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SXSW Worthy Events? 16 Design Elements to Consider

design needed for events

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You have waited all year for this moment. It’s when all your hard work finally pays off. You are so excited you can literally see dollar signs in your eyes. There’s no way people could NOT think you’re the best company ever. 

The moment arrives and a few early birds show up. Not to worry, the rest are just fashionably late. Thirty minutes after the scheduled start time you realize, only half of the amount of people you anticipated actually showed up. But you can’t postpone starting any longer. 

This is unfortunately a reality for many companies who plan events. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

design needed for SXSW worthy events
Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that today kicks off South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. For those of you indeed living under a rock, SXSW is a set of film, interactive, and music festivals and conferences. It started in 1987 and is still going strong. If you have ever attended SXSW, you know that the events are to die for. So why do companies at SXSW get it right and so many other’s get it wrong? 

The problem is a lack of knowledge. 

That bears repeating. The problem is a lack of knowledge. 

No, not a lack of knowledge about your chosen topic. Not even a lack of knowledge about how to plan an event. But rather, a lack of knowledge of what sort of things you absolutely SHOULD be doing from a design and marketing standpoint. 

A lot of companies will plan an event and think of the basics, a sign here or there and an agenda (usually printed on a piece of letterhead). They slap their company’s logo on it and call it a day. They are missing a HUGE earning potential here.

There are even a lot of “event planning checklists” online you can download. But they usually just say “plan promotional materials” and  don’t elaborate for that section. That is not helpful at all.

What you need to do is pay attention to what goes into making a buzzworthy event. A SXSW worthy event. Let me go into detail about each promotional piece you should be considering for your next event, and why.
  • The event name and identity – That’s right. Depending on the size of your event, it should have it’s own brand identity DISTINCT from your company’s brand. Well, unless you are Coca-Cola, in which case, by all means, rely on your company’s brand. Why? It’s easier to get people behind an event than it is a company. There’s almost always loyalty behind companies. That’s great if the loyalty is behind your business. But what if it’s behind your competitors? Your competition’s clients who would benefit from your event and want to attend it (and, hello! give you an opportunity to change their minds) won’t even bother reading past the first line if you’re relying on your company’s brand to sell this event. All of the promotional products listed here comprise the identity of an event. But this one needed to be mentioned first.
  • The logo – This is the first thing you should be thinking of when planning an event. And it’s for the same reason as why your company has a logo. Visuals are memorable. If you want people to talk about your event after it’s happened, you have to be in their mind. If you plan on having the event on an annual basis (or really any recurring basis) you definitely need a logo that you can build brand equity into.
  • The program – If what you have is a one page agenda, at the very least create a nicely designed one-pager. Don’t just print it on letterhead. Sure its easy and cheap, but everything you put out into the world should be an opportunity to further the event’s brand. Consider making a multi-page booklet where you can not only put the agenda, but also sponsors, more information about your company, and perhaps even some informational bits relating to your event’s topics that people will want to take home and save. If they save it, and it has your event (and company’s) brand within it, you’ve hit a home run. You might also consider a pocket folder with the program and other relevant one pagers inside. Perhaps also offer some (branded of course!) lined paper for your attendees to take notes on.
  • The presentation design – Are you having a keynote speaker? If so, take some time to think about the opportunities to further your brand during their presentation. Everyone and their mother does the standard Power Point slides with the bulleted list of speaking points. Why not create a presentation slide template with your event’s brand/company’s brand already on them. Then simply hand the template off to the keynote speaker and their presentation becomes a way to further your brand equity.
  • The stage design – Speaking of the keynote speaker, what will be onstage while they are talking? Certainly a podium of sorts. Why not hang a print of the event’s logo in front of the podium? What about retractable banners similar to trade show banners that promote the topic of the event or even the keynote speaker? What about a hanging banner with the name of the event? It doesn’t have to be super creative here folks but having 1,000 eyes on a stage with no visuals that are promoting your brand is a missed opportunity.
  • The event posters – You’re definitely going to want to promote your event to get people to attend. Depending on how large your event is, you might want to consider printed posters. When we did collateral for the Type 1 Now conference (put on by JDRF) we designed posters that went in doctor’s offices and waiting rooms. Place the posters where your audience will be likely to visit.
  • The invitations and tickets – If your event is a fundraiser or something like that, chances are you’re mailing out invitations to honored guests. You might be doing this even if it isn’t a fundraiser! If so, you need to think carefully about the design of the invitation. It’s sometimes the only chance you have to convince someone they need to attend. Consider also invited the speakers with custom invitations and perhaps “save the dates.” Also think about the tickets. Now if your event is small, you might not need tickets. But if it’s big or if you’re wanting someone to put down money to support your cause, a nicely designed ticket would be a nice touch.
  • The name badge – This is where you can really stand out from your competition. Most everyone makes simple name badges that simply list the attendee’s name. Sometimes even the attendee’s company when relevant.  Why not do something different? Why not have your name badge designed with a concept specific to your event topic? Or to your brand? This is an easy promotional item that is so often overlooked.
  • The website – Since you’re branding the event with it’s own distinct identity, it stands to reason it needs it’s own website. With a domain name that’s easy to remember. Thisawesomeevent.com is much easier to remember than CompanyA.com/thisawesomeevent and the easier it is to remember, the easier it is to drive awareness to.
  • The digital apps – This isn’t relevant for everyone. But there are certain companies and industries that absolutely should consider creative ways to showcase their event through digital apps. One of our clients Unofficial ACL is a perfect contender for this. They had a website showcasing all the events that were going on in Austin during our infamous Austin City Limits music festival that wasn’t sponsored by ACL itself. They could have taken it a step farther by creating an app (because you’re already at the festival, right?) not only telling you about the events, but offering you drink specials or free swag by showing the vendor a page on their app.
  • The social media sites – You’re promoting your event on your social media pages, right? Why not create a custom Twitter background promoting your event? Or change your Facebook cover to include event details. Be careful though, some sites have strict rules about what you can and can’t post on these images so make sure you’re hiring someone that knows the rules.
  • The signage – If your event is being held at a large venue with multiple rooms in use, definitely consider your signage/way-finding system. Most conferences put a piece of computer paper up outside the room with the title of the topic printed out. That doesn’t make you look very professional. And another tip here if you do decide to use that version of signage, don’t use Comic Sans as your font. Seriously.
  • The merchandise – Are you giving out a swag bag? Do you have volunteers to help attendees find their way around? Are you holding any contests? Think about tote bags, t-shirts, umbrellas, pens, anything that can be designed with your event’s brand. This is basically free advertising when your attendees/volunteers use this stuff in daily life outside of the event itself.
  • The video – Why not create a brand video for your company to show during downtime? Intermissions or in between speakers are the perfect times to show videos, brand slideshows, etc. Make sure to include some helpful tips related to your event topic so that people WANT to pay attention to them. Do not use this just to sell or promote yourself. People will stop paying attention.
  • The photographs – Depending on the size of your event, you might want to hire a photographer and videographer to capture elements of the event. These can be used to promote the event the following year, add interesting content to your company’s website, or even to get your company mentioned in the press.
  • The press release – Speaking of press, make sure you have a great press release written. Not only will this do wonders for promoting your event but it will also get your company exposure. It’s a win-win!


Your event is often a potential client’s first impression of you. Make it a great one and make sure you remain memorable!

Now, all of the above items are things that we at Logan Gattis Designs can assist you with. But for those with limited budgets, it can be confusing to know what the top priorities are. That’s why we’ve created downloadable PDFs for you to assist you with this. You’ll find one PDF for small events and one for large events. Within each PDF you’ll find all the items categorized as “must have” and “nice to have.”  On the small events PDF you’ll also find a “don’t break your budget” category which will indicate things that you can get by without.

Action Item for a SXSW worthy event:

Download our checklists for your next event.

We’re always here to answer any questions you have also so don’t hesitate to reach out. And since we always love hearing from you guys, we’re curious:  What events have you been to before that really knocked your socks off? What do you remember most about it?

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