December 2014

Conference – The Ballerina on the Elephant

I’m just back from a fantastic experience design conference in Hong Kong hosted by the Academy of Visual Arts at HK Baptist University: Designing Experience, ‘The Ballerina on the Elephant’  Nov 27-29 2014.

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Where to start describing the ‘experience’ of this conference? It was much smaller than I anticipated. I’m not sure of numbers but surely no more than 80 participants. I didn’t know what to expect: whether it would be populated with people who identify themselves as experience designers, or those from other fields interested in the experiential aspects of their practice and research. It turned out to be a combination of both, with presenters from across the globe and across disciplines.

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I had already been in Hong Kong for a couple of days so had a chance to settle in a bit, which made the AVA conference location even more surprising. It’s a little oasis of (apparent) calm and creativity amidst the bustling city. It even has relaxed outdoor areas for making and displaying work, which is very unusual in such a densely inhabited city… and what a fantastically mixed, busy, efficient and interesting city Hong Kong is!

The speakers were, for the most part, fantastic, with very experienced practitioner/researchers/ educators engaged in experience design from Switzerland, New Zealand, Spain, US, China, Britain and Australia as well as postgraduate students who reported on their projects in progress. Others were newer to the field, exploring the relationship between their discipline and the field of experience design. Although relatively recently identified as a design sub-discipline, several presenters spoke about its long history and origins in disciplines such as architecture, landscape, events and museums. My paper presented four models of experience from the museum sector, which, fortunately, connected with themes and theory from some other presentations.

As with most conferences, it is hard to summarise the breadth and depth of the presentations, the tone and timbre of discussion, but the word ‘convivial’ was spoken more than once. For the most part, discussion was open, frank and, given such a small group, connections between participants were quickly made. The conference organisers were certainly generous in their offerings of beautiful and often quite experimental/experiential food (see the ice-cream topped with nori and potato chips) and extra activities. Seeking to minimize expectations, some aspects of the conference were a surprise, which heightened their impact (this was echoed by some presenters’ analysis of the role of expectation in experience design). One of the highlights for me was a tour of neon signs in Hong Kong in a double decker bus at night, hosted by typographer Keith Tam.

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Thanks to Peter Benz and the team at HKBU for hosting the conference.

About the conference

Speaker info

About the AVA Visual Arts Experience Design Masters program