Case Study - The first multi-world expo

A brand new city was built from the sands of Dubai for Expo 2020. But when lockdowns hit, the plan shifted to embrace virtual visits. Across six months of daily events, 250 million visitors streamed content across social, game and web and mobile platforms. Our research helped keep it all together.

Expo 2020
Strategy Playbook


The world expo was a massive undertaking with 10 years of planning and contributions from 192 countries. Organized across themes of Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity, the digital experience offered a three-dimensional and immersive mirror of the physical architecture. Every pavilion and zone of the expo had a virtual counterpart, brought to life through stunning visual effects and digital strategy by Growbyseed, Dogstudio and Magnopus. Every detail was considered, from time of day to the number of clouds and birds in the sky. Within this game-like world, participants could freely explore and meet fellow attendees, through a wide range of mixed reality and streaming experiences.

How it looked

What we did

Working alongside Growbyseed on behalf of expo leadership, we ran weekly research and design audits to prepare for launch and reveal needs of diverse business, school and leisure visitors. Through a mix of user studies, analytics and journey-mapping, we helped shape the roadmap so users could make the most of their virtual visits, joining friends and family across Minecraft, Twitch, YouTube, AR/VR and web. We worked closely with agencies, content and technical teams, helping to unblock designers and drive faster product decisions. Together we built bridges between each digital property, a common design language and cross-over features to ensure a seamless user experience. To keep everyone on the same page, we published an expo-wide UX Playbook shared by all teams for strategic decision-making.

Of particular import was onboarding and personalization and a sense of inclusivity, for which we crafted a series of design recommendations to consider each persona and mental model. We wrote custom algorithms to predict user behavior over time, backed by a full taxonomy of content categories and scheduled events. Through card sorting and tree testing, we built a global taxonomy and intuitive navigation. Finally, to ensure the design achieved business outcomes, we authored a new formula to measure shared presence and participation across all digital channels.

  • User Interviews
  • Design Review
  • Content Strategy
  • Persona Definition
  • Journey Mapping
  • Card Sorting
  • Analytics Strategy

Business Impact

The expo, a first of its kind, was widely hailed as a success and will serve as a model for future expos. After six months of live streaming events and numerous awards, the digital experiences live on and the archives will soon be passed to the next host nation and built upon for decades to come. Our findings, though a small part of a vast global collaboration, will help to ensure a more inclusive design personalized to the needs of each family, each classroom and business traveler of tomorrow.

"Numbers do not tell the full story though, in terms of statistics, Expo 2020 Dubai has been a spectacular achievement. But look deeper, and Expo is a people’s success. On every people metric — be it expectation, learning, scale and happiness — Expo has delivered to the hearts and minds of the nation and the world."

Khaleej Times
April 2022
Virtual Visits
Design Awards

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