Function-Driven Design: 5 Tips for a Beautiful and Practical Event
Designing a good event isn’t just about having impeccable aesthetic taste. The best environments are products of form and function — spaces that are beautiful, but also practical. Curated, but also intentional. Have one but not the other? You’ve missed your mark. Below are five quick tips for how to span that chasm and enjoy the best of both worlds.
When I started designing for events, my favorite space was the table. I loved thinking about how to bring more beauty into that space of community where people would sit and drink and laugh and make memories. At the time though, I didn’t give much credence to function; it was all about the aesthetics and what was going to look most beautiful. Serious amateur hour. You can only get so far on your looks. Tables need to be practical. They need to have space to house your platters and glassware, centerpieces and unmannered elbows. Before you start designing your tablescape, first make a list of what will live on it. From there, work backward and see what design you can implement that allows guests to also enjoy the dining experience both aesthetically and practically. (Pro tip: always try to work with king’s tables. The standard folding table is 30” wide. King’s tables are 48” wide, giving you a whole extra foot to incorporate your design elements.)
2. KNOW YOUR TIMELINE.
One of the main reasons I see design concepts fall flat isn’t due to lack of vision, but lack of planning. Typically when you’re setting up/styling a space, you’re on a time crunch. You have a window to get everything set and a hard deadline before guests arrive. Too often people under-budget the amount of time and people they need to execute a project (been there, done that, cried later). The day speeds by fast, and all of a sudden you’re only halfway done and guests are going to start knocking on the door in 30. Save yourself the heart palpitations and just be realistic on the front end about the amount of time and resources you need to make your vision happen. Not enough time? Hire extra hands. No hands available? Scale back the space. It’s better to execute a less elaborate design well than to execute a brilliant design half-heartedly.
Good design for an event isn’t just about what elements you’re using; it’s also about how the space feels and how people move in it. What is the flow and the tempo? Does this set-up create the best guest experience? When people are designing a layout, the knee jerk reaction is to place items where they think they’ll look best rather than where they work best. And while I love to pitch my tent in the aesthetic camp, I can tell you nothing is uglier than a mob of hangry people waiting in a bar line. Here are some good questions to think on when drafting your layout:
> Is there enough room around the tables for servers to attend to guests, and for guests to comfortably get in and out?
> Are the bars strategically placed in different areas of the venue so people don’t bottleneck while waiting on their cocktails?
> Where is the catering kitchen? Are food/drink stations placed close by so service staff can access them easily?
> Is there enough seating for your guests? Even if you aren’t doing traditional seating, people love to take a load off. Could you incorporate some additional bar stools or lounge to help out?
4. SURFACE SPACE.
It’s a party. People eat, people drink, people dance. The question is: where did they put that cosmopolitan glass while they’re doing the electric slide? While this seems so basic, indulge me here: Order tables. Plenty of tables. High tops. Side tables. Coffee tables. Is there another kind of table? Order that, too. When people are mingling they’re always looking for a place to set things. Any surface becomes a viable place to discard their drinks. And their judgment/discretion will only go exceedingly downhill as the night progresses. Make sure to help in this process by being surface-minded.
5. DON'T SKIMP WHERE IT MATTERS MOST.
So often when I’m working with clients, one of the first places they’ll try to save money is with staff. They’ll slash servers and bartenders and floaters. They’ll say: What are all these people doing? We don’t need them. But let me tell you: you need them. What these people do is everything. They are your quiet, magical, fairy godmothers who make sure your event goes beautifully and that you look good doing it. If you’re thinking about cutting staff, ask yourself these questions first: Am I prepared to set this event up by myself? Do I want my guests waiting in a epic line for food/drinks? Do I care if plates and glasses pile up on tables? If something goes wrong in the middle of the event do I want to handle it? Am I really going to clean this all up afterward? If you find yourself saying no, no, no, a thousand times no, find another place to save. Nothing will make your event look better than having the right people with you.