Next Level: Designing Brand Experiences with the Attendee in Mind

Next Level: Designing Brand Experiences with the Attendee in Mind

Kate Silva is the senior director of design innovation at Freeman. She uses her talents as an artist, designer and brand strategist to help her clients create meaningful brand experiences. In this blog series, we have talked about the importance of good design when it comes to events, but we hope Kate’s unique approach and insights will help you think about designing your events, from a new perspective.

WorkTrip: We have heard you talk a lot about a concept called Human – Centered Design Principles. Can you explain what that means?

Kate:  Human-centered design is an approach to problem solving that develops solutions from the human perspective at every phase of the design process. So…it’s really about empathy – about seeing yourself in the shoes of the attendee. It’s not so much about the client, but about the actual attendee of the experience you are designing, whether that experience is an exhibit, event, a pop-up or a permanent build.

It’s critical to approach everything from the perspective of the individual interacting with the space you are designing. What is their objective – what are they trying to get out of it? Once you understand that, you can design a space to fit those intentions. A space for learning might look different than a space for networking, for example.

An environment is well designed if it accomplishes its objective, solves a problem and motivates people to do something.

But experience design unfolds in time. It goes beyond just the physical space, and becomes a realization of the story you’re telling. An experience is well-designed if it accomplishes its objective, is memorable and makes people feel something.

Once the intent of the attendee is identified and agreed upon, you can think about layering in all those engaging moments that help make that experience more memorable.

I like to say that good design will get you to the space, but a good experience will keep you there. Our goal as designers is always to design spaces that people want to interact with, but we strive to turn those spaces into places where people truly engage with the experience and remember how it made them feel long after their time there.

WorkTrip: How can event planners put themselves in “the shoes of the attendees”? What should they be thinking about?

Kate: It is important to think beyond the aesthetic aspect of design. You really need to think about design as a solution to a problem. Once we understand why an attendee is going to that space, we need to focus on better understanding who that attendee is and how they might want to interact with that space. Designing a learning space for a millennial may require a different approach than designing a learning space for someone else.

It is also important to remember that little moments matter, a lot. Something as simple as a beautifully thought out welcome moment can make all the difference in the world, but you have to think about that in the context of the attendee visiting that space.

For example, I attended a culture conference recently. This conference was about working through your discomfort, facing your fears and being vulnerable, with the goal of building better teams. You can imagine how daunting it might feel going to an event like this and walking into a giant room full of people you don’t know. It might be tempting to just go back to your room and catch up on some email vs. trying to strike up conversations with people you don’t know.

With all of that in mind, the welcome moment was a really inexpensive and impactful experience, consisting of brand ambassadors meeting you on the sidewalk and cheering you on as you entered the event. They would give you a big hug, introduce themselves and personally escort you to the registration area. It disarmed you, right from the beginning, so you were really more open to engaging with people at the event. Everyone had that same experience. It’s as if they were saying, “It’s okay if you don’t know anybody. This is going to be a little uncomfortable, but we are going to do some great things together.”

They did a great job of understanding the intent of the attendee (me in this case), going there to learn and work through fears. They designed the entire welcome moment around that, which set the stage for a very successful workshop.

WorkTrip: Designing a brand experience, based on the attendee may seem a like a new idea to some. What advice would you offer to event planners, when it comes to getting buy-in around that approach?

Kate: I understand that not everyone automatically looks at it from that perspective. There can be a natural tendency to design to your personal preferences or those of your client. But what a client thinks they want from an experience may not align with what the attendee wants. Getting agreement from everyone on who the attendee is and what their objectives are from the start gives you that North Star to work from. Once you agree on who the attendee is and develop your strategic approach to the design based on that persona, it is something you can refer back to time and time again. You’ll make smarter design decisions and it will help you get buy-in on your ideas along the way —as long as they align to the desires of your attendee. Human-Centered Design focused on the attendee removes subjectivity from the equation. 

WorkTrip: Event planners may be faced with a limited budget. Is that a hindrance when it comes to implementing human-centered design or creating a memorable event experience?

Kate: No is the short answer. Sometimes the most memorable experiences come from working within the limitations of a budget. You are forced to be more creative and innovative. Bigger budgets don’t always equal better experiences. Putting bodies on the sidewalk, like the welcome moment I mentioned earlier doesn’t cost a lot but can have a huge impact. The idea of sprinkling in novel and unexpected moments to engage your attendee can happen a shoe string budget. I would argue that budget should never be an excuse for not delivering an impactful and empathetic brand experience

WorkTrip: Do you have any other advice you would like to share?

Kate: One thing I try to articulate is that there is a difference between design and creative. Design is used to solve a problem. You have to think about why the attendee is going to that space and what they want to get out of it. You want to make sure the space is designed for them to flow through and experience it as seamlessly as possible. Good design removes friction points. If you do this right, good design is likely to go unnoticed, because things run smoothly.

With a solid foundation of well executed, human-centered design, you’ve set the stage for creative to bring the experience to life for the attendee. When you combine the fundamentals of good design and purposeful, creative storytelling – you are layering in all the beauty, emotion and personalization essential to designing an engaging and memorable experience. Human-centered design principles focus on making a space a place. 

In summary:

Experience design is about intention. And intentionally designing an event experience that speaks to the motivations and emotions of your attendees.

Understand ‘your why’ - because with a strong why, you can all align on what you’re setting out to achieve. 

And then use human-centered design principles that put your attendees at the center and make the human experience the driving force behind every single element and enable you to turn your space into a place.

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WorkTrip was created to lessen the pains associated with planning, executing and traveling to trade shows, meetings and events; and very importantly, to free you up to focus on what really matters. Let us know what else we can do to help.

If you would like to learn more about how other event planners are using WorkTrip, check out our case studies at https://www.worktrip.com/posts/tag/case-studies. To learn more about what WorkTrip has to offer, visit https://www.worktrip.com/features

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