boston … I’m not using the word “wicked” in this context to mean “awesome.” And thankfully, the “awesome” slang has been mostly eliminated from our regional vocabulary.

The definition I’m focused on was introduced in social planning by 1973 by Horst W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber — two Berkeley professors whose article in Policy Sciences, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” named 10 properties that distinguished wicked problems from hard but ordinary problems.

Their definition is fairly complex and extreme. For the purpose of this article, a wicked problem is an opportunity or challenge that can’t be “solved” due to ever changing variables, interdependencies, and no ultimate test to measure success. Further, organizations addressing wicked problems have a tough time getting stakeholders to agree on what the problem is never mind what path or solutions to head toward. Today’s event designers can relate to and operate under the stress of the many defining properties identified by Rittel and Webber, but I don’t believe growing or redesigning an event needs be a wicked problem.

There are ways we can reliably address our challenges and opportunities.

I am particularly interested in interdependencies. I’m frequently involved in programs that navigate this challenge. Events involve many stakeholders with different values and priorities. How can a designer identify, untangle and address what is important to each stakeholder and guest segment without negatively impacting another?

One of our key methods is to encourage clients to include representatives from various stakeholder groups in a collaborative workshop we call our Innovation Lab. The conversations can get messy, but when we engage colleagues to share their understanding of the organization’s and the guests’ objectives, we find they can agree on opportunities and tactics to achieve the varying needs, and do so without creating new conflicts. We believe it is also crucial, at this stage, to define the organization’s brand promise and articulate the essence of the program through an organizing principle—then these insights and tools are used as guiding standards or unifying parameters by everyone involved in creating, marketing and producing the program.

empathy map

Empathy Map

Additionally, empathy maps and personas—devices for visualizing, understanding and humanizing our approach for designing events—can help determine our guests’ predominate values and reasons for attending the event.

With clear design criteria gleaned from these diagnostic conversations, we can optimize decisions and tactics that support an event built on shared, rather than competing, values and purpose.

Another point that sticks out in the wicked problems definition is the idea that there is no test to measure success. If you begin your event planning process by defining results, as noted above, then we can create instruments and strategies to test ideas, iterate, and measure results against your organization and guest objectives. And once we assess the results, we can advance and refine our approach for the next event.

Yes, we operate in an increasingly complex environment where the intel, processes and decisions used in the past don’t always address the problems we face today. But after evaluating the Rittel and Webber definition, reviewing how we’re applying design thinking, human-centered design and exemplary logistic execution to launch and reinvent programs, I conclude that at times our problems are wicked—as in seemingly “evil”—and our opportunities are “awesome,” but event design is not a wicked problem.

How have you applied design thinking to your programs?

A mission of our experience design team and our Innovation Lab is to move events beyond the “zone of nothing special.” If you’re interested in learning more about these design thinking tools and our Innovation Lab, please contact

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The Event Marketing Timeline [Infographic] – Part 5: The 5 W’s of Effective Event Marketing

Post authored by Dana Norris, Marketing Manager, Experient

Experient provides tips for effective event marketing

We know successful event promotion consists of a series of touches through a number of communication channels over a planned period of time. If you’re missing the mark on the timing, you can be missing out on keeping your potential attendees well informed, engaged and registering for your event.

Since all events will vary, so will promotional timelines. For guideline’s sake, let’s assume you are working on your annual conference.  To help you maximize prospect engagement, we created this event marketing timeline — an infographic that illustrates the best timing for your event promotion — as the fifth and final element in the blog series, The 5 W’s of Effective Event Marketing.

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Three Tips For Holding Successful Global Meetings and Events

Post authored by Ben Goedegebuure, Global General Manager, Maritz Travel Company

Business People in a Meeting and Global Network ConceptsAn increasingly global economy means international meetings and events are on the rise. While planning meetings in the United States comes second nature to many of us, planning a global meeting that resonates across geographic borders and incorporates regional flare can be a bit more difficult.

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7 Ways to Navigate Group Reservation Needs in a Seller’s Economy

Post authored by Rick Benoit, Manager, Housing Services, Experient

Green Business StrategyWith the meetings industry seeing record occupancy and rate growth, it is more important than ever that your event be well situated in advance for space and room block needs.

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What is the Real Value of Incentive Travel Programs?

Post authored by Mike McCurry, National Account Manager, Experient, a Maritz Travel Company

motivation conceptual meterDoes your organization offer an incentive travel program to its employees?  If so, has it been successful in driving the organization’s intended business outcome? Here are some viewpoints regarding the value of incentives from travel industry leaders:

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Your Mobile App’s Top 4 Pages and What to Consider When Designing Them

Post authored by Mike Godsey, Senior Vice President, Market Development, Experient

tabletAlmost everyone today is carrying a tablet, smartphone or other personal device. And research shows the number of attendees using mobile event apps is growing every year. 

I remember when—and not all that long ago—these event apps didn’t even exist.

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Taking the Big Step After Streaming: Hosting a Virtual Event

Post authored by Chip Smith, Experient Digital Event Strategist

If you’re older than 22, you might remember when the “Internet thing” was new. Hybrid meeting graphicWatching the Super Bowl this year, I got a laugh out of the BMW commercial with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel trying to understand it back in 1994. If you haven’t seen it, then take a look here. The first 30 seconds is the best part.

Having been in the industry for over 20 years, I do recall the days of the first “Internet thing,” and it made me think about the questions I recently received from one of our association clients.

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5 Social Media Ideas to Energize Your Event

Post authored by Mike McCurry, National Account Manager, Experient

social mediaWithout a doubt the Internet has made the world a smaller place.  In the meetings and events business, social media has changed the way we think about the participant experience. A multitude of useful online tools have emerged, opening the door for meeting professionals to broaden the scope of their events and engage with customers in a variety of interesting and effective ways. What are you doing to embrace this technology?

All too frequently organizations launch a social media campaign for their conference with little or no advance planning (aka “build it and they will come” concept). Predictably, leadership becomes frustrated with the results and eventually abandons the initiative(s). Others utilize it only as a marketing tool. In doing so, I believe they are missing out on a larger opportunity!

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4 Benefits of a Hybrid Meeting Tech Moderator

iStock_000018975890LargePost authored by Mike McCurry, National Account Manager, Experient

Has your organization jumped on the Hybrid events bandwagon?  Have you seen a greater interest in online education offerings, within your customer base? Well, you are not alone!

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6 Easy Tips to Blow Away Your Conference Competition

Post authored by Mike McCurry, National Account Manager, Experient

Blown AwayAre you struggling to find ways to distance your conference from the competition? Is there a piece of your event that is missing the mark?  Are past attendees choosing to attend other events instead of yours? If any of these challenges sound familiar it may be time for a conference makeover!

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