Design 101 – Understanding event design

The job of designing an event is distinct and different from the job of planning an event. A designer’s right brain creative approach augments the left brain management skills of a planning and meeting professional.
Understanding event design
In the pursuit of adding something truly special in the live events industry, an event designer is able to develop the event creative and back up their event outline with a solid budget as well as full comprehension of the skill resources needed to produce and implement the event vision. An event designer is versed in the ways various disciplines mesh into one seamless special event.

There are many styles of events a designer might work on. From a sweet 16 birthday party, to a corporate product launch, to gala awards, all events seek the same outcome. The success of a good event design is first measured by the positive guest experience. If the guests are smiling, they will remember the experience and their event host in a lasting and positive way. The event designer will seek ways to impact the senses of each guest whether they are sight, sound, smell, touch or taste.

Not all events require a designer. For many elegant gatherings, a professional planner may well have flare in selecting linens and providing beautiful flowers. We are fortunate to have so many venues with in-house technical resources such as AV and lighting able to support many event production values. The astounding growth in education, as well as, supplier and product access through Internet and directories has been an enabling force for the DIY event planner.

The scale of the proposed event will often determine if an event designer is required. The logistics and design for an event flow for 1,000 participants is quite different than the flow for a 200 person event.

A planner will often partner with an event designer when the event profile requires a theme or experiential component that takes the guests beyond their expectations. This does not mean an event must have a big budget in order to have a theme or experiential program. An event designer is masterful in innovating event solutions for both large and small budgets.

Strong event design ensures the investment in each event component is maximized and appropriate to the overall financial parameters and objectives of the event. When the budget is small, the event designer evaluates and recommends where the client’s dollars will achieve the biggest impact. One showy display may make a stronger statement than numerous disparate “spots” of décor.

Good event designers will be able to offer appropriate design solutions that serve the practical event realities of budget, location and logistics. The client pockets are only so deep; the location is defined by its physicality, and there will always be “only” 24 hours in a day. The event designer considers these key factors which will always influence the deliverability of the event before developing the design recommendations for the event.

The event designer oversees the event elements to ensure all elements will blend in a successful event outcome. Each discipline has its own set of peculiarities and protocols to consider as they interface with the entirety of the event.

Some of the areas a designer will seek to consider in their event visions include:

  • Tables, chairs, linens rentals – selection of styles, procurement, shipping and handling
  • Room décor: perimeter, ceiling, entrance, stage set, site layout
  • Signs and sponsorship recognition within overall room and program design
  • Food presentation enhancements and staging style
  • Guest table décor and napkin style, florals, menu, etc.
  • Room lighting: procurement, objectives and implementation, power specs
  • AV requirements and variables for communications during the event
  • Flow of the event program and accommodation of needs of the planner/producer’s event script
  • Entertainment support from tech to green room design, back stage, buskers and interactive performers, music options and specialty acts
  • Special effects and the safe implementation of effects
  • Risk management, green practices, permits and licensing

Whether contracting a professional designer or developing your event design and producing it yourself, the job of designing events requires a creative approach tempered with a solid knowledge foundation to guarantee a successful and well executed event for the pleasure of your guests!

About the author:

Penni Holdham, C.S.E.P., graduated from O.C.A. in 1979 and found her calling in the world of special event design. Leading her company, The Display Connection Inc., her design acumen has engineered a myriad of uniquely creative events that have garnered both local and international recognition. Whether designing a fireworks show over Niagara Falls or producing a full-blown competition rodeo for 4,500 guests at an island site, her attention to the detail adds value to her great event designs. She is a hands-on designer engaged in all aspects of prop construction, floral design, and full-room installation, ensuring her event vision comes to life with integrity and panache. Numerous clients celebrate her creativity, enthusiastically returning for original event designs that work. Some clients include McDonald's of Canada, Microsoft, Bayer, Sun Life Financial, and more. Penni is one of Toronto's finest event designers, serving business and corporate clients.

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