Designing the Summit Brand

Data Leadership Summit brand identity

I received lots of comments about the brand design of a conference I recently co-organized with Charles Holmes. Participants loved it. And for that, I owe the credit to the incredibly talented designers, Tom Froese (identity) and Jen Orth (environmental graphics & name badges).

What was striking to me was the level of surprise in those comments about the efforts that went into the creation of the Summit brand, and how that brand was used to create the event experience. While some conferences have built incredible global brands (TED, etc.), I suspect that organizers of smaller conferences typically do not dedicate resources into the event brand. Organizing the venue, speakers, catering, registration, etc, is an immense amount of work and money, and thus understandable why event brands do not get a great deal of focus. However, I want to make the case for conference organizers to put in the efforts to build a strong event brand. It was certainly critical to the success of the 2014 Data Leadership Summit. Here's a bit on what we did and why we did it.

For an inaugural event (in particular), you are asking registrants to take a leap of faith. You have no proven track record with the event, and it will likely come together gradually leading up the actual date. Having a brand identity that represents both the vision and promise of your event can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, creating a sense of trust in what you say you are going to do.

Colours and Typefaces for the Data Leadership Summit brand by Tom Froese

We created an identity system that would be both flexible, and represent the scale of our event aspirations. Yes, there is an important linkage made between the identity and the event theme. If you are interested in seeing the other concepts, click here. Equally important was the use of distinctive typefaces and colours to differentiate the event from the sea of big data events happening practically daily around the globe.

We used this system of distinctive typeface & bold colours across all the materials, beginning with the website. This allowed us to create a straightforward site, that was at the same time distinctive.

Then, we began focusing on how the brand could positively effect the overall attendee experience, partially inspired by a challenging event space that felt generic and was difficult to locate within a large building.

Exterior building signage

Thanks to cooperation from SFU we were able to place signage facing one of the main streets in downtown Vancouver, helping participants identity that they were at the correct building.

We used the distinctive typography and shapes to create a clear path leading participants to our registration table at the back of the building. At registration, everyone was given their name badges.

Participants Claire Atkin and Hans Peter Meyer (Photo credit to @hanspetermeyer)

Having large format and well-designed name badges were integral for a few reasons:

  1. We needed the names to be clear and visible from a distance, both to encourage interactions between participants and because we were doing network analysis using photography.

  2. Everyone had a table assignment, which they needed to know upon entering.

  3. We didn't want to print separate agendas, so typeset it on the back.

Table 15: Chuck Hamilton, Dan Morrison, Rich Lull, Chris Wiesinger, John DiMichele

Table numbers were particularly significant for this event. We assigned participants to tables based on the goal of facilitating as many new connections as possible. We introduced table members to each other before the event. The table numbers became part of the conference identity of each participant.

The window treatments really helped to make the space ours. They also served to backlight many of the conversations throughout the day.

I'd welcome comments on how this or other event brands made a difference to your conference experience. A special thanks to Mark Kinskofer of Vision Event Photography, who took many of the above images.

Adam Lerner

Adam is the Founder of Solvable where he works with broadminded leaders from industries caught in tornadoes of sweeping change. Prior to Solvable, Adam spent nearly a decade in design and brand consultancies across the US and Canada – Kaldor, Cause+Affect, M3 Design, frog – as a strategic planner providing research, brand, and technology insights. With a career that began in New York not-for-profits–the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Eyebeam and US Fund for UNICEF–Adam has direct experience in member-driven organizations. Adam has an MBA from the University of Texas McCombs School of Business.