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Wedding Planners vs. Wedding Designers: What's the Difference?

Talented wedding event designer Joe Mineo of Joe Mineo Creative shares his insight on the difference between the two roles.

Once you get engaged and start the wedding planning process, you'll start to put together your wedding team! You've likely seen a number of roles while planning your wedding day – for example, wedding planner vs. wedding designer. What is the difference?

wedding-reception-ballroom-with-winter-wonderland-theme-white-flowers-greenery-silver-chairs-mirror
Photo: Genevieve Nisly Photography

So you've said "yes," and now you're preparing to say "I do." Once you get engaged and start the wedding planning process, you'll start to put together your wedding team! You've likely seen a number of roles while planning your wedding day – for example, wedding planner vs. wedding designer. What is the difference?

On Wednesday, July 15th, we sat down with Joe Mineo of Joe Mineo Creative on Instagram Live to dive into the differences between the two very important wedding roles: wedding planners and event designers. As a creative professional who has been both an event designer and wedding planner for the last 33 years in Youngstown, Ohio – serving clients in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and beyond – Joe is a wealth of knowledge on all things event design, which he now focuses on for his clientele. "We're very lucky to be able to design some really spectacular events over the years for really special clients," shares Joe.

To learn more about the difference between wedding coordinators or wedding planners and event designers, read a portion of our interview below, and head to our IG TV to see more advice for planning a wedding!

Joe Mineo of Joe Mineo Creative
Photo courtesy of Joe Mineo Creative

Inside Weddings: What is the difference between a wedding planner and a wedding designer? 

Joe Mineo of Joe Mineo Creative: That's a big question, and it's getting a little bit more confusing over the years. 

A wedding planner also consists of two different things because people work differently.... So you 1) have the wedding planner who is really focused on logistics, budgets, vendors, and organizing the flow of the event, and then 2) you have the wedding planner who is also a wedding designer – not only are they doing all of the original concepts but they're also a big part of the visuals: what it's going to look like and what it's going to feel like. Sometimes they are steering the whole wedding theme through their idea working with the client and then bringing in a wedding designer. When you're working with just a wedding designer, usually they are in charge of the visual and what it's going to feel like, so it's a little bit different in that perspective...  and many people do or have done both – like myself, I started off as a designer, then was an event planner and designer, and now I'm going back to design, so I've done it all.

IW: How do planners and designers work together with all of the various scenarios? 

JM: It gets a little tricky, so take notes! First of all, I have to say to all couples out there watching: it is really important to hire a planner in whatever fashion. Your wedding is one of the most spectacular days, and the last thing you want to be worried about is something going wrong; you just want that peace of mind. So when you're working on your budget for your wedding day, that should be the first thing you include. 

If you hire a planner who is really focused on logistics, great! They will be able to lead you towards a designer because they'll have a list of vendors for you to choose from that they've worked with before and have relationships with... or you may have a designer that has done work for your family for years. When you do decide on who the planner is and who the designer is, then you're going to figure out. If you have a planner that really focuses on design, they'll take the lead. 

What I find is a lot of planners that I work with now say to me, 'You've done both, so how does that work? How do we work together?' I always say that the planner is in charge, and I really believe that! Especially now stepping back and being the designer, I feel like it needs to be one source that's leading it, and we are all team members following. When a planner who has a visual idea of what they see and they come to me and say 'Joe, I talked to the client, and this is what we're thinking...' we then work as a team and I bring other ideas to the table. Together, we build the wedding day, trying to create that vision for our special client.

"Together, [wedding planners and wedding designers] build the wedding day, trying to create that vision for our special client."


Ceiling Installation Over Ohio Dance Floor
Photo by Genevieve Nisly Photography; Event Design by Joe Mineo Creative

IW: Where do you suggest couples start? How does your design process work from start to finish? 

JM: The biggest challenge that we have with our couples – and I'm sure many people in our industry feel the same way – is they don't know what things cost because they haven't done it before. You really want to educate yourself, which is another reason a planner will come in handy because they'll get you on track quickly. When you start thinking about a budget, you do need to do your research to find out what things cost. 

On my end, when a client is starting, I usually ask them to forward me photos from Pinterest or any images that are going to help me understand what they're looking for. That doesn't mean it's going to look exactly like that because I like to take inspiration and put our own twist on it – we want it to be custom for them – but at least it helps me get on the path. Then I can say to them, 'Where did you think you were going to be budget wise?' and then I'm going to make it very clear if they're on the right track or not. The last thing we want to do is burst the bubble of the couple, making them think what they're sending image-wise is going to match the budget, so we really want to get that aspect under control very quickly. Couples will want to do that with all of their vendors when it comes to lighting, food, etc. – really find out what it's going to cost... and then you put the budget together because then you can make a good, conscious decision of where you want to trim.

IW: You mentioned Pinterest... What are some other ways couples can share their vision? 

JM: Pinterest has been a great help, but you can pull a lot of inspiration elsewhere as well. I tell my couples, you might be at the mall and you might be taking a picture of the Anthropologie window, and that's okay too! When you're looking for inspiration to show any of your vendors – lighting, food, design, dress – it's more about what you like and what you don't like, which is just as important and sometimes more important. A lot of times my clients will send us photos and they're all over the place –  from bohemian to ultra contemporary – and deep down I know there's something in each of those photos that they like. It's not the whole image; it's one element. Sometimes it's good to really emphasize what you like (ex. the lighting, the crystals on the candelabra) before sending it to your designer.  Creating a vision board is very important, and it really just speeds up the process.

IW: Do you suggest your clients bring these inspiration photos to the first meeting? 

JM: Yes! In today's world, we're doing more Zoom calls, which I never thought we would be doing... I love to meet my clients in person and that's still ultimately great, but we have found during this time that the first appointment isn't terrible to do virtually because if I'm not right for you, I don't want you to waste an afternoon. Our team will ask you to send images to us before we meet because I want the time to absorb and think about it... A lot of times, we will actually jump the gun, start pulling stuff, and have the table ready. 

Believe it or not, you'd be surprised by how many clients walk in with a stack of images and what we really end up with. It's just like they always say when you're buying a dress: you think you're going to buy the dress you've always dreamed of, but it's not the dress you end up buying. You're only seeing the images you're seeing on Pinterest, so who's to say there isn't something out there that you haven't seen before that you're really going to love?

IW: What have been some of your favorite events – weddings and beyond? 

JM: We have been very blessed to have been working with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for the last 20 years, doing all of their galas and inductions, and that's been a wonderful relationship that's been very exciting because they are one of those clients that let me do my thing. There's a lot of trust because we've been together for so long. Any event that I've ever done for them has always been really memorable, and every year we try to outdo the year before because a lot of times, it's the same guests in attendance. 

When it comes to weddings, we were really blessed to do a wedding a few years ago for a couple that ended up becoming very dear friends of mine. They said to me, 'Joe, we love The Greenbrier and we really want to have our wedding there.' I was still planning then and when we went to The Greenbrier, we found that there were a lot of stipulations that made it challenging for what they wanted, and unfortunately it didn't work out.  The Greenbrier really tried to make it happen, but there were just certain things logistics-wise that didn't work out, but I love a Dorothy Draper design, so that inspiration was spectacular. What we did was actually transform the country club here in town to feel like The Greenbrier. I personally love big, bold design – that's who I am as a designer – so it was one of my favorites. 

Greenbrier-Inspired Wedding Reception
Photo by Michael Will Photography; Event Design by Joe Mineo Creative

We also just recently did a beautiful wedding with an Italian theme! We transformed our convention center into a Tuscan courtyard – it was really magical. Those are a just a couple of the ones that come to mind immediately.

Tuscan-Inspired Reception at Convention Center
Photo by Dale McDonald Photography; Event Design by Joe Mineo Creative

IW: For those who don't have a high-end budget, what's something couples should consider splurging on? 

JM: I've said this many times to my couples: you always want to put your money into a big focal point rather than sprinkling your money everywhere because then it just feels like we didn't do anything since we spread the money out. When you're trimming your budget, you want to do the same thing. If a client comes to me and asks to cut $5,000, I say, 'Okay, we're going to completely cut the archway as you come in,' rather than $100 here, $500 here... that then jeopardizes the overall design. 

One of the things I particularly love is a great ceiling treatment. So if you are able to have a ceiling treatment at the venue that you're using, that's where I'd put my money. We're doing a last-minute wedding coming up soon during coronavirus, and it's not a huge budget, but I said 'Let's just do candles on the tables and put our budget into this spectacular ceiling!' In our world today, it's about an Instagram moment. I would rather have a fantastic ceiling for us to shoot that's going to be on social media and in all of your photos, rather than spending $500 on a centerpiece that's in the corner of the room. Put the budget towards one design that's going to be the focal point – usually in the middle of the room.

IW: What are you seeing as some of the new trends for weddings? 

JM: I'd love to see the trend of design to go towards more eclectic, and yes we've been doing that, but really over the edge... Really really different and almost abstract in the design, but still a beautiful event.

"Sometimes it's not about the big floral arrangements... it's about the small moments that are so special."

IW: What's the best advice you can give to a couple planning their wedding? 

JM: I am a strong believer - probably because of my background in planning - that there's nothing wrong with talking money first with any vendor you're working with. Be very transparent! I can't even tell you how many clients have had me jumping through hoops who initially said there's no budget, and then when I give them the budget, I have to pick them up off the floor... It's not about what you can afford, it's about what you want to spend – there is a difference! 

A lot of times I'll say, 'just tell me what you want to spend, and I'll design in that budget.' If they say I am not writing a check for more than that number, that doesn't mean they have to spend that number. If they say they can spend $30,000 and we design to that, they might only spend $25,000 and that's okay, but at least I'm not coming back with a $75,000 budget. For all aspects of your wedding day, think about all of that because that will be the downfall of the event, and what I mean by that is if you're stressed about money in just daily life, imagine when you're stressed about the most important day of your life... That would be my #1 advice - don't be afraid to talk about money.

IW: Which of your wedding events was the most touching for you? 

JM: That's a tough one in 33 years of events! I had a client who I had done her bat mitzvah... The couple lives in DC and her parents now live in Florida. I got the call that we were going to do their wedding in DC, and there were some health issues, so it was postponed twice. When we ended up doing the event, it was for 12 people in Florida, and it was the most magical evening because of what that couple went through. I was so honored for them to entrust in me in creating that special day – even though it was three times over, it was really special. That would be the one that touched me the most because sometimes it's not about the big floral arrangements and it's not about all the hoopla that I make a living doing, it's about the small moments that are so special. 

Small Intimate, Touching Wedding Reception
Photo by Emily Harris Photography; Event Design by Joe Mineo Creative

It goes back to where we are with this virus... the people who are going to be at your wedding and the wedding you have is the wedding that you're supposed to have. Everything happens for a reason, so embrace it that way!

To see more from our interview with Joe Mineo of Joe Mineo Creative on Instagram Live, click here! View more of Joe's work here, and see the weddings and advice featured on InsideWeddings.com here.