We never want to stop learning. And we love sharing what we've learned.

Sometimes we're experts on a subject. Like how to create an immersive Alice-in-Wonderland experience. Or how to spot top tier bakers and chefs years before the media catches on. Oh, and we invented the Secret Breakfast Society. It’s basically what it sounds like--except imagine having Blue Bottle espressos and Le Dix-Sept small batch pastries with everyone you’ve ever needed to know, but maybe never knew existed in tech and media, in a former Archbishop's mansion on Alamo Square.

Sometimes, we can pull it off all on our own. And sometimes we call in reinforcement. Like hosting an immersive live press dinner at the SF Mint and had Adam Patch directing the digital campaign for the launch event, Spring Street Social Society curating the table, and Blue Bottle Coffee overseeing the send off. You can find more on that here.

These are our field notes on the best practices we know of for the industry and a well-lived existence.


The 4 Most Important Questions that Will Make or Break Your Next Milestone Corporate Event

The day after Thanksgiving I received an email from a prospective client saying, “We’re having our first sales kickoff. It’s the first week of the new year, and we’ve already booked everyone’s tickets and confirmed hotels. Everything else is yet to be done, including sourcing the venue. The event is basically a month out. Can you help?”

“Of course we can help,” I replied.

At WHISK, we receive a surprisingly large number of short-timeline requests, often for high-stake events. Even so, we believe that approaching event design and production through strategy and experience design yields a better event, and a larger return on investment (ROI) for our clients.

We recommend starting with strategy — and asking the following important questions — as a framework for designing your next milestone event: 
1. What are your walk-away goals for attendees at this event?
2. Can you define your core values, your brand, and concretely describe your company culture? Great, do so.
3. What metrics are you using to measure success?
4. In the past how have you ensured that your goals pre-event are aligning with the impact you have, and what your guests are feeling, thinking, or saying when they leave the event? If you haven’t considered this before, let’s get to work.

We believe that strong events begin with a solid plan of action and foundation for the building blocks of the event. We also stand behind the power of design with creating lasting — and meaningful impact. We want our clients’ guests — be they the internal team, investors, prospective customers, or influencers — to walk away as brand evangelists. They loved your event, believe in your mission, and can’t wait to tell their friends about you.

For the sales kickoff, we started by asking the questions above, plus conducting a brand audit, and worked backwards with our client to line up the big pieces, like securing a venue, food & beverage service, audio visuals, custom-fab furniture builds, and rentals. In tandem, we concepted the guest flow pre-arrival, arrival, welcome reception, day-of, evening entertainment, and walk-away experience, focusing on designing for the micro-interactions that happen between guests.

For us, the magic lies in being able to design for the impact you want to have.

Once the structural pieces are in place, we work with clients to fine-tune the details, course correct if needed, and ensure all is aligned with brand and budget.

As a full-service creative agency, we understand the pain points of our clients. From assistance with generating brand evangelism, to attracting top talent, retention, and maintaining coherency across geography and tenure, we get it, and we know exactly how to help. We started as a company culture consultancy, and we know the power of events when they’re executed well. Together, this knowledge is value and has the power to transform brands, and their bottom line.

We work with companies who don’t have an in-house events manager and those who do. For those who have someone in-house already, sometimes this role gets overladen with responsibilities and tasks. That was the case of the sales kickoff, as well as it being a larger event than our contact had ever been asked to produce solo.

In addition to stretching bandwidth, clients look to us because of the rich relationships (sometimes exclusive) we have with vendors in the cities in which we work. With seasoned knowledge, insights on how to stretch budgets, a fresh third-party perspective on creative ideas and ways to improve upon past events that can help shape and inform future events, and bandwidth to focus 100% on the success of your event, we provide value that impacts in ways that is unique to being brought in from outside.

At the conclusion of the sales kickoff, attendees approached us and said, “THANK you. I’m a seasoned sales manager who’s worked for some of the top sales platforms out there, and this is the best kickoff I’ve ever attended.”

Originally published on Medium.

How to Create Off-Sites That Keep People Talking

Brand evangelism. How do you architect it? How do you ensure it?

First, let’s define it. Brand evangelism is that warm feeling you get when you‘re passionate about a brand — both what it stands for and your relationship to it. In the case of the brand you work for, it’s enthusiasm for the work you do, why you do it, and the intrinsic motivators associated with it.

So, how do you turn your team into brand evangelists? You design memorable, impactful, events that call upon intrinsic motivation, lure camaraderie building, inject about 25% vulnerability, and create cavities for connection.

Insert Thumbtack. A platform that connects people with skills with people who need them. For this quickly-growing, ambitious startup, we were enlisted to take their all-hands quarterly offsites to the next level.

To do this, we conducted a brand audit, where we invested in their mission, core values, and culture, and designed an experience to de-layer their team’s skills, and match them in a way that would bring their brand full circle. By the end, we’d woven a brand new layer of brand evangelism for the team, forging bonds with local and satellite employees, across varying levels of tenure and department, inclusive of C-suite and newest hire.

To break it down further, we were tasked with interpreting Thumbtack’s brand and homing in on their core value for Q1, Go!, and designing an impactful all-hands around that. We, quite literally, interwove the brand with each guest selecting a colored old-school thumbtack upon arrival.

Later, guests were broken up into a series of sub-groups, by color. Each color represented a rapid-prototype learning opportunity, ranging from rhythm motion dance instruction, to an improv workshop, magic, amari education, coffee cupping, muraling and more.

dance class

dance class

Because thumbtacks were chosen at random, we were able to intersperse organic diversity in the group, ranging from tenure levels, to department, role, and geography across the company. At dinner, after the workshops, attendees were invited to share dinner with no more than 2 people from the same group at each table, once more shuffling the guest interaction and mingling.

coffee cupping with Counter Culture Coffee

coffee cupping with Counter Culture Coffee

The final “experiential design” element involved filling out a form, which, earlier, had been thumbtacked by each attendee to the cork board wall, that prompted: “I can teach you how to ____” and “I would like to learn to ____.” The intention behind this closing exercise was to bring the experiential elements, culture, and brand full-circle, as well as provide an opportunity to keep the experience alive back at the office, 1–2 months down the line when the office manager would match employees with their respective skill sets.

The serendipitous bonus of this exercise was that as we began reviewing the responses, we were actually able to match most employees with skills they wanted to learn, and wanted to teach. Without this additional layer of experience design to an otherwise standard quarterly “social” offsite, it’s likely the company wouldn’t have unearthed that so many of their team organically had interests and skills the others’ wanted to learn, and could thereby, with a bit of design, strengthen the cultural fabric and retention potential of the organization.

Originally published on Medium.

On Bathrooms: Qualifying the guest experience by way of the water closet

home brew equipment, Warby Parker glasses, fashion-forward clientele at The Mill, San Francisco

home brew equipment, Warby Parker glasses, fashion-forward clientele at The Mill, San Francisco

You can relate.

How often have you had a noteworthy dining experience, only to rise from your seat at the table, venture toward the restroom, and discover a complete disconnect from the establishment’s brand?

Let’s look at coffee. The shop founders have taken the time to procure the lightest locally-roasted, mindfully sourced beans. Mugs are made by a local ceramicist. They’ve installed gorgeous marble counter tops and polished hardwood floors. Possibly a skylight or two. Hip music vibrates from the spinning vinyl by way of vintage wooden speakers, and almond milk is at the ready for the lactose faint of heart.

Freshly roasted beans sit perched atop reclaimed wood shelving, packed into tailored, crisp, handsome bags. All of the proper home brewing equipment one could need is tastefully merchandised alongside. The crowd resembles the ideal of any third wave coffee shop proprietor: Warby Parker eyeglass-wearing lads, ladies sporting skinny jeans and Freda Salvador shoes, and the latest duo discussing the terms of a deal as they cross the threshold.

Such a thoughtful, design-forward flow through the café up to this point. Why, then, is the bathroom not factored into the comprehensive guest experience?

I can’t say for certain whether it was the rolled cloth hand towels, the locally-made gently fragrant lavender hand soap, or the Broken Bells echoing from the hidden speaker the first evening I dined at Frances, but in that moment I thought, “Yes. This works.” I felt the palpable richness of the brand experience. Someone was thoughtful enough to extend the same attention to detail and aesthetic that caressed the dining room into the restroom. It matters — perhaps more in favor of the quality of the experience than the bottom line — and it makes a difference to those who notice.

Often, restrooms appear to be a complete afterthought. Perhaps, however, it’s actually a conscious thought to splurge for an extra La Marzocco espresso machine. Figure, the café owner can expedite the line more efficiently, and let’s be honest, La Marzocco designs pretty sexy machines.

Tandem Coffee Roasters, Portland, ME

Tandem Coffee Roasters, Portland, ME

Let’s face it though. Do you stop for coffee at a café solely because they have an amazing bathroom? Unlikely (but hey, who doesn’t love the hand washing experience at Sightglass on 7th St. or La Colombe NOHO?).

Would you smile, perhaps, if walking into the restroom, knew that you’d feel cleaner on the way out — having done your business, reshuffled your hair, and checked to make sure your teeth didn’t have bits of pastry remaining — all while being continually immersed in a space that felt consistent with the rest of the café? I certainly do.

In more pragmatic terms, are you grateful they have a restroom? YES.

Front Café may be gorgeous, but keep in mind, it’s B.Y.O.C. (Bring Your Own Commode).

Whether you detour from the fastest route to your office or happen to live conveniently within close proximity of your favorite café, you’re going to continue supporting that café because something about the experience calls you back. The coffee has got to do it for you, nice music to set the mood for the day doesn’t hurt, the opportunity to run into a friend or your favorite barista is always a grand bonus. The quality of the restroom experience may not matter to you. Hey, you may be going to the café because it has wifi. However, take a moment to notice the water closet the next time you’re at your favorite establishment. See if you feel any different when it’s on brand.

Originally published on Medium.


On Mondrian Cake

Cake as office culture. Though not in the way you’d think.

In 2009, the pastry chefs at specialty coffee roaster Blue Bottle Coffee debuted the Mondrian Cake at their SFMOMA cafe. As an homage to the Dutch avant-garde artist, Piet Mondrian, they assembled precision-cut velvet cakes of white and primary colors into the geometric shapes of his late De Stijl designs, using chocolate ganache for his bold square lines.

When presented to a crowd, there’s an exquisite tension as the knife hovers over the cake, seamless ganache cloaking the promise of incredible flavors and carefully constructed layers within. The ultimate reveal inspires awe in the audience, even if they have no idea about the incredibly intricate set of steps that made it possible.

After recipe-testing this cake for their cookbook, I can attest that a cake doesn’t bake itself. The same is certainly true for company culture.

When people see a great team in action, everyone working together seemingly effortlessly, it takes tremendous dedication to forge those bonds. Many think good office culture just happens. Gather a team of interesting people, create an environment with collaborative and comforting aesthetics, throw in some perks, and you have a recipe for success. In practice, compelling office culture takes commitment to identifying and living your core values.

As culture and experience designers, we help companies engage with their core values in tangible ways, from employee onboarding to aesthetics to company milestones. It helps members of your team live your culture and values from the moment they set foot in the door.

One client we have consulted for has been acutely intent on shaping company culture from the onset. Together we created a new program for engaging newly hired employees in the traditional dead time between accepted offers and start dates. By designing for this gap we were able to integrate new hires into the culture before they even set foot in the door.

Build a strong culture, and your team will want to be there. Most importantly, they’ll evangelize your brand — the pinnacle of a healthy workplace culture. While the goal of culture is not uniformity, the aim is to have a shared sense of cultural values and purpose, consistent no matter who you talk with in the organization.

Building that shared set of values requires a serious and sustained commitment to your employees, much like every step of making the Mondrian Cake requires diligence, finesse, and patience. Few know what it takes to get there, but when others see the results, it leaves a lasting impression. As Airbnb CEO and Co-founder, Brian Chesky, relays, “The thing that will endure for 100 years is the culture. The culture is what creates the foundation for all future innovation. If you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products.”

Have you identified the ingredients to create your unique cake? Are you in the careful process of constructing it? Or have you sliced into it already — are you savoring your labors? Realizing the promise of the cultural values of your company is like making that first slice into the cake; you should have confidence that regardless of where you slice it, you’ll reveal a magical piece of a greater whole. Throughout the process, we’re here to help you make the right cultural investments for your company that will pay dividends far into the future.

Originally published on Medium.