Convention Buildings: Putting the User Experience First.

Throughout the design industry, we have seen a steady shift towards a more user-focussed design response. So why, with some notable exceptions, is the convention industry still focussed on a model that seems stuck in a previous era? An era when the objective was to ensure a consistent experience across venues—the old Hilton or current McDonald’s model?

Isn’t it time that the industry and we, as designers, fully grasp the new context we are working in? Otherwise the industry will be left vulnerable to some form of disruption. This is particularly important given the time it takes to develop or redevelop a convention facility. What we are designing now will not be operational for 5-7 years. This is a significant issue in our ever-changing world. 

We know that the NEXT generation of Delegates expect a more interactive conference experience based on their educational background, grasp of technology and social media. Forty-two percent of convention delegates worldwide are now millennials. They expect a different experience. The next generation of delegate is driving a new form of engagement, accessibility and interaction at conventions.

As a consequence, we believe the new multi-experience venue is the new convention typology. This brings a growing focus to learning experience and small group interactions. Parallel with the growing reliance on technology comes a growing desire for human connection and collaboration.

In response, we at Woods Bagot are creating “Maker-spaces” integrated into the design of Convention Centre’s enabling group and team-based learning and knowledge-sharing possible. Social, “hackable” spaces enable people freedom and creative ownership of space.

We look to create multi-modal venues, where the Convention Centre can be an entertainment venue, social venue, gallery, performance, market, education or workspace. Where activities we have not yet conceived of can take place. Hybrid meeting spaces integrate the physical and digital using technology to support multi space and time interactions and the virtual delegate.

If we were to design for experience and choice, the multi “experience” venue would have the following characteristics and spaces:

  • Include more open spaces where events blur with market/festival typologies.
  • Hybrid meeting spaces integrating the physical and digital, using technology to support multi space and time interaction and the virtual delegate.
  • Plenary and flat floor spaces designed for concert and entertainment events.
  • Pre-function spaces that can be galleries, recognising that pre-function spaces are often the largest spaces within built assets of cities.
  • Hyper venue size ability and cost efficiency supporting a lean venue model without dedicated support spaces (green rooms as swing space enabling quick re-sizing).
  • New typologies including incubator and interactive spaces, which promote a platform for people to share and generate ideas in a participatory learning and knowledge-sharing experience.

In essence, the Convention Centre user experience has flipped from passive “lecture-style” presentation towards a collaborative, critical thinking and interactive dynamic exchange between people. Technology is used to engage delegates actively in new kinds of experiences through exploration and creativity, actively making and sharing, and modes of innovative collaboration. This creative collaboration will drive a new direction for convention operations and design.

The box with docks model will not support this new direction. The model will be flipped. It may increasingly start to look like a part of the city instead of standing apart from its host city. 

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