Design Thinking for Meetings and Events

February 11, 2013

David Kelley speaks about design thinking on 60 Minutes


Recently, I watched a 60 Minutes episode featuring David Kelley. Mr. Kelley is the founder and chairman of the global design consultancy IDEO and professor (and founder) of Stanford’s

Kelley is a leading thinker on “design thinking,” a methodology for designing products and procedures via empathy, diversity, collaboration and iteration. The program highlights many of Kelley’s (and his firm’s) great product achievements, including the design of the first mouse for Steve Jobs at Apple.

Design Thinking for Events

In a Harvard Business Review piece on design thinking, IDEO’s CEO (Tim Brown) writes:

“As more of our basic needs are met, we increasingly expect sophisticated experiences that are emotionally satisfying and meaningful … design thinking is the tool for imagining these experiences as well as giving them a desirable form.”

I suppose this blog posting was foretold by Mr. Brown: let’s use design thinking to create “sophisticated experiences that are emotionally satisfying and meaningful”!

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking about design thinking for events:

Overview: Design Thinking

Design thinking components

Image source: SAP

The design thinking process can be broken down into three components: inspiration, ideation and implementation. To quote a design thinking article co-authored by Mr. Brown:

  1. Inspiration: “Think of inspiration as the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions.”
  2. Ideation: “Ideation as the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas.”
  3. Implementation: “Implementation as the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.”

Here are some useful resources that provide overviews on the design thinking methodology:

  1. Stanford’s crash course on design thinking
  2. An Introduction to Design Thinking from SAP
  3. From the Emergent By Design blog: What Is Design Thinking, Really?

Incorporating Design Thinking into Meetings and Events

I’ve taken a look at the tenets and methodologies of design thinking and considered how they could be applied to meetings and events. Let’s consider some.

Attend Your Own Event (Empathy)

Meeting and event planners should take off their “planning hats” and attend one of their events solely with their “attendee hats” on. After all, you can only have true empathy for your attendee if you put yourself squarely in their shoes.

And that means that you can have no part in planning the event. Go through the entire cycle of registration, travel, sessions, workshops, social events, etc. Practice further empathy by understanding how fellow attendees are experiencing the event.

Deepen (and Broaden) Your Team Roster

Design thinking introduces the notion of “multidisciplinary teams,” in which people of assorted backgrounds (and schools of thought) ideate, iterate and collaborate.

Consider it a blender, where what comes out is a fascinatingly tasty beverage. You need a group that creates divergent thinking, which, according to Mr. Brown of IDEO, “is the route, not the obstacle, to innovation.”

Mr. Brown suggests “architects who have studied psychology, artists with MBAs, or engineers with marketing experience.” While this may be a stretch for the typical event planner, I’d recommend adding folks from Finance, HR and Engineering.

They don’t have to be core members of the event planning team; however, their perspectives can be more valuable that you’d think.

Where No Idea is a Bad Idea

The scientist Linus Pauling once said, “To have a good idea you must first have lots of ideas.” (quote source: an SSI article co-authored by Mr. Brown). Design thinking teaches you that no idea is a bad idea. If you make an early judgment on the quality of an idea, you may have just squashed a “germ” that would develop into a breakthrough.

The ideation process is critical in creating the next breakthrough event.

Instead, design thinking teaches you to build upon each other’s ideas, sort of like the “yes, and..” methodology in improvisational theater. As a meeting planner, then, your role is to encourage ideation and “shepherd” the process so that no idea is left abandoned (too quickly). And to the earlier point, here’s where multidisciplinary teams can be a goldmine.

Meeting and Event Prototypes

Recall that part of the ideation phase is “testing ideas.” It’s an iterative process in which you deploy a prototype, collect “real user feedback,” determine what you learned, then ideate on product refinements (repeating the cycle all over again).

Let’s say you’re planning next year’s 5,000 person sales kick-off meeting and you have innovative new ideas for it. Create a prototype using 50 sales people and actually implement those ideas in a “real prototype” (event). Determine what worked, make adjustments, then plan another prototype. When the “real thing” comes around, you’ll have a much better “product.”

Potential Barriers to Adoption

Seasoned event and meeting planners (who’ve gotten this far in my post) may be calling me crazy. And I can understand that. What I’ve proposed (in concept) must be balanced against the realities of a meeting planner’s job. And the following barriers could come into play.

Budget, Timeline and ROI

Simply put, design thinking methodologies could add significantly to meeting and event costs, while extending the timeline to deliver them. The ideation phase of design thinking is intentionally non-sequential. Meeting planners are highly organized creatures who thrive on delivering against a sequential timeline. Additionally, meeting and event management may not be comfortable spending more without knowing the precise ROI on it.

Risk Mitigation

The meeting planner is like an NFL coach: every season (i.e. every event), your job can be on the line. In his article, Mr. Brown wrote, “One of the biggest impediments to adopting design thinking is simply fear of failure.” The natural tendency of the meeting and event planner is to be risk averse, which is very much the opposite approach of design thinking.


Design thinking is surely not applicable to all meetings and events. And as I’ve outlined, meeting and event planners will likely shudder at the very concept. What I hope to accomplish with this post, however, is to introduce its concept to meetings and events. It’s my belief that true breakthrough events and experiences can result from it.

Note: This post was originally published on the eVenues blog. Here’s a link to the original piece.

5 Reasons Meeting and Event Planners Should Attend The FRESH Conference (@Freshconference)

December 10, 2012

The FRESH Conference for designing effective meetings

The following is a guest post by Stefania Conti-Vecchi, Founder and CEO of EVENTagist.


Meetings are changing, are you?

Driven by the need to demonstrate value, by financial pressures, by regulatory compliance and by new technologies, changing meeting formats may be one of the toughest but most important objectives meeting organizers face.

When organizing a meeting or conference, you need to understand what tools you have available and how you can use them. And the most impactful tools may be meeting formats.

The FRESH Conference

“The FRESH13 adventure is not just theory, but thorough practical experience.”

At the FRESH conference, the annual conference organized by the Meeting Support Institute specifically dedicated to, and focussed on, meetings and events design, we will look at what we mean by a ‘meeting format’.

Attendees at The FRESH Conference - January 2013 in Copenhagen

We will explore together meeting formats, session formats and presentation formats, tools and techniques. The FRESH13 adventure is not just theory, but thorough practical experience.

For two and a half days, from 13-15 January 2013 in Copenhagen, FRESH13 will mix world-renowned speakers in a highly interactive environment rich with tools and technology to give you an opportunity to experience first-hand a wealth of innovative meeting formats and resources that engage attention and drive effectiveness.

What’s In Store

We will look at coordinating and managing the speakers and experts, the facilitators, the presentation designers and all the other specialists we need in order to deliver the meeting.

We will explore how to work with the venue for ever-changing room setups; with production and AV for their support; with catering for smart cooking; and how we apply sustainability and integrate the city, the surroundings.

We even include a little detour through sciences such as psychology, neurology and cognitive science to help us develop convincing arguments. The FRESH program will share stories and cases to convincingly demonstrate this valuable knowledge to your clients.

5 Reasons to Attend The FRESH Conference

1) To understand meeting owners and their objectives.

Meeting owners have a lot of power over meetings and events but their objectives are not always clearly identified. FRESH has experts on several topics that help you understand better what is needed to make our ‘clients’ sit down and spend some quality time on setting meeting objectives.

2) To experience a wide variety of meeting formats.

Meeting formats have an enormous impact on the outcome of a meeting or event. Knowing the theory is one thing, but practical experience of different meeting formats and techniques is essential. FRESH will have a different format for almost every session and will allow you to learn by experience: get ready to be totally immersed in session formats, presentation formats and all sorts of applicable techniques.

3) To learn from best practice through case studies.

Our crowd-sourced program is enriched with case studies from corporate and association meetings – big and small – each one providing many tips for you to take home and use.

4) To discover innovative tools and techniques for meeting design.

To craft good meeting designs you need a big toolbox. In the FRESH conference, but also in the Toolbox Networking Area and especially in the Learning Carousels, you will see, feel, hear and experience tools and techniques that you can take home and apply immediately to your own projects. Discover the new applications on iPad; crowd-sourcing tools; gamification platforms and more.

5) To meet and connect with your professional colleagues in meeting design.

The people that are professionally active in designing effective meetings come from many different backgrounds: senior planners, creative producers, AV professionals, facilitators, speaker managers, meeting architects, communication professionals and more.

Other sectors FRESH will be welcoming this year are Interaction Designers and Crowd-sourcing professionals. FRESH introduces you to an exciting new mix of disciplines, all focused on making meetings and events more effective.


We all want to become the ‘go-to’ person for meeting design. With better understanding, stronger stories and a bigger toolbox you are equipped to face the challenging world of the meeting owner. FRESH helps you to increase your impact on meetings and events. As you move into meeting architecture, you become stronger and more successful in helping meeting owners reaching their goals. You shape change.

Join the FRESH tribe

Join us at the Fresh Conference in January in Copenhagen and at the end you will be ready to shape change for your coming meetings and events.

If you cannot come, you can attend on-line and our virtual meeting facilitators will ensure you can participate effectively and that your voice will be heard.

  1. Learn more about FRESH13:
  2. Register now:

Note: Special discount code for readers of “It’s All Virtual”: smc-FRESH13-buyer-20%

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QR code for The FRESH Conference

Connect with The FRESH Conference

  1. Follow the Fresh Conference on Twitter: @freshconference
  2. Join the conversation, use our official hashtag #FRESH13
  3. Like us on Facebook:
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  5. Send us an email:

About Stefania

Stefania Conti-Vecchi, CEO of EVENTagist

Stefania Conti-Vecchi is Founder and CEO of EVENTagist, a selected community of international experts with a specific know-how in the Meeting Industry. Besides organizing events, Stefania also assists and supports meeting owners and organizers to create and manage meetings & events applying the most innovative solutions in each single stage of the process.

Specialized in new technologies topics and creative marketing strategies, her expertise ranges, particularly, across hybrid meetings, social media and all the web and mobile tools that can facilitate the life of the organizers. Passionate about mobile device applications connected to the needs of the Meeting Industry, Stefania speaks at international conferences and training courses on these “tech” topics and writes as blogger.

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