Conferences are about making connections: connections with your peers, new techniques, and trends in the field. With the introduction of dedicated conference mobile apps, these connections can be made easier and more seamlessly. But, in my experience, some conference apps have fallen short. I still find myself wasting time navigating conference centers, missing sessions I wanted to see, and occasionally feeling like the conference didn’t live up to my expectations.
These challenges, however, can be tackled with an optimized mobile app. At large conferences in particular, the ability to customize the user experience may be key to a satisfied attendee. Keeping these tips in mind, conference organizers can help attendees to walk away with a great conference experience:
1) Where to next? Allow attendees to create a customized schedule. Each event in the conference schedule should have an option that will add it directly to the attendees schedule and automatically set-up reminders. This removes the need for a paper program that is earmarked or filled with post-its, requiring time to locate the correct information.
2) It’s all about the search. Customized scheduling must be supported by a comprehensive search function. Search filters should include presentation title, presenter name, time of the talk, room where the talk will occur, and specific interest areas. A comprehensive search option will allow attendees to find the desired information through a variety of pathways.
3) “You might like this!” Providing alternatives or suggestions based on the user interests could also be an important component. For example, allow users to choose interest areas, and then suggest events that are tagged with similar keywords. Another way of achieving this journey guidance is to suggest presentations/discussions based on what a user has already scheduled for themselves.
4) Keep users from overcommitting. The scheduler should be designed to support a conflict alert when attempting to schedule multiple presentations for the same time block. While the app should not necessarily block them from scheduling multiple presentations, when a user attempts to double book a time block, a clear message should inform the user they already have a presentation scheduled at the same time.
5) You are here. Even with a perfectly coordinated schedule an attendee is still likely to get lost in the often confusing floor plan of a large hotel or expo center. An additional feature that would enrich the user experience is to integrate short range beacons, or “micro-location”. A recent article on UXMag.com, Building apps in the age of beacons and internet of things, explores the rise of these location technologies. Short range location beacons would be ideal for use in a large conference. Beacons could be located throughout the hotel or conference center using only the building WiFi. When standing near a beacon, the mobile map would show the attendee where they are located. This would allow immediate orientation to figure out where they need to go next.
6) Design with the device in mind. All maps and schedules should be optimized for viewing on mobile devices and should follow standard design principles for small screen interfaces.
Designing a mobile app with these elements in mind can facilitate a seamless integration of the event’s mobile app into the total conference experience, both increasing attendee engagement and creating a lasting connection that attendees will remember when next year’s conference invitation arrives in their inbox.
Maddy Wendell is a User Experience Specialist at GfK.