Build the Foundation Carefully

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TED is a really big deal. It’s a big deal for those who attend, those who present, those who watch the content remotely, and for all of the teams of people who invest months of effort into an event that comes and goes in five short days. But, for many, the messages, ideas, and interactions that happen there are profound, incredibly moving, and life changing. Amazing ideas come out of those five days, so we all invest very heavily into making it work. All the moving parts need to come together. We must ensure the experience for attendees is remarkable.

We want to share a bit about how we get to that day in March, when the curtain goes up. It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of time to figure it all out. For a project this big the planning for the next TED starts as soon as the previous TED ends. With any space we are working with the first step, before we design a single thing, is the need to understand the space itself. We have numerous site visits where we document the rooms, lobbies, stage areas, hallways, nooks, crannies… We had the advantage of having been in the Vancouver Convention Center last year and being able to improve upon what we accomplished last time. Go back months ago and imagine this long journey’s beginning. As we walk through the space we talk with our partners on what the strategies are for the areas we need to create. Not just around “x number of people” who must have seats, but around what we want people to think, feel, or do, and what the experience for this space must be. Is there an overall theme, an overall impression?

We also design for another purpose. We put great value on intentionally enabling people’s interactions that occur throughout the entire TED space. Many attendees rank the connections, conversations, and social interactions, away from the stage talks, as being incredibly rewarding and a compelling reason for being at the actual event. To connect. We create the space to make those happen in a number of ways.

After we understand the space, develop the strategy, and account for the interactions that need to happen we dig into our approach. We move to brief building, inspiration gathering, and design exploration stages. Our aesthetic and creative skills get us to solutions that solve for our foundational strategies. We dig deeply into our design experience, product knowledge, and our personal style library to land at work we share to build consensus. We create plan drawings, mood boards, color palettes, and sparks of inspiration to share with the team. It’s collaborative and iterative and all part of the process. We also need to ensure we are creating solutions that can be executed on time and within budget. Schedule building, approvals, and the business side of communications are all happening along the way.

I want to highlight two spaces we created for this year’s TED. The first is the bookstore. Bookstores have been a presence at TED for years, but as we talked this year with the TED team they asked of us: “design some spots for both reading individually and with friends, include a simulcast setting, and make it beautiful”. Cool. We are up for it. I started with the “beautiful” requirement first. Coalesse by Steelcase immediately came to mind. I had access to their warehouse and pulled together a great collection to use that represented a wide range of their well-crafted works of art. It is a stunning product line. For this space we developed a color palette of natural oak, gray, and black, for a setting that artfully combines common and individual spaces pulled together with a warm residential feel (we heard the best comment form a TED attendee: “I want my home to feel like this!”).

I’m also sharing the solution for a lounge space on the second floor. We started with what we made last year then built upon it with a ton more color and overall creative freedom, all to give it a high-end quirky boutique feel. And yes – we included a bed where you could recline and watch the simulcast showing on monitors mounted in the ceiling.
Up next, the few days before the opening day. All hands on deck!

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