The curtain must go up on time! Did we mention this is hard? The good thing is that we’ve done these before and we know how to get things done, plus, we work with a great, experienced team.
As much as it is easy to stereotype creative-types as having their heads in the clouds, that can’t be the reality when we have time-critical installations that must get done. Yes, creativity is a critical component of what we do, but to pull this off you also need to blend project management, practical experience, and a high stress tolerance. You must collaborate with many key people beyond your control. You have to problem-solve onsite. You have to wear comfortable shoes – we tracked 22 miles on our Fitbit one day. Another number stat: 12 semi trucks full of furniture needed to arrive on-time (!), get unloaded, and then have all their contents pieced together and installed. Add into this year’s challenge the fact that this was an international event. But we know how to minimize the risk of something going wrong — great planning yields great results. It’s a lovely, complex piece of logistics and it is incredibly exhilarating when it all comes together!
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!
TED31 recently came to a close. This was the second year for TED at the Vancouver Convention Center. If you recall, this was where the amazing stage was unveiled last year. This year it was there again, and it’s still amazing. Not being a new venue, we kept the things that worked well and imagined a few new things for 2015. TCondon was honored to represent Steelcase again and was deeply involved every step of the way.
One highlight in the “new” category was a fresh opportunity to develop a new concept and design for the whole first floor experience. That floor is home to a wide variety of solid content that needed to be shared well. And we wanted people to spend time interacting with it, not just zipping through it to get somewhere else. After lots of ideas, we landed on the concept of creating an experience similar to discovering and exploring a cool neighborhood — poking around great shops, restaurants, coffee shops, and galleries. You could interact with a Partner exhibit, take in an art display, sample a food tasting, and drop into a comfy simulcast space. We wanted it to be different from what was typically expected and rewarding for those who spent time in those spaces.
The approach worked and we heard that many people really enjoyed meandering through the new first floor neighborhood.
We will be posting again soon. Stay tuned for three more updates as we reflect upon TED31!
The Grand Rapids GOSite recently opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony and public celebration. Conceived as a modern take on a welcome center, it will be the new go-to hub for Grand Rapids area visitors and locals alike. We designed the space on behalf of Steelcase, as part of their ongoing support of our community. Many other community partners contributed, as well.
There was an unusual requirement for this. The challenge was to create an experience that is in character of an Art Museum. This space is nestled into the wings of the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Not a problem. We had a lot of fun getting the design to feel “just right” — an engaging, well-designed, modern traveler’s oasis.
The space is a collection of interactive displays, comfortable lounge settings, charging stations, and a ton of great content from partners, all hosted by a charming GOSite Ambassador. It’s a perfect rendezvous spot for meeting up with friends to decide what the night will bring or regrouping with family during a day downtown. It is smack dab in the middle of all of the action. With the GOSite you can track down the hot events in GR, discover a new restaurant, or find out about a cool gallery opening. Locals, give it a try – maybe you will discover something new about your home town.
TED’s first foray out of the US recently concluded with many words of praise. The Vancouver Convention Center was an incredible venue with priceless views of the water and mountains. Great times, great talks, great feedback. But, one early fundamental challenge to this venue was the lack of a theater. So the challenge was presented to Steelcase and the Rockwell Group about a year ago: can we not only build one from the ground up, but can we also make it more amazing than any other theater space that is out there? TCondon worked with The Rockwell Group on the furniture portion of the theater, creating a blend of 15 different types of seating styles covered with muted blues, golds and greens.
In addition to the theater, we also designed many smaller simulcast gathering places that allowed TEDsters to experience and interact with the event even when they chose to be away from the theater. We are always considering different functional needs and multiple desired interactions at events like these, and we draw upon our experience to ensure the spaces are not just visually stunning but are very useful as well.
The response was great and it was another amazing TED!
A few years back we noticed that there were some people attending TED that had to break away from the event to take care of business concerns. There are many ways to engage with the TED space, but at that point people had to physically leave the venue to track down usable meeting and work spaces. Time away from TED meant missing featured talks, meaningful unplanned conversations, and chances to meet people from all over the world with every kind of background.
Fast forward to the last couple of TEDs and you would now see that there are Workspring “pop-up” centers that are on the same premises. By engaging with the Workspring spaces and hosts, people could now take care of business needs without fully disconnecting from the TED experience. Win/win! TCondon worked with the Workspring team to design the space. We had to accommodate for use by individuals, small teams, and larger groups, all with a wide variety of needs, so we knew we had to build a useful space with a lot of flexibility.
We know that the experience people have in a space is not just about the style and arrangement of furniture. While that must be well-resolved, individuals meeting at Workspring need to feel like their time spent there was rewarding and remarkable. So we holistically dug in to everything about the space — we focused on work postures, power and charger access, sharable technologies and whiteboards, and great food options being available to recharge and revitalize. We also dug in to the softer details: music that varied depending on what type of work zone you were in, a variety of lighting approaches, also dependent on the functional area, and ultimately teaming with Aveda to customize soaps and lotions in the restrooms and lounge. We even brought out a few surprises. One day it was extra chilly outside, so we treated everyone to an impromptu hot cocoa break. We were designing not just the space, but the details that rolled in to the entire amazing experience. Who knew it could be so refreshing just to take care of a conference call!
Just a bit of hospitality to welcome visitors to our home city. TCondon partnered with Steelcase, Experience Grand Rapids, and the Gerald R Ford International Airport to create a small welcome center for those arriving at the airport. This space has a concierge, info boards, ipads, charging stations, and some nice seating options for anyone looking to relax, recharge, and discover Grand Rapids. It was a true design challenge to pack a lot of usefulness into a pretty small footprint, but it is a very functional little space.
It was nice to work with Steelcase, who donated the furniture, in contributing to our community.
I am currently at TEDGlobal in beautiful Edinburgh. TCondon designed the many social spaces here at the venue and I am sticking around to recharge and be inspired. A huge perk from collaborating on events like the TED series is having easy access to some of the best ideas and thinking in the world, unfolding all around me.
Day 3 is tomorrow and the stage has been set for a very engaging week. “Think Again” is the theme this year and the challenge is to open one’s mind to the possibility that old ways of thinking must evolve as the world is changing. The status quo is certainly being challenged: Could stress actually be good for us? Maybe. Can men be comfortable with not being the bread winner in the family? Probably. Are you open to loosening the hold you have on the way you understand the world around you?
As I mentioned, T. Condon once again designed the social spaces at this event. Always striving to create a great vibe, the design intent was to craft a unique experience. Imagine combining a comfortable lounge and café with a cool book store, coffee shop indulgences, a Getty art gallery and intriguing technology innovations showcased in the Autodesk Exhibit. This combination is a big hit – I am seeing many connections and conversations happening throughout this lively space. It is exactly the types of interactions we were designing for. And, if you are here be sure to see the other exhibits throughout the entire building. Great stuff.
A personal favorite this year — don’t miss the robot lab. Raffaello D’Andrea demos his flying quadcopters. These are amazing robots that seem to think on their own. They are solving physical problems by utilizing algorithms that help them learn. It’s incredible to watch these drones play catch and to work together using a net to toss a ball back. You have to watch the video to believe it. It’s certainly more than what you find on the shelves at any hobby shop, but who knows when this sort of technology may be commonplace? More great stuff!