The Art of Experiential Design
Updated: Apr 8
At its root, the purpose of experiential design is to stimulate an emotional reaction from the audience, guiding individuals to take a specific action.
Augmented reality has added a wealth of depth and dimension to experiential design. It has replaced two-dimensional displays and exhibits and, if used correctly and appropriately, can transform a visual experience into an interactive one, guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.
More traditional applications of experiential design can be just as effective, provided a few guiding principles are taken into consideration.
Environmental Graphic Design
Experiential design is also known as environmental design, which makes sense, especially for outdoor installations.
Human beings have always strived to shape their environment to meet their needs. As the Egyptian pyramids, holy cities and Neolithic structures of old illustrates, we are also prone to construct new environments to match our imaginations.
Experiential and Environmental Design Elements & Ideas
Memorable design reaches its audience on more than just a visual level. Creative thinkers – from architects to event planners, museum curators to city planners - understand this. And as brands grow and look to make lasting impressions, design goals too have evolved from the purely aesthetic to experiential goals.
But how exactly does one design an experience rather than just an image?
The answer is by engaging the viewer on multiple sensory levels in order to imprint a positive, memorable experience of a brand or place.
As CoastalCreative rightly points out, experience is highly subjective. Every viewer brings their own associations and tastes along for the ride. But because experience is so multi-faceted, experiential designers have the benefit that their work likely won’t be subjected to the whims of aesthetic preferences to the same degree as it would be, were it a single piece of art or graphic design.
Stand-alone visuals might be dismissed purely on the basis of taste, but experiential graphics give brands the opportunity to reach customers from multiple angles.
Here are eight elements of experiential design to be considered:
1. Start with Authentic Content
Does your graphic convey relevant information or a compelling message? An important step in taking a graphic from being just visually appealing to experientially interesting is to make sure that the content is at once informative and contributes to the narrative of a brand.
2. Choose the Best Materials
If you’ve ever touched acrylic and leather, or polyester and cashmere, side-by-side, you know what a big difference material can make.
It is important to keep in mind that the stuff your graphics are made of are just as crucial to the overall experience as the design itself. If the message you mean to convey is one of environmental sustainability, it makes sense to print with recycled and ethically sourced materials. If you are promoting a luxury brand, then investing in high quality materials over cheap synthetic ones is the way to go.
3. Craft the Perfect Design
The design of your experiential graphics refers to both the overall architecture as well as specific design elements that match your brand and stand out.
It is safe to say that when it comes to graphics in this sphere, the design-thinking you employ should be appropriately modern, clean, and interesting. While design trends are constantly evolving alongside new technological capabilities and consumer needs, there are still many elements of good design that transcend time and medium. In most cases, simplicity is key.
4. Prioritize Usefulness
One of the easiest ways to make a lasting impression upon someone is by being helpful to them. The average person is constantly bombarded by marketing messages and will not give a second glance to anything that has no value or message beyond its marketing capacity.
Incorporating an element of functional utility into your brand designs, however, makes a huge difference.
5. Plan for the Environment
When planning any kind of exhibit or installation, it’s important to consider the surrounding physical space. If the venue is a beautiful nature area, can you position and design your graphic to complement the scenery? Or if the venue is a dark basement, can you use lighting and ceiling hangings strategically to create an immersive effect? If an experiential design does a great job of working with its surrounding environment, it is truly inextricable from that locale. If you couldn’t just pack it up and move it without losing an important piece of what made it work, then you know you’ve truly made great use of the space.
Some of the best installations actually blend into the environment rather than stand out on their own. The approach you take depends on the context of the event, the message you’re trying to convey, and the positioning of the brand.
6. Encourage Interaction
This could be the one element that elevates your experiential design above all others.
For example, if you intend for visitors to interact with your installation, spend some time considering what visitors might find interesting or engaging. Games that test your knowledge, world maps that encourage exploration, and sensory features that you can touch are all great ways to get visitors to participate in the experience. Doing is always more impactful than simply seeing. If you can get visitors to actually interact with a brand, you are likely to make a lasting impression upon them.
7. Perfect User Experience
In the simplest terms, user experience can be defined as whether and how easily a customer can get what they want from your product or service. Ask too much of your visitors and they may lose interest. Provide too little or unclear instructions and they may be confused. Bombard them with too much information and they could feel stressed or overwhelmed.
Your goal should be allowing customers to reach their goals as quickly and pleasantly as possible. The best user experience makes the whole experience seamless, and when well done it shouldn’t even be noticed as a feature.
8. Implement Accessibility
Last but certainly not least, you want to make sure that your design is actually within the reach of your target audience. Accessibility applies to both the physical space and the content of your design.
In the physical sense, if your target audience is children, ensure that any interactive elements of your design are positioned at their eye-level. Regarding content, if your audience speaks several different languages, you might want to make your exhibit multi-lingual.
It’s important to consider that people bring diverse abilities and perspectives. Accessibility can be a loaded word, but if you want your design to be appealing and accessible to the largest amount of people possible, address any artificial barriers that might inadvertently turn people away.
For a look at some interesting experientially inspired design examples , visit coastalcreative.com