How Dropbox's Unique Summit Theme Leaned Into the Power of Blank Spaces

The two-day event embraced reflections, shadows, and empty spaces that served as a metaphor for the creative process.

The Dropbox Design Summit's Unique Event Theme
Producer Kaitlyn Dineen's favorite part of the event? Seeing people respond to the various spaces. “This is a tough crowd; they’re seasoned travelers. And to watch them be surprised was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we killed it.’”
Photo: Bryson Valencia

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF.—As any creative knows, sometimes the most magic can be found in the blank spaces—the moments when "you're staring at a blank screen and trying to communicate it through to a creative endpoint," as Kaitlyn Dineen, CEO of OTHR Agency, puts in.

That's why this year's Dropbox Design Summit took on a "Blank Space" theme, conceived by Dropbox's vice president of design, Alastair Simpson, and brought to life by Dineen and her team. Held in Palm Springs, Calif., Feb. 28-29, the creative conference and dinner drew 150 attendees.

“We started with the idea of blank space being this creative block for a lot of people—this daunting, intimidating process that starts with nothing," explained Dineen, whose team first started planning the event last May. "What we wanted to do was confront the idea head-on, so actually invite people into a blank space—that through its vagueness and emptiness allowed the group to fill it with ideas and thoughts and become more comfortable in it.” The Dropbox Design Summit's Unique Event ThemeThe unique, fully mirrored Invisible House, where the dinner was held, is currently on the market for $18 million.Photo: Bryson Valencia

The theme was evoked in a variety of creative ways, including custom messaging, the use of mirrors, strategic shadows, and plenty of empty, open space throughout. “It was intimidating, in a similar way it is in UX design, to figure out how to translate the theme into an event experience that still feels thoughtful and dynamic and really intentional," said Dineen, noting that the idea was to take an architectural approach inspired by the event's Palm Springs setting. “The use of materials was extremely deliberate, and we kept the palette really simple."

The summit kicked off with a welcome and general session at Ace Hotel & Swim Club Palm Springs. A mirrored entryway greeted guests with the message "Thoughts Become Things." The Dropbox Design Summit's Unique Event Theme“With the mirrors, we wanted to confront the idea of you seeing yourself in the product," Dineen explained.Photo: Bryson Valencia

The team also used shadows to evoke the theme. The badge display for guests, for instance, featured reflective acrylic badges hanging by chain lanyards from a custom-made umbrella-like structure—which was made to cast Dropbox’s logo as a shadow. The Dropbox Design Summit's Unique Event Theme“Something like a badge wall is an easy thing to be obvious," said Dineen. "We didn’t want anything to feel unthought-of; everything was considered. It was like, ‘Oh, of course a midcentury umbrella stand is holding my badge, because we’re in Palm Springs."Photo: Bryson Valencia

Two days of programming included conversations intended to spark new ideas, along with group activities like sound baths and a local architecture tour. For sessions, minimalist seating and furniture were paired with a stage backdrop made from layered voile, a sheer mesh material. The Dropbox Design Summit's Unique Event Theme“The layers of scrim created a kind of vastness, but the material itself is still really simple and beautiful and elegant," said Dineen. "And because we just so simply applied it, I think it registered as a bit more high design.”Photo: Bryson ValenciaThe Dropbox Design Summit's Unique Event ThemeChairs and programs furthered the minimalist theme.Photo: Bryson Valencia

The following day, a session and surprise dinner were held at the Invisible House in Joshua Tree, a unique private home with a mirrored exterior that reflects the landscape around it. Dinner was led by Top Chef winner Paul Qui, and unique details included guests' names embroidered on linens, along with custom chopstick holders. The Dropbox Design Summit's Unique Event Theme“The venue for the dinner was a major challenge," remembered Dineen. "It’s a home that doesn’t do a lot of corporate events and had a ton of restrictions. We were the first client they’ve ever let cover the pool, for example, and we had to have my design director—who was an architect by trade—develop engineered drawings."Photo: Bryson ValenciaThe Dropbox Design Summit's Unique Event ThemeThe Invisible House features massive floor-to-ceiling windows that gave the dinner a dramatic indoor-outdoor feel.Photo: Bryson ValenciaThe Dropbox Design Summit's Unique Event ThemeUnique details included guests' names embroidered on linens, along with custom chopstick holders.Photo: Bryson Valencia

This was OTHR Agency's second year producing the conference with Dropbox's design team, which Dineen calls a "dream client." "We all pushed each other because we’re all designers," she said. "It’s about making sure you spend your time with clients doing work you love, because then when it’s executed, it translates well." 

Dineen's favorite part of the event? Seeing people respond to the spaces. “This is a tough crowd; they’re seasoned travelers. And to watch them be surprised was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we killed it.’”

VENDORS (General Session):

Design & Production: OTHR Agency
Venue: Ace Hotel & Swim Club Palm Springs
AV: Crowd Control Entertainment
Entry Archway: Coffee House Industries
Vinyl: SoCal Vinyl
Creative Direction: Charmie Shah

VENDORS (Dinner):

Design & Production: OTHR Agency
Venue: Invisible House
F&B: FAM Hospitality 
Furniture: Signature Party Rentals
Stargazing Guide: Sky Watcher
Pool Cover: Star Event Productions
Creative Direction: Charmie Shah
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