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The conversation around “user experience” has gained mainstream appeal because people are attempting to integrate an ever-increasing flow of new technology and new media into their daily routines.

It’s a lot to deal with. Furthermore, all of these new platforms and products tax our energy and focus even more when they perform poorly due to bad user experience (UX) design.

On July 7 in the city of Rennes in northern France, the Bcom Institute of Research & Technology is launching its inaugural one-day Dive:Event forum for discussion around “Transforming the User Experience.”

The interdisciplinary cross-section of speakers will offer insight into specific micro themes around UX and UX design, like the integration of artificial intelligence in retail environments, to big macro themes such as how emotion influences decision making.

For Skift’s purposes, Dive presents an interesting case study in the evolution of event design and marketing in an increasingly crowded field of business, tech, and creative industry events.

Experiential Marketing

Just like many companies today, Bcom is moving into the experiential marketing game in an attempt to raise its visibility and generate new business leads. Explaining the surge of interest among companies to host events for marketing purposes, AdAge writes, “Events generate leads and help sales teams close deals. They increase brand awareness and generate press coverage, [and] they strengthen customer relations and generate shareable content.”

The challenge for so many of these new marketing/innovation-themed events is cutting through the marketing noise and rising above the innovation herd. Can a small 18-hour conference with a cap of 100 attendees in Brittany make a dent in the event design and marketing space?

Maybe. The pieces are all in place, although the positioning is a bit vague.

“We wanted to try something new, so we’re basically applying R&D to event design,” said Emmanuelle Garnaud-Gamache, director of international development at Bcom. “We are in research so we’re producing an event around innovation that designs experiences to completely change your point of view on innovation.”

But what does that even mean, exactly?

Garnaud-Gamache said, “If I had to explain it in two words, it’s about ‘experiential innovation.’”

Therein lies the most quixotic challenge in event marketing today in terms of driving exposure and converting registration. The words “experiential” and “innovation” are the two most overused and often meaningless words in the business events sector. At the same time, they are the most important prerequisites to create interest in any event.

Garnaud-Gamache said Dive has a strategy to transcend that contradictory duality. It is based on creating a framework, or at least a culture of understanding, that supports a high degree of experimentation in terms of the diverse programming, an acceptance of potential failure, and a commitment to undertaking research on the event’s user experience and business outcomes.

That spirit of risk and the emphasis on research around UX should be emphasized more on the website, along with more content on the evolution of UX thinking.

“The brand recipe for Dive is about creating an emotional relationship through intimacy, sensory feelings, and a touch of mystery,” Garnaud-Gamache explained. “But building an event is like building a new brand — you’re not always sure that it will succeed. So it’s all quite an experiment. That’s why we’re calling it ‘Dive,’ because it’s like diving below the surface into something new. The mix is unique and we don’t know what to expect.”

Here’s what that mix looks like.

The Rise of Calm Tech & AI Integration

The headline speaker at Dive:Event 2016 is Portland-based Amber Case, who defines herself as a “cyborg anthropologist” and user experience designer. She studies the interaction between humans and computers, and how humans’ relationship with information is changing the way we think, act, work, play, and understand our worlds.

Case’s TED Talk, “We Are All Cyborgs Now,” has been viewed over 1.3 million times.

“One of the most important things today is how we’re relying completely on the built environment, so the way that different user interfaces are made can severely impact the experience in whatever we’re doing,” Case told Skift. “The shift is really about how things are being designed now in new ways. It’s not about how good something looks. It’s about how good it works, and how it gets out of our way, and how it helps us live better lives.”

The rise of interest in design thinking, or empathy design, falls under the umbrella of user experience. That concept promoting a more empathetic understanding of individual user experience is leading to a growing demand for what Case calls “calm technology,” which will be the basis for her talk: Calm Technology, How Non-Intrusive Design Will Shape Our Future.

“Calm technology respects our attention,” said Case. Using the example of Cisco and its assertion that there will be 50 billion nodes on the Internet of Things by 2020, Case suggests that might not necessarily be a healthy thing. Do we need a smart fridge pinging our smart watches and interrupting our life to tell us our bananas are bad?

She suggested, “We need smarter humans as much as smarter cities.”

Also speaking at Dive, Laura Khoury is the CEO of Shoptelligence, a cloud-based company that integrates artificial intelligence (AI) into the online and in-store retail environment. Her session is: Engage. Experience. Excite. Reinventing Retail with AI.

“Dive is broad in terms of its speakers, but it’s focused on customer-centric innovation,” she said. “That’s what’s unique about Dive, because no one is really taking into account how innovation speaks to the individual.”

Khoury says companies are beginning to understand the potential of AI and machine learning to customize the consumer experience by tailoring transactions around a deeper understanding of the customer. These intelligent systems are designed to learn about an individual’s objective, she explained, above and beyond just a person’s personal shopping history.

“It’s about understanding what you want to achieve, because shopping for a night out is different than shopping for a job interview,” explained Khoury. “Everyone can transact and do it seamlessly, so the goal now is delivering a high-touch experience placing the customer at the center of the process.”

Other speakers at Dive include game developers Luc Beaulieu and Jean-Philippe Doiron at Frima Studio in Quebec. They specialize in “augmented reality and blurring the lines between physical and digital worlds to treat attendees to a one-of-a-kind gaming experience.”

Bcom is also trying something new to attract more international attendees. It’s using a sliding scale for registration fees based on how far people have to travel to attend Dive. Anyone traveling more than 930 miles can attend for free. For people closer to Rennes, rates run $285 to $850.

“That’s innovation in pricing, and no one does that,” Garnaud-Gamache told us. “It’s not about the business model. It’s about how you adapt yourself around your product. So, how can we stimulate people coming from far away to somewhere they don’t know? Who knows Rennes? No one knows Rennes. No one knows Bcom, and no one knows Dive, except the researcher ecosystem, but we’re not talking to researchers.”

It’s going to be interesting to see who Bcom is talking to, because Dive has a ton of potential. It just needs a bit more attention to the online user experience to better inform people about the future of user experience design.

Photo Credit: Dive:Event takes place on July 7 at Bcom's HQ in Rennes, France. BIRT