Think of the last corporate event you planned. Did the space conform to your needs, or were you forced to adapt to what was available?
Too often, conference and meeting spaces are designed around the lowest common denominator. They contain what is needed at the most basic level to satisfy requirements but just meeting the bare minimum of what attendees experience doesn’t help enhance your event or foster productivity.
By incorporating human-centered design into event management, both spaces and people start to become more interconnected and more productive.
Part art, part science, HCD not only encompasses the aesthetics of space, but also how users interact with it and how it impacts their behavior. Like architecture, art, or engineering, work-space design begins with the intersection of form and function.
“From art, we learn that hospitality is theater and that every aspect of operations has a role to play in supporting a themed experience and certain desired outcomes,” says Convene President and co-founder Chris Kelly. “From engineering, we learn that process matters and that every part of our operation is a gear in a more complex, but completely interconnected, whole. From architecture, we learn that design matters and is the body language of an organization.”
“At the core of human-centered design is the marriage of design to context, and the needs of the people who will be utilizing the space. Designers examine the unmet needs of your attendees and then translate those into relevant products, services and experiences,” says Joyce Bromberg, VP of Design + Innovation at Convene.
Once you have a deeper understanding of how people engage in a meeting or conference space, what their needs and wants are for that space you can begin designing solutions around them.
“Sometimes designers create what they think people need or want,” adds Bromberg. “When you really spend time examining the process that people are engaging in—how they use technology, their tools, the physical environment and how they interact with each other—you understand what they really need.”
Information can be gathered in a variety of ways — from interviews and focus groups to observing users in action in their environment and engaging them in a “making” or “doing” activity — can reveal valuable details about these needs.
“We conduct observational research where we look for patterns in behavior, reoccurring needs, friction, improvisational fixes, limitations, etc.,” says Kelly, who also recommends engaging internal and external stakeholders to help design a better solution. “We give them a pen and some floor plans and ask them to design their dream venue.”
Doing research, asking questions and observing are key components to the human-centered design process. “Those three activities reveal different levels of information,” says Bromberg.
In one of her focus groups with meeting planners, Bromberg asked what they’d want in a meeting center or conference center. Many noted they’d like a space of their own, distinct from the conference space, so Bromberg instructed them to draw what the space should look like. Some of the meeting planners said they want to be outside of the meeting room to greet guests, while others said they prefer to be inside the meeting room to monitor the meeting.
“What came out of that was a meeting planning station located directly outside the meeting room” Bromberg says. “We’ve added cameras and recording equipment to the room that will do a live feed into the meeting planner’s computer so they can be outside and inside the room at the same time.”
Design doesn’t end once the space is complete. To find out if your goals— communication, engagement or collaboration—were achieved be sure to have meeting participants answer surveys or questionnaires to provide feedback on the experience.
As meeting planners and designers collaborate, both needs and solutions will evolve. It’s critical to stay flexible.
“Don’t assume that every meeting is the same,” Bromberg says. “Ask questions, watch what’s going on, do research, learn from past mistakes. Be actively engaged and involved in the meeting. Talk to users to find out how they think it went and get ideas for improvement.”