01 Aug 2013
Why Event Design Matters
ECEF Keynoter Says Design Can Make or Break a Meeting
FOR MICHAELA O’CONNOR Abrams, event design is not just about booth layouts, room setups, and decor. “It transcends aesthetics,” said Abrams, president at Dwell Media, San Francisco, and keynote speaker at the 2013 Exhibition and Convention Executives Forum May 29 at the JW Marriott in Washington, D.C. “It’s fundamental to everything we do.” And now more than ever, design can make or break a meeting or event.
Abrams should know. In just eight years she has grown the Dwell on Design trade show to more than 30,000 attendees by tapping into a nation hungry for good design. Consumers today are more “design-centric” than in the past, especially the more affluent, according to Dwell Media’s New Face of Affluence survey. Abrams and her team took this into account when developing their event because design-centric consumers are extremely loyal to the brands that distinguish themselves with simple, clean, and functional design and messaging.
As an example, she cited Virgin America as a company where good design is a central focus. It’s not just nonstop flights and cheap fares, but the entire experience—including food orders at the touch of a button, free entertainment screens at each seat, leather seats, and purple cabin lights, among other things. It’s why she and others will go out of their way to fly the airline.
That is her goal with Dwell on Design—to make it “so personal, so on target to their needs, they know that whatever you do under that brand, they will follow.”
Abrams sees social media and technology as essential to good design because it is such an integral part of the attendee’s life. “When brands use technology well, the attendee, the consumer, feels as if they have a relationship with you, that you listen to them, that they have a say in what you do,” she explained. “They need to feel that it’s one to one—that they are the one and only exhibitor or attendee—even if it’s a 50,000-person show.” Social media can help planners foster that relationship. “It’s not a platform to push messages out but to create the relationship that we know the attendee wants.”
Dwell had an exhibit at its June show that incorporated social media into the live experience—the Pinterest Pavilion. It started with a “Pin to Win” competition, in which attendees were asked to post their design entries to Pinterest and then Dwell judges selected winners in various categories and invited them to bring their designs to life at Dwell on Design at the Los Angeles Convention Center June 21–23. In the Pinterest Pavilion, attendees were able to walk through and experience the winning designs, then re-pin pictures to their own Pinterest boards. “This is one of the most important things we’ve done this year,” she said. The buzz caused a spike in early registrations and multiple sponsorships.
“Interminable” Trade Show Rows
Based on feedback from customers, Dwell did away with the typical trade show grid at its show. Walking “the interminable rows,” said Abrams, is no longer what people want.
Instead, Dwell on Design is an immersive experience where the 400 exhibits, sessions, presentations, and food and beverage are all on the exhibition floor, which is divided into zones. Each zone has a theme—Dwell Outdoor; the Tech Zone; Furniture; Kitchen and Bath; and more. While some of the show’s 96 sessions are in meetings rooms, most happen on stages in the exhibit hall. “We don’t send people down a long hallway; we keep them right there,” Abrams explained. Even the end-of-day cocktail receptions are held on the floor.
The design has not only engaged the attendees, but of course also pleases exhibitors because the attendees are on the show floor almost all of the time.