Case Study: Design x Exclusion Conference The mash-Up americans

Our mission: To conceptualize, shape, and bring to life a groundbreaking online audio conference about the ways in which tech design can exclude people—and what the solutions might be.

The client: Automattic

The partner: MIT Media Lab

The audience: Design and technology experts around the world, representing large enterprises, start-ups, research labs, and more.


Automattic, the company behind some of the web’s most popular products (including WordPress, Askimet, Gravatar, and PollDaddy), has a longstanding commitment to inclusion and diversity.

To further establish itself as a leader in progressive design, Automattic teamed up with the MIT Media Lab to produce a first-of-its-kind online audio conference called Design and Exclusion.

“I couldn’t think of anyone better than Mash-Up as a partner to tackle the questions we need to ask in the technology industry about how exclusion happens, and how we can get to solutions.” - John Maeda, Global Head, Computational Design & Inclusion

They had an ambitious goal, a title, and resources to support the event. But what would the event be? What story would it tell, and who would tell it? How would it come together in a cohesive, original package that would appeal to sophisticated members of the design community and tech media? And, oh yeah, how could it happen in just three weeks to meet an internal deadline?

That’s where The Mash-Up Americans came in. We developed a three-step approach to ensuring the conference’s success.

How We Did It:

Step 1: Concept development.

  • Through a creative brainstorming process, we landed on three key topics that would amplify Automattic’s theme and have the most impact as a narrative arc: the academic aspect, the human experience, and potential solutions.
  • From there, we conceptualized, researched, outlined, and prepared 4 hours of panels, keynotes, and supplementary content.
  • Next, we drew on our podcasting and social media experience to develop a functional format for an audio-only conference.

Step 2: Logistics & scheduling.

  • Working closely with Automattic and MIT, we coordinated recording of high-profile panelists, moderators, and contributors in cities from Boston to San Francisco.
  • We tapped our deep creative network to recruit four award-winning producers/editors, developed guidelines for contributors to self-record and submit audio files, booked studio time, coordinated tape syncs, pulled key quotes for social rollouts, and created tracking tools to monitor each participant’s status.

Step 3: Hosting.

  • Mash-Up co-founder Amy S. Choi, a veteran speaker and podcaster, served as the event’s host. The Mash-Up Americans team also wrote scripts for panel moderators.
  • Amy was the listener’s guide to the conference. She kicked off the event with a one-on-one conversation with Automattic’s John Maeda; introduced panels; moderated a research panel; moderated a conversation with Matt Mullenweg (CEO, Automattic) and Aarron Walter (VP of Design Education, InVision); and participated in a live session with John Maeda and a leading MIT Media Lab researcher.
“I really enjoyed working with Amy and the way she framed the questions. I know how much skill goes into directing a conversation that ultimately feels balanced." - Anne Diaz, Panelist & Lead Experience Researcher, Trust at Airbnb

The Outcome

Buzz about the conference began before it launched and continued for several weeks, as content was shared on social media and in a series of articles on TechCrunch. The majority of social posts included the conference hashtag (#DesignX), the site URL, and/or Automattic executives’ handles.

Over 7,100 people tuned in to the conference on release day, including entire teams from Google, Spotify, Apple, and MailChimp. Even more streamed content in the following weeks. We reached people in dozens of countries, including the United Kingdom, India, and New Zealand.

Despite substantial logistical hurdles and a tight timeframe for execution, the Design and Exclusion conference incurred no technical glitches, stayed under budget, reached influencers around the world, and succeeded in cementing Automattic’s place at the forefront of the conversation about exclusion in the design and technology industries.

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