Consider the most recent conference that left you feeling inspired and impressed - what exactly was it that made the event stand out? Even if you didn’t realize it at the time, that specific conference had a certain wow factor that distinguished it from the rest, that little something extra needed to push it past the boundaries of mediocrity and well into greatness.
Sure, plenty of us like to joke that it’s the food and freebies that can make or break a professional conference, but there’s really so much more to a successful event than snacks and swag bags. A memorable conference is a multi-layered experience, one specifically designed to engage, educate, and even entertain guests in a variety of ways.
Boiling an excellent conference down to a single ingredient is virtually impossible, especially when you consider the level of detail that goes into creating a well-rounded guest experience. From your featured conference speakers to the venue selection, there’s no shortage of key elements to consider in the planning process. However, you may be surprised to learn that there’s one aspect of conference planning that might just be the most vital - and yet the least considered - of all: your conference materials.
Conference Branding: Materials that Matter
It doesn’t matter what size or type of conference your brand is planning to host; the odds are pretty good that at least part of your strategy is for guests to remember it as an enjoyable, high-quality event. And while there’s much to be said about choosing the right event space, selecting relevant speakers, and designing an effective schedule, underestimating the importance of your conference branding materials would be a monumental mistake.
Visual branding isn’t a topic reserved only for those planning a dedicated design conference - regardless of the topic, industry, or overall mission, the conference materials are key. From the very first conference marketing emails to the thank you notes for VIP guests, intentional design should be built into your event strategy from its inception.
Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of tackling branding and design for your conference? Don’t be - with a little help from the professionals (hint: that’s us!) and a few handy design tips, you can devise a visual strategy that will easily win over even the most seasoned conference attendees.
Shape Your Guests’ Conference Journey
At the risk of getting too metaphorical, our team likes to think of a conference as a long journey that involves both the guests and event hosts. From the social media marketing materials to the event signage, every stop along the way has the potential to either derail or enrich the experience. Think of it as guiding your guests through your conference from beginning to end, connecting with them at every possible touchpoint along the way. The goal is to get everyone to your planned final destination - in other words, your large-scale conference mission - but you’ll need to avoid losing anyone leading up to it.
So, what does this mean in real-world terms? Ultimately, your design team and event organizers will need to work in tandem to fashion a narrative that connects all of the dots before, during, and after the conference. Ask yourself these questions:
- What are the goals you have for your guests, and what do you hope their takeaways from the conference will be?
- What will attendees need to successfully move through each aspect of the event, not just experientially, but also physically?
Once you can articulate the answers to these questions, you’ll be much better prepared to take a tactical approach to your event’s visual design.
Keep in Mind that Consistency is Key
At the heart of your visual design strategy should be a clear focus on building a consistently excellent experience. The best way to get your core message across is to make sure it permeates every aspect of your visual branding so that each and every element feels like it belongs to the same universe - a universe in which your brand is represented exactly how you’d like.
Establishing branding guidelines ensures that everyone involved stays on track during the planning process, guaranteeing cohesiveness across the board. The following items should be addressed, establishing a set of “rules” that can be applied to every single conference element:
- Color combinations
- Photographic styles
Fail to pay attention to the details, and you can bet that your attendees will notice. With help from a professional design team, you can be confident that you don’t miss a thing.
Don’t Be Afraid to Think Big and Be Playful
While it’s easy to assume that a successful conference must be the pinnacle of professionalism, that doesn’t mean that fun and creativity are off the table. Whether we’re at a conference or simply experiencing everyday life, we all love to be delighted and surprised - especially with oversized, playful, and interactive elements. Forget being formal and overly serious, because today’s conference attendees want to feel like kids again, even when at a professional event. These stand-out “pop factors” can exist in harmony with your key messaging and event goals.
Branding isn’t only about the visual aspects, either: don’t forget to consider what you want your guests to hear and feel as well. For example, elements like soft-touch paper can shape a pleasantly tactile experience for attendees, boosting their enjoyment without them even realizing it.
Remember that Effective Communication is Always King
Above all, when you’re developing your conference materials, don’t forget that effective communication reigns supreme. Your event might wow guests with creative and unexpected elements, but if you fail to get your core message across, it’s all for naught.
There are a handful of design best practices that should always serve as your guiding principles. Here are a couple of our go-to guidelines for any event’s visual design strategy:
- When it doubt, keep things simple. An overcomplicated design system is one of the most common design downfalls.
- In PowerPoint presentations, avoid white backgrounds because it can cause eye strain and fatigue. Instead, use white text on dark backgrounds to make reading easier on your audience.
As a graphic designer, Joe Sparano said, “Good design is obvious, but great design is invisible.” Your event’s visual design should function so well that it is virtually undetectable, enabling guests to use, interpret, and enjoy materials exactly as intended.
Case in Point
In 2019, Page Design Group developed the look and feel for tourism powerhouse Visit California’s annual Outlook Forum conference. This event connects key players in the tourism industry while the organization Visit California helps inspire the tourism economy that keeps our thriving state well connected to the rest of the world.
String art became the metaphor for connecting California internally and worldwide. The connections we’ve made in this state are strong, they overlap and they double back, weaving a stronger whole that touches us all. We are in this together.
California-based shapes were developed to represent different aspects of the tourism industry and these shapes were used to create the conference art, event name tags, program brochures, directional and room signage, the keynote address slides, as well as follow-up thank you cards.
The event’s big surprise came as participants rounded a corner at the event and came face to snout with an 8-foot tall, 12-foot wide custom string art bear. Participants were encouraged to touch, selfie and string, string, string to their heart’s content with this giant interactive art piece. The bear was a hit and became a much talked about part of the conference. It has since lived on and traveled around California as a stand-alone promotion piece. Three cheers for surprise, oversized scale and whimsy!
Make Your Next Conference One to Remember
Hosting a successful, memorable conference is no small task - but with the right strategy and team, it’s absolutely possible. Here at Page Design, we like to think of ourselves as experts in achieving that perfect balance of playful, creative design and smart, effective communication, creating materials that both deliver a message and stand out from the crowd. We know what it takes to create conference materials that check all the boxes - so why not let us help you with your next big event?
For more information about working with our team to design materials for your upcoming conference, contact Page Design today.