Experience Design 101

I recently attended Jenny Sauer-Klein’s training “Scaling Intimacy: Experience Design + Facilitation.”  It was several days in the always hip town of Berkeley with some of the coolest rock stars of experience design, culture development, and group facilitation in attendance.  If you regularly produce transformational events I highly recommend joining one of her workshops.  Since not everyone can make it to Berkeley, I’ve written out some of my key takeaways here.

The Narrative Arc

An event should tell a story, with the participant as the star.  As a film school student I loved this analogy. It allows me to compare a guest at a Wreck Em Rally event to Luke Skywalker.  Both heroes begin by learning about the world they’ve stepped into, making new friends, and discovering unknown skills they have at their disposal.  They’re then set with a task- mastering the Force and destroying the Death Star, or in our case, building a weaponized RC car and destroying their opponent.  Just as Luke trained in the Force with the help of his mentors, participants improve their designs with their teams. This all culminates in the climax, or in Jenny’s language, the pinnacle of the event (story?).  Luke uses the Force to beat the Empire and our guests use thumbtacks and bamboo skewers to beat John from accounting. Afterwards, the hero is transformed by the connections made and lessons learned along the way.


A popular goal for events is to build stronger connections.  This could look like speed networking or intimate conversations.  There are 3 keys to building connections that you can incorporate into any event or activity

  • Physical contact – this releases oxytocin, a trust building chemical in our bodies.  It also allows us to feel vulnerable around others. It is important that the physical contact feels safe and comfortable for all involved.
  • Vulnerability – Opening ourselves emotionally can be very difficult.  Adults are constantly afraid of judgement. Sharing exercises can engender the trust needed to discuss deeper topics.
  • Playfulness – If we have fun together, that feeling will become associated with the people you were surrounded by.  Playfulness also helps inspire courage to overcome obstacles together.


Nobody likes rules, but establishing parameters on the behaviors expected at an event can help to craft the mindset participants will use during your experience.  This allows you control over creating the culture of your event by explicitly stating how things should be done around here. I appreciated Jenny’s guidelines as being positive examples rather than negative warnings.  “Be prompt, and ready for adventure!” sounds far more enticing than “Don’t be late and unprepared.”


My LinkedIn profile proudly proclaims that I play professionally, and it’s true.  I’m lucky that my job requires me to literally play games. It can be hard for others then to understand how to incorporate play into their busy schedules with no time for games.  Jenny’s definition of play is “Play is not an activity but a mindset of being curious and joyful in the journey.” By using this definition, you can integrate the spirit of play into everything you do.  

At Firefly we try to design the best experiences possible for our clients.  With these lessons, we hope that you might be able to harness the power of play at your office.  To go on your own hero’s journey and play with us, reach out here.