Augmented reality is already here, and you can use it now.
Instead of flat, two-dimensional exhibits and installations, experiential graphic design transforms the space surrounding the visitor into something remarkable. Their reality is truly augmented for a sliver of time.
What is Experiential Design?
Experiential graphic design means creating displays and environments that put the visitor in the middle of it all, to communicate a message or feeling.
This is most evident at trade shows, where the user is fully immersed in a creative trade show display; outdoors through a public art installation; or in the office, surrounded by beautiful, immersive wall murals.
More practical ways of using experiential design involve designing to guide the public to take an action in a correct or preferred manner. Think about how airports are design to show you where to go and optimize human traffic flow. Hospitals need to critically guide medical professionals because every second counts. Art museums count on giving their visitors a fully immersive and guided experience.
Environmental Graphic Design
Experiential design is also known as environmental design, which makes sense, especially for outdoor installations.
Actually, environmental design goes back to ancient times. From Egyptian pyramids, to cave paintings, from neolithic structures like Stonehenge, to holy cities, environmental design has been with us since time began. As humans seek to shape their environment to meet their needs, they also construct new environments to match their imagination.
Experiential and Environmental Design Elements & Ideas
Graphics aren’t just for viewing anymore. Truly memorable design reaches viewers on more than just a visual level, and the best creative thinkers from architects to event planners to museum curators understand this. As brands grow and seek to make lasting impressions upon their customers, the goals of design evolve from purely aesthetic ones to more experiential ones.
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.
Of course, 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.
If you want to transform your next graphic project from a two-dimensional image to an engaging experience, here are eight elements of experiential design you should consider in the drafting process. With many years of experience in designing, printing, and installing graphic projects, our team of reprographics experts put together this visual resource of best practices for experiential graphic design. Here is the break down:
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.
The example photos in this section show two ways this might be accomplished. The first wall mural uses typography to display the key concepts of a company’s culture and services. The second mural features a portrait of and quote by tech icon Steve Jobs, aligning the company with a narrative of innovation.
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.
That is not to say that artificial materials have no place in experiential design, but it’s 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. This is where a high-quality graphic designer can push the quality of your experiential design installation even further.
No brand wants to be considered behind the times, sloppy, or boring. When it comes to graphics, the design-thinking you employ should be appropriately modern, clean, and interesting. Of course, design trends are constantly evolving alongside new technological capabilities and consumer needs. But there are many elements of good design that transcend time and medium. In many 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 ads 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.
The image below shows an example of a wall mural combined with functional shelving. When visual and practical design meet, visitors can actual engage with the product. The result is that they feel a sense of value and associate that positive impression with the brand.
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 your brand.
6. Encourage Interaction
This could be the one element that elevates your installation above all others. And it could be the most fun.
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 your brand, you are likely to make a lasting impression upon them.
Another good example of this is in the gym. Visitors training in a gym are looking for guidance and wayfinding. We’ve collected some awesome gym design ideas to take it further.
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. This is meant literally, but also figuratively. Accessibility applies to both the physical space and the content of your design. In the physical sense, if your target audience is kids, 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.
Experiential Graphics Infographic
How to we fit all these ideas into one convenient location?
A shareable infographic! We’ve collected these ideas and packaged them below.
Experiential graphics are all around you. Any time you interact with or rely on graphical communication while at airports, museums, trade shows, or virtually anywhere, you’re seeing experiential graphics.
For designers and providers looking to create experiential graphics, there aren’t many rule books out there to create the best designs.
See also our blog for details: Terms of Service
We’ve put together a best-practices infographic guide to show you how to implement 8 key design elements in your next experiential graphic piece. These 8 steps will walk you through the best way to create a knock-out design that will delight anyone that interacts with the piece.