As a designer of meeting programmes, it is vitally important to capture the messages that buildings whisper in your ears. I introduced the notion in a previous blog. How does this work? Imagine wearing a kind of huge butterfly net on your head that allows you to capture elusive stuff from out of thin air. Or having an out-of-the-ordinary large pair of ears. When you enter the building, somewhere in the wall a huge mouth opens itself – as in a Harry Potter movie – and the mouth says something. To you.
In practice, you often find that when you are called in to design meeting programmes, the venue has already been arranged. In many cases, the message the venue communicates to the meeting participants doesn’t fit the objectives of the meeting. That is annoying. At that point, as a designer, you have two choices: either you convince the meeting owner to review her choice, or you will have to sink your teeth in the venue and adapt its message to your purposes. Often this can be achieved with surprisingly simple means.
Take the picture below. This is a meeting in a somewhat drab hotel, around 10 kilometres beyond the limits of a medium-sized, typically nice European town. The organisers want their participants to have an open exchange about conflicting issues and to work out shared insights. When they enter the meeting room, they hit on a large table, filled with bowls containing a wide variety of herbs, spices and other ingredients for magic potions. The whole place smells like the Egyptian spice market in Istanbul. The treasure trove of overwhelming smells contrasts neatly with the lifeless surroundings. That contrast opens up unforeseen windows in the minds of the participants, as proven by their rich discussions. Participants use the ingredients to brew the magic potion that will solve the pending conflicts, but when they enter they don’t know this.
It is a pity that so many buildings used for meetings and conferences have such unexciting venue messages. Numerous conference hotels say: “I used to be better.” Or: “I’m tryinghard to look posh.” Meeting facilities in large exhibition centres often seem to say: “So, what are you doing here?” or: “Gosh, you’re small!” or: “Today I look like this, but tomorrow I’ll look a lot different.”
Many meetings are held to inspire people, or to help them hit on new ideas together. At least, that is the intention of the programme, but most of the messages delivered by venues are not a great help in achieving that. The solution I most often see to modify the message of a venue is the potted palm tree. I will not say anything about that, because you obviously already know where I’m going…