What is Event Design?

what is event design

The concept of event design is often confused with just being about the event decoration, but it goes much beyond that. With over 20 years of experience in events, I understand how events are designed from start to finish to give attendees the best experience. 

Successful event design uses a deep understanding of attendees to design event experiences that engage with the senses, creating memorable and emotional responses that satisfy or exceed expectations.

While decorations may form part of delivering this experience, it is only one part of it. There is increased demand from all stakeholders associated with events. There are also growing pressures from corporate social responsibility and technology, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that events must now factor in.

What is meant by event design?

Event design is how we consider the entire experience of an event attendee. In academic literature, these are also referred to as touchpoints. Event design considers all of these touchpoints in the attendee journey, from first discovering the event through its delivery and final evaluations. 

Why is event design important?

“If we don’t design, we leave the experience to chance; if we do design, we increase the predictability of the event outcome.” 

(Berridge, 2012).

The working environment for event managers is ever-changing, so there is a need to understand event design and the new challenges they face. Crowther (2014) suggests that there are four key areas in a shifting landscape that make event design important:

  1. Heightened attendee expectations
  2. Competitive event marketplace
  3. Instrumental event investment
  4. Responsibility for wider impacts

Heightened attendee expectations reflect the changing world we live in. Younger generations are driven more by deeper immersive and individualised experiences. This trend is spurred on by the increasing pace of technology where we don’t have to be in a physical space to experience the event! Capturing this trend is a crucial part of setting realistic objectives through event design. 

A competitive event marketplace has flourished off the back of our increasing desire for these more immersive experiences. The industry continues to thrive, and attendees show a strong appetite for engaging in real and virtual worlds. Because of this, events need to find new ways to stand out and be different; thus, the design of events becomes critical. 

Instrumental event investment. Investment in events is vital, and pressure from event funders is ever increasing, so the need to demonstrate a return on investment is paramount to ensuring the viability of events in the future. With this in mind, the event’s design needs to reflect how the backers of an event perceive its success. 

Responsibility for wider impact. There is increasing layers of impacts beyond where the event simply takes place. Events can no longer just consider economic sustainability. They also need to consider their environmental and social impact as attendees are increasingly aware of these impacts. Therefore, the event design needs to consider the different facets of potential effects that surround each event. 

I highly recommend the book these ideas come from if you’re interested in reading more, we use it all the time to teach our event management degree course. You can buy it here at Amazon

What are the elements of event design?

There are two main aspects of event design, strategic design and operation design. 

Strategic Design

This aspect considers the objectives, outcomes, purpose or theme of the event. Setting realistic objectives at the start of any project allows the client to say yes and the successful delivery of the event through the operational design. 

Operational Design

The operational design considers how the physical elements of the event are delivered. This would include things like the decor, food and entertainment. This ultimately provides the experience to event attendees. 

How do I create an event design?

There are a couple of initial steps to follow in creating a successful event design:

  1. Set clear objectives and outcomes

The first step is to establish why you are running the event and how you plan to measure it’s a success. Without setting good objectives, you can never know this. The objectives you select need to be SMART, Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound.

  1. Answer the 5Ws – Why, what, when, who, where 

The 5W’s help you to understand the critical strategic elements of an event and so design an event more strategically. To get started, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why are you holding the event? Why can mean asking fundamental questions about the purpose of the event? This includes things such as what is its overall goals or why attendees chose your event over another. 
  • What do attendees want to get out of the event? Think about what the attendees are looking for as a key takeaway from the event. Some things can be planned very far in advance, while some need to be arranged closer to the event date. This question also considers the event’s main programme and how to offer actual value to the attendees. 
  • When will the event take place? Lots of factors play into this, such as venue availability, attendee readiness. You should also consider how often the event will occur, perhaps every year, two years etc. 
  • Who are the attendees? Here you need to think about buying personas. If you haven’t already done so, you should be segmenting your customer base and deciding who the target audience is. This alone can make or break the success of your event.
  • Where is the event being held? Consider the venue, the host city, how this impacts travel decisions for your attendees. Is there sufficient hotels of the required standard near to the event? 

Best event design courses

Many university undergraduate degree courses in event management will likely cover event design. I know because the university I work at delivers this. 

However, for someone already working in the industry, you probably have two options.  The first is seeking out a University Master’s course such as this one at Sheffield Hallam University or taking an online training course. 

With most university degrees, you will likely find that event design is only one part of the course. Undertaking a Masters degree can also be expensive and takes numerous years when studying part-time. 

For some, this length of course may be a great option, but for others they may find online training courses offer a more flexible way to learn the skills around event design.

One such example of an online training course comes from Event Design Collective. Their online training course is based around the event design canvas, a freely available adaption of traditional business models but for event design.  what are they deliver training in person, you can also choose to study online you can find out more at their website 

References

Here are the sources used in this article; if you are interested in reading more about this topic, I suggest the Strategic Event Creation book as a good starting point. 

Events Design and Experience (2006)

Strategic Event Creation (2014)

Mark Norman

Mark has over 20 years of experience in the events industry from working in live music venues through to major outdoor events like the Olympic Torch Relay and the Tour de France. He now works as a feelancer, consultant and Senior Lecturer in Events Management.

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