15 Feb 2017 My Big Fat UX Wedding
Or how to keep Groomzilla away
As a UX designer with a background in Law and Visual Communication, I have been solving problems for a while. Yet, little could prepare me for solving a challenge of a different kind: my very own wedding.
Well, that is what I thought.
My partner is from South Africa. I am Spanish. We met in Dublin, then moved to Melbourne and eventually decided to get married in my hometown in the Canary Islands.
The ‘problemo’? Organise an enjoyable multicultural wedding 10,000km away, without breaking the bank or losing my cool.
A UX wedding?
I could have just asked a wedding planner to do the job for me. It’s pricey, but convenient and hassle free. But design is a useful tool that can bring happiness to the world. So why let other people do it if you can personally bring that extra bit of happiness to family and friends?
“Work on projects that matter to you.”
Also, when one of the members of the ‘family to be’ is a designer, there should be no place for cookie-cutter solutions or for design debt. This was going to be a design challenge, so why not apply design thinking?
To take this approach and ‘design’ the right experience and to do it ‘right’, designers need to put on the UX hat and become the gatekeeper of all decisions. Weddings might be events centred around the newly-weds, but by applying some basic UX tools, designers can craft experiences that also delight the people they really care about.
UXers have a number of techniques to explore users’ needs, discover opportunities and come up with effective ideas to solve problems. This can be very useful when planning a wedding.
On my journey I used UX tools and produced some UX artefacts: questionnaires to interview ‘users’, personas, journey maps, MoSCoW analysis and paper prototypes to name a few.
Here’s a selection of tips and thoughtful interaction points that you can try should you ever wish to create your own Big Fat UX Wedding.
Three UX Wedding Tips
#1: Research to Create Guest Personas
Generative research helps define users’ problems while collecting knowledge about them. Exploring guests’ needs, behaviours and context when having fun is critical.
UX designers aim to be as empathetic as possible to provide relevant solutions to users. Yet some research suggests that many UXers tend to be ‘egocentric’, meaning they predict and assume what users would like based on their own preferences.
This can be problematic in the context of wedding planning, as traditionally the couple’s ego play a big part. After all, they most likely know the guests quite well. Most assumptions should be validated and (if necessary) discarded after research and testing. Weed out opinions. Look for facts.
“Assumptions are pernicious”.
Through anecdotal research and interviews, designers will identify patterns to create personas. As Joe Toscano puts it, they are “the personification of the research”. These personas define who the story is about, and the designer should work to address their needs and fix pain points.
I found guests’ social media accounts a good starting point to unearth their insights when diverging on the research phase:
- Facebook showed me the places they fancy going or weddings they have been to; ·
- Spotify showed me what they currently listen to;
- Pinterest showed what they would love to experience.
🎯 Pro tip: Jakob Nielsen keeps reminding us that designers are not the users. But what can you do if this is going to be your wedding? Aim to be as objective-ish as possible. To circumvent this, I suggest embedding your partner with other guests when researching and creating your personas.
#2 Define a Minimum Viable Wedding
Personas help shape a Minimum Viable Wedding. The most basic wedding family and friends would enjoy. A simple MoSCoW analysis can be useful to prioritise and categorise the options or ideas obtained during the research phase. Write ideas on post-it notes and get some guests to help you out organising them. We must always think about the personas we are designing the experience for. Some of the ideas we wanted to put forward:
- Must include Eurovision and Metallica Hits;
- Should be outdoors;
- Could be on the beach or in the country;
- Won’t be corny, so hearts, pastel colours, and lacy details were out.
🎯 Pro tip: If you can, try to organise an event, or better still a mini wedding before the ‘big day’. In our case, some guests could not travel to Spain. So we organised a smaller celebration in Melbourne before the ‘big one’. This helped test ideas and assumptions as I listened and watched guests closely. It was our ‘test’ before we ‘launched’ the final ‘product’.
#3 Map the Guest Experience
Good wedding planners consider what happens before, during and after the big day. It is a holistic approach — with more interaction channels — that adds value to the overall experience. A Minimum Viable Wedding turns into a Minimum Viable Experience. User experience design, turns into customer experience design.
Consider the following journey map I made to help focus on user goals and engage with collaborators:
The map represents the big picture. It’s a story about how the personas would reach their goal: have a great wedding experience. The map helps identify pain points and opportunities to improve the journey (e.g. when or what channel to use to send relevant information).
To get a better understanding of the context, designers should also take journeys with real personas. It’s a perfect opportunity for guerrilla testing. Get out and about with guests to check venues, restaurants and entertainment options. I must admit that my empathy building and active listening skills were not very sharp at some of these sessions. Blame it on the bubbly!
🎯 Pro tip: Plot some ideas and start the customer guest journey map with an unexpected surprise, a peak with emotional weight. In our case this was a skydiving video of us telling the news of our engagement. Boom.
Five Thoughtful Interactions
Robert Hoekman notes that, ‘user experience’ is “the net sum of all the interactions, impressions and feelings a person has with a website, digital product or service”. Including what people say about the product or what it looks like. With this in mind, designers should pay special attention to all interaction channels and the branding of the experience.
After much iteration I created a relevant and consistent wedding identity. This informed the prototypes and touch points. It also helped set the tone and was key to communicate with guests.
Design a simple website to give information about the event and the location if you organise a destination wedding. Hick’s Law says that “Every extra choice increases the time required to take a decision”. So based on guest research and to reduce decision fatigue, curate a few ideas (things to do, visit, eat…) and become ‘decider-in-chief’.
Wedding websites can be a bit predictable. So why not inject some personality with an engaging natural language form to RSVP and to entice users to subscribe to a newsletter. When making decisions people prefer to avoid losses than acquiring gains. So to sell the benefits of joining a content king newsletter, use an opt-out strategy. In our case 100% of the guests joined the list.
#2 Social Media
Helps keep costs down and engage continuously with guests. As soon as I posted the skydiving engagement video on Facebook, interaction started.
You can also organise Facebook and Whatsapp groups, where attendants can engage and bond while discussing options, e.g. Airbnb accommodation or renting a car together. Guests also found Pinterest walls useful for dress code ideas.
Don’t keep all interactions digital. Organise events and activities before and after the ‘big day’ where family and friends can interact. This will help break the ice and form stronger bonds.
#4 Surprise Surprise
Plan to surprise and delight your guests. With Skype and Whatsapp I coordinated a flash mob with 5 people from different countries. This surprise added extra fun and was one of the highlights of the day. We repeated it — a few drinks later — and guests joined in, which made the dancing even better. Certainly we could have done it a third time but as John Saito says, repetition could kill the “delight” of the experience.
For Don Norman the most important part of the experience is the ending. Follow his advice and turn the Design Offence-Seeking Antenna to high 📡 . Ensure the keepsake evokes positive memories. I settled with a final newsletter that included:
- Highlights short video where everyone was featured;
- Professional photos of guests taken on the day (via dropbox link);
- Wedding playlists. Guests might smile next time they listen to Black Eyed Peas and remember our flash mob!
By using a UX approach and paying attention to the interaction channels, we generated buzz, encouraged interaction and most importantly removed pain points of personas. In Gabriel’s case, we limited the use of mobiles on the big day and only allowed children of close family. Drastic, I know. However, both ideas were well received.
UX Wedding Takeaways
#1 UX designers can be good wedding planners
UXers share many skills with wedding planners: empathy, creativity, communication and negotiation. You don’t need to create complex omnichannel user experiences. Simple user journeys or high level personas would be enough to add UX thinking into the mix. This will prevent designing for a generic everybody and keep Groomzilla or Bridezilla at bay.
#2 Share your vision to improve the experience
It is hard to avoid the urge of designing your own wedding the way you want to. But being sensitive to family and friends’ expectations pays off.
“To do things of great impact, you cannot be a lone wolf.”
~ Julie Zhuo
Designers should surround themselves with people willing to help. It is worth the joy of sharing the excitement. This forges stronger bonds and save heaps of money!
#3 Face it, something will not go according to plan
Create a resilient experience and consider all eventualities. Don’t leave any stone unturned. Be agile enough to iterate quickly and prepare for edge cases. Unexpected cold-ish weather despite organising a wedding in the city with the best climate in the world? External heaters at hand? Checked! Pay special attention to the ‘peak’ moments of the journey. They will make the experience memorable and the ‘dark cold valleys’ forgettable.
Finally, when everything is in place, it’s time to relax and let go. You have created a great experience for your guests. Don’t forget that this is also a party. Have fun and enjoy it!