Designing MAKE: Understanding the conference attendee experience

In an effort to create a great attendee experience at MAKE this June, the conference organizers asked Maria Meschi, a first-year MFA student at Herron School of Art + Design to help define what areas need the most attention. She conducted several design research methods during the Fall 2017 semester that gave the committee useful insight on how to improve the experience for all stakeholder: presenter, attendees, and organizers. Some of you may have even taken her survey that was distributed on DEC social media. Below is a synopsis of her process and findings. The committee is currently exploring ways to address her findings. – Aaron Ganci


“Where am I supposed to go?”

“What time does the next session start?”

“Is he really just reading the slide deck?”

“I don’t know anyone here… who can I talk to?”

I’ve attended more educational conferences than I can count, and I know I’ve said all of those things at least once. I’m a first-year MFA student at the Herron School of Art + Design studying design research and leadership. Prior to coming back for graduate studies, I was an event planner, designing meetings for local, national, and international trade associations.  

But, this isn’t about me, this is about the design educators who will attend MAKE, AIGA’s 2018 Design Educators Conference in Indianapolis this June. Last semester, in my Methods for Design Analysis course, I was tasked with designing methods to understand the needs, desires, and challenges surrounding the attendee experience as Herron prepares to host the conference.

I engaged prior DEC attendees, members of AIGA’s design educators community, and the MAKE planning committee in several methods to analyze the context and common challenges surrounding the conference.  Those methods included:

  • Interviews with faculty members who have attended DEC conferences in the past,
  • Observation of an educational conference,
  • A survey promoted to AIGA members,
  • A game designed to understand the committee’s desires for what the attendees’ experience during MAKE, and
  • A vote to establish committee priorities of the research insights

After synthesis and evaluation of all of the collected data, we identified three areas of focus:

  • Comfort: Travelling for a conference takes people out of their routine and comfort zone. It is difficult to focus when hungry, lost, or overloaded.
  • Content: Most people attend conferences to present and/or learn about new research and attention should be paid to making that a successful experience for all involved.
  • Connection: Valuable relationships can be formed at educational conferences, but most attendees appreciate facilitation to identify and make those connections.


In the coming months, I will continue to engage with this problem space, developing and implementing solutions to address the issues of Connection.  Senior-level undergraduates will work on the Comfort area, and the planning committee will address Content. Attendees at the conference in June will have the opportunities to see how their insights lead to an improved experience.

You can review all of the data and analysis in this giga-map of my research.


By Maria Meschi and Aaron Ganci
Published January 31, 2018
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