Digital Strategy and UX is the first meetup I have ever attended in Geneva and later I also had a chance to be a speaker. Since that time, the group has grown and has become one of the biggest (if not the biggest) English-speaking meetup in town, with almost 1800 members on Meetup.com. Join the group yourself to stay updated: https://www.meetup.com/Digital-Strategy-and-UX-meetup-Geneva/
I’m glad that the group owners, Péter Horváth and Jesse Anton, agreed to talk about their experience and to kick off the series of interviews with meetup organizers.
[We are Online]: Please tell me a bit about yourselves.
[Peter] I’m Peter Horvath, and I’m a UX and service design consultant. I’ve been working in the digital space for 15 years, in agency, freelance, corporate and startup environments. So I’m happy to talk about the pros and cons of each 🙂 I worked on 2 continents and 3 countries in project and product management, digital strategy and UX. I recently co-founded the Swiss chapter of the Service Design Network, and am halfway through my executive MBA.
[Jesse] And my name is Jesse Anton. I’m originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, grew up around computers, and have been working in the technology sector since the 1990s. The early part of my career was spent working for technology providers, but since moving to Geneva in 2005, I’ve focused almost exclusively on IT consulting. In 2014 I co-founded Whitespace, a Geneva-based Enterprise UX agency. We do human-centered design and development work for large multinationals and international organizations around the world.
[We are Online]: When did the Digital Strategy and UX start? What is the idea behind it?
[Peter] My superpower is being curious, I love learning from peers, and I always have a near-endless flow of questions to ask them. So when I came to Geneva in 2014, I looked around for events in Geneva. But I was disappointed – there were practically no meetups happening, no grassroots discussions. I’ve lived in cities where the meetup culture was strong, and I thought something should be done. So I chose a broad topic around digital strategy and UX, and started an event series myself. There are no affiliations, we are fully independent, with the upsides and downsides.
[Jesse] I’ve been attending Peter’s meetup since the early days. Always enjoyed the experience and wanted to make a larger contribution to the community. I was thrilled when Peter asked me to join as co-organizer at the end of last year. There is a strong collaborative, curious, and open-minded ethos between us. It’s a lot of fun to be part of the ride.
[We are Online]: What do you like most about organizing meetups?
[Peter] The presentations always fulfill my curiosity 🙂 The meetups are really fulfilling. Being able to hear how others are doing things, seeing they face similar challenges as you, being able to discuss specific – those are most important to me as a participant. And as an organizer, that fact that we’ve been able to create something for the benefit of the community, seeing 40-80 people regularly show up for our events – that really shows we bring value to others as well.
[Jesse] I couldn’t agree more. Each time one of our events comes to a close, I feel that we’ve all been on a journey together. Everyone learns, everyone shares. It’s a low ego / no fear environment where ideas are free to flow. People make new connections and strengthen existing professional and personal ties. The entire experience is highly gratifying for me, and I know the same is true for our attendees and speakers because they often make a point of telling me so over a glass of wine immediately following the talks, or on LinkedIn the next day.
[We are Online]: What was the biggest surprise or a challenge that you faced as an organizer?
[Peter] I don’t think there have been many real surprises. But there are challenges for sure. We are lucky to be able to say: getting speakers is not a huge challenge. Because of the size and history of our event series, we are able to find speakers relatively easy. People are willing to share. But the biggest challenges is growing this Meetup. We are now at a point where we could continue with what we have relatively comfortably. But we would like to expand, and finding the means and direction on how to do that is a big discussion topic between the two of us now.
[Jesse] Yes, we need more beer and pizza to help us get the creative juices going. Expansion is on the horizon, for sure, and I don’t just mean our waistlines!
[We are Online]: According to you, is there anything special in Geneva as a place to organize UX-oriented meetups?
[Peter] Geneva is relatively small, just like entire Switzerland. And connecting and sharing has not necessarily been traditionally strong here, for some strange reason. But at the same time there is potential in Geneva. There are good companies and organizations big and small in the city and the region. And there are virgin areas where one can still break a path. This combination could result in a tight-knit community. That’s what we are working towards.
[Jesse] Geneva is really waking up to the potential of UX as a powerful motor for innovation and progress. I agree with Peter: the diversity of people and organizations is what makes this place so uniquely suited to spreading the gospel of human-centered design. We may be a small community, yet our reach is truly global. The choices made here have an impact on millions of people across the globe, so it really matters how we approach strategic decision-making. Lately I’ve noticed that mindsets are starting to converge around UX as a force for good, which is a positive development, and I sincerely hope our meetup is making an impact on this trend.
[We are Online]: What are your plans for the future? Is there anything you want to share with the We are Online community?
[Peter] As mentioned, we are now exploring how to grow. This could be in size, in type of audience, in type of topics, region, etc. We don’t want to get too comfortable with what we have. 🙂 As for sharing, we strongly encourage people to share – meaning if you were at an event that you liked, tell your colleagues, bring your colleagues next time, spread the word. We can only make Geneva big by acting together. Money is a dirty topic, and we do want to keep our events free, and donation-based. If people give a fraction of what they would pay for a cinema ticket, that would allow us to continue to eternity…
[Jesse] …or at least help me pay for a cinema ticket. Can’t remember the last time I saw a movie. 🙂
[We are Online]: Thanks a lot and see you at the next meetup!