TEDxFargo: Behind the design

TEDx was created in the spirit of spreading TED’s mission: to provide a platform for “ideas worth spreading,” particularly on the topics of technology, engineering, and design. But just as important as the ideas shared on TEDx stages around the world are the design and technology that bring them to life.

According to Jay Herratti, Executive Director of TEDx, visual design serves a dual function at TEDx events.

“Design sets the tone for attendees’ experience in the room,” he said. “Here the goal of design is to create an ambiance that supports the theme of the event, the venue, and the community, as well as provides a powerful place from which the speaker can connect with the audience.”

The second function of design at TEDx events is to create compelling video assets. Each talk is posted to the TEDx YouTube channel-– some even hit the big time and make it on TED.com.

“They have lives well beyond the stage,” Herratti said. “The right stage and lighting design can have a huge impact on whether that talk will make an emotional connection with someone sitting at home a few thousand miles away.”

Here in Fargo, the task of designing a fully immersive TEDx event has fallen on the shoulders of Livewire Entertainment Media Services, LLC, an event production company that has been lighting up the Midwest since 1999. It is a task that Livewire’s president and technical director, Kent Kolstad, takes on with enthusiasm year after year.

Kent Kolstad

Kent Kolstad, doing his thing.

Setting the tone

Kolstad has assisted in the production of TEDxFargo since its inception; when he took on Livewire full-time three years ago, he had an opportunity to work more directly with the production and get his company involved. Last year, for the first time, Livewire produced TEDxFargo in its entirety.

For Kolstad, designing TEDxFargo isn’t just about decorating a stage; it’s about creating an environment. The atmosphere must be exciting enough to keep audience members engaged and off of their phones, but focused enough to enhance the message of each and every speaker.

“What we exist to do is to create world-class events that are not distracting in any way, that only enhance a message and don’t take away from it,” Kolstad said.

Thanks to hundreds of work hours and some state-of-the art technology, Kolstad and his team were able to accomplish just that at TEDxFargo 2015. The Fargo Civic Center was decked out with upwards of 200 LED lighting fixtures, with patterns customized to each speaker; seven projectors (each cashing in at $60,000), creating a four-paneled video map above the stage; a $30,000 video switcher that allowed for full control of every aspect of video in the space.

TEDxFargo

But the biggest piece, the one that has stood out on a national scale, was the X-shaped truss that hung in the middle of the room between the four video-mapped pieces. The truss served the typical purpose of holding up lights and projections, but also acted as a focal point for the event. 

“It was a red, glowing X that hung above you the entire time,” Kolstad said. “It really defined our event, it defined a lot of the photos we saw afterward, and it was sort of the centerpiece that led folks visually to the stage area.”

Lives beyond the stage

Kolstad’s commitment to perfection does not dim along with the lights at the end of the day. He and the Livewire team must work to ensure that the event looks just as beautiful from behind a computer screen as it does in the physical space– after all, TEDxFargo talks can reach as many as 186,000 views.

“If someone sends you a video and says ‘hey there’s a great idea here, you should watch this’ are you going to take five minutes, ten minutes, out of your day and go watch that video if you can barely hear that person, if you have to max out the volume on your computer?” Kolstad asked. “In many cases, that’s where technology is distracting.”

Kolstad and his team work tirelessly to ensure that Fargo’s TEDx events move seamlessly, and that technology works to their advantage. They make sure that all of their gear, from the cameras to the projectors to the video switchers, are “rock-solid.” They also give each speaker two microphones– a primary and a secondary– to avoid having to run on stage and swap out mics.

“We want to be able to give the speakers an adequate platform–beyond adequate, an excellent platform, for that matter– to get that message out there,” Kolstad said. “Because it’s a live event, it can’t be wrong, it’s gotta be right,”  he said.

TEDxFargo

So, what can we look forward to at TEDxFargo 2016?

More lights.

More projectors–seventeen, to be exact.

And a more immersive space.

“Our focus is really trying to make those first entry spaces, the lingering spaces, the social spaces, more engaging and relevant to the event this year, and so we’re going to do that in terms of bringing in new lighting, new video, so on and so forth,” Kolstad said. “This really will not be anything like the standard Civic Center on any given day. It’s going to be a totally changed space.”

Join us at TEDxFargo on July 21, 2016! Get tickets and more information about TEDxFargo here.  

Photos courtesy of Livewire, Dan Francis Photography, and J. Alan Paul Photography.

 

Katie Beedy

Katie Beedy

, Ted X Fargo