Among the countless aspects of events that marketers have had to rethink in the wake of the pandemic is how social distancing impacts experience design. A heavy dose of creativity is required to deliver stylish spaces that also keep attendees safe, particularly while adhering to ever-changing health guidelines. And as the industry reshapes the way it thinks about event spaces, the task of transforming attendees’ social behavior through design elements is also at play. To get a better handle on this new reality, we tapped a few experts for tips on approaching experience design in the COVID-19 age without compromising safety.
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Implement ‘owned’ spaces.
The days of plopping down wherever you land are over—at least for now. In the b-to-b world, in particular, “owned” spaces are going to be the new norm, according to Kevin Dana, executive director-merchandising and product at CORT Events. Rather than moving around breakout rooms, each attendee will be assigned a dedicated space equipped with a seat, table and charging unit that is socially distanced from others, likely via acrylic dividers. The space will be solely the attendee’s to occupy for the duration of the event. And at social and consumer events, group-owned spaces are starting to emerge, with platform setups resembling the UK’s first socially distanced concert.
“Gone are the days of seats that are right next to each other and with shared tables, too. I think that’s kind of a no-no at this point,” Dana says. “If you have a side table or an end table, once again, that needs to be an owned space and you’re not going to be able to share that with somebody else.”
Maintaining at least six feet of distance between attendees means reducing the amount of seating made available at a given event. No more sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in intimate lounge settings. According to Bobby Taylor, principal and ceo at Taylor Creative, dining tables that used to sit 10 people will now sit four to six, meaning the number of people that can safely attend the event may also require limitations.
“Lounges might have a sofa, two chairs and a coffee table for a small space,” says Taylor. “And they will sometimes have more individual chairs instead of sofas for people to sit in. Or, sometimes a sofa that’s really wide that fits four is now meant for two people. What was intimate has now moved out to more than six feet apart.”
Dana agrees. When it comes to large sectionals, he suggests placing C tables (small side tables) or decals on areas of the sofa that are no longer for seating, in order to maintain distance.
Leverage signage and decals.
Directing the flow of traffic at events is essential in the COVID-19 era. More often than not, one-way traffic will be enforced to keep attendees at a safe distance. That’s where signage and decals come into play.
“We’re suggesting, if you’re going to do some vignettes and individual seating in some groupings, you need to keep at least 10 to 12 feet of space between those individual groupings if you’re going to have two-way traffic,” says Dana. “And if it’s one-way traffic, and you’re only going to put six feet between configurations, you definitely should have footsteps on the floor showing that it’s one way. I’m not sure that too much signage is a bad thing because you want to be able to communicate effectively. And if you don’t have a lot of staff on at the event that’s meant to help with that, you’re really relying on signage.”
Create a warm environment.
It’s no secret that many people are on edge about attending in-person events, so making them feel comfortable is absolutely essential. For Dana, that means incorporating greenery and other natural elements into the design of the experience, and offering extra-comfortable furniture.
“I think it’s fair stating that furnishings that you use should definitely be comfortable and make people feel warm. It would help to give them a sense of overall safety if the furnishing is actually comfortable because they’re going to be sitting longer in that same space or seat,” Dana says.
Stay apprised of local health guidelines.
State and local health guidelines are constantly shifting as the world learns more about COVID-19 and how to keep people safe in live settings. Staying up to date on those protocols is paramount. After all, the number of people permitted to attend an event can have a major impact on the design of that experience.
“Social distancing orders change rapidly in each state,” says Jose Ramirez, director of marketing at AFR Furniture Rental. “Even within states, counties have their own guidelines so it is imperative that we stay informed so we can communicate effectively at all times. We cannot assume that all cities in each state have the same guidelines. Guest count can dictate the event layout so knowing the allowance for the attendance is key.”
Photo credit: CORT Events