Carrie Allen, orchestrate
Director of Design
Don’t even think about saying pipe-and-drape or asking for a Chivari chair around Carrie Allen. “Those are cusswords in our world,” says Orchestrate’s director of design—or her preferred title, environment and experience designer. Less than a week after graduating from the University of Washington in 2002 with a business and marketing degree, Allen packed a bag and headed to Atlanta to intern for Passion Conferences. The internship turned into a five-and-a-half-year job and eventually her co-founding Orchestrate, a company that plans, designs and produces events that are anything but typical. She doesn’t have an art or design background, but that hasn’t stopped Allen from planning a birthday party for Taylor Swift, bringing in a flame-thrower and graffiti artist for a CNN Español event, and creating other original experiences for Chick-fil-A, Giant Impact, Passion, Catalyst, the Southern Baptist Convention, Warner Brothers and SXSW.
You call yourself an environment and experience designer. What does that mean?
From smell to taste to what something sounds like, what we try to create is an emotional feeling for a brand or whatever the client is challenging us with. We hope what we do is not the typical linens on the table and some candles, but that there’s an emotional connection in the details.
Tell us about some of the faith-based conferences you work on.
For Passion, I help with the hospitality side, creating backstage environments for prayer rooms, band rooms, green rooms. We handle every detail across Passion—fulfill furniture, design rooms, and create environments for the speakers and musicians to rest and prepare. [At Catalyst], we did a booth showing a typical business in Africa, and it had an outdoor market feel. I’ve also done the green room for Catalyst for the last four years. We just got back from the Southern Baptist Convention, where we did the North American Mission Board booth. We designed pop-up boxes that show the cities of each region in a 60-by-40-foot area. It was snowing in Canada, there was a subway going through the Northeast, a Ferris wheel representing the Navy Pier in the Midwest, palm trees in California and the space shuttle in Florida.
What inspires you to do your job?
When I was transitioning from ministry, I read in a John Eldredge book that the glory of God is man fully alive. As I reflected upon that, I realized I am fully alive when I’m doing what God created me to do. I don’t ever want to work just to work. I work in my sweet spot, and find other people to work in my sweet spot. Every day is a new day, and I keep actively creating and being challenged. I’m living out of a full heart because I pursued something risky and scary, and now I get to do what I love as a career.
How do you think you are influential in the larger meetings community?
I hope I’m influential in not only what I create, but also who I am and how I treat people. We want to be unique and different in this industry we’re in, and that’s not just to the client. It’s to the one who works the forklift and the person pushing around trashcans. Being influential is making people feel like you hear what they’re saying, that you have their needs in mind, that you care about them as a client, but that you’ve also created a relationship with them that goes way further than the event you’ve designed.
What are your future goals?
My goal and heart was to work with friends, do what I love to do and travel around the world. In the entertainment industry, I get to do a lot of fun parties and meet people, but I love that I get to do what I do from every city—be in Texas designing a space in a church and then turn around and get ready for a business event in Atlanta. My next dream is to design internationally, and personally, it’s to have a family and still pursue a dream, and to show my kids and family how to be alive and love what you’re doing.
What do you do to relax?
I travel and see my family in Southern California. The beach is one of my favorite things. You’ll find me biking, hiking, and in the winter I’m snowboarding. For simplicity, I’m at home watching a movie, in the park running or spending time with friends at a great restaurant.
Industry mentors: My friends. It just blows me away how talented my friends are. Their hearts are amazing and they do what they do so well.
Dream Speaker: The CEO of Burberry, Angela Ahrendts, spoke at Chick-fil-A Leadercast. There was something very sweet about her. She shared what Burberry is about, that it’s based on feeling and trust. She’s someone I’d want to spend a day with. And Louie Giglio. I love the way he inspires and speaks from his heart.
Last Places You Vacationed: Austin, Texas, and Southern California
Professional Pet Peeve: When people aren’t kind. They put tasks before people. It’s really hard when you work with dishonest people or people who don’t see through what they say they’re going to see through.
First Job: In high school, it was either at Juice It Up, a smoothie shop in Irvine, Calif., or a boutique in Balboa Island.
iPhone or Blackberry: iPhone
Checked Bag or Carry-On: For sure checked. I pack too much and don’t want to lug it through the airport.
Window or Aisle Seat: Window, left side so I can use my right hand. I’m a nerd.
Coffee or Tea: Coffee, but just recently. I spent 30 years not liking coffee, lived in Seattle for four years at the University of Washington, and I just started liking coffee.
Skinny Jeans or Dress Pants: Skinny jeans. Any event in the winter, it’s what I’m wearing. Skinny jeans tucked into tall boots.
Facebook or Twitter: Instagram, [but those posts go] to Twitter and Facebook. I guess it’s three-in-one.