Design is a fickle thing, and not only because it is subjective. Yes, there are certain brands that do it well, such as Apple, but the iPhone 6 you bought last week will be out of date in the next 12 to 18 months, thanks to a flashier handset with an even more streamlined design and an interface boasting all the fashionable colours of the Pantone rainbow.
The same can be applied to brand experiences. It is common knowledge that a one-size-fits-all approach is not acceptable when designing activations. However, the speed with which creativity changes means that brands and agencies must work hard to revolutionise environments if they are to meet the constantly evolving expectations of consumers.
Neil Hooper, creative director at Circle Agency, says the agency has increasingly seen the impact of design and creativity on brand experiences in relation to a particular environment. "You have to know who you are talking to," he says. "I have been involved in lots of festival design, but working in this area can bite you on the bum - the design can stand out for the wrong reasons."
The way we look at creativity as an industry continues to change. Indeed, Octagon's creative director Josh Green poses an interesting question about its impact: should we carry on talking about creativity in an aesthetic sense?
"The definition of design changes," he explains. "Humans are the centre of design, and we are constantly finding ways to add value through connection."
This storytelling style, reflected in an often immersive and multi-sensory format with brand experiences, is set to flourish, according to Phoebe Cherry of Smart Live. "Clients want something different; there has been a huge shift from 'show and tell' towards sensory experiences. This helps consumers connect with brands on a deeper level," she says.
Human connections stem from authentic experiences, and in order to create that authenticity, Hooper says attention must be paid to the live environment. "We went back to basics with an installation for conserve brand Bonne Maman recently," he says. "There was no fabrication of the brand or anything synthetically designed. We used natural woods, real fruit and ingredients as part of the surroundings."
Hooper believes some agencies miss the mark when designing for longevity, using materials that don't stand the test of time. "Our installation was painted and refurbished every time it went to a new location," he explains. "If we hadn't have done that, it would have lost its authenticity. You have to design fresh with all the finishing touches - including fresh fruit in this example - otherwise people will know."
For New Look's Christmas event for staff (far left), Cherry says Smart Live had to create festive-themed zones for guest interaction. However, the overall design had to mimic the look of the retailer's stores. "The festive zones - such as pantomime areas and a Christmas shop - helped engage delegates with the company strategy. The design of the experience was simple, accessible and open to all ages and backgrounds because it portayed the white decor and sharp lines of New Look stores.
It wasn't over-complicated - it was all about involving the store managers on the day."
The past 12 months has witnessed an evolution - even revolution - of technology from a brand experience point of view.
For many creative heads, including Zibrant Live's Mark Glynne-Jones, this has meant that technology and design go hand in hand.
"There have been major changes in creativity and the design of brand experiences, but it always comes back to technology," says Glynne Jones. "We have grown up in a multi-channel world, so brands need to be clear about what they stand for, as well as how they will stand out."
He does stress that because apps, social media and the latest tech updates have become such a part of our lives, there is no seam between technology and design - consumers therefore expect it to be naturally built into a live brand experience. With this in mind, Hooper stresses that you simply cannot use off-the-shelf solutions for those experiences.
"Equally, don't simply look at the latest 'best' gadget that has just come onto the market and think how you have to use it on your stand. It must be blended," he says. "Also, look at your design and the technology to see how you want it all to function, allowing consumers to naturally interact with the experience. It must be fluid and organic, and reach out to all types of customer, so never neglect these details."
This was Circle Agency's aim when creating The Box of Wang (left) on behalf of high-street fashion retailer H&M. To launch a range from designer Alexander Wang, the agency created a sleek, black interactive cube, the four sides of which merged technology and design.
"One side featured a video wall behind a black mirror and was used as a social media broadcast wall," Hooper says. "The second side was a sort of sneak-peak wall. It gave consumers a glimpse of a real garment from the collection for a 12-second period.
The cube would come to life thanks to geo-location and hashtag-triggered technology, so there was an element of technology and design crossing over."
While technology continues to influence the creative process of designing brand experiences, materials still play a major part. For H&M's Box of Wang, Circle Agency used a synthetic rubber called neoprene for one side of the cube, a material that is also used in Wang's fashion line. "It meant we could attach objects on to one side of the cube, allowing it to organically come to life," Hooper explains. "It not only became a 3D surface, but also, in some ways, a space for performance art."
There is currently a trend towards using materials and objects that were designed for a different purpose, according to Octagon's Green, who says derelict shipping containers lend themselves well to brand experience design. "They look interesting from a design perspective. They have a raw and industrial look and are structurally functional and fit for purpose," he says. "You can load and de-rig them quickly. It's non-traditional but becoming an increasingly popular tool for designing live activations."
Green adds that an architectural approach to designing and constructing brand environments has impacted on the industry. "We are increasingly thinking about how we can design intricate structures, not simply a pop-up stand," he says. "Making an impact with a brand experience goes beyond a graphic or an illustration. Agencies and brands want a real architectural perspective, and we are working with industrial design specialists to achieve this."
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