User Experience lessons from a 4000-person yoga session

White Tour

On the bright and sunny morning of September 1st, I had a different type of user experience. I was one of 4000 Parisians at the majestic Grand Palais, dressed (almost entirely) in white, ready to practice yoga.  The occasion? The final stop of the somewhat infamous White Tour, an event launched several years ago by Canadian yoga apparel maker, Lolë. The concept behind these events is to gather thousands of people in various public venues and practice yoga together.

I found the whole thing fascinating because it required balancing two, somewhat conflicting, needs:

  • on the one hand provide a calm and zen atmosphere that one generally associates with yoga
  • on the other hand a marketing event that generates all the buzz and hype that many businesses only dream of

Given our focus on user experience here at Infinvision, I couldn’t help but make a few observations about the event.

The Good

{Proper queue} – Lining up for a public event in Paris isn’t for the faint of heart. For some odd reason what begins as a single line often (not always, but often) ends up being 2 or 3 lines as breakaway factions spontaneously emerge. Luckily the organizers of this event set up metal barricades on the sidewalk – and blocked other possible entrances – so we had no other choice but to get in a single line like proper adults. Things were off to an excellent, stress-free start.

{Mathematical mat setup} – The event instructions said mats would be provided at the venue. And boy did they provide. I walked into the venue and 4000 mats had been strategically placed on the floor. Not just placed, but the entire floor had been marked up with chalk, to the exact dimensions of a mat. This was absolutely brilliant because if you’ve ever been to a yoga class or a regular gym, you know there’s always somebody who takes up too much space with their mat, bag, etc. By setting up the mats beforehand, the organizers democratized the allocation of space and made it easy for participants to focus on the essential – yoga at the Grand Palais

{Serenade in a historical landmark} –  The theme for the event was “peace”, and even with 4000 bodies, ipads, and cellphones present, there was a feeling of peace. The presence of musicians from the Opera de Paris, combined with the fact that we were standing in a very imposing 13,500 sq m space, surely helped contribute to the feeling of peace and “wow!”

White Tour Paris

The not-so-good

{No local love} - There were several teachers leading the class, perched up on various podiums around the hall, and not one of them was from France (the only local teacher was out of main view, tucked in a corner, translating into French) Quite odd given the incredible popularity of yoga in the country, particularly in Paris. Much in the same way that a person travelling to a foreign country tries to learn a few phrases so as not to come across as rude, so too businesses should strive, whenever possible, to be as inclusive and respectful of the local culture they find themselves in. It allows all customers to really feel like part of a community.

{Market and meditate} - Once we were settled in, the VP of Marketing & Retail said a few words. This was a tricky one because on the one hand I understand that a lot of time, effort, and money goes into planning an event of such a scale. Yet, I can’t help but think that it would have been better to have not heard about sponsors minutes before we told to close our eyes and send good vibes to the person sitting next to us. Something about that particular user experience didn’t feel authentic and down-to-earth (something that is essential for a business that is in the yoga world)

{Quote till you drop} – The teacher dropped at least 7 quotes during the hour-long class – everyone from John Lennon, to Mother Teresa, and ancient poets. While the quotes were beautiful, they didn’t add anything to my experience. This was mostly due to the fact that she didn’t always take the time to explore them and put them in context. Whether it’s a yoga class, biochemistry classs, or a talk at a conference, it’s always best to not overload on quotes. Keep it simple. And when you do use them, make sure to put it in context for your students/listeners. Or else just quote Yoda because he seems to not require any explanation :)

Attending the tour was definitely a fascinating experience, and overall it was run very smoothly. From a business standpoint it was particularly intriguing to see such a large-scale marketing operation come alive. These tours have been wildly successful so I imagine they will continue to grow and reach other parts of the world. I am curious to see how they evolve and adapt with time and location

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