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VX: Thinking bigger than pit stops

Why designing for the visitor experience is so much more than creating 'pit stops'.

The boardroom table; show plan under scrutiny, square meters calculated, draft plans scattered. Why dedicate valuable floor space to features? To give visitors somewhere to rest, recharge devices, grab a caffeine fix? To give businesses a sponsorship opportunity and splash some budget on a brand exercise?

Well...yes, features do all these things. But their lasting value for an event brand is in the experience it gives both visitors, and often, exhibitors. The facility a feature offers ticks a box; a functional need. But the real value of a well designed collection of features will have the user experience at their heart - in both their structural design, their intent and how they make people feel. Yes, we’re talking feelings - the difference between a box ticking exercise and something that makes a real impression and creates recall (and conversation) days afterwards.

Imagine a classic city break. A standard itinerary might include a few art galleries, museums, shopping, a nice park. Most likely, you’ll need a few stops to rest your legs and grab a coffee. It might cost you the equivalent to £3-£4, but ultimately, you’re buying dwell time in a nice environment. Central Perk changed the face of coffee culture 20 years ago, and since then, going for a coffee is so much more than caffeine. It’s ambience, aromas, music, identity - are you a Reykjavik hipster sipping your espresso or a vegan plant-loving chai fan? It’s quite the lifestyle identifier.

Once you find your place, you'll remember your time there, the feeling it evokes, the conversations had, the reflections on a morning well-spent, perhaps even a sense of belonging. The memory may even be woven into your city break experience. But it’ll rarely be just because of the coffee.

Our events are really no different - we create mini cities inside exhibition halls or in outdoor venues, all themed in one specific area. A city dedicated to information security, fine food, marketing, healthcare - whatever the show is, we invest huge sums of time and money in creating a temporary environment that will excite, inspire and spark conversation, leading to enquiries and new business. Why wouldn’t we invest the same amount of time and energy planning for the visitor experience - and how the event’s features shape it? Features are destinations, highlights on the visitor itinerary where they can dwell, recharge, meet face to face and do business.

So when you’re planning your feature areas, start with the functionality, sure, but quickly answer the question; what will this add to the visitor experience and how do you design for that? It’s not created through architecture alone; consider design, colour, texture, technology, content, food, scent, lighting, furniture, comfort and people. All these aspects contribute to how your visitors feel during, and when they leave, the show. Create your city and pack it full of cool stuff including really impactful spaces for your visitors to spend some of their valuable time.

Visitors that leave an event with a distinct impression will form a lasting memory. Design for the visitor experience and the rest will follow.

Philip Baker

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