It can feel impossible to capture the spirit and energy of physical events and translate that into a digital experience. For years, employees have gathered by the water cooler or gone on company outings together. But that is no longer possible. Virtual calls have replaced our daily coffee meetings, and although they help are an important communication tool, many people find them draining. This makes hosting digital events difficult, as you miss the experience and magic of the physical experience. And to be honest, they simply get boring.
This was the challenge that we faced for our own flagship annual event: DEPT® Festival, a recent winner of the Dutch “Golden Giraffe” award for the best brand event. Over the last five years, what was once a small gathering had transformed into the industry festival of the year, hosting thousands of visitors from around the globe for three full days of inspiration on the future of creativity, data, and technology. However, COVID-19 forced us to re-imagine our flagship event.
The show must go on
Our challenge was to fit three days worth of activities and inspiration into three hours while making it feel like it all lasted only three minutes. To do this, we decided to create a next-level virtual experience full of energy, a little crazy and above all personal. And that’s why we reimaged the physical experience and transformed it into a virtual one by building an interactive, 3D festival map which supported 15 stages across which more than 35 presentations took place.
Designing and building a next-level virtual experience for Depsters worldwide
The process behind creating a next-level digital event
Simply transferring all the elements of the original festival to a virtual platform would have led to a clumsy, unsatisfying result. Therefore, reimagination was the key. To kick off the process, we started by conceptualising our vision, the platform and the architecture of the event. The concept was crucial as this became our red thread both visually but also across our communication which we could always refer back to.
With a clear theme and concept, we quickly began to build our 3D map using React Three Fiber, a front-end tool specifically engineered to manage and bring 3D experiences to life. This, in turn, connected to Zoom, Slack and Vimeo. Our designers had the first version up and running in just a couple of weeks.
While our developers and designers continued to refine and test the platform, our communication team arranged 50 speakers in addition to 15 stage hosts while also locking in extra goodies and entertainment we had up our sleeve.
Enticing and hyping up Depsters for what’s to come
Apart from designing the experience, we wanted to excite Depsters with what was to come. So we crafted an internal social campaign which included daily hints from our zebra mascot and teaser videos. These social drops excited Depsters worldwide and conveyed that this was not an ordinary Zoom event.
A seamless, online-offline event experience
In two months time, we designed and built a custom made a custom 3D festival map which one could easily explore and that was protected by single sign-on. The design and layout digitally recreated the festival site from the previous four years, squeezing in 15 stages and 35+ short and snappy presentations into a 3-hour event, and included some industry heroes like Stefan Sagmeister and Gmunk. A personal welcome movie by CEO Dimi Albers and DEPT® stage hosts made everyone feel welcome. With the help of Slack and ‘social reporters’, people knew what was going on all the virtual stages, creating a healthy amount of event FOMO, before and after the event.
Presentation topics ranged from diversity and inclusion to data intelligence, the future of voice, and coding for a 3D world. The fun was provided by virtual meditation, magicians, karaoke and DJ sets. ‘Easter eggs’ were hidden around the virtual map, leading people to things like the ten most famous internet cat movies, and a crazy Zoom background contest. The virtual Photo Booth generated a live photo wall, and in all thirteen countries, Depsters could have food delivered to their doorsteps via Ubereats and JustEat Takeaway after a visit to the digital food truck.
Because of COVID-19, virtualisation has become the new norm and this will shape the future by creating new hybrid events which combine both physical and digital elements. And it doesn’t stop with virtual events, imagine virtual product launches, remote assistance and digital campuses. Thinking bigger, one could picture entire online environments that enable organisations to exchange knowledge or try out products and services in an accessible and personal manner.
For organisations that want to explore possibilities for their virtual event and beyond, we offer services such as concepting, designing and building a virtual 3D world, supporting your brand deploy the necessary technology and security to host a large scale event in addition to helping with the production side of things. Because, in the end, life is too short to host boring events.
Head of Marketing, Europe
The American Society for Deaf Children