Meet Oli Bailey – experience design expert at IMEX. Wearing many hats, Oli is the reason our show floor comes together so cohesively each year. 

He’s responsible for creating a plan that allows our varied exhibitors to excel at the show and ensures our attendees have a productive and fun experience.

We caught up with Oli to get some insights into what to expect at this year’s IMEX Frankfurt, and what makes it different from last year’s edition. 

Tell me more about some of the experiences people can expect at IMEX Frankfurt? 

Let’s start with the fundamentals. We’ve expanded the areas of the show where people can take a breather and catch up on work – our survey of last year’s IMEX Frankfurt indicated these spaces were really appreciated. There are different types of spaces depending on people’s needs - some are set up to enable collaborative working, others are more personal, relaxed spaces where they can catch up on their lives. We’re also making some spaces available which are soundproofed so that focused meetings - or even podcast recordings – can take place. 

It’s important to reflect the reality of everyone’s daily lives - we know that attendees don’t leave their professional or personal selves behind for three or four days when they attend a show, so we’ve factored that in. 

Also – although not an experience in the strictest sense – we’ve made big improvements to show floor navigation. To help attendees plan and get to their meetings across the show floor in good time, we’ve introduced blue dot navigation on the floorplan in our show app (it’s the same blue dot you see when using Google maps so it’s highly intuitive and familiar). For a business-centered show like IMEX which has pre-scheduled meetings at its heart, this takes away any stress about getting from A to B on-site - a game changer as far as I’m concerned! 

There’s also plenty of fun, uplifting activations, designed to appeal to many of the senses. Whether you’re a budding artist or not, everyone’s welcome to stop by at our giant paint by numbers activation - grab a paintbrush and get stuck in with what you might call a vintage or analogue experience! 

There’s also a smartphone photography masterclass courtesy of camera manufacturer Leica, music in the communal areas to welcome attendees each day, a supersized mirrored box with projections to step into and keep a look out for some colorful graffiti cropping up across the show.... 

We’re excited to welcome back the Google Experience Institute (Xi) CoLaboratory – this time around they’re inviting attendees to explore and experiment with their latest research into new methods for human-centered design. The team is inviting attendees to pitch up with an upcoming project or event which can then be discussed in a 30-minute fast-paced 'design-thinking sprints’ to put theory into practice and focus on tools, principles and co-creation. 

It’s clear these are the types of engaging elements that attendees crave. According to The World Experience Organization, 83 per cent of people are actively seeking experiences that bring them joy and happiness. We live in challenging times, making the need for a little awe and wonder in our lives greater than ever; and the role of experience designers within business and society is also increasing.

Let’s talk trends - what are some of the big show experience trends that planners can incorporate into their own meetings? 

As planners we now have access to more show, events or meetings data than we’ve ever had – this gives us huge scope to make decisions about the attendee experience based on information we’re actually gathering at our events 

Advances in tech such as AI, facial analysis (not to be confused with facial recognition) plus geo location, combined with ‘on the ground’ info such as onsite surveys, all give us a much more rounded picture of the attendee journey at an event. We can use this information when incorporating experiential elements into event design. Given that a lot of this data is behavioral, revealing areas of high or blocked traffic or minimal engagement and interest, for example, we can also use it when talking to potential sponsors and partners. 

I think there’s also a greater understanding and appreciation of attendees as whole people with very human needs. We don’t want people to become overwhelmed at an event – if that happens they’re unhappy and unproductive. Being sensitive and managing their on-site experience using behavioral science or even neuroaesthetics- art to you and I – is crucial in terms of offering different ways to reset and restore the body. 

How can planners incorporate inclusive design and ensure all attendees feel welcome and included at events? 

Accessibility can’t simply be bolted on after you’ve designed something. Inclusive design is about considering this from the very outset and designing products or areas that are accessible to all without the need for any special equipment. My advice to planners would be to approach inclusive design in the same way as sustainability where the use and impact of each activity is interrogated. The first question you should ask is, do we need this in the first place? 

Take the example of a stage. Traditionally you’d choose a raised platform and then include a ramp to enable accessibility. Planners should challenge their thinking and ask: do I actually need a stage in the first place? Similarly let’s consider a reception desk. You can design it at different heights for different people, but why not consider whether you really need a reception desk at all? 

This rigorous thinking captures the very essence of inclusive design - it’s not about designing different areas for different people, it’s about designing for everybody from the outset 

Event professionals should also consider neuroinclusivity throughout the planning process. Events can be quite overwhelming experiences for some – just think bright or flashing lights, big screens, loud or constant background noise, unfamiliar smells - so planners should include quiet spaces where people can rest, recover and get back to their happy productive selves. 

Inclusive design has come a long way and it’s now firmly baked into our planning process: every single time we design a new feature, we have a laser focus on how inclusive it can be. 

Over the last few years, the industry has really broadened its approach to inclusivity, recognizing that we all have a responsibility to actively include people and ensure our events are welcoming and open to all.  By their very nature, events are collective experiences, so let’s design for people first and foremost, not for the label of ‘attendees’. 

More details about the show's education program can be found here

Register to attend IMEX Frankfurt 2024 from May 14 to 16 –for free.