The Impact of Event Design
Table of Contents
What is Event Design?
What is Event Design?
Event design is the heart and soul of all events. Event design is used to maximize the opportunity within any given event. Event design includes such elements of an event as staging, venues, amenities, reception and function areas, décor, interactive décor, props, food presentation, edible displays, smells, technology, visual cues, spatial arrangement, themes, marketing, texture arrangement, lighting, audio and soundscaping, the blending of all and many other elements that create an event’s atmosphere. As stated in Art of the Event, “Event design is the conception of a structure for an event, the expression of the concept verbally and visually, and, finally, the execution of the concept.” (Monroe, p. 4) This quote illustrates the entirety of event design. There is not one single element within an event that is not thought of from a design perspective as well as a logistical perspective.
In Judy Allen’s Event Planning, there are five different design principles that should be thought about when dealing with event design. (Allen) The first principle to think about are the actual elements of the event. This principle really encompasses all of the parts of the event, which typically unfold naturally through the process of event planning. (Allen) The second design principle that is the essentials, which are really the “must-haves” of the event. The must-haves are really at the core of the event. Allen states, “Some event must-haves are not based on the dollars and cents but on emotional currency and how they touch your senses.” (Allen, p. 11) This statement displays that the essentials are more of a human element of the event rather than the elements that seem to be a logistical element. The third design principle described is the environment of the event. This principle includes the venue, location(s), date, season, time of day, and the difference between indoors or outdoors. (Allen) The concepts listed previously really aim to the venue aspect of the environment, but the principle of environment also includes the event style, which really is “the atmosphere or overall effect you are trying to achieve.” (Allen, p. 15) Allen goes on to discuss that the event style impacts the entirety of the rest of the event including decisions of flowers, décor, venue, invitation, attire, entertainment, and refreshments. (Allen, p. 16) The fourth principle to think about is the energy that is trying to be created for the event. This principle ties directly to the previous three principles mentioned above. Allen illustrates this connection through the statement, “Poor design planning with regards to timing, logistical layout and included event elements can literally drain the energy from a room.” (Allen, p. 16-17) The energy of an event is crucial to the success of an event. As stated above, one simple mishap could cause the energy to be drained from an event, which ultimately leads to unhappy attendees since they are not realistically having fun. With that being said, the final principle of design to be considered is the emotions. This principle includes the emotions that are a driver for the event, i.e. weddings, funerals, etc., as well as including the emotion that wants to be evoked from attendees and participants of the event. (Allen) These five principles that Allen outlined really demonstrate the very human quality of events. Along with these five principles, Allen outlined the five event experience design objectives that correlate with principles mentioned above. These five objectives illustrate that the event should be educational, enlightening, engaging, energizing, entertaining, or a mixture of the objectives. (Allen) These event objectives allow event planners and managers to make sure the principles are following the concept that the client would like to set forth to the event attendees. The combination of the design principles and the design objectives starts to give us the basis of event design.
While there is a very human aspect to events and event design, there is also a very logistical and business side to events and event design. Since events are so involved, there needs to be management in many different ways and for many different elements. Elements that might need a complete management category, depending on the size and necessity of the event, could include structure management, administrative management, marketing management, risk management, operations management, catering management, entertainment management, and production management. (Berridge) Other elements that should be managed by an event manager include the environment, design, and theme design. (Berridge) Event management is very crucial to the development of the event and, more importantly, the entire event design. Berridge articulates in Events Design and Experience, “Design here is seen as a critical look for event management as it relates directly to development of the event concept and experience and enables the event manager to envision and implement the event.” (Berridge, p. 30) As the remark above illustrates, event management, no matter the category of responsibility, deals with directly with event design in all of their duties and decisions.
As many event managers know, events are about the experience the attendees and clients have during the process and actual event. With that being said, experiential design is one of the most important event design elements that a manager could think about. For managers and planners, there should be an emphasis on the experience and interaction of the attendees or guests. Julia Silvers illustrates the point of the entirety of an event experience in Professional Event Coordination with her outline of the six dimensions of event experience. The six dimensions include anticipation, arrival, atmosphere, appetite, activity, and amenities. (Silvers) These six dimensions make up the guests’ experiences with the event from the very beginning of when they first make contact with the event throughout the event experience. The entire experience is extremely crucial for an event. If a guest has a great experience at an event, that will follow the event manager’s reputation as well as gain them more business, but if the guest does not have a good experience at all, then a poor reputation would follow the manager and there would not be any follow-up business done. Berridge illustrates this point, “These ideas on event design are beginning to show some connection with the overall experience of the event, and how a sense of experiential flow in an individual is a state of near perfect immersion and satisfaction with the event.” (Berridge, p. 96) I believe it is fair to say that the aim of every event manager is to provide an event experience that guests are at least satisfied with. Event design encompasses so much of an event, but throughout this article I will be covering the elements of the event concept, the event space, the event ambience, and the psychological impact event design has on the satisfaction of the event, which we have touch upon a little bit.
The event concept is one of the most important starting points when working with a client. The first thing that most event managers start with is the client’s event vision. (Allen) The client’s vision should ultimately be translated into an event goal and objective for the event team to better understand the event as well as to have something to continue to look back to when they start to get off track. Preston Bailey, a world renown wedding planner, states in his book Design for Entertainment, “What I do in my work as a designer of event décor is to help my clients conceptualize and articulate a vision or style and then communicate this to their guests.” (Bailey, p. 15) As event designers, the concept of an event needs to be communicated to their guests flawlessly or the event will end up not being as successful as the client or the event coordinator would have hoped. It is extremely important to ensure that the clients are comfortable with the concept that has been thought up and that the goals and objectives of the event directly translate to the event concept. (Bailey, p. 30) By making sure that the client is comfortable with all aspects of the event concept, event coordinators are trying to make sure that nothing is miscommunicated.
With the approval of the event concept, event coordinators narrow the focus down even more. Along with the concept narrowing the focus of the event purpose is first and foremost. (Monroe) Determining the event purpose is crucial to a correctly communicating the concept. Event coordinators routinely come back to the event purpose to ensure all elements of the event lead back to it. With the concept and purpose in hand, Judy Allen states, “Event visualization-after event objectives have been set out- is your starting point for designing any event.” (Allen, p. 8) Event visualization is the beginning of the pre-event creative processes.
“Just empower yourself by overcoming any rigidity in your thinking.” ~Preston Bailey
Often, creative processes thrive in creative environments and state of minds. It is a known fact in the events industry that having a creative office space will help fuel your creativity and success of your creative processes. In the words of Lena Malouf, “..view the world with an open mind because it is like a parachute: when it opens, it takes everything in and when it is closed, creativity is static.” (Malouf, p. 150) Our creativity is really fostered through our environment and mindset. Doug Matthews elaborates in his book Special Event Production that creativity is the result of the input of our sensory systems. (Matthews) These inputs can be fostered in many different creative processes. Some of these creative processes and methods include such things like brainstorming, lateral thinking, analogies, reversals, conceptual combinations, free association, list making, research, imitation, and variation. Matthews also elaborates that all creativity really develops in phases. These phases are preparation, incubation, illumination, and translation. (Matthews) In this sense, Matthews really encapsulates the essence of creativity through his statement, “Creativity is a wonderful tool and an absolutely essential one in the special events industry.” (Matthews, p. 19) Through the various methods, techniques, and phases, creativity proves to be an essential tool in all aspects of event design.
“You are limited only by your imagination and your budget.” ~ Judy Allen
Creativity is definitely not a static tool. It is an always evolving element in an event coordinator’s toolbox. With this being said, creativity and inspiration should be gathered for all sources. Preston Bailey offers the seasons to be a source of inspiration and creativity. (Bailey, p. 35) Other events professionals such as Lena Malouf offer the idea of constantly keeping up with industry trends and changes, not only the event industry, but the architecture and interior design industries as well. (Malouf) She also encourages the research of past decades for inspiration as well as to ensure accuracy of the display of the time period. (Malouf) As said before, our minds should remain open so that we are able to pull creativity from all areas possible.
After the creative juices get flowing, it is time to start putting the event into the attendees’ minds months and maybe even years before the event. These communications can be known as simply that, communications, or known as marketing, depending the nature of the event. Malouf really embodies the importance of pre-event communication through this statement, “To provide effective pre-event communications, you must understand what will motivate the guests or attendees—why they would or should want to attend—and incorporate those inducements into a compelling format.” (Malouf, p. 7) The pre-event communication is what really sets the expectations of the attendees and tone for the event itself. The symbols and images used for pre-event communications need to be very consistent while still holding the concept and purpose at the heart. (Berridge) Pre-event communications that would include images or symbols of the event would include signage, fliers, wed design, and, yes, even invitations. (Berridge, Malouf) Invitation are the “first glimpse” of an event to its attendees, which make them extremely important for setting expectations. (Malouf) A web presence is essential to pre-event communication. Electronic invitations are becoming more popular with events, which means that the consistency over all platforms needs to be spot on. A web presence can be used as a marketing tool as well as an informational resource. (O’Toole) When dealing with a consistent web presence, event coordinators need to ensure it is easily navigable to all audiences. (O’Toole) While posting the marketing material on a web presence, attendees should be able to find all of the information that they need about the event right there. Maps, charts, floor plans, and other graphics on the web as well as printed enforce good communication. (O’Toole) These tools incorporated into a web presence allow the attendees, exhibitors, and speakers have an idea of what is going on, where and when as well as the layout of the venue. The pre-event communications are vital to the flow, tone and expectations of an event. This is not an element that should be skimped upon.
A great way to incorporate consistency throughout pre-event and event communications is the adoption of an event theme. As Berridge illustrates, “..design is the incorporation of a themed message along with audiovisual, entertainment, and musical elements’.” (Berridge, p. 28) A theme in an event should literally touch every element of the event. A theme could come from basically any inspiration. Robin Craven offers that, “Themes can be tied to current events, popular movies, or historical events.” (Craven, p. 62) I took a note from her book and am currently planning an Alice in Wonderland themed event, which I grabbed from both the popular movie and the literary work. Other than an actual named event, themes could be formed around color schemes and palettes.
When choosing a specific color palette, designer need to be aware that it will influence every single element of an event including linens, flowers, tableware, and more. (Bailey) As Malouf states, “The color scheme you decide on can make or break the event; it can enhance or diminish the impact of all other décor elements.” (Malouf, p. 56) With that being said, it has been proven time and time again that certain colors evoke certain emotions. (Bailey)
- Red: Shows impact and influence (Malouf)
- Yellow: Shows brilliance and brightness (Malouf)
- Green: A safe color (Malouf)
- Blue: Shows coolness, distance and space (Malouf)
- Violet: Shows tranquility (Malouf)
- Gray: Serves as a neutral tone (Malouf)
- White: Serves as a neutral tone, shows importance (Malouf)
It has been shown that warm colors such as reds and oranges add moods such as drive, energy, and excitement to an event; whereas, cool colors such as blue, greens, and purples add a smoothness and calming effect to an event. (Bailey) Lighter colors such as pastels and whites add comfort to an event, whereas saturated colors, jewel tones, such as emerald, ruby and sapphire add a richness and beneficence to an event. (Bailey) All cultures around the world perceive colors differently, but the warm and cool color tone reactions sustain cross-culturally. (Sharpe) Some aspects that should be considered when working with clients is their perspective of climate, culture, religion, politics, and social aspects. (Sharpe) Throughout event coordination, we as designers need to decrease any tension there possible could be. Colors are a great way to do this. Complimentary colors have been proven to create a harmonious and balanced environment. (Sharpe) The most important thing to keep in mind while picking colors and a theme is the event concept and purpose. Event coordinators need to make sure that the emotions and moods that are being evoked align with their clients vision.
After nailing down the event concept, purpose, and theme, the coordinator and client can start thinking about the space they want for the event. As explained in Art of the Event, “Space is important in composition and in balancing the overall picture within the environment.” (Monroe, p. 7) The space is just as important as the elements that go into a space. To begin a site and location search the client and coordinator need to have a focus for their event. Many professionals in the event industry understand that designing an event first, then finding a venue is better than letting the space dictating the design. (O’Toole) Prior to selecting a site, the coordinator needs to ensure the overall environment of the site will complement the design perfectly. (O’Toole) The space of the event need to be thought through extensively as well as being physically assessed extensively.
When actually selecting a site, everything mentioned above and then some needs to be thought of. Of course, the number of people, the activities of the event, and the equipment required all drive the requirements for a venue. (O’Toole) When trying to choose a venue, all spaces should be toured in order to make sure they physically meet all of the expectations, no matter how perfect the venue look through photographs. While doing the physical venue tour, establishing any logistical limitations such as the budget, accessible power, staging, dimensions, entrances, lighting, installments, accessibility, sightlines, and the realistic capacity of the venue. (Matthews) Although the site limitations are a huge element of the selection of a venue, there are also opportunities that could be grasped, if there. As coordinators, we need to aware of venue opportunities that would include environmental, historical, physical, and location. (O’Toole) As I said previously, the site, itself, and the location of an event are just as important as the elements that go into that site.
One of the biggest elements that could make or break an event is the spatial layout. One of the largest aspects of spatial layout for most event is the seating arrangement. As Robin Craven explains, “The placement of tables and chairs is just as important as the other details.” (Craven, p. 175) When thinking about the seating arrangement, coordinators need to think about the purpose of the event. (Malouf) If the purpose of the event is to educate, then the seating arrangement needs to accommodate that accordingly. Another aspect to think about when deciding upon a seating arrangement is the available tables and chairs for the event. (Malouf) Depending on the event and the venue, the seating arrangements could vary greatly, but the guests could grab some expectations from the entry way of the event. (Bailey) No matter what, the seating arrangement really needs to help foster the purpose and concept of the event.
Another aspect of spatial layout coordinators need to analyze is the actual flow of the event. The design of flow can be one of the most complicated aspects to design since people feel comfortable with spaciousness, but also need to feel intimacy and social interaction from being formed in closer groups. (Bailey) Preston Bailey explains that flow of an event is the movement of guests around the space. (Bailey) He states, “This keeps the energy of your event alive rather than stagnant.” (Bailey, p. 84) While flow is mainly about the action of people moving, we also have to keep in mind that flow is about all of our sense, just like the rest of the event. The integration of balance in design helps the flow of guests’ vision from one decorative element to another. (Malouf) Confirming this point, Graham Berridge describes that the design needs to reflect the flow on movement and elements such as line composition, form, color, texture, pattern, harmony, and scale all need to be considered when designing flow for an event. (Berridge) While we have to keep in mind that the venue adds tremendously to the atmosphere of the event, there is a great competitive edge in having the ability of designing a space to maximize its opportunities. (O’Toole)
“Staging an event can be quite an art. In essence, you don’t plan a party as much as you design it.” ~ Preston Bailey
One of the top aspects most people think about when they think about event planning is décor. Realistically, the décor of an event is what really makes the event concept and purpose come alive and thrive.
“Décor is, in effect, an artistic, visual interpretation of the creative concept for the event, of the story that is being told.” ~ Lena Malouf
As Malouf illustrates above, décor is the interpretation of the client’s concept. This means that the décor need to meet the client’s needs and wants. Some of the décor element that could be integrated into an event are some staging elements like backdrops and props, as well as fabric elements such as table linens, drapes, and other fabric draping aspects. (Monroe) Of course there are floral décor elements such as centerpieces that can be the focal point of a table. (Malouf) The elements listed above, especially fabric and flowers, can add a lot of texture to an event, which ultimately is a perfect way to integrate the touch sensory into the success of the event. (Malouf) With all of these décor elements to draw from, there are a couple of limitations that need to be kept in mind while planning an event. The size of the space are crucial to keep in mind for the event because the décor needs to meet all of the requirements of the venue management, but they also need to feel like the proper size in the space. (Malouf) All of these elements, even with limitations, can be integrated and manipulated to create a visual that interprets the event concept perfectly.
“An event with the right ambience can be a huge success. An event with the wrong ambience can be a huge failure.” ~ Graham Berridge
As the quote depicts above, ambience is extremely important to the success of any event. Ambience really appeals to all the senses, the three mains one to focus on for events are sight, sound and taste. These are the three categories that most people remember the most when criticizing an event.
When dealing with the sight of guests during events, we need to think of all of the elements of the event. First, we would start with the composition which is the placement or arrangement of items or elements with the field of vision. (Monroe) There are four categories of composition that include closed, open, asymmetrical, and symmetrical. (Monroe) Starting with the entire composition may be a little over whelming. Tackling some of the line compositions may lead more into a better understanding of the overall composition. Lines within a composition reinforces décor, but there are four different types of lines that evoke certain feelings: (Monroe)
- Vertical lines: Show elegance and dominance
- Horizontal lines: Show calm and peace
- Diagonal lines: Show dynamics or tension
- Curved lines: Show an increase or decrease of tensions and an increase in interest
Other than line compositions, lighting is another great way to tackle the sense of sight in an event. In Art of the Event lighting is explained, “If the lighting design is done well, it transforms a nice event into a great event by creating a mood, enhancing the décor, and focusing the guests’ attention on the right place at the right time. If done badly, it can interfere with the desired mood, hide the décor, and distract the guests.” (Monroe, p. 192) With the combination of the colors that we discussed before, the lighting can create a certain ambience of the event to enforce the concept and purpose. Preston Bailey elaborates, “The illumination level can enliven or subdue any event and is vital to controlling mood.” (Bailey, p. 53) Lighting can be used in many ways to enhance an event, but only if it is appealing to the sight.
Sound is another sense that could drive an event to success or failure. The music can dictate a mood. If the wrong music is playing during an event, the energy can be drained in the blink of an eye. I have been to way too many events that have not had the right music playing to upkeep the mood and energy. Other than the type of sound that is at the event, coordinators also have to think of the volume of the sound throughout the event. There are two extremes to sound at an event: blaring or barely. I have been at events that I could not stand staying at because the sound of the music or MC was too much too handle, but I have also been at events where you can barely here anything and it does not energize you like it should. Most importantly, the event coordinator needs to ensure that the sounds that are being used at the event align with the client’s vision and event concept.
“The event experience relies on utilizing all five senses.” ~ Julia Rutherford Silvers
The other sense to appeal to is taste. Have you ever been to an event with the worst food you have ever tasted? It happens more often than it should. Nothing kills a party mood more than expecting good tasting food and getting a cardboard substitute to chew on. While the taste of the food is important, food and beverage needs to appeal to all the senses. The presentation of the food for vision, the smell of the food, the texture of the food, as well as the sound of the food. (Silvers) The sound of the food? Yes, the best part of going up to a buffet is hearing your food sizzle because then you know it is hot. As if there weren’t enough elements of an event to think about, coordinators really need to put an effort to please all the senses of the guests to ensure success of the event.
“Any party is most successful when it is a feast for the senses.” ~ Preston Bailey
So, what does these design elements have on us, as guests? Well, it really comes down to the emotions and moods these elements evoke. Batra states in The Psychology of Design, “Design is a complex field. Some components of design already are based upon good science, usually from the behavioral and cognitive sciences…. Some aspects of design seem primarily based upon human creativity, sense of style, and other socially mediated conventions. These may never be scientific, but they do play a critically important role in the quality and acceptance of design.” (Batra, p. xv) It has been proven through scientific research that a person’s physical environment translates directly to their psychological state. (Batra)
When thinking about designing an event, coordinators really need to “consider the overall effect you are hoping to achieve.” (Bailey, p. 16) Environmental design helps amplify the sensory experiences of the guests. (Batra) The spatial and physical configurations gives the attendees information about the event’s goals, concept, purpose, and connections, which adds to the achievements of theses. (Batra, Silvers) The physical distance in the layout mimics the psychological distance a guest will feel. (Batra) Guests typically want to feel comfortable physically and psychologically during an event. More than just the physical layout, guests want to feel physically comfortable temperature wise as well. A warm, but not too warm, temperature during an event evokes nostalgia in guests, which also influences their decisions. (Batra, Silvers) They might be more giving during this time when feeling nostalgic about their life.
Away from the physical layout, the physical design of the space is just as impactful. Design of an event is more attractive to guests when unity is a feature of the design. (Batra) Elements without unity such as inharmonious color combinations can cause a tension during an event. (Bailey) In contrast, some vertical designs evoke the sense of power, rational and divinity. (Batra) This could be used both to evoke a humbling feeling with vertical element being in contrast with guests, or, it could be used to provide a powerful feeling through the elevation of the guests. Along with the height of elements, the luminance and the texture of elements can evoke a certain mood as well. The luminance of an element can draw out reactions in consumers, typically the contract of light versus dark or good versus bad. (Batra) The texture of elements can really add an intimacy to an event. (Bailey) The pure act of touch, as well as the sense of touching is a very intimate feeling, which is something that coordinators would want to incorporate into more emotional events such as weddings, anniversaries, and celebrations. Many different aspects of these elements can be design purposefully to create a mood and have an emotional impact. As Preston Bailey illustrates, “The mood created for an event will impress itself on the guests so that it becomes their mood as well.” (Bailey, p. 41)
As we wrap up our conversation, let me reminded of the main concepts. Throughout this write up, we discussed some substantial elements of event design. These elements included the development of a proper representation and interpretation of the event concept and purpose, the translation of that concept into the design of the space, the certain event elements that will help evoke a certain ambience, and, of course, the psychological impact that each design decision can possibly have of the guests of the event. Throughout this conversation, we are reminded how important the event goal is to keep in mind and to properly communicate this goal. Through the proper design decisions according to the purpose of the event, we have the ability to influence our guests’ satisfactions, and ultimately the success of the event. My hope for you is for you to go on to your next event and notice all of these little detailed decisions the coordinator made in hopes of providing an amazing experience for you. I will leave you with this:
“Meticulous attention to detail is the difference between a ho-hum soiree and a fabulous evening.” ~ Preston Bailey
See all my great sources for all this research here!