Last week I attended the GEL 2010 conference here in NYC. It’s put on every year (8 years now) by entrepreneur, customer experience specialist, author and all around nice guy Mark Hurst. GEL stands for Good Experience Live and that’s exactly what it was. I left the two day event refreshed and inspired. It was my second time at GEL. I went in 2009 and the experience was, as it was this year, breathtaking. The community that attends spans everyone from the arts to interactive designers and leaders, medical professionals, marketers and entrepreneurs. The topics discussed this year ranged from the religious, to the political; from creating amazing dining experiences to understanding the mentality behind the TOPGUN naval warfare program.
It would seem from afar that such a disparate array of topics would create a confused conference track with unclear purposes and yet, amazingly, everything seemed related and relevant. The story of a young man who challenged his own perceived stereotypes to dive into the belly of the beast and learn how to listen, create dialog and understand those different than him melded perfectly with 3 amazing stories of social entrepreneurship chronicling successes in fields like education and microfinance where it seemed no further innovation was possible or would be tolerated.
GEL is occasionally referred to as “a mini East coast TED.” I’ve not been to TED but based on the videos I’d say the comparison is warranted. As a designer GEL breaks the mold of the traditional design conference by offering such varied topics and attendees. The focus of the presentations is not so much (as it sometimes is at the design conferences) about how much the presenter has accomplished and how we should shower them with accolades. Rather, the presenters at GEL provide views into worlds and activities one didn’t know existed and that provide insight into how we, as designers, can rethink the way we try to create good experiences every day.
Also – Mark Hurst, the host and brains behind the operation – does an amazing job of making each of the 350+ attendees feel like he knows them personally. There’s something nice about that experience.