How Design Can Revamp the Traditional Event Space

Brands need to keep audiences and their precious time in mind

When we think about designing events, we mostly still think in visual terms about the physical layout. We think of the design as an architectural object—what it will look like, how it will be arranged, what we need to build—when in fact the most important dimension of our work is time. We gather thousands, and even hundreds of thousands, of people together for a few precious hours or days. That time connecting with one another is the most valuable thing that we produce.

If we think about our work as designing quality time, we begin to focus on the most important dimension of the design. We look at the physical in a new way. We begin to consider how we can add value to the time that we share. How can we inspire? How can we refresh? How can we guide and orient and help people connect to optimize the time that we have?

What we are really trying to produce is memories—we are designing deep emotional connection to ideas, products and brands.

When we think about designing the live experience this way and put inspiration at the core, the design challenge becomes clear. And our competitive advantage against all other media also becomes clear. The medium of live experience is an immersive, wholistic experience. We have the bandwidth of reality to work with. Our participant is inside of our idea. Their mind and body are connected for a full sensory experience. If we approach the design of live experience this way, we will design for all the senses. Not just what it looks like, but what it sounds like, what we taste, smell and feel. What we are really trying to produce is memories—we are designing deep emotional connection to ideas, products and brands.

Our design becomes the orchestration of all the senses in support of deep communication in a way that no other medium can even come close. When we think and design this way, we break the box of the convention hall and explore the city, inside and out, and its opportunities to inspire and delight. For example, we think about food as a cultural connection, a way of bringing people together to break bread and share ideas, insights and their hopes and dreams. We think about optimizing time first. Anything we can do to make it easier, clearer, more delightful and productive for our guests to accomplish their goals is our design brief.

That means we need to make it personal and design for every individual, not for the mass audience. We design the narrative arc of the experience as a story with the guest as our protagonist. We design for action, allowing our guest to do things, feel things, make things and change things, not only to look at things. I have seen highly educated professionals, having flown halfway around the world to attend a conference, sitting alone at a computer terminal and clicking through school-like programs to earn educational credits. By expanding our minds and our spaces with new technologies that synthesize the virtual world and eliminating anything that can just as easily be done online or at home, we can take full advantage of our most precious assets: our guests and their valuable time.

Finally, we design new metrics that capture the return on experience and quantify the value we are designing. When we design for all the senses and orchestrate the live experience to maximize the value of our guest’s time, we drive value for our exhibitors, we drive social media, attendance and revenue, and we drive the future of the live experience medium.