Chapter 1: Introduction: Designing events, events as a design strategy
Greg Richards, Lénia Marques and Karen Mein
Richards, G., Marques, L. and Mein, K. (2014) Introduction: designing events, events as a
design strategy. In Richards, G., Marques, L. and Mein, K. (eds) Event Design: Social
perspectives and practices. Routledge: London, pp. 1-13.
Events are becoming increasingly important as social, cultural and economic phenomena, to
the extent that many of us live in ‘eventful cities’ (Richards and Palmer 2010) or traverse
‘eventscapes’ (Ferdinand and Shaw 2012) in our daily lives. Events are also becoming more
complex as their range of functions grows; as meeting places, creative spaces, economic
catalysts, social drivers, community builders, image makers, business forums, and network
Events are therefore being designed to fulfil particular roles in society and business, and this
process requires creative imagination, and a design methodology which can be framed
according to different perspectives such as ‘Service Design’, ‘Design Thinking’ (Lockwood
2010) or ‘Imagineering’ (Nijs and Peters 2002). Events do not just happen; they are carefully
crafted to weave narratives (content) into places (context) through processes of experience
design. Effective design of an event can produce more successful business models that can
help to sustain cultural and sporting activities even in difficult economic times. Effective
design of an event can also become a key element in adapting to changing external conditions
and can even create new opportunities where there was a threat (or nothing else) before.
This volume brings together a range of different perspectives on the factors that shape the
way in which events are designed. It is less about the practical, micro aspects of design and
far more about how events are designed to meet a range of different needs and aspirations for
their organizers, visitors and other stakeholders. We examine these issues in a range of
different events including mega-events, small community events, business events and
festivals. These events are analyzed in eight different countries, providing an international
view of social issues in event design.
Why do events need to be designed?
Getz (2007:18) defines an event as ‘an occurrence at a given place and time; a special set of
circumstances; a noteworthy occurrence.’ This idea of events as a special set of circumstances
is developed by Greg Richards in chapter 2, where he analyzes events as special times and
spaces in which specific rituals or practices can be developed and maintained. These practices
are designed to meet particular objectives (such as building social cohesion or stimulating
economic impact or image change) related to individual events or to the places and
communities in which they take place. The purposive nature of such events requires that they
be designed to produce the desired outputs as effectively as possible.
Modern societies have increasingly recognized the power of events as economic, social and
cultural tools, and this has arguably led to a growing number of events being purposefully
staged. This has led to the emergence of an ‘events industry’ that was estimated to be worth
over £36 billion in the UK alone in 2010 (Business Visits & Events Partnership 2010). This is
witness to the growing size, influence and professionalism of the events industry. This growth
in itself places new emphasis on the events themselves, which are now usually expected to be
professionally organized, managed and marketed.
Essentially events have become value creation platforms in contemporary society. They are a
vehicle or format for a wide range of value-creation activities and they generate different
kinds of value(s): economic, cultural, social, creative, environmental. They are ideally suited
to the contemporary knowledge economy because they can generate, concentrate and
disseminate knowledge among large numbers of people quickly and effectively. Because they
usually depend on face to face contact, events can be a powerful value creation tool.
Events as value creation platforms can also be conceptualized as living organisms: they are
born of fertile connections between people, they grow, creating more value in the process,
they change, they reproduce (producing a ripple effect or instigating copycat events) and they
eventually die. Event design in this sense can be seen as relying on the ‘DNA’ of the event
that provides the code for the processes of growth and change which correspond to the event
itself, but also to the organizations involved and society in general. This DNA includes
different elements that include leading strategic internal decisions which concern, for
example, a vision, a mission and strategic goals for the organizations involved. Linking
events to the DNA of places ensures a good ‘fit’ between events and needs of stakeholders,
and also ensures that events are ‘anchored’ in the places that created them.
Clear choices in terms of DNA are also important, such as the analysis of music festivals (e.g.
the Tomorrowland festival in Belgium), village celebrations (e.g. Draaksteken, as described
by Simons, chapter 7) or conferences (e.g. the FRESH conference as described by Crowther
and Orefice, chapter 10) underline. The success of such events is related to clear vision,
mission and strategic objectives that respond to challenges and adapt to the context of the
event. Even where tradition lies at the core of an event, it can no longer be designed in a
purely traditional way, as is shown by the examples provided by Trono and Rizello (chapter
8) and Cardoso, Silva and Fernandes (chapter 13).
The design of events also needs to take their particular nature into account. For example, the
fact that most events are based on ‘live’ content and the co-presence of large numbers of
people means that timing becomes a design issue, as do problems of access, and dealing with
waste and nuisance. The effective use of events as value creation platforms in the knowledge
economy therefore raises a range of design-related issues for events. Design processes are
therefore applied to events in order to:
•increase effectiveness and efficiency;
•increase recognition of events among stakeholders;
•ensure the production of discrete effects, such as social practices, social
cohesion, cultural processes and economic impacts;
•minimize undesirable effects of events, such as noise, nuisance,
•optimize the success of the event, in terms of visitors numbers, the quality
of the experience and other outputs.
As Brown (2005: 2) points out, the event process really needs to start with design,
because ‘events that are designed badly start out wrong and can’t be made better by good
management processes and a great risk management plan.’ Event design is therefore far more
than just décor and the ‘look’ of events - it is a basic process that needs to be integrated into
the development of all events in order to ensure their longevity. Brown (2005: 2) defines
event design as ‘the creation, conceptual development and design of an event to maximize the
positive and meaningful impact for the event’s audience and / or participants’. However, as
this volume illustrates, the implications of event design go far beyond the event audience and
participants. For example, events have a relationship with the places in which they are held,
which also raises issues of identity and image (Bevolo, chapter 6; Simons, chapter 7). Events
can also be linked to religious rituals (Trono and Rizzello, chapter 8), to the use of Web 2.0
(Hede and Kellett, chapter 9) and technological advances (Calvo-Soraluze and San Salvador
del Valle, chapter 12) or by their influence in the cultural landscape (Steijn, chapter11).
This volume provides therefore examples of how these design processes work in relation to
different types of physical content, locations and types of events.
What is design?
As the Design Council (2006) put it ‘Design is everywhere - and that's why looking for a
definition may not help you grasp what it is.’ The diversity of design and design approaches
is certainly evident from the range of contributions to the current volume. However, there are
some widely held ideas about what design is and what function it has in social and economic
processes. For example, as Cox (2005: 2) states, ‘design is what links creativity and
innovation. It shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or
customers. Design may be described as creativity deployed to a specific end.’
This also dovetails neatly with the network approach to events developed by the ATLAS
Events Group (Richards et al. 2013), which views events as a means for reaching a wide
range of social, economic and cultural ends. In this view, however, the design process is also
wider than the creation of products or experiences for users or customers. As the chapters in
this volume show, the range of stakeholders and actors involved in event design includes
many other parties, including residents, public authorities, voluntary associations and
In this broader context, events are far more than a practical proposition or product. They can
also be catalysts, symbols, conduits and lenses that enable people to function within and
reflect upon their own role in society. In the context of the knowledge economy, for example,
events could be viewed as generators, containers and disseminators of knowledge. So
Grudin’s (2010: 62) broader definition of design as the agency that ‘shapes, regulates, and
channels energy, empowering forces that might otherwise be spent chaotically’, is pertinent,
particularly as he views design as ‘embodied knowledge’, which can be transferred into
practice. In order for the embodied, implicit knowledge of design to be applied more widely,
that knowledge has to be made explicit through processes of externalization and combination
with other forms of knowledge (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). This is effectively what has
happened in different areas of design in recent decades, which we can also see reflected in the
different approaches to event design.
The combination of knowledge from different fields is most clearly illustrated by the concept
of imagineering. Long thought to have been originated by Walt Disney, imagineering refers to
the combination of imagination and engineering. According to Paleo-Future (2007) the word
was actually coined in 1942 to describe work being done in the laboratories of the Aluminium
Company of America. Quoting from a 1942 newspaper article, imagineering was seen as a
‘combination of imagination and engineering’, it is defined as ‘the fine art of deciding where
we go from here.’ This original definition also fits very well with Ratcliffe and Krawczyk’s
(2004) analysis of imagineering for cities as a process of ‘Imagine ahead - plan backwards’.
The imagineering concept was later applied by Disney to the design and development
activities at his theme parks. Imagineering therefore became more centrally related to the
development of experiences, an idea later translated into a definition of imagineering as value
creation from an experience perspective by Nijs and Peters (2002). In the realm of events,
imagineering was seen as ‘creating and managing worlds of experience, based in internal
values (DNA) on the one hand and/or values of the target groups on the other, with the
objective of creating the emotional involvement of all stakeholders’ (Hover 2008: 43).
An example of the imagineering perspective on business events is developed by Frank
Ouwens in chapter 4 and examples of the use of the customer journey in events are provided
by Gerritsen and van Olderen (chapter 5).
The rise of the service economy in the 1980s created a need to effectively design and manage
service delivery. Early work on service design (Shostak 1982) therefore used a ‘service
blueprint’ as a means of visualizing and designing services. As Miettinen, Valtonen and
Markuksela (chapter 3) describe in their analysis of service design at Raunta Zoo in Finland,
the field has developed considerably in the past three decades. Interaction between
participants or customers and different elements of a service lies at the heart of the service
design approach. This is also the basic starting point for another more specific application of
service design that has evolved around the notion of the customer journey. As Gerritsen and
van Olderen point out in chapter 5, the customer journey can be a very useful design tool that
allows the service provider to understand better how the consumer interacts with the different
Nonetheless, the service design concept can be extended much further, as Miettenen,
Valtonen and Markuksela show in their discussion of service design and design thinking in
chapter 3. As Osterwalder and Pigneur (2009: 59) argue, a ‘designer’s job is to extend the
boundaries of thought, to generate new options, and, ultimately, to create value for users. This
requires the ability to imagine “that which does not exist.” We are convinced that the tools
and attitude of the design profession are prerequisites for success in the business model
As Miettenen, Valtonen and Markuksela point out in chapter 3, design thinking seeks to be a
human-centred approach that defines strategy according to the embeddedness in the context.
The examples are manifold and, as Lockwood (2010) shows, it can an approach used by
businesses that are looking for new models in order to survive in a competitive context.
Events can be therefore part of the strategy and act as catalyst where emotional energy is an
important event output (Richards, chapter 2). Moreover, the design of the event itself is
developed using a design thinking approach, which results in new strategic guidelines for
organizations and managers. An illustration in the field of events related to city branding can
be found in Bevolo’s analysis of Eindhoven (chapter 6).
The transition from the service economy to the experience economy described by Pine and
Gilmore (1999) heralded a new focus on the way in which experiences are designed. Pine and
Gilmore argued that experiences revolve far more around the consumer. Whereas the
management and design of services had tended to focus on the actions of the supplier,
experiences can only be created in the presence of the consumer, and each experience is
Ek et al. (2008) developed four definitions of experience design, located on a continuum
from a static starting point to a dynamic endpoint. They argued that most previous studies of
experience design had concentrated on relatively static concepts related to design as a noun
(shaping something static) or experience as a noun (observation of or participation in an
event), whereas less attention has been paid to the more dynamic aspects of design as a verb
(dynamically shaping something) or experience as a verb (to undergo emotional sensations).
In their view, much more attention needs to be paid to the dynamic aspects of experience
design, because this is where the experience actually ‘happens’.
In the field of events, experience design is described by Berridge (2011: 278), who argues
that ‘if the core phenomenon of an event is the experience then event design effectively
becomes the platform upon which it is built.’ Storytelling is an important aspect of many
experiences, and it is becoming increasingly integrated into event experiences as well.
As Mossberg et al. (2010:4) point out:
the design phase involves more concrete concept development: creating the
story line, designing the servicescape (i.e. physical location), packaging and
programming the activities, for instance offering a number of storytelling
activities in combination with a meal and accommodation or making a
programme for on-stage storytelling activities, music and other performances.
Creating awareness for the storytelling offer with point of departure in a
marketing plan as well as prolonging the storytelling experience through
souvenirs and other relevant products (e.g. food) are also central activities of
the design phase.
This indicates that storytelling is often linked to the more physical aspects of experience
design. However, storytelling may also become part of the more intangible design elements,
being central to the DNA of the organization and /or the event. This process may include
creating a vision or a storyline that seeks to involve audiences through identification
processes (Hover 2008). Some festivals are very good at this, such as Glastonbury (UK),
Andanças (Portugal), Roskilde Festival (Denmark) or Tomorrowland (Belgium). In addition,
the Dragon Slaying event described by Ilja Simons in chapter 7 is not just based on the
historical story of George and the Dragon; it also tells a story about the contemporary
community that (re)created the event. The fact that the event is endogenous means that it is
not only about creating and telling a story, but also about having a narrative identity that
permeates the event. Narrative is also being used as a central pillar in the experience design
of events thorough the means of technology, such as the classical music events analyzed by
Steijn in chapter 11.
Beyond the personal experience of events, nowadays, also in design thinking studies, more
attention is being given to social contexts and social change (Brown and Wyatt 2010). The
development of design thinking towards social innovation has resulted in social design. The
concept of social design can be approached from the point of view of design, which usually
relates to the social responsibilities of designers, or from the social perspective of designing
the social world or promoting social innovation. Events have often been used as catalysts for
social change, because as Sewell (1996) points out, an event is essentially produced by a gap
between expectation and reality. Events can therefore become a means of changing social
structures and creating new realities. Consider for example the role of Live Aid in changing
perceptions of famine in Africa and convincing governments of the need for action (Rojek
2013). Increasingly more businesses and non-profit organizations (often NGO´s but also
educational organizations) are designing events for social innovation.
As Richards and Palmer (2010) point out, events can be used as a means of social design for
spaces in the city. This is a strategy that has been extensively used in Barcelona, for example,
to open up and ‘pacify’ run-down areas of the inner city. By staging cultural events in areas
where little mixing of different social groups occurs, it is hoped that more civic and
responsible uses of public space can be promoted and at the same time more contact created
by individuals and social groups (cf. Bevolo, chapter 6).
Designing events - an emerging social practice?
Brown and James (2004) argue that design has often been ignored in the practice of event
management, even though design is often crucial to the success of an event. They identify
five basic design principles for events: scale, shape, focus, timing and build. The final term
‘build’ emphasises the largely physical approach that is often taken to event design.
In this volume we argue for a broader approach to design, which recognizes the social role of
events and also the social factors that shape those events. A growing number of cities are
beginning to use events proactively as a strategic and tactical tool to achieve a range of
different aims (e.g. Dubai, Eindhoven, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Montreal, Singapore). A small,
but influential group of event designers is therefore emerging at the interface between urban
policy, spatial planning and cultural and economic development.
For example, events umbrella organizations such as Rotterdam Festivals and Antwerpen
Open now play an increasing role as event designers. For example, having identified the
‘food’ theme as an important aspect of the urban landscape of Rotterdam, Rotterdam
Festivals proceeded to organize the World Food Festival in 2013 to link up the different parts
of the food sector in the city. These included restaurants and cafes, food producers, scientists
and chefs, as well as a range of related areas such as hospitality, event management, city
marketing, the municipality and creative entrepreneurs.
The principles described by Richards and Palmer (2010) in relating events to urban
management and revitalization can be applied more widely to the events design field as a
whole. These principles include:
Vision is an essential aspect of design – without a vision of the future nothing new can be
created. Defining a vision is about more than creativity; it is also an essential tool for
galvanizing people to work towards a common goal, and ensuring that specific aims are
reached. Very often, to be effective, the vision also needs to involve taking certain risks; at
the very least the risk of failure, but also potential economic, social and cultural risks as well.
Unless an event offers something new and innovative it will quickly become tired and
uninteresting as a value creation platform. This is also the reason why events must be able to
reinvent themselves, although without changing their vision (as the Draaksteken described by
Simons, chapter 7).
The increasing use of events to generate social cohesion (Richards et al. 2013) also makes the
question of engagement crucial in event design. Events need to implicate people as well as
entertain them if they want to make a difference. But the way in which engagement is
achieved also needs careful design in order to ensure a certain level of equity, at least a
programme level. If the ultimate aim of the event programme is to improve the quality of life,
then this should apply equally to everybody.
These elements have been increasingly incorporated into different events in different ways.
For example the use of storytelling or the adoption of a strong ritual form, are strategies for
ensuring engagement and projecting a certain vision. This is evident in the way in which
many mega-events have begun to incorporate stylized design elements, such as carefully
staged opening and closing ceremonies (Tomlinson 1996). For example, in the case of the
Beijing Olympics Luo (2010: 771) describes how ‘China attempted to use the opening and
closing ceremonies as public rituals for realizing its dream of reinventing itself as a nation’.
In such instances it becomes clear that the design and form of an event itself can become a
means of communication.
The careful design of events as a form of expression becomes increasingly important as the
competition for attention from consumers and other stakeholders increases (Richards 2013).
Events and event programmes increasingly need to be spectacular and distinctive in order to
stand out and attract attention from publics and the media. The success of events is therefore
also often measured in terms of attendance and/or media coverage. The need to attract
attention is also linked to the growing role of narrative and storytelling in events. Events need
to have a story in order to engage audiences and make themselves interesting. For example
Ziakas (2013:27) describes how events can be seen as ‘dramatic stories that express versions
of a community's social order’, hence ‘allowing the expression of different aspects of
community life’. The telling of stories through events is also a means of confronting and
dealing with social and cultural challenges and contributing to social cohesion and
community identity (Bevolo chapter 6 and Simons chapter 7).
As Simons shows in chapter 7, and, to a certain extent also Calvo-Soraluze and San Salvador
del Valle (chapter 12) and Crowther and Orefice (chapter 10), in addition to this top-down
approach, there is also more evidence of bottom-up, ad hoc events which are not designed
professionally, but which emerge through collaborative action.
Gore (2010) examines the development of ‘flash mob’ dance performances, which are often
designed to look spontaneous, even though they are usually carefully planned (a phenomenon
Marcuse (2004: 109) described as ‘organized spontaneity’). This is also a good example of
how the design of events has begun to change under the influence of expanding technological
possibilities. Flash mobs depend on rapid decentralized communication through extended
networks and visual technologies that allow such impromptu performances to be filmed and
displayed via the Internet. This type of event, quite recent in the eventscape, results from the
high impact of technology as a major force on event design (Adema and Roehl 2010). The
same description could be used for other developing phenomena such as described by Steijn
Increasing friction and clashes between top down and bottom up modes of event organization
(often starkly visible during major global events such as the G20 summit) highlights the
practice of designing events as a kind of ‘thirdspace’ between local and global, old and new,
large and small. As Sewell (1996) suggests, this can also be a means of announcing and
overcoming disjuncture, and perhaps of creating new and different visions of the world.
Contributions to this volume
In the following chapter Greg Richards presents a theoretical consideration of the role of
‘interaction ritual chains’ (Collins 2004) as design tools for events. The co-presence implicit
in events can be used to focus attention, create a feeling of belonging to a group and so
generate ‘emotional energy’. Richards argues that rituals are triggers and therefore should be
thought of in the design process. Ritual design is an element to be taken into account in
successful events programmes or portfolios.
Continuing the presentation of different theoretical perspectives to event design, Satu
Miettinen, AnuValtonen, and Vesa Markuksela outline in chapter 3 the ways in which
principles of service design can be applied to events. In this relatively new field, experiments
are being used to design services, looking at the customer journey and touchpoints to improve
the experience of events. They define touchpoints as something physical through which one
uses the service, such as objects, places and interfaces.
In chapter 4, Frank Ouwens provides another perspective focusing on the role that
imagineering can play in event design strategy, in particular in the business event industry.
Outlining the evolution of the concept of imagineering, Ouwens argues that event organizers
need to adopt new design methods in order to meet the increasing demands of clients and the
Also from an imagineering perspective, in chapter 5, Dorothé Gerritsen and Ronald van
Olderen analyze the use of the visitor journey in events. Throughout an event the visitor
journey is marked out by a series of touchpoints at the interface between consumer and
producer (also referred to by Miettinen, Valtonen and Markuksela in chapter 3). These
touchpoints can also imply that the visitor is touched at an emotional level, so that there is
real contact between supplier and consumer.
The importance of events is being increasingly recognized by policy makers and also being
integrated as strategy in city planning and branding, as underlined in chapter 6 by Marco
Bevolo. He examines the ways in which design has influenced the city of Eindhoven and in
particular its flagship event, the Dutch Design Week. Bevolo explores the way in which
design became part of the cultural DNA of the city, and how this has enabled it to stage a very
successful design event, as well as to export its own design model to other cities.
The link between event design and place is also the subject of chapter 7, by Ilja Simons.
Using Collins’ (2004) interaction ritual chains as theoretical basis, Simons analyzes the case
of the Draaksteken Beesel event. This event is only staged once every seven years by the
inhabitants of a small village in the south of the Netherlands. The effort involved in the
staging of this event by a small community means that they have to take their time and
‘slowly’ design an event that is rich in tradition. However, at the same time, the long time
period reveals the changes that are taking place in the local community and the local culture,
which are embraced and decided by the community in a bottom-up process.
The Rites of Holy Week in the Puglia region of Italy are also based on tradition, as Anna
Trono and Katia Rizzello explain in chapter 8. On the other hand, the rituals and the
emotional energy attached to these are strong elements of this religious celebration. These
traditional rituals are still very conservative, even if spectacular elements have been
highlighted for tourist consumption.
Anne-Marie Hede and Pamm Kellett investigate the technological impacts on event design in
chapter 9. These authors look into the ways that web 2.0 is allowing events to be
imagineered, in particular in terms of human resource management. Events are extended in
time and space through the use of ‘dynamic marketing communications’, which means that
new skills have to be integrated into event design. This, the authors argue, is particularly
important for events, which are subject to temporal fluctuation as they develop through
phases of re-generation, activation and dormancy.
The interactive potential of new technology to market events is a theme also analyzed in
chapter 10 by Phil Crowther and Chiara Orefice. Examining how events work as mutual
value creation spaces, they demonstrate how events have previously been seen as relatively
peripheral in marketing, but that they have the potential to become much more central ‘value
creation spaces’ if they are used effectively.
Another perspective on the use of digital media and technological advances in event design,
namely in live classical music events, is analyzed by Arthur Maria Steijn in chapter 11. Using
experience design as a framework, the author describes an ongoing project designed to
improve and expand the experience of classical music events, taking the music outside the
concert hall and into new spaces, including a metro station.
Technology has also been having an influence on the design of music festivals, a topic
studied by June Calvo-Soraluze and Roberto San Salvador del Valle in chapter 12. This study
illustrates the way technology is influencing the pace and style of events and is impacting on
the welfare and wellbeing dimensions of leisure experiences.
Focusing on the traditional aspect of another type of event, the gastronomic festival, Marta
Cardoso, Goretti Silva and Carlos Fernandes investigate the Santarém National Gastronomy
Festival (Portugal) in chapter 13. Although the festival has been running for more than thirty
years, little has changed in the design of the event. With the numbers of visitors decreasing,
their research indicates the challenges of designing the visitor experience in order to increase
satisfaction and generate repeat visits to the festival.
The final chapter by Greg Richards, Lénia Marques and Karen Mein outlines the main
findings of the research presented in this volume and presents some remaining challenges for
event design research. The potential future research areas discussed include the extension of
event design in both space and time, as organizers and participants co-create experiences
beyond the location and timeframe of the event itself. They also underline the growing need
for research into the co-creation process itself. This is often cited as being important in event
research, but few studies have yet tackled how the co-creation process works or what effects
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