Digital strategy and a beautiful platform to actively involve the public during an online event with thousands people

Design, technology and collaboration to tackle the post-pandemic challenge of creating digital events with strong interpersonal relationships. That is the recipe we used for the most important faire of innovation, Maker Faire Rome — The EU edition.

Online events in the year of the Covid-19 pandemic are one of the great challenges across the commercial and cultural sectors, from conferences to performances, from museums to fashion shows, from education to healthcare.

Whatever the subject, every event is made of contents and relationships. If on one hand releasing content online is rather simple and there are multiple tools to do it with great results, on the other hand it is not so immediate recreating the intrinsic relationship of the physical presence. Starting from this assumption, Dotdotdot and OpenDot co-designed the digital platform for the very first online edition of the biggest European event on innovation: Maker Faire Rome — The EU Edition (10–13/12 2020).

In the year of rapid, cross-cutting and overwhelming change, it became clear that in difficult or critical situations digital is not only useful but necessary. Not an optional tool, but an integrated component of a process of value transfer able to dialogue to an increasingly demanding and heterogeneous public.

However, in times of emergencies, typically you “batten down the hatches”, too often improvising activities or buying blindly technologies, risking either a contradiction of languages, or a waste of money.

One of the fields that struggle the most to keep a stable relationship with its public, continuing to provide services despite the closures, is certainly the world of museums and cultural institutions. During the months of the first italian lockdown Dotdotdot, in partnership with the Observatory of Digital Innovation in Cultural Heritage of the Politecnico di Milano, created a vademecum to guide Italian institutions along an intuitive path towards digitization, starting from the existing resources. As shown by the data collected by the Observatory, those who first invested in digital technology to enhance their heritage are now the most competitive and credible in offering new or complementary services.

(For more on this read the Medium article “CultureGoDigital”)

This is true not only for the museum world, but for the countless industries that have been hit heavily by the closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the entire cultural entertainment sector has suffered a major setback, and many have tried, often with interesting results, to fill the lack of physical experiences, and opportunities for meeting, networking or simply being entertained.

Rather successful in fact, such as the well-known Travis Scott concert on Fortnite that has exceeded 12 million live viewers (28 million in total), and the many video game gigs that are emerging as innovative alternatives to the loss of social life. Events that eventually end up being way more dynamic and immersive than expected, with a great amount of audience from all over the world.

Another example is the creativity of OnePit, the collective behind Coachella, that is organising its gatherings on Minecraft, the open platform that allows everyone to do pretty much everything, such as designing the virtual environment of the Fyre Festival where people can choose their avatar and jump in front of a the stage with thousands of people. Yet, Minecraft allows flexibility for the community to build and organize things within the virtual space, someone created an Olive Orchard during the festival, stated the organizer.

The University of Toronto John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design, organized its OpenDay on Miro, the visual collaboration platform for teamwork that quickly became the tool for loads of design studios in working remotely. Students gathered on Zoom, broke into pre-assigned groups, and then logged on to Miro to meet and start playing around on visual projects. The Faculty even renounced their usual talent show, moving it online where students played instruments and showed off their design portfolios.

The fashion industry is also struggling to propose new models for the fashion shows and to tackle the opposing issue of the exclusiveness of events. Miuccia Prada for its Spring–Summer 2021 collection set up a digital room with a chandelier of monitors and cameras designed by OMA/AMO and sent viewing kits to its VIP clients and superfans.

We built a strategy to reach Prada’s audience using customised activities for each part of the world. Our aim was to be both global and local, interacting with a more intimate approach where appropriate,” stated Lorenzo Bertelli, Prada head of selling and company social accountability. The result, at one level, is that 10,000 viewers tuned into the Prada Instagram feed, lately they posted a 35-minute post-show dialog between Miuccia Prada and fashion designer Raf Simons: the YouTube web page racked up almost half a million views within the first three days.

However, if to put content online it’s easy and there are infinite ways and tools to do it, the biggest challenge is still to understand how to build relationships between people. For example, Node Forum for Digital Arts proposed an interesting feature to bring people with similar interests together, by setting filters for both skills and experiences, so that artists, designer researchers and developers could explore and rethink together emergent creative practices.

When we deal with building relationships between people digitally it becomes quite difficult to transfer the spontaneity and human touch that distinguish the interactions in presence.

“As to design the first digital edition of Maker Faire Rome, the biggest European event on innovation, in the last months we have studied a great number of online events and mapped the possible interpersonal interactions to understand how to successfully transfer them into a unique, engaging and innovative digital experience”.

_ Jib Ambhika Samsen, UX–UI & Interaction Designer Dotdotdot

For over 15 years Dotdotdot has been working in the field of Interaction Design, designing the relationships between people and technologies. Experience, know-how and co-design together with OpenDot Fab Lab — the hub of research and open innovation — have been key elements to meet the challenge launched by Maker Faire Rome.

Dotdotdot designed the User Experience of the online platform developing the graphical interface, the dynamics and interactions between people and contents. The result is a digital event that makes people feel present thanks to mechanics close to gamification, intuitive interactions and a user-friendly exploration of contents both for the public audience and the exhibitors.

The online Maker Faire presents itself to the public exactly as it used to be: rich in content and innovation, thanks to a virtual map that welcomes people with animated icons representing the subjects.

The Maker Faire fully digital is not the simple transition of the fair online, the platform recalls the beauty and the quality of the event in an innovative way, thanks to a digital strategy where the pavilions become thematic paths, the stands are web pages of exhibitors and allow everyone to interact with the projects and who designed them. The TV is the Main Channel that broadcasts real time contents from all over Italy, while the iconic robot suggests new paths to explore randomly.

Yet, where partners can customize their interface in coherence with their brand identity and the audience can create personal profiles indicating interests to receive personalized suggestions. Talks, workshops, webinars are of course included in the schedule, where typical dynamics of participation have been proposed digitally to allow the audience to cheer, go on stage or save contents, to have an engaging, motivating and learning experience.

To conclude, in this 2020 full of challenges crossing all the sectors, the opportunities of digital become an opportunity to rethink and innovate. Even the most ordinary ritual could be subjected to a radical shift.

In this regard, it is precisely on the topic of the Digitization of Experiences in the Digital age that Dotdotdot is holding a course to the students of the Master in Communication Design of the Politecnico di Milano together with Professor Francesco Guida.

We asked our students to rethink daily rituals as experiences mediated by digital in a post-pandemic society. For instance, a group is working on the redesign of online dating enhanced by sensors able to perceive emotions and give them back to the other thanks to an Artificial Intelligence algorithm. In this case the digital experience wouldn’t mean a loss of experience, but rather an enhancement, or event a revelation!

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, or more specifically Affective Computing — the study and development of systems able to recognize, interpret, process, and simulate human emotions — become now powerful tools to improve experiences in a continuum between physical and digital.

Simply thinking of the field of healthcare or telemedicine, it would open up a world of possibilities to innovate or improve processes.

On this topic, during the 2019 “UXD Healthcare” where we participated to share our current projects in healthcare among an international audience of experts of Interaction and User Experience Design, we had the chance to hear the story of Elisa Del Galdo, Head of Customer Experience of Blue Latitude. Elisa shared the effectiveness of remote monitoring of cardiopathic patients, witnessed directly with her mom suffering from heart attacks.

The insurance company of Elisa’s mother funded a pilot project to connect a device monitoring biometric parameters with the hospital Emergency room. The device allowed them to identify the real risk from the perceived ones in an immediate and objective way, thus avoiding useless travel costs and, most importantly, increasing the sense of protection in patients thanks to constant monitoring.

Not in the tools, but in the design of the digital strategy that we need to rethink the use and experiences of people, starting from their needs and behaviours.

It is becoming increasingly evident, across multiple fields, that digital can not be an optional choice, but must be considered as a part of a complex experience, that needs to be designed as much as a physical space.

Alessandro Masserdotti, CTO e co-founder Dotdotdot

We are a multidisciplinary interaction design studio founded in Milan in 2004, in which experimentation is at the core of innovation.