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Design tips from the pros

Event Production, Features, Management | August 1, 2008 | By:

Bring tented event layouts to life with these design tips.

Your clients may think they have the perfect “vision,” but it’s very difficult for most people to imagine how their event will look. CAD—computer-aided design—provides the link between a client’s dreams and the reality you can create for them.

Visualizing reality

Designers who build tented event layouts usually rely on PartyCAD, AutoCAD® or an older DOS-based program called AtCPro. All of these programs make it possible to bring events to life in 3-D, so the client can see exactly what a space will look like to scale.

Steve Kohn, owner of Miller’s Rentals and Sales in Edison, N.J., has been designing his tented event layouts with PartyCAD for years. “The latest version of PartyCAD, version 10, allows you to do all kinds of things you could never do before,” Kohn says. In addition to creating events in virtual reality, allowing couples to feel what it will be like to walk around at their reception, PartyCAD can be used to import blueprints and digital photos.

“Using photos and blueprints as part of a design is a great way to help clients visualize what their event will look like,” Kohn says. A photo of a park, for example, can be used along with the CAD rendering of a tent complete with tables and chairs to show the client how the tent will look on site. Photos that won’t work for one reason or another can be altered in Adobe Photoshop® or similar programs before being imported into PartyCAD.

Tom Markel of Bravo Events Expos Displays in Buffalo, N.Y., also likes to enhance his CAD designs by virtually reproducing event locations. He does this by importing photos of sites he finds on Microsoft Virtual Earth™ and Google™ Earth.

Tents by design

Unlike AutoCAD, which has long been used for drafting and design, PartyCAD was developed specifically for people who need to make event layouts. Created by Hank Hufnagel, owner of Hufnagel Software in Clarion, Pa., PartyCAD has advanced dramatically since its launch in 1984.

Now, with the click of a mouse, users can input information about an event, including the placement of tables and chairs; the type of tent; and the style, size and location of the dance floor. Users can also easily create accurate floor plans that are modifiable if the needs of the client change later.

Being able to create a party down to the last detail beforehand is not only helpful when it comes to selling a job, Hufnagel says. It also helps make the whole event process chaos-proof. “Having a rendering for a client to sign off on gives you both an agreed-upon target,” he says. “It also gives installers something to work from, so you can be sure setup goes as planned.”

While she appreciates the ease of PartyCAD when creating interior tent layouts, Rhona Dias, B.C. Tent & Awning Co. Inc., Avon, Mass., still relies on AtCPro for designing layouts that include a complex exterior. “A lot of jobs involve having to angle tents around trees or buildings or maybe a slope,” she explains. “PartyCAD can do that, but I feel like the DOS-based program gives me better control. It’s like a paintbrush, and you can put in each thing individually.”

Dias has been laying out tented events for 10 years (nine of those years she’s used CAD). She bases her designs on hand sketches done by salespeople who visit the site. This can be a challenge because it’s easy for salespeople to get information wrong during a site visit and then transfer the mistake to the layout. “What you need most from clients is information,” Dias says. “You’ve got to know everything about the site and what they need to go under that tent, right down to a cake table or a gift table. People don’t think of those things.”

Trendy tent layouts

In many ways, all design is a product of trends, and tented event layouts are no exception. Last year, says Dias, everyone was asking for paper lanterns instead of traditional lighting, and square tables rather than the usually preferred round ones. “Now everyone is back to the rounds,” she says, laughing. “I thought the square tables were pretty.”

Craig Seitz, with Event Partners Sales & Consulting in St. Louis, Mo., uses PartyCAD to design his layouts. He’ll soon be calling Hufnagel for help with an unusual project. “People want something different,” he says. “This September I’ve got a wedding where one end of the tent will need a staircase coming down, kind of an amphitheater look, for the actual ceremony.” Clients are also increasingly asking for multiple tents for their events, Seitz says, which work nicely with weddings and other special occasions.

Lounge seating is another fast-growing trend, says Kohn. Rather than traditional tables and chairs, clients are opting for more comfortable furnishings, such as sofas, settees and loveseats. “It’s a hot item that people are seeing in magazines, so it’s catching on,” he says. “It’s great because PartyCAD already has modules you can use to put those kinds of things into layouts.”

Kohn takes things a step further by creating Web pages where clients can review layouts. He also may be starting a trend of his own this year: “We’re going to be putting CAD renderings up on YouTube, and then we’ll send clients a YouTube address that can be made public or kept private. That way they can really visualize their event and share it with anyone they want.”

Meleah Maynard is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.

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