Using Design as a Tool

During this session, participants shared their knowledge—as well as the gaps in knowledge—of how design can shape the effectiveness and success of events, especially trade shows. While a couple of participants said design was their forte, others had more limited knowledge.

Debra Roth (@pinkdeb), who led the session, asked that it be run as a dialogue, focusing first on how style affects events, and why first impressions matter. One participant said he was not very creative; he asked how to approach hiring professional designers, and what information they would need from him to build an effective show design.

Another participant added that while it can be easy to look at something and judge it, it can be more challenging to offer more detailed and useful feedback. The participant said she hoped to gain a better knowledge of the issues involved in design decisions.
Packaging all aspects of the event with a coordinated design gives the impression of a cohesive unit. When every aspect of the event looks coordinated, from pre-event mailings to the display on the convention floor, each piece’s design builds upon the last one. By the time a participant walks into the conference, they’re already familiar with the ideas and theme being conveyed.

Participants agreed on the need to achieve this by bringing a designer into the process very early, even during preliminary planning sessions. One participant said it is impossible to learn how to do everything involved with designing an event. So if design is not a company’s in-house specialty, someone must be found who can drive the event’s creative elements.

While most people do not think much about visuals, they are an important component of effectively conveying a message. People “don’t believe it’s going to affect the dollars,” a participant said. But smart use of design can enable a planner to engage people, so that they remember the event, and “look really smart when their nametag matches the poster on the wall.”

A participant offered an analogy: “When you sit down to eat and the plate doesn’t look appetizing, I don’t care how good it tastes, you’re not going to want to take that first bite. People aren’t going to want to listen to the message if it doesn’t look good.”

Another participant, who had more of a design background, expressed the need for dominant, subdominant, and subordinate or tertiary backgrounds. One element must be strong enough to become a focal point: this can be an attention-grabbing photo, outstanding typography, or any design element. However, if all the elements are dominant, the message becomes less effective.

“It’s kind of like Las Vegas, where everything has ‘oomph’ to it,” the participant said. “If you look at Vegas from a distance it all looks the same, and if you put one brick building there, it would probably stand out.”

“Our minds are really full,” another participant said. “Everything wants attention, but few things receive it, so really, less is more.” Different colors stimulate different chemicals in the brain, and can evoke certain feelings. Reading something at eye-level can deliver the message straight to the conscious mind, but messages read below eye-level can have a more “subconscious” effect.

The emotional response to color means that it can be most effective to show clients early drafts of logos or other artwork in black and white. This enables them to make the choice from a business perspective, because the lack of color helps clients narrow down their decisions.

A crowded display is not as effective as a simpler one. In print material, a common mistake is to fail to allow enough of a margin, enough space between letters in a heading, or breathing room around pictures. This idea applies to websites, as well as presentations. If participants can get all of their information from a screen, they have no reason to listen to the speaker, and essentially no reason to show up in the first place.  Planning presentations, then, means knowing the audience. “It’s important to establish in the beginning, ‘This is what we’re trying to communicate,’” one participant said. “Throughout the process, you have to go back and check [that you’re focusing on that].” By knowing the audience’s objectives, and how they like their information, presenters can make their material more intuitive, and thus more effective. This means considering why people are attending a conference or event: is it for purely educational purposes, for entertainment, or to make a social connection?

Three-dimensional planning is just as important as 2-D aspects like web and print. For example, seating arrangements can drastically alter an event’s environment. Three-dimensional design is also a significant part of creating an “experiential” event. While events may claim to be experiential, many do not live up to this assertion. Participants discussed how to transcend that; the goal is to have attendees leave the conference thinking, “That was so great, you have to come with me next year.”

Participants discussed the use of lounges, debating whether they help or inhibit conversation. Many said that conversations can become static, and mingling can be inhibited by lounges; however, at the same time, lounges can offer a sense of comfort that can encourage conversation. If a conference does not offer lounges, some participants said they might be more inclined to go somewhere to sit down and network comfortably.

The group discussed how to maximize interaction at tradeshows, noting that free space can be utilized by scattering random seating around booths, which are arranged in a circle. Placing food in the middle of a circle and drawing people there takes much of pressure out of the environment, since people can see everything. This is key for vendors too—if attendees can stand in the middle of the room and see everything, it creates energy.

“What we often do is almost like spokes coming out of a wheel,” she said. “We’ve often scrapped what a traditional trade show looks like completely, but sometimes you have to do that when you’re redesigning.”

Session summaries produced by The Conference Publishers, the world’s leading specialists in capturing and repackaging conference content.

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1 Response to Using Design as a Tool

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