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Usually design-related buzz around large-scale events like the Super Bowl is all about the ads, which ones hit the mark, which didn’t and how much did they cost. But there’s more design at work than in the ads shown between plays. There’s the design behind the events themselves. Every element of the event contributes to the viewer or participant’s experience.

We interviewed Jared Sweet, an award-winning art director, show director, and creative director with 15 years experience and current Creative Director of FiveCurrents, a creative production firm whose work has included a variety of large scale events, including the London 2012 Ceremonies; LiveCity Vancouver 2010; the Clinton Global Initiative; and the Disneyland 50th Anniversary to learn more about the role of design and emerging visual trends in event production as well as what makes a successful event.

Images provided courtesy of FiveCurrents

Q1. Can you talk about the role design plays in successful event coordination, particularly for events like the Super Bowl?

Sweet: Design plays a critical role in the successful production of any event. There are many different types of design that contribute to the overall show; stage, lighting, video, animation, sound and even costume design, and each production decision can affect any number of show design elements. For example, the Super Bowl halftime show stage is purpose-built so that it will have minimum impact on the field and can be assembled and disassembled in just minutes. Only a well thought out design will function properly when time is of the essence. The lighting design directs the audience’s focus, sound design creates an immersive environment, and video and animations are used to create interest in the performance on stage.

Q2. What would you say are the greatest challenges to planning large-scale events like the Super Bowl? Can you talk about how you plan for the unexpected (like the power outage)?

Sweet: There are many challenges in producing large-scale live events because there are so many variables that go into these shows. They are very technical and need to happen with precise timing. When you are “Live” there is very little margin for error because the world is watching and will see your mistakes. As with any large-scale event, mishaps will occur, but we do extensive contingency planning that allows our management team the capacity to tackle problems as they arise. Live events, like the Super Bowl, come with an extra-high risk of technical malfunction and unplanned “disasters.”

When FiveCurrents produced the London Olympic Opening Ceremony, for example, the ceremony was produced using generated power with many redundancies and did not affect London’s electrical grid. With that, all of London could have lost power- but the show would have continued given its own power source. Reaction is key. Things will, undoubtedly go wrong. Things will break. The Super Bowl power outage definitely was a huge failure—but the fact that they got the game up and running so quickly really is impressive.

Images provided courtesy of FiveCurrents

Q3. What visual/design trends do you see emerging? Are they in any way shaped by audience participation?

Sweet: We see the convergence of new media and rapidly advancing technology as a trend in the event production space. We always aim to engage the audience in our productions, so in London we turned the audience into a giant visual display using 70,500 LED pixel tablets. In past events we have used card stunts, and while effective, the new technology allows us more control over the visual outcome. We see social media and the creation of custom software and apps allowing the audience to participate and even shape the content of shows.

At the Guadalajara 2011 Pan American Games Opening Ceremony we used LED flashlights along with highly choreographed movements, which allowed the audience to participate and integrate with the on-stage performance, music and lighting. In regard to design trends, the trick can be delivering a broadcast designed to be viewed live, both in person and on television. Any new technology has to translate across both audiences. Therefore, it is crucial to utilize technology and tactics that maintain a sense of seamlessness and order without interrupting the organic feel for live audiences.

Images provided courtesy of FiveCurrents

Q4. Can you speak a little about FiveCurrents, the company’s approach to event coordination, what is considered a successful event and/or how event success is measured?

Sweet: When FiveCurrents produces events, especially those that are live-broadcast, it is not a question of if a setback will occur, but rather when. With that in mind, we prepare for all events very strategically. At the start of every production, we make sure to perform risk assessment to locate and evaluate every issue that could potentially arise. Then, we take steps to make very specific, uniquely crafted solutions.

Success, for FiveCurrents, can be defined through what the viewer is actually seeing. If executed properly, the behind-the-scenes stressors will not be visible to viewers, at all. We want our events to appear seamless and smooth. With industry expert advised teams, well-developed contingency plans and rehearsed coordination, we strive to build moments that are memorable and positive, without any glitches or hold-ups known to the viewer. We are storytellers, who capture the power of human emotion to create deep and lasting impressions.

The characteristics Sweet describes of seamlessness and immersion in a larger story can be seen as integral to any successful brand experience but when considered on such a large scale take on a completely new level of daunting. After our interview I gained a new appreciation of the planning, coordination, attention to detail and creativity that goes into each of these spectacular events.

To learn more about FiveCurrents and their work visit HERE.