Basic Event Information
Location: Mondsee, Austria
Organizer: Salzburg University of Applied Sciences
Event Type: Physical immersive educational experiential event
EVENT CATEGORY: CROSSOVER EVENT
Event description and key objectives
The Experience Design Summit Year Zero pioneers a brand-new immersive event format, designed as an immersive transformational experience. Its originality is that it offers its participants learning about experience design through living a first-hand transformative experience. The theme of the event Year Zero could not have been chosen more timely for an event taking place in early 2020. The event opened a platform to ask big questions around the four themes status quo reset, mindset transformation, global consciousness and futurism, just in time in March 2020 before the pandemic turned the world as we knew it upside down. The event idea was founded by two leading event experience professors, Dr Barbara Neuhofer and Dr Krzysztof Celuch, who bridged the worlds of experience design and events to create a new format where experiences are not just a buzzword but at the core of the value proposition. The event was co-designed and co-facilitated with students from Salzburg University of Applied Sciences. The one-day Summit was designed as a series of unique experiences, including inspirational EXD talks, live performances and guided immersive experiences. Experiences included ice swimming in the lake and sunrise yoga, guided emotional drawing, design thinking as well as immersive art and music performances, to offer glimpses of transformation that challenge traditional thinking patterns of what it means to create experience and what it means to be human in the 21st century.
The main challenges around the event organisation was the lead-up time to the event. Hosting a physical event in 2020 right before COVID-19 hit Europe, the event had to deal with and overcome the uncertainty of the times in February and March 2020 to run an event with international participants and speakers in a safe manner. A second unique characteristic of the event was that the event was involved master students from the Salzburg University of Applied Sciences in the organisation of the event as an educational learning experience. 30 international students were invited to co-design and co-create the event – from idea generation to event design to the facilitation on the day. All students learn Experience Design as part of their curriculum, and they were able to participate in this real-life project as a learning opportunity to become future professional event experience designers. As an immersive guided experience, in which theming, guiding and transforming were at the centre of the Summit, this experience could only be facilitated through the unique collaboration of individuals who guided the participants on the day, with a highly personal 1:2 ratio between experience designers and participants.
The Experience Design Summit Year Zero initiates a call for human inner transformation through hands-on learning and immersive experiences. Starting from the beginning of the day, a total of 70 participants coming from all around Europe were welcomed and guided by transformation guides throughout the day. Themed Masters of the Maze with a mystical look, wearing hats and painted faces, in an old castle and monastery of Mondsee guided all participants. All experiences throughout the day were designed to give glimpses of aha-moments that could trigger personal transformation long-term – from the ice swimming to emotional drawing, to food chromotherapy to art installations and performances. This focus on transformation on a personal level is what sets this event apart from conventional summits. The core creativity of this event is that participants do not learn about experience design and transformation through talks and theory, but through their own personal experience. By remembering the impact of these experiences, experiences of that kind can be designed by participants for their future events. And this is exactly what the Experience Design Summit Year Zero set out to achieve: to revolutionise how traditional conventions and conferences are held around the globe, and enable all event stakeholders to plan events that lead to transformation.
To design memorable and extraordinary experiences, the event organisers and facilitators were trained and equipped with a completely new mindset (why) and toolset (how). The Experience Design Summit Year Zero positions itself at the intersection of science and art. The originality of the Summit lies in the fact that it serves as the first example, connecting the interdisciplinary fields of events and experience design, to evoke human flourishing and potential transformation. The Summit is innovative in that the programme and content were designed outside any box, by having a new way and perspective of looking at things. From how to create transformation for social impact, to applying design thinking to business and personal life, breaking free from limiting assumptions, going on sensory tasting experiences, doing deep personal reflections, and finding out how to maximise the potential of humanity – the participants were constantly pushed to experience aha-moments and fresh perspectives in unique and novel content formats. The energy was kept high through the day with regional vegetarian food and an Amazonian tea drinking ritual, all meant to propel the enthusiasm of the participants towards the end of the day. Finally, the participants were invited to a final immersive acoustic environment which literally launched them on a journey to the sun and back to earth. They could then walk out and be inspired to be the change-makers in their personal and professional life.
The programme of the Summit was designed as a journey within the Maze of Transformation, through which participants were guided throughout the day by Masters of the Maze using the newly developed Experience Design Summit Compass Methodology. To create the basis for a future experience design mindset, four supporting theme pillars were identified to help the participants arrive to that destination: status quo reset, mindset transformation, global consciousness and futurism. By connecting the science of awe and a-ha moments to the experience design tools, the Summit was set to have an impact on an individual, organisational, and social level. Altogether, experience designers, event planners, destination organisations, social entrepreneurs, scientists, artists and educators with diverse socio-backgrounds came together to experience a journey of transformation in the new decade for their personal life, business and society. The participants benefited directly from applicable experience design toolboxes and a network of people who would like to create new things, collaborate, and help each other. Once the individual experiences some glimpses of transformation and values, they are able to bring change, innovation, and transformation to their organisations. The Summit equipped participants with a new mindset (why), toolset (how) and topic themes (what) in order to reset the status quo and implement experiences that that make a positive transformative impact in their surroundings.
The Experience Design Summit Year Zero in 2020 was the first organisation of its kind. Its main purpose was to experiment and answer the question, how can an event experience be designed in a way that it triggers glimpses and long-lasting transformation for its participants. The goal of experimentation, innovation and transformation was at the core of the organisation. Having said that, financially, the Summit could secure a series of strategic sponsorships of companies standing for innovation and an experience mindset. Even though financial gains were not a priority, the event did break even with a small profit and thus proofed that the event can be run financially sustainably, even with a high staff:participant ratio by involving students as guides on the day. What is most the upmost priority for the Summit is the ROI – not in financial but value terms, and the impact it makes on the individual, organisational, and social level. The value it creates is a ripple-effect, by inviting participants to transform themselves on an individual level, they can then bring transformation to their work, organisation and the societal level. Events and experiences are changing dramatically. As we move to a new era of physical, hybrid and virtual events, value sets and consumer behaviours are changing. The long-term value of the Summit is that serves as a platform to connect likeminded individuals to bring and guide more experiences with this mindset in the world.
The Experience Design Summit Year Zero is about those moments in time when people transformed their worldviews and societies. The Summit highlights the underlying value of design tools, by shifting from ‘how’ to do an experience to the ‘why’ behind it. As such, with a real transformational mindset, each of the Summit graduate became an experience designer who can take the Summit Compass Methodology in their own work settings. When applying this unique concept into practice, the Summit delivered a message that designing transformative experiences is not just a one-person job in any organisation. Instead, every employee has their unique value in the design process because it is about co-creating a magic moments in every customer interaction. The Summit provides the experience design platform for the participants to explore the state of Year Zero mindset, not only on the day but through a communication strategy pre-event and post-event. Before the event, the online communication strategy included the website, Linkedin, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram as interactive social media channels. Founder interviews were shared and a trailer teaser movie was created to inspire participants to join. After the Summit, a highlight movie and visual drawings of the day were created by an artist to capture the unique moments and emotions as a memorabilia of the day. All memorabilia were shared via email to all participants, who are being sent information and invitations to future editions.
The use of sustainable practices
The Summit positioned itself around core values that are status quo reset, mindset transformation, global consciousness and futurism. This value foundation was not only communicated but implemented at the core of the event. The event was conducted with a focus on global planetary consciousness. From sponsorship to food and beverage, a strong local and sustainable focus was followed. In line with a global movement towards sustainable food sourcing, the Summit’s philosophy was to serve only locally and hyper-locally sourced food from around the Lake Mondsee venue location, which was an ambition shared by the venue itself known for its local food cuisine. In addition to a local and sustainable approach, the Summit went one step beyond and offered a vegetarian and vegan diet throughout the whole day. This was a statement to reset food experiences at events, create a mindset shift and align the event values with the culinary experience, which is often not aligned in many conventional events around the world. Furthermore, sponsors and partners were primarily local with a strong connection to the region to bring local authenticity into the experiences of the event. To name only one example, instead of having plastic conference name badges as seen at most events, at the Summit a unique Compass carved out of local wood was created, that not only combined the participant name but also the Summit’s methodology Year Zero Compass in a sustainable memorabilia to take away.