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Checklist: 16 Things to Ask Your Event Designer

Create a smooth working relationship with your event designer—and a cohesive design scheme—by asking these questions up front.

Ask your designer if he or she will stay for the event's entirety. Jes Gordon, who designed a bar mitzvah in New York (pictured), says her team remains on site for the duration of an event if they are overseeing audiovisual production. If not, they may leave at some point and return for load out.

Photo: Andre Maier Photography

An event's design is a crucial part of its overall vibe—and, in many cases, its success. To ensure that you have a good working relationship with your event designer, here are questions to ask before and during the planning process.

1. Can you work within this budget?
This is “the most important question ever,” says Jes Gordon, creative director and owner of New York-based production company Proper Fun. “Many folks come to us with a major fantasy in mind, and often their budget does not meet this particular fantasy. It's important to let your designer know a realistic budget range that is comfortable for you to work within.”

2. What's your communication style?
To ensure a smoothing working relationship, “It's good to know up front if your designer is an emailer, a texter, a phone-caller, or a face-to-facer,” says Kelli Bielema of Shindig Events in Seattle.

2. What do I own after the event? 
 “Often, folks want to walk home with a lot of our design props, which could often end up costing them a lot in incidental charges,” Gordon says.

3. How long do you need to set up?
Ask your designer to be up front about any additional fees for set-up time. “If we sell a design that needs an overnight load in and the client is not willing to pay for that extra time, that could be disastrous,” Gordon says.

4. What kind of insurance do you have?
Planners should know if their designers are insured, Gordon says, and it helps to know what kind of insurance they have. For example, ask if your designer has the kind of insurance that your host venue requires. Bielema adds: “You'll want to make certain your event designer can cover liability for injury or damage to property, because it does happen. You also want to be sure your designer is a licensed professional who is accustomed to working with other vendors such as the venue, audiovisual crew, catering, etc.”

5. Have you worked in this venue before?
Ask the designer how familiar he or she is with your host venue, Gordon says. This will you help you get a sense of how well the design team knows that particular venue's load-in requirements and load-out routines.

6. Does the design staff stay throughout the party?
Don't assume that the design staff will be on hand throughout the entirety of your event. “Often, if we are overseeing the lighting and the technical production, we need to stay throughout the entire event,” Gordon says. “If we aren't overseeing these items, it's considered more of a drop-off, and we leave the event until break down.”

7. Do you charge a design fee outside of the actual design itself?
“Often, design companies need to provide many renderings and a lot of their intellectual design concepts [during the planning process], and this incurs a design fee,” Gordon says. “It's important to establish as part of the budget.” Also, determine during the pitch process how many proposals your potential designer is willing to do gratis. “With corporate clients, it's possible to do multiple proposals before you are even hired,” Gordon says. “This isn't fair. It's important to establish what your boundaries are here, and express this to the client beforehand.”

8. How will you convey your final design?
Let your designer know if you have a particular way that you prefer to review ideas or renderings. Otherwise, you could receive the information in one of several formats. “There's really nothing like Pinterest to delight the senses and stir up the brainstorming,” Bielema says. “Sketches and story boards are great old-school tools that I still rely on. We'll often do mock-ups as well depending on complexity.”

9. Does your crew expect to get fed on the job?
“Often, design companies are working massive amounts of hours with large teams,” Gordon says. If the crew expects you to provide meals, it's important to know this—and prep for it—in advance.

10. Do I pay for your travel and board?
“This is another important element to fit within the overall budget,” Gordon says. “If the job is away and demands an overnight stay, you should assume you are picking up this cost.” Still, it never hurts to ask.

11. What elements of your design are environmentally sustainable?
“A hot topic in event decor is eliminating waste and using local suppliers when possible,” Bielema says. “I personally like to take leftover event floral to a senior center in my neighborhood.” If your company has certain green standards in place, make sure you discuss these with your designer.

12. What is in season and what is not?
Erin McDonald, creative director of Platinum Strategic Marketing & Events, suggests getting this information up front to help determine which types of flowers will be readily available. On the other hand: “Don't ever ask me what is 'trendy,'” he says. Designers are creative by nature, and “most of the time go in the other direction of [what's trendy].”

13. How can I help you get more creative? 
Sometimes, it pays to be flexible about things you may assume are necessary. According to McDonald, your designer may offer suggestions such as untraditional tabletop designs. “Bread and butter plates take up more than 30 inches of the table,” he says. Omitting them leaves more room for centerpieces or gifts or simply gives a cleaner look.

14. Are you going to be the lead on this job from start to finish?
Occasionally, McDonald says, an assistant designer takes over a project at some point. So it's important to know if your lead contact will change at any point during the planning process.

15. What's your backup plan?
Say, for example, the flowers “don't come in correctly, due to weather or act of God,” McDonald says. In that case, know what the other options are for design and have a plan B in mind.

16. What are your suggestions for lighting the room correctly? 
Use your designer's understanding of color to help determine the lighting scheme. “The room [lighting] should be flattering to the guests,” McDonald says. At a wedding, “the major focus should be on the dance floor where they will spend three or more hours of the evening.” For corporate events, lighting should “make an impact while not looking garish. Pinks and amber are the best.”


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