Preparing for the Future – Part Two

Design the future you want to see

In my Preparing for the Future – Part  One blog, I referenced my participation in a UFI Global CEO Summit that explored the sustainability of the exhibitions industry. This blog picks up with the need to adopt a design-thinking approach to planning for the future.

Design forward.

Bruce Mau – designer, author, visionary and Freeman’s Chief Design Officer – has taught us the value of looking at events the way a designer does. He says, “We need to design forward, because when we live and work in a world of constant forward momentum, standing still is going backwards. What does not evolve, dies.” Our attendees are going forward. Every year they arrive at our shows with a new set of expectations. They want to see new technology, new ideas, and new applications. If we don’t design forward we are going to be left behind. Without innovation, we are destined for the boneyard.

Define what beautiful looks like.

No matter how many anniversaries a show or convention is celebrating, the planners need to look at it objectively and consider the opportunity to add more value. Examine what worked and what didn’t – and articulate a vision for what the show could ultimately offer. Remember to be intentional about metrics, and design-in a plan to measure success in a meaningful way that helps you design it better next time.

We call this “defining what Beautiful looks like.” What will it take to ensure that each stakeholder in the event is going to achieve their objectives? What about the super stakeholders – the anchor exhibitors who have invested in the show and have put their own brand equity at stake? And don’t forget the other audiences: press, attendees, and the host city. As planners and strategists, we must define what success means to each of them – what beautiful looks like for every distinct audience group – and then design a plan that takes us from here… to there. If we always design for the gap, we can achieve continuous improvement (and avoid the death spiral) while remaining relevant even as audience needs change. Revisit the plan every year – wash, rinse, repeat.

Break through the noise.

Once we commit to the habit of continuous improvement, we can seize the opportunity to innovate. Bruce Mau urges us to “break through the noise.” Many things are competing for the attention of our intended audiences – not just other shows and other media channels, but other demands on their time. We live and work amidst a cultural hubbub that obscures the messages we are trying to put out there. We can try to outshout the other guys. Or we can focus our resources in a way that helps us rise above the din. This is the sweet spot – the place where you find the money to do new things and still protect your margins. When we strive to make the experience personal, we help participants tune out the white noise and fully engage with us.

Design Excellence

It’s not every day that you get to invite valued clients to someplace as prestigious as the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and then let them personally experience an exhibition featuring the work of your colleague. Of course, it’s not everybody that can claim a colleague who’s been presented with a Design Excellence Award by fellow design professionals.

Bruce Mau is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. He is heralded for his work as an innovator, author and design visionary. Sometimes I can’t believe we are lucky enough to call him Freeman’s Chief Design Officer.


His remarkable museum exhibition is titled, “Work on What You Love: Bruce Mau Rethinking Design!” Walking through the show, I’m reminded of all the things that initially made me so excited about the work we do in the world of live engagements. (I suspect our clients felt the same way.) And maybe that’s the real secret to Bruce’s success: when we adopt a design-thinking approach, we keep things fresh and relevant and fall in love with what we do again and again.

Of course, the show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is not so much an exhibition as a snapshot of the amazing movement Bruce has inspired. We all have the power to make change happen. Big change. Important change. Change that shapes the future. But it requires that we embrace the habit of acting with intention… by design.

Bruce Mau is one of the most unassuming people I’ve ever met. And yet he has accomplished incredible things. Maybe the fact that he is so matter-of-fact about it helps those around him believe in their own ability to seize and accomplish audacious goals. Or maybe it’s just that he shows us that we already have the tools we need to build the stool, or ladder, or elevator that will let us reach higher.

I’m not qualified to say who is worthy of “design excellence” recognition and who isn’t. But I think it has something to do with generosity. It’s not just being a prodigy, or a diva, or a superstar – the one with the exceptional gifts. It’s helping those around you discover their own genius for design thinking.

That’s something I’m grateful for learning from my friend Bruce.

How design thinking will transform the events industry


Our industry is on the verge of massive change. The idea that we can simply keep doing what we did, even three or four years ago, is just not plausible. We have the incredible opportunity, and the obligation, to innovate.

At CEIR Predict, I was thrilled to moderate a conversation with Freeman’s newly appointed chief design officer and author Bruce Mau that unveiled how design thinking is helping us prepare to lead the massive change ahead of our industry.

But what is design thinking, exactly? Design thinking is a proven method of producing desired outcomes and managing disruption by applying design principles to affect and transform the world around us. Whether the outcome is a performance metric, a system, or an experience, design is the method for envisioning the result and systematically executing our vision.

How design thinking can transform our business

Design thinking is an essential part of how Freeman is reinventing the attendee experience from the ground up—to keep events at the forefront of marketing in the face of a rapid change.


Using design thinking when creating brand experiences lets us take advantage of the disruptions and changes in audience behaviors and turn them into opportunities to create deeper and more meaningful connections. For example, we recognized that smartphones were distracting attendees during keynotes and breakout sessions. We applied design-thinking methodology to address this problem, and now use second-screen technology to create an entirely new way to experience an event and boost engagement, rather than compete for attendee attention.

Design thinking equals scalable success

Any aspect of global business can be improved through this flexible approach, because design principles always apply. Design thinking makes our entire industry scalable, letting us think bigger and define larger areas of opportunity to connect with our audiences beyond the show floor, keeping our events constantly relevant and top of mind and engaging the next generation of attendees on their level.

In the coming months, you’ll be hearing more about how we are using design thinking at Freeman, and how it can positively impact your own events.

Designing the future of Freeman—and our industry

As architect, designer, and inventor Buckminster Fuller famously said, “The best way to predict the future is to design it.”


I couldn’t agree more.

Face-to-face brand experiences remain the most powerful platform to create change. Through live events, our clients deliver their vision, launch groundbreaking new products, and attract new audiences. These are the moments that create movements by introducing new ideas that connect people to each other and introduce ideas that transform our future.

Today, the bar is higher than ever. Audiences expect more at events—more personalized experiences, more interesting content, and more opportunities to connect, and to participate.

We have an incredible opportunity to reimagine the experience channel, to harness the disruptions impacting our drastically changing world, and to fully realize the potential, and the power, of human connection.

Answering the new audience expectations

Over the past 88 years, we’ve reinvented our business to stay ahead of our customers’ evolving needs. As a trusted advisor, we help our customers by trying to anticipate what is next, and have made significant investments over the years in new global solutions and technologies including strategy, creative, AV, and digital.

We’re ready to again reinvent, and have embraced design thinking to shape our future.

Changing ourselves to change the industry

We’ve been on a design-thinking path for several years.

Effective design has always been critical to our success as a company — our systems, processes, operations, and logistics are proof of that. We’re applying the same design-thinking approach to navigate the changing future and create meaningful innovations that offer real and sustainable value to our customers and their audiences.

We are inspired by intersectional innovation; the idea that groundbreaking innovation happens when diverse perspectives come together. As we set forth our goal to transform our industry, we looked for a trusted partner to be the perfect complement to our team, to add a unique point of view as we fulfill our vision to transform, grow, and extend the world of live engagements.

Renowned visionary, innovator, and designer Bruce Mau has joined us as our “Designer-in-Residence.” His approach to design thinking aligns directly with our Freeman values, and he is inspired, as we are, about the amazing opportunity to evolve the live event experience. Over the past year, he’s worked alongside our team to help Freeman focus on designing fresh, effective outcomes for all aspects of our business.

The future is waiting for us to design it. Are you in?