Events are a nothing more than a design problem. After all, designing and planning an event means you need to develop a holistic approach. Everything is interconnected.
The venue may affect people’s catering experience. The AV equipment may decrease your speakers’ impact. The event program structure may reduce the attendance rate by 50% the second day of the event. These are just a few examples showing how interrelated all event planning and management areas are.
That’s why design thinking is needed.
According to IDEO, “Design thinking is a process for creative problem solving.” Sound familiar? Because planning and running an event means solving problems all day long. Why not add some creativity to the process?
Design thinking is human-centered and takes finding solutions that are 100% aligned with your audiences’ needs in mind. As IDEO notes, “In employing design thinking, you’re pulling together what’s desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It also allows those who aren't trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges. The process starts with taking action and understanding the right questions. It’s about embracing simple mindset shifts and tackling problems from a new direction.”
So how can you apply this same approach to planning your event? Let’s find out.
Step 1: Transform your planning challenges into questions
Planning an event involves countless issues. But instead of getting overwhelmed, design thinking allows us to reframe the problem. For example, you may have a problem with getting attendees to your event.
What you could do is transform this challenge into questions such as:
- What type of attendees do we want to see at our event?
- How do we run an event that is attractive and relevant for our target group?
- How do we promote the event to our ideal attendees?
As you can see, this simple reframing mindset gives you a few insights regarding how to increase the attendance rate. Plus, the exercise is very simple, and you can apply it to all sorts of logistic or event marketing issues.
Step 2: Always research before taking action
Don’t just go with your gut feeling. Make sure to collect and analyze the data first, then make an informed decision and act accordingly. For example, instead of just settling on one catering option, ask your attendees about their preferences and dietary restrictions (you could make it a question on the registration form).
You may be surprised to discover how many lactose-intolerant or vegans attendees you have attending your event. This simple question gives you important information that will help you and your catering provider develop a personalized menu based on your attendees’ dietary requests and needs.
Step 3: Make empathy a cultural value
Since design thinking is human-centered, empathy is crucial to seeing things through your attendees’ eyes. For example, you may think that your venue doesn’t need any signs. People will be able to find their way from one session to another. How difficult can it be?
However, when coming from a place of empathy, you’ll realize that your guests may find it difficult to navigate the venue, and that posting some signs can be extremely beneficial. Moreover, developing an empathetic approach may lead you to identifying the best signage strategy that leaves absolutely no doubts as to where your attendees should go next.
Step 4: Create a framework that maps your attendees’ journey
Design thinking is all about developing frameworks and using them to ideate and come up with innovative ideas. For event planning, one of these frameworks can be your attendees’ journey. You can design the entire event experience your guests will have from the moment they receive the invitation to the post-event outreach.
Step 5: Design iterative solutions for your event
What’s interesting about design thinking is the possibility to iterate solutions. You may come up with an idea to overcome a challenge, apply it, and then discover that it doesn’t work. For example, you may want to brief your speakers about your presentation requirements, making sure their keynote speeches will be entertaining and interesting for the guests.
But then, you may realize that one meeting is not enough to ensure that their presentations meet your requirements. What you can do next is decide to have one presentation briefing meeting with your speakers, then send them a presentation model along with a framework they can use.
Then have a second meeting so the speakers can show you their presentations and get your feedback. As you can see, the great thing about failed solutions is that there’s nothing wrong with them. A design thinking approach will let you come up with more ideas and better solutions thanks to the data you collected.
Step 6: Document, learn, and improve your solutions
The key element of design thinking is the possibility to learn and improve. So make sure to document every decision and action you take when planning and managing your event. For example, you can have a shared Google document to track all of your logistic and marketing actions, along with their outcomes.
Next, you can add the tweaks and improvements you made and the impact these changes had on the outcomes. The main idea is to track everything, make this document available to rest of your team, and find areas for improvement and innovation.
You may not be aware of it, but you’re already applying design thinking. Planning events require consistent problem-solving, and you’ve already developed the necessary mindset and approach for design thinking methodology. So why not use this powerful mindset to find creative solutions to your planning challenges? It’s not about thinking outside the box—it’s just using the same resources a bit differently and always having your attendees at the center of the experience.