Event design is a hot topic this year. It’s good to see that more and more event planners and clients are recognising the importance of event design and approaching their events from this perspective. An event entails more than the logistical part of booking the infrastructure. It’s important to define ‘why’ an event is needed in the first place as well as its purpose. To get to the depth of the subject, we hosted an #eventprofstalk Twitter chat on 2 September 2019, and in the following post, I want to share with you what our wonderful community has to say on the topic of event design.
Let’s start from the basics: What is event design?
According to Irina Graf, founder of The MICE Blog and Event Planners Talk, ‘Event design is looking at each individual aspect of an event to visualise how attendees will interact with the event and their journey. It’s carefully choosing the elements that will complement each other to design a seamless experience for attendees.’
Becky Dempsey, Programme Account Manager at The Collaboration Company, shared that she ‘always seen event design as the venue, content, format, layout and atmosphere that all goes into communicating your message in the best possible way.’
For Pauline Kwasniak, digital marketer, writer, speaker and event planner at TurnedSee and Mbooked, event design is ‘a visual strategy of an outlook, schedule and the whole concept of an event. It includes everything from marketing, plan, policy, speakers, objectives, wishes to suppliers. For me, event design is a strategy to deliver that event with all aspects.’
Valerie Wagner, founder of the Hotel O Motion blog and podcast, shared that for her, it’s ‘the interaction of all actors with a focus on the goal/result of the event. How can I design an event? How can I convey the message? When participants are asked after the event what that event was about, what should they say? Around these aspects, the event will be “designed”, using all means of communication at one’s disposal.’
LeAnna Toups-Bennett, project manager at Louisiana Department of Education, shared that ‘Event design is all factors of an event that, when combined, portray the event’s brand, purpose and mission.’
Robert Bagust, Worldwide Congress Manager at Bristol-Myers Squibb, emphasised the importance of having a purpose, ‘It’s starting with “purpose”. You cannot think about (event) design until you know what it is you are trying to do. Perhaps you are trying to solve a business challenge; an event is just one option to consider…nail this clearly, then comes design. For the event design phase, it’s about putting into place all the required elements to help you achieve the objectives you’ve set out… the design is then “everything”…’
Robert Dunsmore, Freelance/independent Creative Director, added that one of the important attributes of event design is culture ‘The culture, idea platform, voice and personality of your event—everything else is just infrastructure.’
Event experience design is all about your audience: What do you know about them? Where’s the research? Where are the data? How do you build evidence-led concepts?
According to Becky, most of her information comes from feedback from previous events and sometimes focus groups in the planning stages to take what is necessary to build the next event. She has found event apps to be really useful to track ‘on-the-day’ views and tweak concepts in the moment.
Pauline shared an article where she discussed this topic in detail, explaining how to create customer personas. She notes that when creating customer personas, it’s necessary to consider more than customer demographics. This approach includes behavioural patterns, causes customers care about and places they like to visit. Most importantly, however, from the event marketing point of view, the organisers need insight into their spending patterns and free-time hobbies. To create a complete customer persona, the organisers need to collect data on many various areas, including age, gender, material status, religion, nationality, city, language, job function and description, social media use and much more. To see the full list and learn more about the topic, you can read the full article here.
LeAnna also places high emphasis on data, and shared that ‘we collect data, such as detailed demographics, on the frontend of events. On the backend, we analyse the demographics data in comparison to session attendance numbers and look for trends.’
Irina shared that she is able to collect data from what her audience shares online, combined with what they post about online from live events. Further, she follows other discussions from industry associations and collects direct feedback, which she then uses to develop event concepts that are most suitable to the audience and their needs.
But is it good to rely on past data? What if some of that data has a ‘sell-by date’? In other words: Is there a specific trend that is no longer considered desirable or effective? In certain industries, the change is not particularly fast, and certain concepts need to be demonstrated to be viable over a couple of months, and even years. Not all stakeholders will be ready to implement the latest trend immediately because it’s considered ‘in’. Robert D. commented that ‘Event planners should be more ambitious at the design stage by using a workshop format or “discovery” format at the beginning to scope out the event—issues, ideas and deliverables.’
In times when live and digital merge, how can #eventprofs transfer a live experience into the digital space using the principles of event design?
Pauline recommended incorporating a lot of user-generated content into events by designing Twitter walls, photo booths, selfie-stations, Twitter competitions during the event etc. This approach will lead to generating a substantial amount of content from attendees. Valerie added to this and emphasised the importance of videos and/or sound bites from the audience, in podcasts or blog posts, which should convey more feelings and authenticity rather than only ‘marketing talk.’
Robert D. commented that this aspect comes back to ‘know the audience’, to elaborate event design for those having a live experience and those having an online experience— this is all part of the design. Irina recommended ensuring that the content is more visual—through photos, videos and creating visual storytelling that will take the customer on a journey. In this process, it’s also important to place emphasis on pre- and post-event communication and community building.
In order of priority 1–5, what aspects do you consider the most important when it comes to event design?
The answers presented an interesting mix of ideas and priorities. There is no one correct answer, and as previously mentioned, it goes back to knowing your audience.
Here are the aspects in their order of priority:
LeAnne: 1. Purpose 2. Audience 3. Content 4. Application 5. Branding.
Valerie: 1. Audience: I do it for them 2. Venue: Does it fit my goal/target group? 3. Format: How can I reach my target group AND post my message? 4. Content: How do I communicate 1–3? 5. Feedback, KPI, Improvement.
Becky: 1. Content 2. Audience understanding 3. Format 4. Venue 5. Communication.
Pauline: 1. Your target customer preferences (online and offline) 2. VENUE /destination: the story it tells 3. Sustainability+corporate responsibility 4. Communication: before+ during your EVENT. Design WISE, in promotion, and easy schedule of sessions. 5. Accessibility.
Irina: 1. Storytelling, the WHY 2. Destination, infrastructure, accessibility 3. Venues 4. Content & communication (online & offline, pre & post events as well) 5. Sustainability, CSR, social enterprise.
What do you do when your client doesn’t know their audience, or what they want, or how to write a brief?
According to Becky, it’s ‘Research research research. Get under their brand how you would your own and advise where you can.’ Irina added to this that it’s also important to research and understand the industry, and that could be achieved by attending industry events. This is a long process that can take up to 2–3 years until one becomes a ‘go-to’ person who knows and understands the audience and how to write a brief that gets results.’
Pauline shared that she does her own research based on the event name-topic-theme. This research includes what potential attendees might like or do as being crucial. The persona. She shared her experience, ‘I usually don’t even start working on an event until the client or I have the persona for the event worked out.’
Where do you go to learn new stuff? What events do you attend, what books/ trade press do you read etc.?
Becky shared that she looks outside of the immediate industry as much as she can, ‘We sometimes close ourselves off by relying on people who think like us and using our past experience. It’s so worth it! Even just looking at how your phone/electricity company send emails and promo or how the queuing process works at a gig.. all have their own good and bad points to learn from.’
Robert D. conducts meetings in museums, galleries and bookshops.. surrounded by knowledge, all representing fantastic alternatives to corporate locations.
Pauline attends major international events and business festivals specific to tech and marketing and digital marketing, such as the Web Summit, but also the MICE industry, such as IMEX, but also recommends watching videos about social media constantly.
Irina concluded that she uses Twitter for the discovery phase, but her international work and travel with MICE destinations also inspires her to learn about sustainability, urban development, architecture, design, art and specific knowledge clusters; for example, technology, science and media, ‘Inspiration is everywhere if we just look out for it.’