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.

World Expo Dubai
Design Research & Strategy


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 cross-platform play and streaming experiences. Within this game-like world, participants could discover new content, explore trails of interest and meet fellow attendees virtually.

How I helped

I was brought in to conduct weekly user research and design reviews to prepare for launch, as advocate for diverse virtual visitors. Through a mix of formative studies, content strategy and journey-mapping, I helped to define new strategies for onboarding, personalization and inclusivity. I worked closely with creative agencies, content and technical teams, helping guide user experience and drive faster product decisions. To support this, I maintained an expo-wide UX Playbook shared by all teams for strategic decision-making.

To predict user behavior over time, I wrote algorithms backed by a full taxonomy of content categories and scheduled events. Through card sorting and tree testing, I then built a global taxonomy and intuitive navigation. Finally, to ensure the design achieved business outcomes, I helped to develop a new formula to track engagement and participation across multiple digital products, from virtual reality games to social and streaming.

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

How it looked

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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How can I help?

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