The joy of event design
By, Rachel Ley, MD, RLC
A wise woman once said that the key to feeling joyous lies not in our inner wellbeing, but in the world around us.
On the surface, this makes perfect sense. When you consider the everyday environments we go out of our way to create, from the candles on a birthday cake to the lights around the door at Christmas, why would people do these things if they had no real effect on happiness?
It’s the same for event environments. Set, stage, lighting, a buffet lunch bursting with colour, and all those extra special touches we design into conferences and events to elevate them above the norm, are designed to inspire, motivate and stimulate pleasure.
Specifically, it is what designers call aesthetics - the properties that define the way an object looks and feels - that gives rise to the feeling of joy.
The wise woman of whom I spoke is author and designer, Ingrid Fetell Lee. I came across her in a magazine I picked up whilst at the gym one evening and her observations on what lifts the human spirit almost caused me to take a tumble on the treadmill.
Ingrid had been collecting images of objects and places that people associate with joy, sorting them into categories and looking for patterns. What she saw was lollipops, pom-poms and polka dots - all round in shape. Cathedral windows, sunflowers and snowflakes - radiating symmetry, and Matisse paintings, rainbow sweets and vibrant quilts - emanating saturated colour.
This is perhaps neither the time nor place to go into the psychology of colour (as it’s a blog in its own right), but what stopped me in my tracks before quickly realising the running machine hadn’t stopped with me, was Ingrid’s recognition of the impact of curves and the joy of order - two things that I have long thought were my own personal idiosyncrasies.
You see, I’m what event professionals affectionately call a ‘round person’. I like sets to be curved, stages set in the round, layouts to be symmetrical and event design that allows delegates to experience the room as a whole, rather than as a mishmash of disconnected things.
Why? Because it makes me happy and I’ve always believed that living in symmetry and balance changes our mood and behaviour for the better. So if it makes me happy, I’ve always just assumed it also has a positive effect on event attendees.
According to Ingrid, I’m not alone. It seems that the impulse to seek joy in our surroundings is deeply human. It evolved over thousands of generations to motivate our ancestors to seek out the things in their surroundings that enhanced their likelihood of survival.
We find joy in vibrant colours, round shapes, symmetrical patterns and lush textures because these aesthetics indicated to early humans that an environment was nourishing, safe, balanced and abundant.
Of course, event planners also need to be highly organised, logical and analytical so I’ve always sought the experience of ‘square’ people who would offset my ‘roundness’.
But at least I now know that my drive towards joy through event aesthetics isn’t just a quirk of personality, it has an important role to play in maintaining healthy delegate mindsets and filling all our events with positivity and joy.