UX lessons from a Swedish wedding

In May 2010, my friends Danny and Eva got married in Eksjo, a small town in the middle of Sweden. Their wedding was outstanding for so many reasons. Not only was it stylish, unusual and fun (just like the couple) but it was one of the most feel-good weddings I’ve ever been to. It’s also a perfect example of great user experience. Here’s why.

The invitation

The user delight started here. Imagine the surprise of opening a wedding invitation that includes a little home-made holiday guide book. “The Rough Guide to Eva and Danny’s Wedding” turned the potentially tricky logistics of getting to a wedding in the middle of Sweden into a positive adventure. It tempted us with references to Wallander country and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, taught us some Swedish phrases and presented a whole range of travel and accommodation options that catered to any budget. Oh and the invitation itself was colour-coded in red for English and blue for Swedish, and flanked by cartoon caricatures of the couple.

It didn’t take long to decide whether we could afford to go after that. A fun and cultural holiday in Sweden with our friends’ wedding included was excellent value.

The emails

With a lot of weddings, there’s a lull between getting the invitation and turning up on the day, while the couple keep their heads down and get absorbed in the preparation. Not this couple. As soon as people started accepting their invitation, we got excited emails from them saying how pleased they were and giving us tips on getting the cheapest flights and trains.

And when people had problems booking train tickets, we got another email with a step-by-step guide to navigating the confusing Swedish rail website.

The week before

In the week leading up to the wedding, I was walking through central London when I got a text from Danny. They were writing a couple of lines about each of the guests for the wedding programme and wondered if I could send a couple of lines about my boyfriend. Apparently it’s a Swedish tradition to include guest’s biogs like that and it struck me what a great way it was to make people feel included and help them to mix and get to know each other – especially the ones that didn’t know lots of people already. Yet more points scored for inclusiveness and delight.

The arrival

After an early start, a flight and a train ride to unfamiliar surroundings, it was really good to be met at Nassjo station by not just one, but a mini-army of Eva’s family and friends. All of them had brought cars, were at the ready to give us lifts to our hotels, and they were led by Eva’s dad waving a Swedish flag. Talk about a nice welcome. Once we’d been dropped at our hotels, we found an invitation to join the other guests for dinner later if we wanted – perfect.

The big day

By the morning of the wedding, we’d settled into our hotel and were already exploring the town in the sunshine, bumping into friends in the street and stopping for coffee and cake. The ceremony was a five minute walk from our hotel, so we had lots of time to spare.

The Metropol Cinema in Eksjo was a brilliant wedding venue. It would have been brilliant even without the specially-made poster outside that read ‘Showing today: Eva and Danny Get Married’. Even without the popcorn that we were handed by the ushers on the way in, and without the slideshow of photos and the funny short film that Danny and Eva had made for us, screened just before the ceremony started. But they all helped.

The reception was at a “mystery venue” which turned out to be a barn in the middle of green fields, with high beams and long tables of food and drinks. At every place was a traditional Swedish starter of gravadlax, crayfish, caviar and Vasterbotten cheese and – most exciting of all – a tiny bottle of schnapps tagged with your name, looking just like the magic potion that Alice drinks to get to Wonderland. There was also a programme with a tiny biog of each guest, as promised, some fun facts about England and Sweden and the lyrics to some Swedish drinking songs – everything translated into both English and Swedish. Amazing.

While we ate our choice from a buffet including fish, venison, wild mushrooms, elk meatballs, asparagus and beetroot (more gastronomic delights for the Brits), the speeches started. And in Sweden, anyone who wants to can make a speech, so all kinds of people got up to speak, from old family friends to cousins to colleagues, and everyone had a different way of bridging the language gap, from live translations projected onto a big screen to PowerPoint presentations and videos. It all ended with Danny showing a video of a rap he’d written and performed especially for Eva. Very funny. And on that high note, the dinner ended but the level of entertainment didn’t drop for one minute. We moved to the next room to sing and dance along to an Elvis tribute band.

After a few hours of dancing, we piled onto the 3am coach back to the town square (we could have got the 1am or 2am coach if we’d wanted to, but we were having too much fun).

The day after

There’s not a whole lot you want to do the day after getting to bed at 4am, but a walk to a barbecue and picnic on a hillside was just about manageable. We got to watch (and join in with – how I’m not quite sure) some traditional Swedish country dancing, and then anyone who wanted to could play volleyball while everyone else lazed on the grass in the sunshine. And again, Danny and Eva’s relatives stepped in to give us all lifts from there to the station when we needed them – not that we really wanted to leave by that point.

The follow-up

We hardly needed any more nice touches from Danny and Eva to make the whole experience of their wedding any better. But they posted a lovely message on Facebook just afterwards, and once they got back from their honeymoon they sent an email to everyone to say thank you again for coming and making it so brilliant. The email was bilingual and colour-coded in red and blue, just like the invitation and the programme, and included a photo of the two of them on their honeymoon. Lovely.

So what are the UX lessons I take from this wonderful experience?

1. Give your users a well-rounded experience. Make your brand shine out from the first contact you have with a user and make sure it persists right through to the last contact you have with them (until the next time, that is).

2. Make it inclusive. Give people options, like a choice of price range or different routes to the end goal, and make each one just as appealing. Not only will you attract more people that way, you’ll keep them happy too.

3. Think of everything you possibly can. Put yourself in the shoes of someone experiencing your product/website/business and find ways to help and delight them. What do they like? How do they feel? How can you make it fun for them?

4. Help people to be sociable. Find fun ways to introduce people to each other, let them get to know each other and help them feel part of your community. It’ll really improve and enrich their experience and make them want to stay in touch.

5. Make your users’ lives easy. They’ve gone out of their way to visit/find out about you – so how can you go out of your way to help make their experience easier and better? Think about the things they’ll find a drag and do some work to ease their stress.

I’ll hold back from sharing my own ideas about how you can put these principles into practice, because that’s the whole point. Whether you’re building a website, marketing a brand, launching a business or holding an event, the most important thing is that what you do comes from *your* imagination. From the style you create to the brilliant little details you add, it’s up to you (and your team) to make your user experience authentic, original, delightful and memorable.

* * *

Special thanks to Danny and Eva for the chance to be a guest at your wonderful wedding. Congratulations from me and from everyone who reads this post!