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November 23, 2015 /UX/UI Design /

The Rise of Experiential Design: What You Need to Succeed

If you’ve been to a conference, an airport, or even a large shopping center in the last six months, it’s extremely likely you’ve encountered experiential design first hand. Far more engaging than traditional media, experiential design is changing the way we experience products, places, and environments – and it’s driving competition among companies in ways never seen before.

Jason White, Executive Creative Director at Leviathan, recently spoke at FITC FORM in Chicago about this emerging design methodology.

“Most of us have had to shift away from traditional media work, and start thinking about new ways to do things,” said White. “Experiential design is the most effective way to intrigue audiences, because people flock to new experiences in unexpected places.”

LVTHN – Hello World from Leviathan on Vimeo.

During his talk, White discussed different approaches and techniques of experiential design, as well as how to get a project off the ground.

Five Categories of Experiential Design

There are five major categories of experiential design, with crossover among each. These categories provide context for the experience being designed and the environment in which it lives.

  • Exhibition Design: A hybrid of storytelling and environment. Often found in museums and art galleries.
  • Environmental Graphics: Messages, information or imagery that’s attune to the environment it’s displayed in.
  • Entertainment: Concerts and events rule this category. These experiences scale from small to very big.
  • Marketing: Sensory experiences like Times Square in NYC. Guerilla marketing, and product experiences and launches.
  • Placemaking: Public installations and landmarks which define the space around us.

Experiential Design Techniques

There are seven different ways (and counting) to achieve an experiential design installation. White keeps this list on hand, so he has options to explore with clients who have no idea what they want to do.

  • Video Installations: Video installations can range from two to thousands of screens. These installations are easily configurable, usually offer the best resolution and have the power to transform ordinary spaces into engaging experiences. Video installations tend to be content heavy, and can also be interactive.
  • Video Mapping: When the element of surprise is needed, it’s a versatile and portable technique that can adapt to any surface. Ideal when working with buildings or a custom stage. Video mapping can be interactive, and is usually animation heavy.
  • Augmented Reality: Augmented reality is used when you want to add an existing environment. Participants see the room they’re in while experiencing some altered form of reality – a digital overlay to their environment. This tends to be animation heavy.
  • Interactive: This is a broad category, as interactive installations can be small or large, and can be displayed in any media format.
  • Virtual Reality (VR): To be considered VR, participants need to be fully immersed and usually need to wear a headset to achieve this. The full immersion into an alternate reality is what differentiates VR from augmented reality.
  • Holographic Installations: When you want to bring animated objects into the real world, holographic techniques are used. Most often seen in concerts, holographic installations are very expensive to pull off. They are always animation heavy, and can be interactive as well.
  • Immersive Environments: Often created with a projection or a screen, immersive environments are most commonly seen at marketing events. A great technique to captivate your audience’s attention.

How to Choose the Right Experience

Three major considerations to make before kicking off a new experiential design project include budget, timeline, and installation space. Having the answer to these three things will narrow down the options available.

Getting Started

When taking on a new project, consider those involved: the clients and what they’re trying to achieve; the creators and how the project will impact their livelihood, interests, and development; the consumers of your work and what their emotional connection to it will be. Thinking about what the experience will look and feel like from the consumers’ perspective is extremely important. “Often I will sketch out what this experience will look like, literally putting myself in their place,” said White.

Content Strategy

Content is a significant consideration of experiential design projects. White swears by developing a content strategy right at the outset. “If you think about it ahead of time, you’ll thank yourself when the project is finished,” said White. The content strategy not only informs the installation, but how it will live on and make the most impact.

With longevity and reach in mind, White creates work that stands on its own. For example, if you’re creating a video installation, the video you’ve created for it should be a video that could easily play on the Internet as a really cool thing. This approach means that you have the opportunity to stretch what might be a location dependent experience to something with far greater reach.

Crafting Proposals

Leviathan teamed up with Luci Creative and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry to design an experience that explores the recurrence of patterns and mathematics in our natural world. Using a combination of experiential design techniques, Leviathan was able to give guests a hands­-on learning experience through artful film and interactive installations.

MSI “Numbers in Nature” from Leviathan on Vimeo.

Some of the major lessons White learned from this project were around crafting proposals. The proposal for the final project, “Numbers in Nature,” was 90 pages. The first and arguably most important element of the proposal was the story it told to the client – the narrative that informed the experience that participants would have. Through the use of references, renderings, and prototypes, White was able to show the client the areas the project would explore.

“Whenever you’re showing your vision to a client, it’s always best to show it in the most realistic way possible,” said White. “When it’s real­looking in a real sense of scale, people get it.” Proposals can get quite technical, so when including renderings of what’s involved in the project will help the client get a better understanding of what they’re buying. Even a simple iPad app demo with basic swipe functionality in the museum proposal helped convey a bigger vision in a tangible way. Finally, White wrapped the whole thing up in a beautiful package to deliver to the client.

“You’re pitching an experience, so why aren’t you making the proposal an experience?” said White.

While the project didn’t come without it’s obstacles, it certainly challenged the status quo and checked the innovation box off on White’s list.

We’re in a very exciting time for all things creative. No longer are the physical and digital worlds mutually exclusive. White challenges us to band together and define new experiences.

You can find Jason White on Twitter @jasonlvthn.

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