Creating Compelling Experiential Spaces For Conferences

PopTech 2011 - Camden Maine USA

Steelcase, a global office environment creator, was invited by TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Conference organizers to create immersive environments for their conference. (Did you click on that link to watch the short video clips showing some examples?)

TED wanted compelling spaces that sparked great attendee conversations and nurtured community.

5 Principles For Designing Compelling Environments

While Steelcase typically helps design and furnish long-term workspaces, they were faced with creating a temporary environment for TED. Their challenge was to integrate five fundamental principles with an understanding of how people engage in activities and their surroundings.

Here are the five principles they used to develop the macro and micro environments of the TED experience. Meeting professionals and conference organizers can learn a lot about creating unique spaces for collaboration and community from these five principles.

1. The Space’s Context Rules

TED uses eighteen-minute presentations (TEDTalks). They are held live in an auditorium and simultaneously broadcast in multiple adjacent spaces. The adjacent spaces allow attendees to converse and socialize with one another while watching the TEDTalks. Attendees have options to view the presentations and a choice of their experience.

Steelcase created a variety of places with a focus on connecting people based on their behaviors. A bookstore, several coffee and tea zones, alcoves and other zones gave attendees a choice of types of connection and engagement. Some of the broadcast spaces had large screens with lounge seating supporting small groups to watch together. Some had whiteboard on wheels allowing attendees to capture points, create and engage.

2. Creating Spaces For A Variety Of Learning Behaviors

While browsing the bookstore, attendees could listen to the broadcast and view screens strategically placed. The dimly lit theater provided a fully immersive experience similar to watching a play or movie. Bloggers, tweeters and those taking notes could take advantage of dedicated active areas where typing and talking wouldn’t disturb those who wanted to watch and listen in silence. Some of the broadcast spaces had traditional rounds for small groups as well as Steelcase’s untraditional collaboration spaces for discussion and engagement.

3. Developing Intentional Transition Spaces

TED schedules forty-five-minute breaks between groups of presentations. Their intention is to allow attendees time to digest the content, discuss points with others and socially connect. Steelcase wanted to harness the energy and rhythm of people moving from space to space so they intentionally developed views and vistas of other spaces without creating disruptions of people moving about. The ability to view other spaces gave the audience a feeling of a much larger experience. The open views encouraged others to have standing and stroll-up conversations. Steelcase also offered a variety of seating at various heights: stools allowed for perching and viewing above others, lower lounge seating encouraged intimate postures and traditional seating encouraged conversations.

4. Using Ambiguity As An Invitation

TED already has some iconic environments such as TED beds and beanbags. While most people know the purpose of a bed and beanbag, their presence at a conference is an unexpected surprise. They invite people to reframe their expectations of what is expected and appropriate behavior.

Steelcase used this principal in subtle ways. They provided props that seemed incongruous and invited new behaviors and patterns. Those who used these spaces assigned new meanings to them.

5. Fostering A Sense Of Belonging

Steelcase and TED actively sought ways to encourage participants to take ownership of the space during the course of the three-and-a-half days. Steelcase used elements that could be controlled by participants. Attendees could manipulate lighting (lounge, desk, floor), spatial dividers, moveable carts, foam cubes and white boards to establish their own home base. Some elements were on wheels that could be easily moved by participants. These elements were intuitive in purpose and encouraged attendees to adopt them for their own use. Many of the elements were repeated throughout the entire space so that participants felt they could create a space with a sense of belonging.

Which of these five principles would be most intriguing for your conference attendees and why? Which of these do you plan to implement at your next conference?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
1 comment
  1. Hi,

    An excellent read some great areas covered, some i wouldn’t have even thought of! I shall be passing this article on to my fellow colleagues i work with – see what we could utilise.

    Many thanks

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *