Engineering a virtual event platform to connect a global community
kyu launched in 2014 with a groundbreaking purpose: to be a source of creativity which propels the economy and society forward. As a collective of 21 global companies operating at the leading edges of design, strategy, consulting, technology, and storytelling, kyu fosters interorganizational collaboration, innovation, and transformation to solve some of the world’s most complex challenges.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shattered how companies approached creativity, employee engagement, and personal development in the workplace. kyu leaders knew they needed to do more to support and empower this global community of more than 2,000 professionals in 12 countries during this time of uncertainty. The solution had to be virtual but inventive: how could kyu excite participants and inspire new ideas across a range of disciplines and experiences remotely? “We had never before attempted to bring together the whole community of communities across kyu,” explains Farah Ramzan Golant, kyu’s president.
The result was kin, the first-ever gathering of the entire collective. “Of, by, and for the people of kyu, kin is a three-day experience designed [for] thinkers, makers, and doers to connect, share, and learn,” Golant announced.
kin’s platform supported three days of event programming. Sourced from people around the world, these events were presented in a scalable, cohesive, and compelling design system.
As an inaugural global conference, kin required a bespoke virtual event platform capable of engaging thousands of employees from 10 companies in five time zones. Attendees needed a fun and navigable gateway to individual and team presentations, shared learning experiences, and networking opportunities. From a technical perspective, the platform had to incorporate user profiles, display livestreams alongside an inventory of past presentations, organize content into tracks, and house creative resources.
A digital universe called kinland—co-built by the kyu community on Miro—would be the event’s “convening center,” and thus needed to be integrated into the platform’s architecture. The roadmap even included placing Easter eggs throughout the site, such as a discreet doorway to a virtual speakeasy.
kin’s visual identity featured a design element called the kin faces, which GDP animated based on certain user behaviors, and included a set of affirming reactions for cheering on presenters during livestreams.
Over two months, GDP’s team, led by Digital Design Director Shawn Sprockett, built the virtual event platform from scratch. This required extensive collaboration on innovative and interactive design solutions with external stakeholders, including kyu Creative Director Ryan Murphy and project leads from other kyu organizations (such as SYPartners, Sid Lee, and ATÖLYE) who oversaw programming, visual identity, communications, and more.
One of the most prominent challenges: anyone across kyu could volunteer to host a presentation, but there was no way of knowing how many people would ultimately submit ideas. As Sprockett explains, “We needed an extensible system for dozens of sessions to scale into a single nonlinear virtual event. Since video sessions would be hosted by a range of presenters from all over the world, the site needed to be integrated with third-party broadcasts and account for varying time zones.”
Data privacy was crucial, so GDP built unique security flows to protect against bad actors. “We also wanted to promote on-platform engagement, so we incorporated fun, micro-interactions throughout the site,” Sprockett explains. This included illustrations that would animate based on certain user behaviors, and custom kin-branded reactions for people to use during live presentations, which streamed from a virtual main stage on the homepage.
Design and development kicked off in October 2020. By November, the site entered QA testing and kin’s event date—January 26–28, 2021—was officially announced with an open call for anyone to submit a workshop, presentation, or networking event. “I was inspired by the ingenuity and imagination of GDP to create something from scratch with the flexibility to iterate and adapt as the idea took shape,” Golant says. “I felt the team’s restless development and commitment made it into something world-class.”
kin’s bespoke platform ended up hosting more than 40 video conferences for thousands of virtual attendees over three days in January. GDP’s President of Editorial, Robert Capps, presented on The New Editorial, while Director of Photography Rosey Lakos and Art Director Natalie Estrada curated “The Cyberfeminist Dinner Party,” a hands-on art workshop honoring Dadaism and feminist art. “The design proved to be incredibly resilient to the range of virtual experiences that people curated,” Sprockett says.
kyu’s leadership was ecstatic with how well the platform reflected the spirit of its first gathering. “The kin experience was designed to leverage the tools of virtual convening and foster a sense of belonging and reciprocity during a time of radical isolation,” Golant says. “In spite of the suspension of all the rituals that bind us together as a creative community, we were able to unlock—through the identity, interactivity, and creativity of kin—a surge of content and conversations to inspire each other as human beings.”
The inaugural kin event was so successful that kyu now regularly hosts pop-up events called kin Conversations. In July 2021, “kin Conversation: The Future of Work” featured more than a dozen events dissecting the hybrid work landscape for creative professionals. In December 2021, a two-day virtual event focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. The platform engineered by GDP will continue to provide kyu’s communities with unique opportunities to connect, learn, and engage with one another—no matter their backgrounds, interests, or where they live around the world.