After a bit of a delay due to Independence Day travels, here’s Part 3 of my designing the wedding series; a listicle on specific tools we used and how we utilized them. The next part of the series will shift back to what my blog has traditionally focused on… physical builds and DIY projects! In no particular order, here are the Top 8 tools we utilized during our planning and preparation process!
1. New shared Google account
This proved to be indispensable for multiple reasons. Having a fresh and clean new inbox dedicated to wedding planning made it easy to find messages that either of us could respond to or reference at any time. As a side benefit, any spam associated with new accounts we created were contained to our wedding-specific email account :D.
We handled email announcements in gmail semi-manually because I wanted full control over how the messages looked. To send out our invitations (we opted for sending them only digitally) I created a template using invisible tables to lay everything out and inserted our invitation graphic, then sent customized messages to all our guests using a mail merge script in google sheets. Further general announcements (RSVP reminders, month before, week before reminders for parking, weather, etc.) were sent more simply using bcc fields to keep any responses grouped in the same conversation.
Not only did we have a shared email, but we also were able to take advantage of file sharing via google drive (also came in clutch) to hold all of our planning spreadsheets, images, documents, etc. Speaking of spreadsheets–we ended up using two workbooks. We began with a single one to keep track of big picture things: the guests we could to invite, vendors we interviewed, budgeting, and a to-do list. Closer to the event, we created a second spreadsheet to share with our wedding party and coordinator. This spreadsheet included the table assignments, room assignments for our wedding party house, detailed schedules for individual vendors (shuttle, dj, photography, videography), a list of decor with photos and setup locations, and our vendor contact information.
While we did not create one, a shared google voice number would have been the next step–a shared virtual phone number that forwards text messages and calls to both of our cell phones could have been useful, but we made due without it.
2. Shared Google Photos Album
Right before the wedding, I created a new Google Photo album in my personal google account (instead of our new shared one), and sent invites out to everyone who attended our wedding beforehand. Although there were a few hiccups with adding everybody, a shared album proved to be better than using hashtags for us to find photos and videos taken by our guests.
3. Wedding Website
We used The Knot for our free wedding website. There are many out there, many with similar features. The two most important features to us were 1) the ability to create a custom shortened URL, and 2) an online RSVP manager with the ability to export data to CSV.
4. Social Media
Regardless of what you think about Zuck, or social media in general, Instagram is a very useful tool we used to conduct wedding venue and vendor research. Insta gave us a great idea of venues in our area, vendors who worked there before, and decoration ideas.
I don’t know how to use pinterest, but Tiff used it to create inspiration boards to help our vendors get a feel for our vision in terms of color scheme, feel, etc. I think you can use it to map out specific photo poses you want to match, hair, nail, makeup styles, etc. but I’m a n00b, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
To practice our first dance choreography, we went to the gym every weekend after our normal workouts. The mirrored walls in the main multipurpose room were perfect–we just needed to avoid the scheduled classes and had to be cool w/ sharing the space with others there, but it worked out well. We made sure to record ourselves and review the footage (dips were particularly hard for me to initially master).
We also may have been using the facilities to get/stay in shape after our wedding clothing measurements were taken 😉
6. Venue Visits
During our venue visits, we tried to make sure to take photos of EVERYTHING in our space to help out with laying everything out. Specifically, I wanted to make sure we found the outlet locations for both the ceremony, and the reception (needed for DJ setup, lighting, etc.). We also scoped out areas we wanted to take golden hour photos and checked whether or not we would need to provide umbrellas for our guests during the ceremony.
Our venue visits were the perfect opportunity for us to practice our choreography on our actual dance floor. This was important to help us get a feel for spacing, identify any areas we needed to avoid, etc.
7. Printing Services
Before the wedding, we decorated two tables at the cocktail hour with photos printed using mpix.com.
After the wedding, we used minted.com to create our thank you cards. Instead of opting for a $0.45 charge for printing a return address on each envelope though, we just custom printed return labels from Walgreens for less than half the price, and now we’ve got extra labels we can use going forward to boot!
Lastly, I’m happy to have discovered that my trusty little Brother laser printer has a manual feed tray for printing on thicker materials. If I didn’t have this resource in-house, I was prepared to use the UPS store to print our mini schedule signs, the text for our escort cards, etc.
My iPad with pencil especially shined for sketching layout ideas of our ceremony and reception spaces. I used the Sketchbook app by Autodesk for this, but there’s many equivalent drawing apps. It was also generally helpful to have access to all of our planning documents on a screen larger than our phones while on the go.
That’s it for this edition! Next time I’m finally getting into specifics of how I created the individual components of our wedding (personally, my favorite part!)
The second part of my series on designing the wedding will continue focusing on the planning process itself. In case you missed it, you can catch the first part, which summarized some overall thoughts on the day here. This second part is going to be relatively general and abstract, focusing on core principles we used to guide our overall decision making process. The next part will be still centered on the wedding development process itself, but with an emphasis on more concrete tools we used.
These fundamentals should be fairly obvious. If you look at it from a certain perspective, weddings essentially are big, high stakes projects to manage. It follows then, that a lot of project management 101 tools are useful.
The single best thing we did to make our wedding a success was simply starting our planning early. Seriously. It sounds simple, but it truly helps in a myriad of ways, and in many cases you literally don’t have a choice.
COVID caused a lot of the issues around pent up demand, increased competition, and supply chain woes, and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. We started planning around April of 2021, before I had even officially proposed… but still, all Saturdays in 2022 were already booked at our first choice venue.
Even though we decided to DIY much of the wedding, we never felt like we were drowning under a terrible amount of pressure or rushing to get things completed. I’ve heard horror stories about bridal parties being enslaved and rushing to finish a bunch of stuff right before the wedding, but we intentionally tried to make things as simple as possible for our friends.
In essence, starting early builds in flexibility and resilience (more on this later), which in turn reduces stress levels for everybody involved!
This is a big one. So big that honestly each of these probably deserves to be its own top level bullet…
Set expectations with yourself
First and foremost. I’m not tryna write a self-help book here, but don’t judge your wedding (or yourself by extension) by comparing it to others’ weddings. After seeing things up close through taking part IN FOUR weddings the year before ours, it was difficult for me to not compare… especially given how amazingly successful and fun they each were in their own ways. What helped me was reframing my thoughts as taking inspiration from the amazing experiences my friends had to build my own.
Along these lines, realize that your wedding is a celebration of YOU AND YOUR PARTNER. None of your true friends should be judging you by how your wedding goes. Take pride in doing what you think is best and owning it! Avoid toxic weddinglinity–there’s no dishonor in making things easier on yourself, or not following all things traditionally. You should decide what’s important, and you do you!
Dream big, but don’t be irresponsible… (aka budgeting)
With enough time, money, and willpower, all things are possible. Unfortunately for most of us, a deficiency in at least one of these resource categories keeps us from pulling off everything we want for our wedding in its most ideal form. I’m a natural optimist, and I still believe you should go into planning with a blank sheet, blue sky perspective on what things can be. However, you also need to be somewhat realistic on how much time and money it will take to achieve your ideas. We thought of budgeting as simply an additional requirement we had to come up with creative solutions to meet. Frankly, in a lot of cases, having more constraints can help force you to make your processes and designs better and more efficient ;).
We both agreed to pay for the wedding ourselves, with a 50/50 split between the two of us. This enabled us to take a top-down approach, starting with how much we knew we could responsibly spend, and then setting budgets for the subcomponents. I don’t know about you, but it makes it easier for me to stick to budgets when I’m dealing with my own money. Overall, we were fairly successful in sticking to what we originally budgeted, but we still inevitably overran it in some areas. We were fortunate enough to be in the position that we could absorb the cost of the wedding without any major impacts to our longer term goals. Don’t get me wrong, I love weddings and mine was the best day of my life, but it seems unconscionable to me to take on any sort of debt or other heightened risk to host the event…
Since weddings are a union between two partners, it’s important to set expectations with one another. In other words, you MUST…
It sounds simple, but can be hard, especially when the emotional stakes are high.
I am particularly proud of the way Tiffany and I managed our communication throughout the planning process. To help manage our conversations between ourselves and with our vendors, we created a shared gmail account to keep track of emails and documents (more on this in the next installment as well!).
Tiffany did a good job at making sure we were actually completing our tasks in a timely manner. My general approach to complex projects is to take care of big, non-negotiable things first while leaving smaller things to be done on a more nebulous time frame (sometimes you can’t just schedule creativity!). It drove Tiff mad sometimes since her style is more about seeing concrete progress and results, and we had slightly different definitions for high priority items. Looking back, I should have communicated better, but if I saw 60-80% of a solution to a problem in my head, I automatically deprioritized it, willing to take a calculated risk. For example, we got into a minor argument about the design of our escort cards. In my head, I had an idea nearly fully formed, so I didn’t think much of it and was happy to delay the work instead focusing on something else. However, my description made it needlessly difficult, hence a small quarrel ensued. I took 5 minutes to cut out a prototype, and sure enough, Tiff’s fears were assuaged.
Luckily for us, we didn’t have issues with communication between us and any outside parties. Most of this is due to how are friends and family simply are, but at the same time, we did try to tell everybody well in advance what our plans were, and what we needed help from them on. I am so glad we avoided problems akin to those I’ve seen from peoples’ posts online. I’ve read rants from brides on the verge of tears about parents/future mothers-in-law being insanely demanding, bridal party members being irresponsible, and drama in general.
In terms of cultural demands, both of our families were relatively progressive on this front. The only ask from my parents was a tea ceremony. My dad prepared a giant double happiness sign for the event, so we made it happen with the help of our bridal party:
Decide what REALLY matters to each partner
We began our planning process bright eyed and with expectations as realistic as possible. We each thought of things within the wedding that were particularly meaningful to us and made sure to convey it to the other. Conversely, we both had certain items which we had less of an opinion/were more flexible on. Knowing both made it much easier to prioritize and make tough decisions.
While we didn’t formally write everything out or graph it at the time, I did notice that our priority lists were actually VERY complimentary (I’m not sure how abnormal this is?)–that is, most of the things I wanted the most weren’t a priority for her, and vice-versa. Looking back, I guess this is one area where being different made things easier. Our division of labor was obvious since we could both focus our energies on what we each cared most about, and trusted the other’s judgment on what they were more passionate about.
This doesn’t mean we both got everything that we wanted, of course–we’re not baller enough. The biggest sacrifice we had to make was on our guest count (mostly on my side). Due to the uncertainty COVID brought, the limits of our venue, and the expense entailed, we simply could not invite everybody we wanted to, and ended up with an intimate wedding of only 90 guests. The biggest enabler of a reduced guest list was actually a creative suggestion from my parents. I have a very large family, but the majority of them are in the Chicago area, so we had a wedding banquet for 30 of my aunts, uncles, and cousins in lieu of inviting them to fly out to the main wedding.
While we found it helpful and intuitive for us to KNOW what we each wanted for various parts of the wedding, it wasn’t something which was set in stone. Additionally, we were blessed to have attended so many weddings immediately before ours, so we had a pretty good idea about what would be most meaningful to us from the onset. Even had we not attended multiple weddings before our own, I feel that a lot of what we wanted would have crystallized as we went through each phase of planning, from researching options, weighing pros and cons, talking to our vendors, asking for advice from friends, walking through schedules step by step, etc.
The key was understanding that even though we set a rough budget we wanted to stick to beforehand, the wedding was not a zero sum game. We worked very well together to come up with creative solutions that ensured we both got what we wanted while keeping within our constraints.
Plan to be flexible
The last concept I wanted to highlight was building resilience in our schedule and overall plans. If COVID has taught us nothing else, it’s the fact that life can be unpredictable. It feels like now more than ever before, things can change completely without notice. I’m glad that this collective trauma we’ve faced together has (hopefully) helped everybody become a bit more understanding and empathetic to the fact that we’re just trying to do the best we can with the resources at our disposal. That being said, I found it imperative to have a Plan B for everything–and honestly, starting early was a huge factor in resilient planning.
The biggest oh **** moment for us was when the housing for our bridal party fell through. We had booked a venue months in advance, however the owner ended up taking advantage of the insane housing market by selling the property, and canceling our reservation. Given that we only had a few months’ notice, a huge group, and were looking at a busy holiday weekend, we panicked a bit. Our next steps were obvious though, since we were guided by the fact that we both knew that we both wanted our wedding party to be together. We agreed without question that we had to book a replacement immediately, and we would simply take on any cost differences. Without a question, this was the correct decision, and I am thankful we were able to book such an amazing property… The photos speak for themselves! Take a look below:
Had we not gotten on the same page beforehand, knowing that we both wanted a great looking location to shoot our getting ready photos with all of our friends at, I’m not sure we would have moved with such conviction and alacrity to secure the house. I’m just grateful that we created a system for ourselves that made the decision simple.
Thanks for tuning in!
Thanks for sticking with me to the end of this long, long post. I wrote earlier about these principles being the stuff of project management 101, but reflecting a bit, I also see that many of these concepts (e.g. communicating, realizing things are not zero sum) are among basics in relationship building as well. Next time, I’ll be writing about more concrete tools and planning methods we found effective in designing our wedding.
Sound check… sound check… 1, 2,3… It’s been a minute… is this thing still on? It’s been quite a while since my last post. Just a couple of life updates, ya know–an ongoing global pandemic, starting an online design shop, and oh–getting married 😉. I’m glad to have enough free time again to do a bit more writing.
I’m going to try something new! Instead of talking just about designing objects (although, I certainly will dive into it), I’m going to be writing about a much more complex and rewarding process–the design of my wedding. I’ll be frank here–I love weddings in general, and especially loved all the planning and execution that went into ours (maybe atypical for grooms?). I may be biased, but I believe Tiff and I work exceptionally well together. While our experience may not be directly applicable or repeatable for every couple in every relationship in every location (heck–I can’t even guarantee all of my thoughts align exactly with Tiff’s perspective…), it isn’t my goal to give a bunch of generic/useless advice (or any advice at all really). I could talk for days about everything that we did for our wedding, but I’ll do my best to distill my thoughts as well as I can. That being said, this is going to be my most ambitious blog writing project–so big that it comes in an unknown number of installments.
Part 1 will be an overall summary of the day itself, through quick highlights of what I felt were the biggest successes, things I would do differently if I had a time machine, things that had a bigger impact than I anticipated, and things that didn’t matter as much as I originally thought they would.
In a single word, the day was sublime. I loved every moment of our wedding day. I have never felt so much love emanating from everyone, everywhere all around, all at once. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of designing and planning for the wedding in and of itself, so it was an incredible and surreal feeling to watch everything come together. Despite minor behind the scenes hiccups, I felt the day was a huge success overall. It was the best day of my life so far, and I know I’ll look back on it fondly forever.
The biggest successes:
All of the speeches. Our officiant Jason’s. Our vows to each other. The toasts at dinner–all fantastic. They each triggered my allergies to some extent.
Overall, all of our vendors were fantastic to work with. We had a snafu where we misplaced all of our final payments and gratuity envelopes. I was able to apologize profusely and arrange alternative payment methods in today’s age of Venmo. Luckily, we found everything at the very end of the night, but this wasn’t until after some of our vendors had already departed.
No drama at all! Browsing through various wedding planning forums, I see a ton of horror stories involving overbearing in-laws, incompetent/non-responsive vendors, irresponsible friends, unruly guests, etc. I’m so glad we had zero issues people-wise. Everybody had a good time, and stayed safe!
When issues came up, those around us were empowered to just take care of things. Our coordinator Melissa from Mellie Bee, and Nick, my best man especially. I was very proud of the planning spreadsheet we put together. It included everything from photos of what each piece of decoration looked like to where we wanted it to go and clean up/packing instructions, full layouts for both ceremony and reception areas, the full schedule and also our seating chart. We gave everybody in our wedding party access to it in case questions came up (they did).
DIY Decorations. It would have been extremely embarrassing for me as an artist and engineer if the centerpieces we spent so much time on turned out badly. Tiff and I are so lucky that both of our fathers were able to contribute as well. My dad’s portrait was a showstopper, and I think the table numbers Tiff’s dad helped us cut have the potential to be a successful product.
This is gonna be a bit cliché, but honestly, just seeing everybody was truly the biggest treat for me.
Things that had a bigger impact than anticipated:
Photo booth. The photo booth was something we saw as optional/on the chopping block if we couldn’t find one that met our budget. It was actually a bit difficult to find a company willing to quote due to how far our venue was. Luckily our DJ’s company had one they worked with often. The booth was used widely, and was a great outlet for those who didn’t want to be on the dance floor.
Coordinator. At the outset of the planning process, I didn’t really want to have one. Thankfully our venue required us to hire one, and the one we hired was spectacular. She was able to help take care of our decor setup and takedown, while helping us manage all the little things that came up. It was such a blessing to know that we didn’t really have to worry too much about anything on the day of.
Our photos. This is not technically something that made an impact on the day of… but I can’t believe our amazing photographer Elyana (IG: elyanaivette), turned around over a hundred (!!!) sneak peak photos in less than a week. They are all so much better than I hoped and I can’t wait to see the rest! Along the same lines, the shared google photos album we set up worked better than I expected.
One thing that took me by surprise was I also didn’t expect how easy it was to get swept up in the moment. The time just flew by so quickly.
Things I would do differently with a time machine:
Communication with our venue
Despite all of our detailed planning, there were still a few miscommunications with our venue. The biggest one was how the timing of food service would impact our vendor break. It was an unfortunate oversight, which forced us to cut out photos with each of our tables.
We should have been more explicit about where exactly we wanted our dinner tables to be–we expected a bit more space to move the portrait to the deck area after cocktail hour.
Planning more special photos ahead of time
The biggest photo I regret not taking was with the portrait my dad drew.
Looking back at some of our night time photos, I wish we took more. Our venue looked like something straight out of a fairy tale when it was all lit up.
Spend more time talking with people
Basic and generic, but true. The dance floor was fantastic, and it’s my favorite thing at all weddings, don’t get me wrong, but in hindsight, maybe a bit more balance would have been nice.
Practiced our first dance
Even though we spent so much time practicing our first dance, I wish we had taken a few minutes to run through our first dance one last time. We missed a few steps during the execution, and I got caught in Tiff’s dress. Whoops! Adding 5 minutes into our timeline to sneak away would have paid dividends >.<
Lack of official hotel block & shuttles. I felt really bad about not being able to arrange an official hotel block for our guests to take advantage of. At the time we were searching, none of the hotels we talked to were able to accommodate without committing to a hard number and minimum number of nights for each guest :(. Since we didn’t know where exactly everybody was staying, trying to arrange an official shuttle likewise didn’t make sense. I’m glad that this didn’t seem to make as big of an impact for our guests though.
Things that had a smaller impact than I anticipated:
The weather. Throughout the few weeks before the wedding, the weather was fluctuating between very hot and very cold. Given our wedding was mostly outdoors, it was a big concern for us. While our venue had an option to add heat lamps, I never feel they are that effective. To help combat this, we sent out multiple reminders and told our guests to bring layers. Luckily, the weather turned out to be a non-factor since it wasn’t too cold, and those who were could keep warm by either drinking or going on the dance floor 🙂
Nerves. I was surprised at how easy and natural the day was for me. I didn’t really feel too worried or anxious at all. I think it’s just a testament to the excellent support group of friends and family.
Not being able to eat. I’ve heard stories that brides and grooms don’t usually get a chance to eat at their own wedding. This was not the case for us, but it may have been due to our confusion with the vendor break. Also, our coordinator made sure to save us some of the desserts and appetizers :).
Length of toasts. All of the toasts at dinner went a bit long, but they were all extremely heartfelt and none of them seemed out of place at all.
Alcohol. I was a bit nervous that the pressure to drink a lot would be pretty high. It was. I definitely did not get drunk at all though, despite the numerous shots I took :O. Thank goodness for adrenaline!
Thanks for sticking through this rambling post, I hope it is at least semi-coherent! As I mentioned, this will be a multi-part series… no guarantees on timing, but I promise the next one will come out eventually. I plan on delving deeper into the planning process, and yes, closer to my normal project updates, I promise I’ll get into the design of all the DIY decor as well ;).