Ever Been on a Bad Flight? Here’s How Experience Design Could Have Saved You

Every experience is the result of intentional design, or lack thereof.

I recently flew on a discount airline flight to visit friends. Perhaps you’ve done this, too? If you have, you have my deepest condolences.

Even if you have somehow avoided this hell, you probably know that flying, especially on a budget airline, is the worst.

this is the worst

So imagine my surprise when I walked off the plane having had one of the best customer experiences of my freaking life. I was offered not just a snack, but a choice of snack!

When I asked to have both coffee and a Diet Coke, no one gave me any shade about my severe caffeine dependency and I even got a full can.

When was the last time you had an in-flight TV on a domestic flight? With on-Demand? There were leather seats, people. Leather. Remember that anti-vegan material that used to dominate the airline recliner game?

I literally raved about the airline for three days to my friends, lost acquaintances and even strangers.

happy girl

TBH, I was attending my high school reunion so it was an occasion that called on conversation with close friends, lost acquaintances, and strangers.

(I didn’t actively seek out all of these people just because I had a great flight. But still.)

And apparently I have less in common with some of my former classmates than I would have thought. Fortunately, I had my amazing flight story to fill those awkward silences with the former-football-captain-turned-lawyer types.

And you may think that makes me sound lame, but you’d be wrong. Because everyone had his or her own bad flight story to tell in return.

bird crash

It is literally the most effective conversation starter I’ve ever used.

Bad flights seem to be a universal experience. A massive plague that has infected the human experience one trip at a time.

So why had my flight gone differently? I assure you, I didn’t pay up to avoid any unpleasantness. I’m far too cheap (re: student-debt poor) for that; round trip my tickets were under $150.

My experience was so great because it was designed that way. (Did I mention I got a full can of Diet Coke?!)

And it was a timely experience, with some useful lessons to put into practice because Maga is currently working on it’s own experience design project for a defense industry conference.

See also: DC EXCOMM 2015 Recap

Conferences, as a rule, aren’t known for being the most exciting or even pleasant experiences. Despite the promotional efforts that a million conferences have used before – networking!, new products!, technology!, free coffee and donuts! whatever! – here’s the truth:

Conferences across industries tend to be predictably dull and serving the same cheap wine for your one free drink coupon.

got wine

So Maga is excited to be working with the CDCA to bring some intentional design to the conference experience for this years 9th Annual Summit Conference.

We’re leaving behind the traditional makeshift hallways of booths (aka the corporate equivalent of Halloween corn-field mazes.

Imagine booth lackies are the zombies placed periodically between the corn, half-heartedly trying to gurgle an indecipherable line at you before you hustle off to the nearest exit.)

We’re opting for open spaces to interact, linger, and converse. We’re bringing in interactive displays that get you talking. So you know, you might actually have a real conversation with a new contact.

nice to meet you

And we’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeves for later.

We’re taking conferences a step further. We’re not just getting a bunch of pieces together. We’re assembling them in meaningful ways; building an experience through intentional design.

We’re not just hoping that attendees will get something positive out of this experience; we’re making sure they will.

strange love

If you’re interested in attending, we’d love to see you there. You can get tickets here:


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Design to Connect: DC EXCOMM 2015 Recap and Review


Last Thursday, we hosted the first annual DC EXCOMM: Design to Connect Executive Communications and Visualization Conference.

Congregating in a room with beautiful views of Georgetown and the National Mall from across the river in Arlington, our guests were treated to two phenomenal keynote speeches from bestselling author Dan Roam and renowned communications expert Vincent Covello.

Dan Roam DC EXCOMM Presentation

Within minutes Dan Roam had our crowd drawing stick figures, and showing them the powerful impact that simple communications can have on their thinking and communications through materials from his book Back of the Napkin.

He shared stories of some of the most important doodles in history, from the development of Southwest Airlines business model to the conception of trickle down economics.

Scott Williams and Dan Roam

After the group had caught their collective breaths (and snagged a quick bite to eat) Vince Covello launched in to the second keynote speech.

He introduced the rules and techniques of high-concern communications, and walked the participants through a variety of case studies including his first hand experience working with the World Health Organization during the Ebola crisis.

DC EXCOMM Graphic Recording

As impressive as the keynote speakers were, our guests in attendance matched them. They were all decision makers and executives from across different industries, inside and outside the federal government and military fields.

DCEXCOMM Attendees

We saw just how quickly they picked up the tricks of the trade during our interactive workshops. In short order they visually developed solutions to deal with hypothetical cyber attacks, figured out ways to lower the cost of space exploration, and even explored the structural societal pressures that led to the rise of the “free range” parenting style.

“Who here thinks they are good at drawing?” Dan asked early in the day. At that point, only a couple of people raised their hands in the affirmative (and that may have included one of our designers).

Yet despite the modesty on their artistic ability, all of our participants were eager to learn.

DC EXCOMM Challenge

Throughout the day, the pens and markers were flying across the page as doodles, drawings, and message maps took for.

Were they all beautiful? Of course not, and that was never the point. Too often, design, communications, and visualization are seen as tasks handled by only a select few. Instead, as DC EXCOMM showed, these tools can be used to help any person confront any challenge.

To all who attended, thanks for being a part of a great day. To all who couldn’t make it, we hope to see you next year!