Event planning and experience design go hand in hand. Just ask Maria Moyano, experience designer for the Museum of Ice Cream (MOIC), based in NYC. “I think that everything is an event. You can go have coffee, and that’s an event. Everything is also an experience. You feel happy, and that’s an experience. It’s about what you are trying to get out of the event—and then how does an experience elevate it,” says Moyano.
While visiting MOIC is an event for a visitor, Moyano creates the elements that transform it into a memorable experience. Her designs include larger-than-life sculptures of ice cream cones, pits of “sprinkles” to jump into, pink, upside-down palm trees, hanging faux bananas, and more in the bright, colorful spaces that make the MOIC, the MOIC. Her favorite part about her job is “pushing people to really get out of their comfort zone and to just let their imagination run wild.” Moyano says, “I think we think that’s just for children, and as we grow older we forget to just be creative and imaginative. So I think the museum really, really does that for the older generation.”
While meeting and event planners don’t typically get to implement elements like giant ice cream cones on a regular basis, they do need to focus on creating memorable experiences for attendees just as Moyano does. Because they’ve made impressions on everyone who visits the museum, Moyano’s innovative and playful designs have swept Instagram and social media. However, she advises planners against creating moments specifically for online coverage.
“A lot of people see things online and then try to replicate those in person, but it falls really, really flat, although it looks cool in a digital screen. And yeah, that person is going to walk away with cool content, but they’re not going to walk away with a memory,” says Moyano.
While the two-dimensional experience is still important, the four-dimensional experience is what attendees will remember about an event—even without a two-dimensional photo to jog their memories. During the pandemic, this four-dimensional experience is something that Moyano had to dial down, as most of the exhibits within MOIC were tactile and interactive—something that wasn’t permissible during the past year. So, she introduced scavenger hunts instead.
“It’s unfortunate when all of our museum is known for being immersive and tactile. So, I had to rethink a way to still engage our consumer without them touching the space. It was a fun challenge,” says Moyano. “Before COVID, the team was always thinking ‘How much more can we touch? How much more can we smell? How much more can we feel?’ And then we had to quickly just drop all of that,” she says. Just like event planners having to rethink every aspect of gatherings during the pandemic, Moyano had to rethink the way her designs and experiences operated as well.
But Moyano is confident that in-person experiences and events are absolutely vital, and will resurge someday.
“If anything, it has shown us that humans are social creatures, and we will never be satisfied with just living in a digital world… You know, after months of being isolated, you start to realize how important social spaces are. So, I’m very confident that the career and the field will never die.”