This post was co-authored by Mae Karwowski, Community Engagement Specialist at 360i. You can follow her @maekar_wow_ski
IDEO is a self-described global design consultancy that uses human interaction as inspiration for their designs. They’ve designed everything from seating configuration concepts for Chrysler to folding tables for Akira to a transcutaneous immunization delivery method for Intercell. And for Social Media Week they hosted an event designed to bring the “human” back to social media. The description for the event, with its claim that communication via technology has had “the effect of sterilizing human communication and leading to social media offerings that can be shallow,” provided little insight into the type of experience we were about to have. But we were intrigued…
Upon first arriving to IDEO’s Soho office, attendees were required to check their coats and relinquish all non-analog devices in order to fully appreciate the experience without the pull of the outside world (but seriously, no @ing or txting for 2 hours!?!?).
Scattered about on a table were several hundred brightly colored buttons marked with various words and phrases – ‘nerd,’ ‘brooklyn,’ ‘us weekly reader,’ ‘artisanal cheese.’ We were instructed to choose four buttons and given a white shirt to wear for our newly gathered ‘pieces of flare.’ As if the white t-shirt uniform and buttons weren’t enough to get the 70 or so of us interacting, IDEO provided a delicious food spread and open bar as an added social lubricant.
For forty minutes we mingled and noshed only to start wondering if perhaps this was the great social experiment. Finally our hosts took the mic and let us in on the real experiment for the evening – do pretty much we we’d been doing (mingling, asking about each other’s button selections) but with an added twist. A few blank buttons and sharpies were thrown into the mix so that we could all make custom buttons and pin them on the backs of the folks we’d just met.
In just 60 seconds, you could meet someone and “tag” them with a label you felt was befitting. A bit nerve wracking, but that just made it all the more fun. The buttons worked naturally into conversations, eliminating the need to blindly seek common ground with a total stranger and accelerating the dialogue.
At the end of the night, we spoke about how it felt to be untethered from our electronic communication devices, yet tethered to this group of people and only a few buttons for self-identification and definition. Perhaps most enlightening was the way the event facilitated a brainstorm process. We’re always seeking new ways to spur group dynamics, creativity and the ideation process. In trying to translate the mores of one form of communication into another (in this case social media’s “rules” into a real-world cocktail party), we began to more deeply question our inhabited assumptions about the way social media “should” function. Are tags and bite-size descriptors opening us up to build deeper relationships – or are they allowing us to feel as if we’re connecting, even if all we’re doing is acknowledging similarities?
This same brainstorm activity might be applied to any challenge. Its effectiveness lies in forcing us to rethink and even question the success of our current approach.
All in all, the event was enjoyable, and it didn’t feel that weird or unfamiliar, except maybe for the phantom blackberry syndrome we kept experiencing. At the end of the night we all gathered up our belongings and (not surprisingly) whipped out our mobile devices to tweet, text and email about the experience we’d just had.