Intentional experience—design work with wholeness of experience in mind

Posted on by Brandon Klein


We sometimes design events by NOT designing them. How easy it is to choose modules, themes or even our words and actions through rote or without conscious plan. This leads to events that are diffused in the message that the participants are receiving and can be reflected in a lack of focus or not getting as far as they might otherwise have achieved.

The DesignShop process as it has evolved at E&Y has been oriented towards achieving clear, definitive outcome and tangible outputs that can be used by engagement teams in compressed time periods. This push for “more stuff” can put pressure on us as designers to get to the real stuff earlier and through more traditional, linear modes of facilitation. ‘We don’t need that Scan garbage, we have to get to real business issues immediately.’ Complex problems require solutions that have designed by people who have worked from multiple vantage points in a multiplicity of ways using diverse and often divergent means/methods/tools. Does each module fit with the design?



Be intentional with the design of the event and all that supports that event. Begin with the outcomes desired, consider the culture and other potential barriers/enablers and then create an experience for the participants that has a thematic wholeness to it.

Themes can be obvious (Space and Apollo, The Lion King, Swing Dancing) or subtle (patterns that you never disclose to the participants). Use that theme or the building toward an outcome to design WITH INTENT every module in your session. This may cause you to step back and ask yourself why you do, for example, Take-A-Panel. That may cause you to rethink the why, and therefore the how, of your design. Work with the wholeness of the experience in mind so you know how each module fits in with the overall design.

Another very important step is to design with another designer. They will challenge you on the ‘why’ stuff and the interaction will improve the robustness of your design. Designing events is a team sport.

You will know when you are on track when you start to get excited about what you are creating. If you do not feel this excitement, work the design some more.

Our work is about designing a common experience for a community of people who have a clear stake in defining and implementing solutions – people whose knowledge and expertise calls out for expression at higher levels. The design should structure opportunities for people to learn, share and act as a whole community. This entails understanding that everything folks do in a DesignShop matters is significant. We never know where the moment of inspiration will come from or who will say the thing that turns it. Our designs must help people to make better sense of where they are and where they could be . . . and how they could get there. This requires that we think through – design – the elements of this experience in different ways that facilitate purposeful action.

Our designs should incorporate different sensory mechanisms: Seeing, Hearing, Feeling, Doing. Our designs should – with intent – structure opportunities for people to learn, share and act as individuals, teams and a whole design community. Our designs need to be robust and flexible enough for people to understand the past, feel present with possibility and to envision the future. We need to recognize the ebb and flow of the DesignShop experience. We need to recognize the points of continuity and breakthrough. And we need to set points in the design where we want these things to happen (like a synthesis conversation) while being cognizant that they could happen at any point.

The DesignShop process fuses heart, soul and mind in order to make possible purposeful action. That is what makes many of them take on a spirit that is often absent in ‘normal’ corporate life. We frequently hear that it feels good to be in a center. There is a lot at play in a DesignShop that doesn’t get attended to in ‘normal work.’

Facilitators report that they feel a profound sense of responsibility that as they think about the elements of the DesignShop that they keep in mind those things that keep us profoundly whole. We have an obligation to preserve those things.