Using experiential design to build culture and engagement
In recent years, a transformative shift in building design and architecture has emerged, placing an emphasis on human wellness and betterment. At the forefront of this movement is experiential design, a dynamic approach that redefines the parameters of good design. Architects and designers are not only concerned with the visual appeal of a space, but are now dedicated to crafting environments that enhance the human experience. Concepts like biophilic design have helped draw attention to a more human-centric design perspective, and experiential design is part of that trend.
In built environments, experiential design can encompasses a person’s physical, cognitive, social, cultural and emotional experiences with a space. The design considers the purpose and function of the building or room, along with a desired experience a designer intends for each occupant or visitor. Experiences may include physical or digital interactions, social aspects, lighting, visual, sounds, smells, and other inputs and the person’s responses to these.
Consider all of the different environments you have been in, and how the building and rooms have impacted your experience. Think about the way they sounded, looked, and smelled. Here are some examples of commercial spaces with a variety of experiential designs:
- Art installations and sections of museums
- Sports arenas and stadiums
- Theme parks and location-based entertainment venues
- Restaurants and bars
- Retail stores and professional service centers
- Concert and performing arts venues
- Offices and other workplaces
- Different areas of libraries from reading ares to the children’s section
- Hotel rooms, lobbies, and meeting spaces
- Airports, train stations, and other transportation hubs
In each of these settings, experiential design helps organizations or sponsors communicate their desired message to each visitor–whether that message is one of comfort and reassurance or surprise and excitement.
What is experiential design?
Experiential design prioritizes human interaction with a built environment. In a commercial context, this means strategically using design elements to elicit an emotional connection to a brand and immerse occupants in a narrative. Today, creating an experience is more important than ever before. In its 2017 Experience Index, Gensler notes that “the human experience must be the driving force behind every element of a space––from the design of physical space to the qualities of interaction, expectation, and intention.”
In practice, this can take many different forms, but above all, engagement and emotional connection are the foundation of experiential design. If a space doesn’t allow its occupants to feel connected, it’s not experiential. For example, in an office setting, this might include creating spaces that facilitate workflow and optimize emotional and physical employee well-being.
Achieve Internet demonstrates experiential design using graphics and the company’s orange.
This is where one of the big differences between experiential design and other contemporary perspectives comes in. Whereas some designers might create a space based on trends or aesthetics alone, experiential design looks at how humans will interact with the space and builds the environment not only around human needs but also the human experience. Input from to-be occupants is thus a crucial part of the process. This collaboration with occupants allows designers to understand users’ needs and expectations.
While experiential design at its core does require a deep look at how people will interact with a space, it goes above and beyond to emotionally connect people with the space. Signage, decor, and messaging that strongly align with the brand message are a few of the ways experiential design accomplishes this connection. In short, the branded content works hand in hand with the design to reflect the purpose of the space.
Experiential design case study: Twitter’s London office displays hashtags and accounts to showcase its brand.
What Does Experiential Design Look Like?
Human-centric design, branding, and interactivity are all vital pieces of the puzzle that is experiential design. The more connected someone feels to a space, the more they will want to come back to that space. In a business context, this translates to more hotel stays, more returning customers, and more brand ambassadors. More and more businesses and institutions are realizing this and are seeking out experiential designers to help them create these strong emotional connections.
Trillium Creek Primary School in West Linn, Oregon is an excellent example of experiential design in action. Teachers, staff, and students spoke up during the planning process to ensure the design would meet their needs for a school space that gave students a well-rounded educational experience. As a result, the final school design included elements like simulated trees and integrated play areas to encourage interaction throughout the building.
Trillium Creek Primary School incorporates experiential design with architecture elements for students and staff
Another outstanding example of experiential design is Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Monmouth. The legendary firm Perkins+Will worked to create a healing environment that would be noticeably different from other cancer centers. That ethic is evident in the facility’s design. A large courtyard, ample views of nature, and clean spaces inspired by the hospitality industry make MSK Monmouth truly unique. Jason Harper, medical planner and associate principal and Perkins+Will, said, “We wanted to give patients a positive, hope-filled and humane experience at a time when they’re feeling down, both emotionally and physically.”
MSK Monmouth uses experiential design to optimize patient experience and comfort
Experiential design also lends itself to internal branding. This is a boon to companies who are looking to improve employee morale by creating a positive, brand-driven environment that reminds workers of a greater purpose. Shimano Cycling World in Singapore exemplifies this. An installation featuring brand imagery and a wall of bicycles connects both employees and visitors to the Shimano brand. That installation was created by Eight Inc., a leading experiential design firm. As Principal Jeff Straesser put it, “It’s more about traditional architects realizing it’s not enough to design something that’s visibly compelling. It’s about bringing all these other considerations into design experiences.”
Experiential Design: Shimano’s wall of bikesShimano’s consistent and compelling branding is another way of utilizing experiential design
The Future of Experiential Design
As more architects and designers are considering what it means to build human-centric spaces, experiential design is rapidly becoming more mainstream. Design is becoming increasingly less about current trends and more about meeting human needs. When people have a quality experience in a space, they are more engaged. Engagement translates into more productive workers, more customers and more social shares of well-designed spaces. The role of experiential design is only bound to grow.