Event design is much more than a pretty venue
It's every single thought that goes into the event creation.
Words by Sabina Fratila
Traditionally, the concept of event design has been used to define the way professionals set up a venue for an event. But it’s easy to see how an event is much more than a venue, and how design can encompass every single aspect of human interaction.
Okay, so then what is event design?
Event design is controlling expectations and reactions
When designing an event, you need to start by thinking about what would make people you’re targeting get off their butts and come to your event, given that virtually everything they’d ever need to know is one click away and available from their couches.
What are you offering your crowd that they absolutely must experience in person?
Once you have an answer, you can go on to defining your event concept, the way you communicate it, the content that it will produce, how you’ll interact with your audience. In doing that, you must at all times keep in mind that your goal is to get a lasting reaction from people. What participants take with them when they leave your venue is the single most important asset for your event brand - because that’s how you’ll keep them paying attention to you until you organize a new event, that’s how you’ll create a lasting connection with them, how they’ll tell their friends to join next time, how you’ll ultimately create a community.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a breeze. It’s actually quite difficult to think of your event in such abstract terms, but it’s really important you start off right. Try to make use of tools such as this Event Canvas, created by Ruud Janssen and Roel Frissen from the Event Design Collective in the Netherlands. This helps you define the entire journey of your audience member, from the expectations you set for them when they check in at your event, through their experience during the event and how they feel after the last round of applause.
Event design is human connection and community building
The whole purpose of any event is to enable people to connect based on a common interest or passion. Yet so many events we attend seem to hinder us from doing just that. Sitting in rows of chairs facing a stage in a completely dark or badly lit room to listen to hour-long speeches followed by a forced Q&A session - that doesn’t sound much like human connection, does it?
To design a meaningful event means to stop thinking around these patterns we’re accustomed to and start creating the opportunity for connection. Help your attendees get to know each other even before the event, by creating a community on your event website. People who sign up for your event should be able to see who else is attending, interact, share their thoughts and basically start creating momentum for the upcoming event.
We like how Creative Mornings, the popular monthly gathering for creatives in many cities around the world, has a community feed for each chapter, as well as a list of attendees for every event, so you’ll know who you’ll meet at your Friday morning gathering. If you don’t have the resources to build a website with such features for your event, you can always use Conferize for free 😉. On Conferize, people attending your event can also contact each other and post in an activity feed, making interaction even easier.
By the time your attendees meet at your event, they'll already know each other - or at least the people they're interested in. To make it even easier for them to approach each other, think of seating people in circles at tables, or making them share a bench, pillows on the floor etc. Also, give them time to talk between each other and to the speaker / moderation, by planning breakout sessions and cake breaks into the schedule. Yes, 🍰 is mandatory!
Event design is the brand you create
Word of mouth is still very much the single most important promotional tool for you and your event. What helps word of mouth work its magic? A strong brand to talk about. Your event brand represents its unique identity, that connection between all the elements of your event - from the name, the theme or common interest it revolves around, the people it attracts, the setting you create, the colours you choose, the website you create, the way you promote the event, the community it eventually creates. The event brand is in the details as much as it is in the big picture. Take IAM weekend, for example, an event labeled as "the best weekend of the year for internet people"; as co-founder Andres Colmenares explains in this article for Neon Moiré, their visual identity is based on the colour ‘hyperlink blue’ (#0000ff), which is basically the essence of the internet, because what is the internet if not the amazing network and infrastructure created by data linked to other data?
You can read more about event branding here.
Event design is interaction design
This is the more traditional side of design that comes into play when organizing an event. Even though interaction design usually describes a user's interaction with a software product, it can very well apply to offline interactions, and an event is after all a product in itself. In designing an event you are ultimatelly designing each touchpoint between attendee and any element of your event, and you're using everything from aesthetics, space, sound and motion design to ensure a smooth and meaningful experience. How much natural light will there be in the venue of your event? How about the temperature of the artificial light? What mood do interior decorations at the venue create? What is the sequence in the key moments of the event? How long are the presentations? How much time do people have to discuss between themselves? How will you facilitate the interaction between participants? What kind of music will there be in the background? What can you do to surprise the audience? What photo opportunities are you creating during the event? No, don't think photo booths.
Here are just two examples of ideas you can apply when designing the interaction at your event that don't require you to be an architect or a UX designer:
Have colour-coded badges for different types of participats (new-commers, returning attendees, facilitators etc.) - it will be easier for them to approach each other when they know a bit more about the person they're about to talk to; it will also help you know who you need to help get familiar with the event and who to make feel valued by acknowledging their continuous support.
Speaking of photo opportunities: what if, on those canvas bags you'll give away as swag, instead of splashing your logo, you put some cool illustrations, quotes or memes (we're in 2018 🤷🏽♀️) that fit your identity and people will naturally want to take pictures of? Your Instagram will be on fire!
Honestly, event design is still much more than everything we've discussed in this article, but our goal was merely to get you curious about the topic and wanting to learn more. Now go design a nice event!