Engagement Design

Over the past five years, I have become fulfilled through a passion for the engagement of people -- what causes it, what it looks and feels like, how it interacts with other elements of people's lives, what impact engagement can produce, and so on. Through a mixture of this passion and my professional skill set in designing events and experiences, I've created a recipe for what I call engagement design -- or in other words, a conscious and intentional process to create authentic, people-centered tactics that engage people with people, people with places, and people with purposes. Design is powerful. We know that. We understand that good design produces desirable results. We also understand that bad design is usually what leads to ineffectiveness. For example, if a manufactured product isn't made with the customer's usage of that product at the forefront of the design process, the chances of the customer using the product are slim -- therefore the chances of that product having longterm effectiveness and impact in the customer's life are even slimmer. Because of this, we value design in the manufacturing process. We also understand the importance of a company's brand -- from the graphic design of the logo to the physical design of the store or layout design of the website it sells its products from. We know that bad website design isn't going to keep the customer engaged and wanting to continually use products from the company. Knowing this, we work with professionals to design these things, using their skills and expertise to create the results we're hoping for. Yet knowing, understanding, and practicing all this, we continually leave authentic engagement to chance. We don't take it as seriously as we do other elements of society that we know must be designed well to work. Or worse yet, we task individuals or organizations that aren't skilled in crafting authentic engagement to handle some of the most important elements of our lives, such as where we live, who we hang out with, what charitable causes we support, and what empowers us to go outside our comfort zone and take action. I believe that it's rare for the process of real engagement to be thoughtfully and intentionally designed to produce the desired results. If this is true, it means that we are leaving a lot of potentially impactful engagement to the stroke of luck. Unfortunately, most of us aren't that lucky -- or at least not lucky enough to stumble upon people, places, and purposes that authentically activate our lives and lead to unprecedented feelings of empowerment, drive, and personal fulfillment. And if we are lucky enough to come across someone, someplace, or something that deeply impacts our lives, we usually define that stroke of luck as serendipity. I strongly believe that these serendipitous moments can be designed to happen. My professional application of this belief started with leading a young professionals organization for the Chamber of Commerce in a small, central Wisconsin city. My role was to help young professionals engage with the community in ways that would lead to their strong connection to people, places, and purposes within the community. In that role, success meant that talented young professionals would not only come to and stay in the community, but also fall in love with what the community had to offer and help shape its future. I then expanded the audience of engagement design tactics to include all people, not just young professionals, in that community. This application was delivered through the creation of a community engagement program for the county's economic development corporation. The program's work contributed to creating a culture of citizen engagement and involvment in economic development areas such as talent and attraction and retention, new business startups, place activation, downtown development, real estate redevelopment and microfinance. For the last two years, I've been fortunate to use my passion and apply engagement design tactics in a handful of other Wisconsin communities through my own firm, You Are Here. Throughout my life, I've been energized about helping people care about things that I believe will lead to meaningful impact in their lives. That seemingly innate instinct is what led me to discover my passion for engagement design.
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