The conference program book is more than an information piece for conference attendees. It provides the first impression of your event. Here are some tips to design a book that inspires and energizes your attendees before the first session starts.
The Role of the Conference Program Book
The most common purpose of the program book is to provide important event information for attendees, including the schedule, speakers, sponsors, floorplan, and may even include presentation abstracts or papers.
It also sets the tone for your meeting and the expectations for your attendees. Do you want them to actively participate in sessions and interact with the content and each other? Will this conference challenge them or pull them outside their comfort zone?
The design of your program book can help promote and facilitate these objectives
What Inspired Program Book Design Looks Like: An Example from ASAE
We’d like to give a shout-out to the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) and their Xperience Design Project.
This event for meeting planners provided new and innovative ways to deliver conferences.
The branding and promotion of the event certainly communicated this objective. But as an attendee, I didn’t fully understand it until I started paging through the program book. I could tell immediately this was meant to be a fun, energizing meeting.
This extraordinary conference booklet included design elements such as non-linear text, bold typography, graphic cues, and on-page interactive elements. Together, they made it clear I was expected to actively participate in my own learning.
I was excited to be there even before the first speaker took the podium.
The takeaway: All program books provide basically the same information. Challenge yourself to think about how you can present key event information in a way that makes a lasting impact on attendees.
Five Design Pro Tips for Your Conference Program
First and foremost, your program book needs to be easy for any attendee to navigate. Think of it as user experience (UX) for printed materials. Beyond that, here are six aspects of your booklet design to consider.
1. Choose fonts and typography that match the personality of your event.
There is a documented psychology behind font choices and how they trigger ideas and emotions.
Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, convey a feeling of class and heritage, making them appear formal.
Sans serif fonts, like Arial and Helvetica, convey a straight-forward, simple and no-nonsense attitude.
Modern fonts, like Futura, convey feelings of intelligence and chic style.
If your event were a person, how would you describe them? Are they trendy and chic? Funky and unconventional? Formal and traditional? The font choice you make throughout your program book should support the overall “vibe” of your meeting.
Don’t be afraid to go big and bold with font size in unexpected places. This is a great way to provide an assertion of key ideas and themes.
And it’s okay to mashup 2-3 fonts or typeface styles. It helps to make your book feel more dynamic and less monotonous. Just make sure that how you use these fonts has a purpose and is consistent throughout the book.
2. Use color and graphics in unexpected ways
Most organizations have an established brand identity that includes a primary color palette. Too often, this primary color palette dominates the program book design. The problem with this approach is that for the reader, the content tends to blend together.
Instead, use your primary color palette simply as a base. Incorporate splashers of contracting colors throughout your program book to highlight important content, make a bold statement, or break up large blocks of content.
To choose appropriate colors, the rule of thumb is to use a color wheel, selecting colors that sit directly opposite from each other.
Graphics such as images, vector art, or iconography can be used several ways, including:
- To make a bold point
- To help guide and direct the reader
- To add texture and dimension to your book design
3. Leave space for interactive content
One of the top trends in meeting design for the past several years has been providing a more interactive and collaborative approach to the learning process. Conferences are no longer a place for attendees to simply consume learning; they are active participants.
Your conference booklet can help facilitate and promote this approach as well. Sure, providing dedicated pages to take notes is always handy, but can you take it a step further?
- Provide thought-provoking questions and space to answer them.
- Include short workbook-like activities in your program book.
- Give attendees space to draw and doodle as they work through new ideas.
- Include QR codes that link to other resources like a short video
4. Maximize Branding Opportunities Wherever You Can
One of our own fan-favorite program books features a simple, but impactful change from the previous year.
The Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (CESSE) incorporated tabs in their program book to make it easy for users to navigate.
Taking it a step further, they used what is often blank space to extend their event branding. The flood of bold color and graphics on what is traditionally a blank page helped to reinforce the perception that this is a high-quality, professional conference.
5. Find Inspiration Outside of Your Industry
Some of the most cutting-edge event designs come from cutting-edge conferences, such as Adobe’s 99U and the Facebook Developer Conference. Take a look at how they are presenting program information and then see how you might be able to scale the execution to fit your audience.
Your conference program book can—and should—do more than simply provide logistical information. By incorporating a more inspirational design you can help shape the attendee experience well before the opening session begins.