(aka Four ways to improve a human experience)

Recently I took a temporary ‘gig’ as a bar-person – I was serving at the drinks table at Lena Ross’s second book launch. The book launch was an community experience in which many sub-experiences took place, such as getting a drink to fuel conversation and networking.

Wearing my Experience Design hat, I took a particular approach to my gig. I did this intentionally, to apply three of the Change Design Principles. Let me tell you about the what, the How and the why to make the application of the principles real and practical to you.

No 46. Environment influences behaviour
The space and position in which the drinks table was set was confining and was going to create clumping and blockages vertically, if people approached the table in a linear fashion. I decided it would be better to encourage people to come from any angle and not move beyond their point of entry to get their drink. So I mixed the arrangement of glasses – pre-filled with drinks – so all possible drink choices could be reached while standing in a single spot.

I also made sure there was plenty of space between the glasses so a person balancing a handbag/briefcase plus book launch goodie bag, could extend their arm and put their hand around a glass without knocking adjacent glasses.

No 27. Cede control
I prefilled the glasses with the full range of drink options so people could help themselves. They didn’t have to ask for a particular drink, they didn’t need to wait in turn for a drink to be poured. They could move and get what they wanted and leave without delay or hinderance. I had the bottles nearby for people who wanted to know the exact flavour or brand of their potential choice.

No 39. The way things look matter
The event was a celebration – people were wanting to enjoy themselves. The arrangement of the drinks became an aesthetic in itself reflecting the celebration. Many commented on it favourably. They thought I had arranged the glasses this way merely to be creative and inject a sense of whimsy. But you now know it was because of the points above.

There was a large number of people to serve in the confined space, so I wanted people to get their drink and move on, but not to feel that it was a factory line and that I was concerned only about speed. The arrangement became a talking point, which was a great pretext to start conversations with people who came not really knowing others in the room.


You might say: “It was just drinks on a table!” I saw that it was an opportunity to intentionally create a good experience, particularly to overcome the problematic context. Which leads me nicely to a final principle, which is one of my favourites: No 1. How you do things is often more important than what you do. Yes, there was a drinks table at an event, but I knew it to be a drinking experience inside a networking relationship experience, with the potential to have qualities of delight and satisfaction, while avoiding frustration.


Helen Palmer is Founder and Principal Change Agent at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people (particularly in team contexts) can make a better life for others and themselves. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.

This post was simultaneously published on LinkedIn.

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