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Conference insights from Vancouver and Boston to Paris and Beijing.

New Ideas for the Economist’s New Conference on Ideas

frog design partnered with the Economist Human Potential conference in New York on September 15-16 to conduct a day of design research.


In the summer of 2010 we began a discussion with a team at the Economist about how to enhance the experience of their new conference series, “The Ideas Economy: Ideas That Press Forward,” and we agreed to conduct a day of design research at their New York event, Human Potential 2010. As part of our preparation for this research, we first looked at what it means to go to a conference these days and then we pushed that through the filter of “human potential.”

Conferences are growing cultural phenomena. Events like TED, Pop!Tech, PICNIC, and others have taken on special roles in shaping public discourse and education. They offer a rich resource for online video content and provide new platforms for idea sharing — some reward excellence through contests and prizes. And yet, the conference experience itself has changed very little; formats remains largely the same (lecture, workshop, and network), and attendees typically follow traditional rituals of participation. Indeed, most people follow the same patterns of behavior over and over at conferences — and that influences their experience.

At the Ideas Economy: Human Potential 2010 event, we challenged participants to disrupt those patterns by engaging in playful micro-collaborations that could challenge their own notions of what a conference was. In the process, it helped us get a new understanding about what people were really experiencing and learning.

In the end, this was a social experiment. How could we turn the conference experience upside down? How do we make it more disruptive, diverse, generative, and immersive? We think that actively disrupting the routine is one way to get there.