September 3, 2018

Experiential Design VS Event Production

When VDA first opened its doors back in the 1980s, the terms experiential design and event production were near synonymous. Designers considered the colors of the walls, the carpet, the lighting, the stuff, and then the production shop executed on the design concept. As times and trends have changed, the focus of events has shifted from the stuff to the engagement, the creativity, and the innovation. Events have become much more about attendee experience, and in that vein, the concepts of experiential design and event production have progressed and morphed into two distinct, almost disparate processes.


Experiential design is the idea, while event production is the stuff. And while tangible stuff is a means to an end, experiential design is the end. Even before the big experiential wave in event design, VDA had a focus on the idea that if a design can get clients and attendees to react emotionally, a takeaway has been created, and when clients leave an experience or an event, that takeaway becomes a memory. The events that linger in people’s memories – good or bad – are successful events.

Perhaps one of our favorite examples of a brand designing an experience for their consumers is Coca-Cola. Think of their current labels – bottles with names on them. Their core message is to “share a Coke,” and they’ve leaked this marketing and messaging onto their bottles. When you pick up a bottle of Coke, it might not have your name on it, but maybe it has the name of someone you know, and it makes you think of that person. You’re sharing a Coke with them, even if they’re not there. Before the names on the bottles, there were song lyrics, and some song lyrics are iconic enough that they bring back memories.

When I say, “here comes the sun,” in your head you probably went “doo, doo, doo, doo…” and some lyrics are like that – they bring you back to another place, another time, and you remember where you were and who you were with when you first heard the song. To associate Coca-Cola with your youth, your past, is powerful. Event production is “what color is the Coke, what size is the bottle, and how many names can we think of to put on the label,” but experiential design is the memory of sitting on Revere Beach with a Coca-Cola in hand, listening to The Beatles music, surrounded by friends, in the summer of 1982.

At VDA, our clients – and their goals – drive our design. We want to evoke an emotional response from the individuals that attend our events – to make them think of happy, joyful times. The event design half of the equation is “how can we create the connection, and the memory, and the lasting impression in our clients to get them to their goals” – whether it’s getting social media influencers to jump on board to tweet and hashtag, or an actual call to action during the event. 

Ultimately, experiential design is about how you are achieving the goals of the event and driving responses in attendees, while event production is the nuts and bolts of it. Paint, and drape, and wood, and vinyl are commodities, and they’re available in a lot of places, but event design is the idea, the creativity, the innovation, the experience, and the disruptive factor.

Successful experiential designs create an experience, and the production is how you realize the design and meet client goals. If you’re having a sit-down dinner and your goal is to give your diners the best chicken they’ve ever had in their life, your recipe is your design, and as the chef, it is your responsibility to come up with the tastiest, most tender chicken dish. Production is your shopping list, and while you’ll need to determine “how many pounds of chicken? Do you need asparagus or corn?” the recipe is the key to your success or failure. Logistics are important to consider, but when creating an experience, how you get there is irrelevant.

When planning your next event, consider what roles design and production will play. What are your goals, and what means do you need to achieve them? These days, experience sells better than stuff. Make sure your next event is memorable and leaves a lasting impression with your attendees!

With over 30 years’ experience in event design, VDA is eager to lend our expertise to your next event. For more information on how VDA can be a resource to you, from early creative design, full development and fabrication, to staffing the event on site, please contact sales@vdaproductions.com or give us a call at 888.868.9200.

Back to Viewpoints Overview