Designing event experiences
The principal starting point for understanding event design is to consider this question: to
what extent can planned event experiences be designed? Events form part of all our lives and they
have been used to signify important aspects of our culture throughout the ages (Shone and Parry
2004; Tassiopoulos 2010) with records showing that celebratory and ceremonial events were
taking place over 60,000 years ago (Matthews 2008a). The range of different event types is
considerable, with at least eleven event ‘genres’ being identified, ranging from business to festivals
to social and sports events (Bowdin et al. 2006). Getz (2008) prefers to identify events firstly
through their function, i.e. why they are held, and lists eleven ‘functions’, such as premier, causerelated, spectator and participant events, and secondly through to their form, of which he suggests
there are twenty-three, including festivals, parades, religious, visual exhibitions and sports. In the last
decade, the significant growth in undergraduate courses in event management and subsequent study
of events has tended to focus upon the praxis of events, that is the management, design and
production process involved in creating planned events. As Getz (2008) argues, though, there is
also need to develop theory and explore the meanings of events. He suggests that with the
maturation of the study of events so there will be an increased awareness of what events are and
what significance they have for society as the field of events is studied by researchers in other
A common prefix often used before the word events is ‘special’, indicating that an event has
some kind of uniqueness that makes it special, and by definition it is therefore not something
that is normal or everyday. A popular expression used to describe the special factor contained
within these events is that they have a ‘wow’ factor (Malouf 1999). This ‘wow’ often takes the
form of a theme for the event, and as such there is no doubt that for certain occasions it requires
knowledge of the resources needed to create such thematic settings (Matthews 2008b). Green
(2010), for example, has stated that we will be debating and interpreting the meaning of the
2008 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in Beijing for years to come, such was the complexity and depth of meaning conveyed by the elaborate design. It is within such occasions,
then, that there is, as Getz (2005) notes, the opportunity for an event to provide a range of
cultural, social and leisure-based experiences that go beyond those of the everyday routine
experience, and it is these occasions that we call special events. Nevertheless, some events, for
example business events or meetings, may not contain such special or unique moments that are
memorable and could be said to be more pragmatic or prosaic in purpose. They may contain
less artistic design and creative content, since any theme is likely to be less visually stimulating
than in an entertainment event; nevertheless, design and creativity themselves are not intrinsically absent either, since such events are still purposefully planned occasions that have been
designed and created to provide certain experiences (Vanneste 2008)
Planned event experience
Modern event management is largely about delivery of experiences; this applies irrespective of
the size and type of event (Silvers 2004), and today’s attendees are sophisticated consumers.
Important to the understanding of the concept of events is the appreciation that such moments
and occasions are a part of either a planned or unplanned process (the planning and management
of an event) that is undertaken in order to produce this experience. Thus Getz (2008: 9)
argues that the ‘core phenomenon of event study is the planned event experience and its
meanings’. The connecting factor of all the different types of planned events is that there is intent
to create some kind of experience for either audiences and/or participants. This idea of creating
experiences (irrespective of whether it is unique and memorable) is not only central to the
practice of event management but it is also central to our way of consumption. It is argued that
consumption has evolved beyond the simple purchase of products and services into the differentiated pursuit of experiences (Tofler 1972; Holbrook and Hirschmann 1982; Schmitt 1999;
Experiences result from engaging people in a personal way, and because of this their value
(of the event) persists long after the work of the event stager is done (Pine and Gilmore 1999:
12–13). Ergo, it is of great interest to deepen our understanding of how such event experiences
are designed and created. This chapter argues that the very creation of such planned event
experiences should be part of a deliberate and integrated design-based process whereby each
element of the event is carefully mapped out in order to produce an environment (or setting)
where there is the opportunity for experiences specific to that event to be consumed, and that
this includes the pre-, actual and post-event stages. Design activity, in this context, therefore
ranges from initial concept of the event through to all the successive elements that are required
to ultimately deliver the experience (Allen 2002; Silvers, 2004; Berridge 2007, 2009; Goldblatt
2008; Van der Wagen 2008).
Concept of experience
The concept of experience has become more widespread in the last twenty years, largely because
the corporate sector has adopted experience as a tool to make its businesses more competitive,
and its influence has grown in importance across the business, tourism, leisure, hospitality and
event sectors as organisations operating within the sector exist to provide consumers with
experiences (Pettersson and Getz 2009). Experiential marketing has and is becoming more
popular in the events industry through the use of live events in marketing communications, and is
replacing print media as a more appropriate way of engaging potential customers (Carmouche
et al. 2010). There is clear evidence of a more psychographic approach to the consumer replacing
the old ‘four P’s of marketing with ‘experiential marketing’ and with it the emergence of more
complex approaches (Schmitt 1999; Shukla and Nuntsu 2005). As an evolution of the product/
service axis of provision, experience management has emerged as a way of retaining competitiveness
in global markets (Morgan et al. 2010). Pine and Gilmore (1999) coined the term ‘experience
economy’ to describe how the relationships between provider and consumer had advanced
beyond price and into ‘experience’, where unique and memorable experiences played a key part
in consumer decision-making (as opposed to simply price).
In their examination of the emergence of experiential marketing O’Sullivan and Spangler
(1999) argued that such consumer offerings needed to be enhanced, infused and ultimately
made to successfully connect with people. Pre-event communication forms the basis for such an
experience by providing a pre-experiential excitement and anticipation. It incorporates three
separate phases: need recognition, alternative search and preparation (O’Sullivan and Spangler
1999). Subsequently studies have critically examined the production and management of
experiences (Jensen 1999; Schmitt 2003; Morgan 2010), the role of customers in the formation
of experience (Prahalad and Ramaswamy 2004); the creation of experience as a business and
innovation (Darmer and Sunbo 2008) and the evaluation and analysis of experience (Berridge
2007; Gilhepsy and Harris 2010). Within event management experience has been initially
linked to the emergence of brand events where, rather than use more traditional forms of
communication (i.e. advertising), companies have used the direct connection with customers
that a live event can offer. Subsequently experiential events like La Dolce Vita, which promises
the ‘taste of Italy’ for people who are not in Italy, have emerged and developed successfully.
First appearing in 2006 at London’s Earl’s Court, the 2011 version will be at the Business
Design Centre and the event offers a celebration and experience of all things Italian. Naturally
enough, these brand or concept events have in turn drawn the attention of researchers and
academics, who have begun to apply the framework of experience to develop a more detailed
understanding of not just these but of all types of events (Morgan 2006; Berridge 2007; Getz
2008; Nelson 2009; Pikkemaat et al. 2009).
In explaining what an experience is Schmitt (1999) indicates they are private events,
the result of stimulation prompting a response that affects the entire living being. People either
collectively or individually attend or participate in an event and they are doing so on the basis
that some type of experience will result. Several authors have begun to develop an understanding of what an event experience is and to widen the knowledge base of what they consist
of and how they are formed by drawing upon work undertaken in leisure and tourism
(Berridge 2007; Getz 2008; Pettersson and Getz 2009). Latterly Morgan et al. (2010) have
presented a compendium of papers on the consumer and managerial perspectives of experience
within a tourist and leisure context, whilst Darmer and Sundbo (2008) have reflected upon
how experiences emerge out of creation and innovation on the part of a provider. However,
the nature of experience is complicated. Experience is not static and is always open to the
effects of people’s interaction, and it is also multi-dimensional (Lee et al. 1994; Botterill
and Crompton 1996; Hull et al. 1996; Li 2000) and multi-faceted (Rossman 2003; Ooi 2005)
across the course of any given time period. Experiences are said to have three dimensions to
them: the conative, cognitive and affective dimension (Mannell and Kleiber 1997). These
represent, respectively, the behaviour and what people actually do, how they make sense of
experience through awareness, judgement, etc., and lastly the feelings and emotions that they
use to describe the experience. The components of experience, on which people (as consumers)
base their evaluation, consists of several hedonic aspects such as satisfaction, sensation, emotion
and imagery (Holbrook and Hirschmann 1982) whilst Csíkszentmihályi’s research (1975,
1990) postulates that achieving optimum flow is the desirable outcome of all experiences.
Considering there is great diversity of event types then the range of these experiences is
also hugely varied (Getz 1997) and serves to demonstrate the complex nature of experience
Designing event experiences
Design and event management
Design has a large and lengthy list of definitions (see Berridge 2007) which often relate to the
discipline in which that design is practised (architectural, graphic, communication, interior,
product, etc., etc.). There is a numerous, almost exhaustive list of sources for explaining design
(for example, Cooper 1995; Markus 2002; Potter 2002; Lipton 2002; Byars 2004; Ullrich and
Eppinger 2004; Beverland 2005) and several of these approach it from the point of view of the
application of artistic skill from within a discipline. What ultimately emerges, irrespective of the
platform used for design, is that it is essentially seen as a ‘purposeful activity’ in which not only do
design ideas emerge to solve a problem, but the occurrence that solves the problem is the result of
the predetermined activity of designing. In this way design can be seen as a purpose, intention or
plan of the mind to solve a problem. Such an idea of design can also be understood as being
expansive rather than restrictive: it posits the concept of design beyond the realms of the artistic
who are gifted with the appropriate level of knowledge and skill and into the realm where a
planned and deliberate process is undertaken to reach a specific outcome or set of outcomes
(Monroe 2006; Berridge 2009). In this view design therefore becomes an integrated aspect of any
intentional or deliberate effort to solve a problem.
Within the practice of event management, ‘Design is essential to an event’s success because it
leads to improvement of the event on every level’ (Brown and James 2004: 59). Nevertheless,
its use is often limited to certain aspects of the event process. A useful summary of the general
consensus on design within event management is provided in a glossary of terms by Sonder,
who states that design is ‘the incorporation of a themed message along with audiovisual,
entertainment and musical elements’ (Sonder 2004: 411). This appears to immediately confine
design to a limited role with no other function within an event other than when there is a
theme. This is not an uncommon association, as Berridge (2007) observes, since many sources
on the study of event design characterise it in relation to creativity, such as conceptualising
(Goldblatt 2004), entertainment experience (Silvers 2004), staging (Allen et al. 2005), event
design (Yeoman et al. 2004), ambience (Shone and Parry 2004), creativity (Sonder 2004),
theming and event design (Allen et al. 2005), designing and decorating (Monroe 2006), props
and design (Malouf 1999), co-ordinating the environment (Silvers 2004). What also emerges
here is use of a wide range of terms to explain where event design is applied, and outwardly
there does not appear to be a specific common language of terms that are consistently used to
reference where design takes place and what it affects other than that it is creative.
But is design therefore only a feature of the lived moment of a creative theme, a feature only
of that momentary setting, a setting that according to Goffman (1959) involves such things as
the physical layout, furniture, décor and similar artefacts that help provide the scenery and stage
props? Whilst not fully suggesting that a design agenda embraces all aspects of the planned
event, Nelson (2009) in a paper discussing enhancing experience through creative design, draws
upon theories of the relationship between individuals and their settings. These are contained in
the theoretical frameworks of Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective, Kotler’s ideas on atmospherics and Bitner’s components of servicescape to suggest that design does have a far more
wide-reaching purpose and application than theme and decoration. Design itself does not have
to be a creative act although many events clearly have a creative aspect to them (Nelson 2009).
Whilst event design can be seen as the combination of form and function, aesthetics and practicality, it is more than just creating a theme or idea, and should in fact address the whole
process involved in the presentation of the live event to the client (Allen 2002; Allen et al.
2005). An event exists to solve the problem that is presented by the rationale and concept of
having the event in the first place (Watt and Stayte 1999; Allen 2002; Salem et al. 2004;
Bowdin et al. 2006). The successful solution to the problem is achieved through a purposeful
approach to designing and delivering the event. Essentially this process leads to the creation of
the event environment from which guest experiences will emerge (Goldblatt 2004).
The discussion above revolves around what design contributes towards the event experience. In
separating out the design elements utilised to create enhanced experiences for attendees, design
becomes a tool used in the construction of the relationship between individuals and their physical
setting (Nelson 2009). In constructing this relationship the emphasis is placed on a deliberate
series of actions that culminate in the lived experience (Rossman 2003). This raises the question
of the extent to which experience itself is consciously designed and for whom. Is it for all
stakeholders, are there prime stakeholders or is it only for the guest or participant stakeholder?
The answer is that all stakeholders involved in the event will have experiences, but different ones.
Such experiences will be dependent largely on each stakeholder’s expectations, and this applies as
much to sub-contracted suppliers of events services as it does to guests (Getz 2008). With guest
experiences that are purposefully planned engagements, the role of design becomes one of
harnessing and directing the skills and knowledge of individuals involved in the events planning
and management towards creating experiences that engage, inspire, educate and entertain, each
of which is central to the event’s success.
Designing and creating such experience environments is a predictive skill based on the concept
of the event. Whilst this can be a specific act or acts of creativity, it can also be a more general
process designed to generate experience. By anticipating the experience, design then becomes a
tool able to predict the future (Morello 2000). Pettersson and Getz (2009) contend, however, that
‘experiences cannot be fully designed, as they are both personal (i.e. psychological) constructs
that vary with the individual, as well as being social and cultural constructs related to influences on
the individual and the (often) social nature of events’ (p. 310). This may well be true since an
event designer cannot possibly know all the variables and multiples of experience that a group of
individuals relate and respond to. Consequently there are some events that
adopt a more holistic approach in attempting to attract as wider audience as possible and
provide experiences that can touch all of them at some point during the event whereas
other events are broken down, perhaps via branding or theming, in order to appeal to
particular groups of individuals.
(Berridge 2007: 193)
Advancing this viewpoint, such approaches to experience design have been labelled ‘generic
experiences’ and ‘specific event experiences’ respectively (Pettersson and Getz 2009). Some
event experiences do have some shared commonalities whilst others seemingly have very little
apart from the event itself. Drawing disparate people towards the event is a key aspect of preexperience and can depend upon what factors serve as key determinants of participation, the
importance of the characteristics or descriptors of the participants, the benefit being sought from
the experience or something inherent in the experience itself (O’Sullivan and Spangler 1999: 75).
So designing and creating an experience requires foresight of the nature of interactions between
people and the relationship they have with each other and the physical environment.
An event ultimately merges customer service with design, experience creation and emotional
connection and so a different model identifying what is event design is perhaps appropriate, and
one that is, for example, based on a combined set of tools or principles that include
atmospherics, servicescape and dramaturgy (Nelson 2009).
Designing event experiences
Perhaps there should be a distinction made between the overall concept of the event
experience created ‘by design’, which we might even refer to as event architecture, and the
creative aspects of an event that is produced by the ‘application of design’ tools and skills,
something we might more logically call artistic or aesthetic design and creation. Design then
becomes not a single-medium tool, but one that transcends several in order to create successful
experiences. Within this understanding, experience design is employed at several levels whereby
it is also concerned with the internal organisation, structure, culture, processes and values within
an organisation that allow it to successfully create experiences and respond to both market and
customer needs (Shebroff 2001).
Connecting and creating designed experiences
Experience then becomes the result of directed observation or participation in events and as such they
are not self–generated but induced (Schmitt 1999). Here Schmitt is not arguing that individuals
within an event setting are incapable of interacting and generating experience, but he is advocating
that the event experience setting is selectively created to induce such an experience. A marketing
framework for customer experience should then focus on five types, namely sense, feeling,
thinking, acting and relating. By connecting with these via implementation components such as
spatial environments, communications and people, experience providers are able to perceive how
experience environments are created. In this way experiences can then be infused with special or
novel qualities of experience that aid their marketability; they can be enhanced through either
personal or individual skill of the provider which characteristically results in providers making an
experience that people can immerse themselves in (O’Sullivan and Spangler 1999). Experience
seeking may then rest upon the attainment of something fulfilling, unique or special; it could also be
something that is educational and transformational. Equally it could be something that is socially
and culturally enhancing as well as something that is challenging, participative, re-affirming or
passive, and it can be something that is based on business connections and network relationships.
Whilst it can be seen that any decision to attend an event can be based on numerous factors,
experience is without doubt a central driving force. Therefore the logical continuum of
this viewpoint is that the experience creation must be a prime consideration when designing the
event. Getz rightly argues that ‘if we cannot clearly articulate what the events experience is,
then how can it be planned or designed? If we do not understand what it means to people, then
how can it be important?’ (2008: 170).
Designing event experiences
To reiterate, at this stage, the argument is that if the core phenomenon of an event is the experience,
then event design effectively becomes the platform upon which it is built. Whilst event design can
help create the entire system and process of planning, managing and delivering an event,
including the environment and setting, what it cannot do is guarantee how people will respond
to it or whether the stimuli provided will be received in the way it was intended. This raises the
question of how an event experience is designed, and what principles might be used to do this.
Discussing the anatomy of the event presents a clear argument for event design and experience
to be an overarching philosophy:
Remember that you are packaging and managing an experience. This means that you must
envision that experience from start to finish, from the guests’ point of view. Imagine every
minute of their experience. Identify event elements that will build on previous successes,
elements that will take advantage of opportunities and strengths, and elements that will
mitigate challenges, weaknesses, and threats.
(Silvers 2004: 5)
Design as an underpinning framework used in this context then addresses the whole experiencescape (O’Dell and Billing 2005) of the event and in many ways this itself can be seen as
extension of Bitner’s (1992) servicescape concept. Hence the design of an event should immediately be concerned with the broader or generic range of the event experience. This idea of
broader experience creation, involving interpretative frameworks and physical arrangements,
locates experience creation not purely as an artistic expression but as one that includes more
peripheral circumstances and has a wider perspective that includes the organisational and managerial aspects of the construction of the experience (Darmer and Sunbo 2008). It emphasises the
importance of the customer: ‘experiences occur whenever a company intentionally uses services
as the stage and goods as the props to engage the individual’ (Pine and Gilmore 1999: 11).
Experience then occurs through the creation of such an intentional construction that engages
customers (Darmer and Sunbo 2008).
Some conceptual ideas on designing experiences have commented upon the utilisation of a
theatrical and dramaturgical metaphor (Grove et al. 1992; Rossman 2003; Morgan et al. 2008;
Nelson 2009). Getz (2008) argues that a model for planned event experience should have
liminoid/liminality at the core, drawing directly on the work of Turner (1969), who explained
the term as the detached state of being in association with ritual. Roughly translated this means
the event zone becomes the special place or time out of time of a unique event experience
where communitas, the shared temporary state removed from ordinary life is commonly shared.
Any experiences involve:
participation and involvement; a state of being physically, mentally, socially, spiritually or
emotionally involved; a change in knowledge, skill, memory or emotion; a conscious
perception of having intentionally encountered, gone to or lived through an activity or
event; an effort that addresses a psychological or inner need.
(O’Sullivan and Spangler 1999: 23)
Any attempt to design an experience should be based on knowledge of how guests participate
and become involved. In order for something to be created that can justifiably be called an
experience they further explain that five key parameters of experience must be addressed by the
experience provider (or creator):
1 The stages of the experience – events or feelings that occur prior, during, and after the
2 The actual experience – factors or variables within the experience that influence participation and shape outcomes.
3 The needs being addressed through the experience – the inner or psychic needs that give
rise to the need or desire to participate in an experience.
4 The role of the participant and other people involved in the experience – the impact that
the personal qualities, behaviour and expectations of both the participant and other people
involved within the experience play in the overall outcome.
5 The role and relationship with the provider of the experience – the ability and willingness of
the provider to customise, control and coordinate aspects of the experience.
(O’Sullivan and Spangler 1999: 23)
Designing event experiences
Another conceptual approach to designing experiences is the notion of the ‘experience realm’ (Pine
and Gilmore 1999). Framing their model within four dimensions of experience involvement –
passive, active, immersion or absorption – an experience will be sought and received as being
either one of or a combination of educational, escapist, aesthetic or entertaining. They contend
that ‘staging experiences is not about entertaining customers; it’s about engaging them. An experience
may engage guests on any number of dimensions’ (Pine and Gilmore 1999: 30). The experience
realm offers a framework for experience design where purposeful decisions are made to
engage guests (or stakeholders) depending upon which dimensions of the realm are pre-eminent.
Example 1: The Silent Disco
The Silent Disco is a variant on the club disco event. There is no grandiose theme
or spectacular entertainment production, no fabulous backdrop or decoration, but the
event experience rests firmly on an integrated approach. The concept is to subvert
the classic ‘disco’ to allow guests to experience a more personal music interface but in
public, where interactions with other clubbers rests not necessarily on collective listening
and participation but on a segmented quasi-individualistic encounter. The disco has no
audible public sound system; instead, guests are given their own personal audio cans that
have a track selector console in them. This gives the wearer the chance to personally
choose, usually from between one to five channels each playing a different music type
(e.g. R’n’B, House, Latin, Urban and Indie). The system is not dissimilar to one found on
long-haul flights. With up to two or three hundred people choosing music tracks this
creates a maelstrom of uncoordinated and unstructured movement as people dance
and respond to different tracks and different beats. Unlike the usual disco that thrives on
an atmosphere generated by a collective soundscape, the Silent Disco thrives on
the absurdity of no sound and the peculiarity of unconnected rhythm. One of the oddest
aspects of this is the fact that guests can talk to each other in perfect silence or, as
has been observed, listen to other people singing or humming along to a particular track.
This is unlike most club discos, which have booming PA systems making conversation
In explaining what is needed to design experiences Rossman (2003) advocates that those
engaged in producing them need to understand the phenomena they are dealing with, a point
echoed by Getz, as discussed previously. Drawing upon the work of Irving Goffman’s theory on
symbolic interaction (1959), and the subsequent research and advocacy of Blumer (1969) and
Denzin (1978) Rossman proposed that experience designers needed to adopt a methodological
tool whereby six key elements that make up any planned occurrence are understood and
applied by the experience designer. These are: interacting people, physical setting, objects, rules,
relationships, animation. Rossman asserts that in order to fully understand and apply the model
we must first recognise the three points that need to be developed. These are the nature of
objects, how meaning is derived, and how interaction unfolds and permits the ongoing interpretation of meaning. During the course of designing the experience any single element may
constantly change as a result of participants’ interaction, as they interpret for themselves the
meaning of the elements they encounter, and so the nature of the experience itself may constantly change. The value of using SI theory is the recognition that any reality is constructed
and that it enables us to explore the different levels and types of interactions that take place in
any given environment (Berridge 2007).
Creative design tools
The relationship of design to creativity is a significant one and it is usually regarded as the
innovative and inventive aspect of the event; thus it is hardly surprising to see design and
In terms of tools or principles of design there are some key considerations that the aesthetic
creation part of an event can address. Many of these conform to accepted models of the principles
of design and creativity and there is a useful summary of these in practice in Berridge (2007,
2010a). They include, though, an awareness of the basic principles of design and aesthetics
(Allen 2002; Monroe 2006; Goldblatt 2008), the characteristics and techniques of creativity
(Matthews 2008a) and the elements that event décor should address (Malouf 1999). Van der
Wagen (2008) suggests that there are only certain elements of an event that can be designed,
namely theme, layout, décor, technical requirements, staging, entertainment and catering.
Getz (2008) advocates that there are four general categories of event design elements – setting, theme and programme design, services and consumables. These headings include a whole
range of features of an event such as layout and décor, activities, theme, stimulation, gastronomy
and so forth, suggesting that the role of design is integral to the event’s success.
General process design
Although this also seems to suggest that design has a restricted role, there is a very important
expanded range for design to be applied that includes signage, crowd management, servicescape,
staff, volunteers and hidden management systems. In contrast to other uses of design, this
approach suggests that non-creative design does exist and would perhaps be seen to be part of the
planning and management processes of event management. There is process design evident in
space planning, seating arrangements, queuing systems, registration management, technology,
programmes and marketing, amongst many others. To illustrate the point, a significant amount of
research has focused on the impact of events (Ritchie and Smith 1991; Spilling 2000; Emery
2002; Hall 2004; Bowdin et al. 2006; Getz 2008; Van der Wagen 2008; Berridge and Quick
2010) and there is a clear implication that event impacts are intended (although there are also
unintended impacts). The point is that intended impacts are part of a purposeful plan to generate
(usually) positive and beneficial impacts to an area. As Bob (2010) illustrates, event factors such as
the process of incorporating sustainability have a direct relationship to how the event is designed,
whilst Singh et al. (2008) observe that specific indicator tools need to be designed into the process
at an early stage if sustainability is going to be effectively implemented and monitored.
Example 2: Designing a registration experience
This case study draws attention to the seemingly innocuous feature of event registration,
something that is rarely categorised as design-based or creative. A university holds its
annual teaching conference on its main campus. The event is an opportunity for all staff
to contribute to, discuss and participate in a series of lectures, seminars and workshops on
a theme linked to a topic of relevance to learning, teaching and assessment practice.
Registration for the event is held in the main entrance foyer. Delegates are 95 per cent
pre-registered. In 2008, delegates were issued with a simple pre-laminated name badge
that attached to a garment by safety pin. Eight staff not pre-registered attended the
event. With no name tag prepared, they were given a sticky label with their name handwritten upon it. It became a source of amusement and comment amongst colleagues
Designing event experiences
about the ‘second-class’ status placed upon those receiving their label badges. In 2009 a
company specialising in registration, OutStand, were contracted to create name badges
using a mobile, on-site laminator. The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the university attended the
event, and had not pre-registered, but within less than thirty seconds he had been given
a fully laminated name badge with neck cord. So impressed was this person that he made
a note of putting it into his ‘report’ on the event for the Academic Quality Office and the
university’s in-house weekly news e-bulletin, praising the conference team and the event.
Post-conference feedback in 2008 had included several negative comments about the
registration, whereas in 2009 the feedback was 100 per cent positive.
Such a use of design, as a function of previous iterations of an event where the processes of
delivery have been proven, does not have to be uniquely creative; in other words, it does not have
to offer any new solutions to a problem as it can use existing ones that were previously developed.
Here design does not have to have the stamp of creativity to it, but nevertheless, by looking at these
elements within the event that ultimately contribute to the overall experience, it becomes clear
that design is a central, not peripheral, component. Marketing and communication messages require
design, as do travel and transportation arrangements and welcome entrances. The physical environment that will create the atmosphere is design-led and the food and beverage provision requires
a menu design as well as staff delivery and uniform. An activity within the event requires a
programme design, or choreographing to deliver the requisite experience. Ultimately the event
experience can be ‘personalised’ through tangible gifts or mementos, and finally an evaluation of the
event requires an instrument to collect that data. Such a research instrument has to be designed.
Event experience analysis
If event design is the purposeful activity to create event experiences, then it is logical to argue that
it can consequently provide more opportunity to understand the meaning of such experiences,
not only to guests, but to all stakeholders. Research and analysis of the dimensions of leisure and
tourism experiences focuses upon the phases of experience, the influence on the experience or on the
criteria or outcomes of experience (Morgan 2010). Interesting tools within experience design
have emerged, for example out of the digital media field, with obvious synergies for understanding
event experiences. The ‘experience matrix’ developed by Zoels and Gabrielli (2003) argues that
adopting a clear human-based strategy for event management will enable event experiences to
become ever more predictable. The experience matrix suggests therefore that foresight of
experience can be designed when consideration is given to the following human-centric concerns:
sensory, tactile, visual, photographic, auditory impact, intellectual, emotional, functional,
informative, cultural, core. The argument follows that with this matrix as a design value there is a
ready-made framework for the basis for research into responses to such experience creation.
Analysis of event design, experience and meaning requires attention. Given the range of
different event types discussed earlier, there is enormous scope to study the influence design and
creativity have on experience and meaning, both in the totality of an overall event as well as in
the specified creative components. The principle guiding such analysis should be the underpinning concepts used to create the event experience in the first place. Qualitative research into
how events are experienced and understood is essential if we are to deepen our understanding
of how people respond to the range of stimuli created by and within event environments. For
example, the theory of semiotics has been adopted (White 2006; Berridge 2007, 2009) to help
establish meanings of key elements of an event experience, namely symbols contained within an
Olympic ceremony and the images created to promote the Tour de France. There is a need to
‘create knowledge’ of events through inter-disciplinary approaches that discuss experience and
meaning, antecedent and choices, management planning and design, patterns and processes and
outcomes and impacts (Getz 2008).
In an interesting industry development to the discussion around experience and design, the term
‘Meeting Architecture’ (Vanneste 2008) has recently emerged in relation to meeting, incentive and
event planners. The concept or ‘manifesto’ is being created to enhance the overall effectiveness of
meetings by globally creating Meeting Architecture. The term appears to have emerged out of a
growing recognition that the key feature of meetings, the designed environment and experience of
delegates, has not been studied sufficiently to give meaningful evaluation of the planned outcomes,
and that existing ROI methodology is not very receptive to measuring individual responses.
Example 3: Martin Vanneste and Meeting Architecture
Meetings and conferences form an integral part of the events sector. Rarely, though, is
design or creativity associated with planning them, unless it is linked to food and beverage provision or room layout. Vanneste, President of the Belgian Chapter of MPI
(Meetings Professional International) has developed Meeting Architecture, in which he
calls for a paradigm shift for people involved in the sector. He argues that meetings are
about creating experiences as much as any other event, and that to create ‘an experience
that would stick … requires creative, technical and technological tools … (and) lots of
time and resources in analysing, designing and executing the meetings on the content
side’. Advocating that all meetings be treated with a holistic approach where the design
of the event objectives and the content to deliver them is paramount, he refers to a
Meeting Support Matrix as a tool to help people organise meetings. The tool consists of a
3 x 5 table which has Learning, Networking and Motivation on the vertical axis (the
action terrains) and Conceptual, Human, Artistic, Technical and Technological on the
horizontal axis. Using the model is the ‘starting phase in designing the meeting’. Vanneste ties the Meeting Architecture model into the increasing use of ROI, and suggests
that by designing meetings content to generate outcomes will inevitably impact on the
ROI, particularly at the level of participant satisfaction and learning. Interestingly, and
whilst there are obvious differences, the tool has some similarities with J.R. Rossman’s
Designing Leisure Experiences model, which in turn is based on the theory of symbolic
interaction and the work of Goffman, Blumer and Denzin respectively. Using the model
enables the development of the idea and is a basis upon which to anticipate (or predict)
the results of the engagement (experience) and how that can be facilitated.
Meeting Architecture, by its very name, supposes a purposefully designed meeting
environment, where the experience created is conducive to delegates attaining specific
outcomes. Its development should be followed with interest to see what methodology or
framework emerges that will help further our knowledge of the process and meaning of
designed experiences within a meetings context.
Summary: Towards a framework for designing planned event
The challenge facing anyone developing an event is largely the same: the need to create the event
environment (Goldblatt, 2008) that in turn gives people the experience (or outcomes) they seek.
Designing event experiences
An event can be seen as a simulated stage-managed environment, creating authentic moments of
experience within that setting for guests and participants. The debate on whether or not the
event experience is authentic is explored in various tourism literature in relation to mass tourism
attractions and destination development (Wang 1999; Ryan 2003: Ritzer 2004; Pearce 2005).
But whilst the managed attraction environment itself may be inauthentic, and this itself is highly
subjective (Uriely 2005), the experience of guests at an event is not, since all individual event
experience is authentic (Silvers 2004). The ultimate success of the event depends on this ability,
therefore, to follow a design-led approach that allows the creation of the environment to meet
and satisfy guests’ expectations.
Design should be regarded as the basis of the framework for successful event experience
production. Event design is the concept of a structure for an event, the manifest expression of
that concept expressed verbally and visually which leads, finally, to the execution of the concept
(Monroe 2006: 4). Aligned with the need to produce the experience, design becomes an integrated,
systematic series of actions that are purposeful at every stage of the event execution. Expressed in
simple terms, if the event is not being designed to deliver certain experiences, such experiences are
in effect being left to chance. The less chance, the more predictability there is in the experience
outcome. But chance itself can be a design decision to create moments where unexpected
interaction and experiences evolve. The experience outcomes of any event are undeniably
influenced by the interactions of guests and participants; does the design of event experiences
seek to provide appropriate environments for such to occur? Figure 18.1 offers a speculative
framework by suggesting that what we call event management needs a paradigm shift in order
to place event design as the central core element of practice where design awareness should
resonate through every decision stage of the event planning and management process. The
Event Experience Design Framework suggests that if event design underpins all initial decisions
about planning and managing the event, then the planned experience becomes the core of all
subsequent action, leading to final analysis that considers the true nature of the overall experience.
Once a decision has been made to hold an event, then two considerations must immediately
occupy the mind: that the event is a planned experience influenced by the nature or genre of
Figure 18.1 Event experience design framework
the event, and the experience of stakeholders, with an emphasis on the prime stakeholder
experience. At this stage the event manager should embrace event design as a solution and
objective-setting tool to ensure that the types of experience envisaged in the concept are integrated through purposeful action. Using foresight of experience design enables a focus on:
(1) specific creative elements of the event and (2) general process elements of the event. At this
stage all the event objectives and outcomes should be understood as a part of a deliberate plan
to design an experience. Lastly, with design being so integrated, the analysis and evaluation of
the meaning of the experience can be analysed and evaluated in relation to decisions taken to
design each element of the event.
This is an advocacy that design should not be regarded simply as a singular component reflected
only in the act of creativity and applied to the part of the event that is concerned only with décor
and entertainment. Instead it should apply holistically to the very foundation upon which the
event premise is built. Event experiences do not of themselves exist, they have to be designed
and created from scratch. In order to create such experiences event planners, managers and designers
need sets of tools to employ and equate design with overall planning and purpose as well as with
theme and creativity. By understanding that design permeates all elements of the event, the nature
of event experiences becomes a (potentially) predictive skill based on purposeful action.
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