Digital Modeling Recreates Reality for Barnes & Noble Product Launch Event

Bookseller Barnes & Noble needed rock-star technology for an event launching its electronic reader product Nook in New York last month.

The company called on event planning and development company InVNT to produce the Piers. InVNT's biggest challenge was pulling off the event with the appropriate level of dazzle, as requested by Barnes & Noble, with limited access to the space prior to the actual event, said Andrew Pyne, an executive producer and partner at the company.

"Typical of New York, getting as much time and space as you need is a challenge to begin with," Pyne said. "There certainly wasn't enough time to do it the standard way, which is to set up and rehearse the event for a couple of days."

The key moment during the event was the unveiling of the Nook, for which Barnes & Noble wanted an approach similar to what Pyne called peeling back the leaves of an artichoke to reveal the heart. Following speeches by company leaders, Barnes & Noble wanted a quick lighting change and an opening of the staging to reveal a mock-up of the in-store environment where Nooks will be sold.

To pull this off, Pyne and his team used digital modeling technology to simulate the lighting and dimensions of the event space, allowing Barnes & Noble to see and approve the event without having to use the actual space. Major music acts like U2 have used such technology to help produce their concert tours for years, but the technology only recently has become widespread enough to be priced at a level relevant for corporate event use, he said.

"The point was to be able to bring all of this design together into a virtual preprogramming environment," Pyne said. "This lets you preprogram a show and bring all your boards and mechanisms into a room. You just have to turn them on, and the client can see their show virtually and make changes."

Recreating the Nook sales counter on stage presented another challenge, according to Pyne. To do this, the company created a photographic wall using photos from the inside of a Barnes & Noble store. To get the photographs to the proper resolution for a 14-by 44-ft. wall, the team had to digitally re-enhance each segment to make a single huge print for a fabric stretched over plywood.

Product launches always present a special challenge for meeting planners, Pyne said, and often are beset by last-minute changes. At this event, for example, attendance doubled at the last minute, requiring a quick rearrangement to accommodate seating.

"With any big brand or product launch, sometimes the product isn't even completely finished when you're designing the launch," Pyne said. "You don't have much turnaround time and have to come up with processes quickly and responsively, because the changes are coming a mile a minute."

In the end, the 45-minute event was a success, Pyne said, and Barnes & Noble executives were pleased with the results. "This was a big deal for us," according to Barnes & Noble senior vice president of corporate communications Mary Ellen Keating. "We trusted InVNT to stage the launch flawlessly, and they delivered."

Originally published Nov. 16, 2009