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The Event Nerd

Transformative Event Technology- Eye of the beholder

As originally featured on Design Dawgs 

One of my guilty movie watching pleasures is the 2001 (not so) blockbuster, Antitrust.  One of the seminal scenes in the movie involves Tim Robbins walking Ryan Philippe through his home in an attempt to woo him to join his company.  When walking into one room, he points to a painting that’s morphing before our eyes on the wall.  He proceeds to explain that the house knows who’s in the room and adjusts the room to their preferences, from art to music and lighting.  To me, this was the strangest and most awesome form of movie magic- the kind that preceded what would actually become possible.  At the time the movie came out, I remember being enthralled with the idea, in large part because I could imagine a world where things like that painting actually existed.  I could see a time when the people in a room experienced their own forms of visual magic, thereby giving them a uniquely personal experience.  I’m glad I’m around to see that day.

We’ve been exploring how the five senses mixed with a little bit of technology are shaping design experiences in the event space and today, we’re obviously talking about the often vaunted sense of sight.  It’s arguably the one that people think has the most to do with event design and, while that is true, all the other senses have their own impact on what we perceive as well- but we’ll get into that later. For now, let’s talk about some cool stuff.

I used to love going to science museums.  Blame it on my inquisitive mind-inducing teacher of a mother, but something about touching all the cool things in a science museum always grabbed my attention.  Perhaps one of my most favorite parts about the science museum was the planetarium.  Everywhere around you was the sky, close enough that you felt like you could touch it, and more real than you can imagine.  The folks at Madrone Creative have recently re-awakened the 10 year old me with their Madrome 50’ immersive projection dome.  Measuring 50’ X 25’, this structure provides 2,000 SF of space for about 300 guests to become completely lost in whatever environment you choose to create for them.  Projection mapping is nothing new, but 360º projection that puts you in the center of the action is.  Instead of viewing the walls “collapse” on a projection from afar, you’re standing in the middle of the experience, feeling like the walls are literally shifting around you.  Imagine how guests would feel if, as they are sitting in the room it rotates subtly through the seasons, as the other elements of the event follow suit.  Imagine the party that would ensue if the lighting and projection was not just coming from the one direction of the stage, but was all around the guests, pulling them deeper into the vision and theme of the event.


Ever since I was a little boy, there’s been this push for something called “virtual reality.”  It’s the idea that you create a virtual world that feels so real that people, even if just for a moment, feel like they’re in a completely different reality from their own.  21 year old (yes I said 21) Palmer Luckey has created a new technology that is taking the computer world by storm- The Oculus Rift.  At its core, Oculus is a (arguably slightly clunky) headset that, when paired with a good pair of headphones, can show wearers incredibly realistic versions of whatever is piped through them.  This headset disconnects the wearer from the world around them, and places them firmly in whatever world you’ve created for them.  Still in the early development phases, it’s difficult to see how this technology will play itself out, especially since just being acquired by Facebook for about $2B, but one of the things I see in this visual trend is the ability to take clients through completely immersive tours of their event space, complete with room décor and sets- all built virtually.  Instead of having to physically mock up floral or set pieces, a client could someday don a headset and “walk” alongside you as you guide them through every detail of their event, turning left and right to see what their tables and stage will look like, looking up to see the lighting in the venue, or how that awesome ceiling treatment will actually look juxtaposed against that ceiling.  Currently only being used for video games, it will ultimately represent a new option in selling and creating gorgeous event design as we will be able to take clients through a true virtual walk through of their entire event.

The world was taken by storm two years ago when the Coachella Music and Arts Festival welcomed Tupac to the stage for their closing night performance.  The crowd went wild as this late hip hop icon squared off against Snoop Dogg in a never before seen joint performance.  As both artists turned towards each other, attendees were blown away to note that Tupac was…real?  In fact, the Tupac illusion was a result of some extremely precise lighting and projection provided by the team at Musion technologies out of the UK.  Based on an old school illusion known as Pepper’s Ghost, this performance represented one of the first times that such a precise 3-D hologram of a performer had been used on stage during a live performance.  What made that performance even more amazing was the fact that Snoop Dogg was able to seemingly interact with Tupac while on stage. 

Since that performance, Musion has been a part of a number of iconic experiences and there are a number of companies have the ability to bring that experience to live events.  Houston Clark, of Clark AV says that “It’s one of the most unique technologies we’ve ever had a chance to work with.  The ability to bring to life any content, any person, virtually anywhere is astounding.”  Imagine the possibilities- CEO not able to make it to a meeting on the other side of the world?  No problem- telepresence him in for the company to see.  Want to create a unique point of interaction during a grand opening?  Have virtual hostesses interact with your guests during the event.   You’re only limited by the creativity of your team in the creation of your content,  and by the brightness of your location in the projection of that content.  Musion represents a new generation of display technology that’s a lot closer to Star Trek than we’ve been in quite  a while.  Check out the video below, but be warned…it’s a little explicit.


The way we are able to see events is continuing to evolve and there are a host of new tools and technologies out right now that make that sight more beautiful than ever before.  The three technologies discussed in this article are just a small representation of what’s possible.  Ultimately, a strong visual presence at your event can be developed in conjunction with your design team and a strong technology vendor who facilitates and brings together all of the different elements you want to create the experience your client and their guests are raving about and can’t wait to see more of.

The Data in Design

As originally featured on the Design Dawgs and The Simplifiers Blogs

Event designers are arguably some of the most creative people on the planet, hands down.  The ability to create something majestic and beautiful, or quaint and subdued from just the embers of an idea is nothing short of amazing, and a skill that is to be celebrated.  I’m by no means an event designer, and each time I see one come together, I am in awe of the way that it does.  One of the things that’s always struck me about the power of event design is where the ideas come from.  What and who shapes what ends up in a ballroom, on a stage, or in a space is as intriguing to me as the actual end product itself.  Being a self professed Event Nerd, I started to wonder what would happen if a little bit of technology were involved in that creative process, and one word kept popping into my head- data.  I know- not a sexy or exciting word, but I really think that using data effectively can make event design that much more powerful.  Let me explain.

Data is defined asindividual facts, statistics, or items of information.”  Now, I know that might be the most boring series of words to have ever graced these design dawg-y pages, but stay with me.  Usually when you think about data, you think of spreadsheets and calculations, tables and pocket protectors, or glasses and comparisons; but what if we thought about it differently?  What if we found a way to make data help us design?  To be clear, we use data every day.  We ask our clients for their desired color palette, get to know them via their websites to understand their tastes and desires, and dig into their past events to understand what has worked and what has flopped for them in the past.  All of this is data.  It’s what we do with it that makes the greatest impact.  Data is something that we can use as event professionals before an event to shape the event, but it’s also something we can use during the event to make the experience unique and intimate for everyone who walks through the doors.  Here are a few tools using data in new and sexy ways and some tips for how you can use data to make your next event shine.

1.    Pinterest- I was recently honored to be a sponsor for ISES’ brand new conference, ISES Live.  While there, I sat in on a session hosted by lead Dawg himself, Dave Merrell, where he talked about some of the ways he designs his events.  One of the tools he mentioned using was Pinterest..  Each time he works with a client, he has them create an account and pin everything they can possibly think of to a board that they share with him and his team.  Using this information, he and his designers are able to get in the mind of the client and deliver them a design that seems as if it came right from their own creativity- mainly because it did.  As much as I love that idea, let’s take it a step further.  If we, in addition to using the boards our clients share with us, do a little more research and see what other boards they, speakers, and guests (if you can find out who they are) are liking and looking at, you can add a little bit of that flair into your design. Often, clients aren’t going to know everything to put on a board or think that something that they see or like is going to help shape an experience.  They may see a flower or a video clip that they like, but can’t quite explain why.  Figure out a way to incorporate those elements into your design and seem like the rock star you truly are.

2.    Facebook- Using Facebook is fairly commonplace for most of us these days.  What most of us don’t realize is the virtual treasure trove of information available just beyond someone’s profile picture.  Think about it for a second- how much have you shared with the world?  Your name, place of birth, where you live, gender, and age (or the age you want people to think you are) are just a few of the gems inside your profile.  Imagine if, as event professionals, we were able to get access to that info- what could we do with it?  Thankfully, there are companies like SocialPoint who are making it easier to get that access.  Before or even during your event, they can work with you to create incentives for guests to login and share information by giving them everything from exclusive content, to VIP passes, to unique experiences reserved for only your friends and followers.  The SocialPoint team then gives you insight into who your attendees are based on those interactions and you can use that information to help create design elements that speak to them specifically.  Again- personalizing the event experience based on who’s in attendance.

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3.   Scanalytics- This Wisconsin company is helping events track what’s making their attendees stop and take notice.  Using thin (and brandable) mats positioned throughout a venue, Scanalytics is able to tell you what elements of your event are getting the most traffic, and for how long that traffic is staying put.  In addition (and perhaps most importantly to designers), the software is able to trigger different things based on how long or how frequently people are standing in a particular spot.  Imagine being able to play a video in an area only after people have been standing still for five minutes or more, or being able to change the color of the lighting around a silent auction table if it’s been getting a lot of traffic, letting people know it’s a hot item.  Take it a step further and pair the Scanalytics tools with things like Imerser interactive projection, and see a dance floor, entryway, or wall change based entirely on what people in attendance are doing and where they’re going.

These are just a few of the many #nerdapproved tools out there right now for incorporating data into your design.  By combining them together, you can let your guests and their tastes shape your event, allow your spaces to evolve as the event progresses, and leave your client in awe of the way you continually seem to capture the essence of their desires, and impact the guests in ways they never thought possible.