I spend my days designing a mix of various spaces, from Olympic and expo pavilions to conference layouts and consumer pop-up experiences. While these projects are all fairly different in their look, feel, and purpose, there is one constant, and that’s the way I draw on the principles of architecture to frame each design.
The great thing about this approach is that it combines two things that are fairly ubiquitous: architecture and beautiful design.
As city dwellers, most of us live in artificially built environments, which means architecture surrounds us. We are also surrounded by creative design that affects buildings, technology, landscapes, and just about everything we see every day. Whether it is via the route I take as I cycle to work each day, the designs we check out as a creative team, or the places I head to outside of work, I am never searching for creative inspiration.
Cutting edge design: you’ll find it at the intersection
Architecture is, in my view, an important aspect of successful experience design, which is designing the experience with the attendee in mind. Interestingly, there are many similarities between these two creative disciplines. At the very basic end of the scale, both are centred around creating spaces that facilitate human engagement and interaction.
Every architectural structure requires design, whether it’s an office building, an elaborate, sprawling garden or an indoor space like a conference stage or branded product area. Viewing and exploring these spaces is — in one way or another — an experience for the visitor. On a rational level, what constitutes good or bad design is fairly objective. On the other hand, the feelings that are evoked by a designed space can be very personal and subjective.
In both cases, it’s the emotional response that matters.
Creating a sensorial experience
In architecture, we always aim to follow good design principles, but we don’t always end up achieving the best result. The right ingredients for a successfully designed space can go beyond what you can see or describe rationally; sometimes the right mix is more instinctive because you just feel it.
This sensory element is especially true when it comes to temporary structures. So how can we ensure they will stay with visitors long after an event ends?
By designing with respect to things like atmosphere, temperature, light and smell (our sense that is most closely linked to memory), we’re able to create highly sensorial experiences that tap into visitors’ subconscious. We have found that these sensory connections happen not only on the day of the event, but also through memories of the experience later on.
Connecting the look and feel
The intersection of design and architecture also comes down to the overall look and feel of a space. Maybe a big, bright room will catch our attention at first, but as we come closer it’s the different areas or touchpoints within it that we’ll want to explore and discover.
And don’t forget material selection, which can also lead to positive emotional responses. We recently created a bespoke, branded area for a pharmaceutical client within a wider event. It featured natural materials like stained timber — a change from their usual slick, white, clinical style. This change in material created a warmer look and spoke volumes about the company’s fresh, human approach. Plus, this client’s presence stood out in a unique way compared to other neighbouring brands.
Regardless of whether you’re designing a skyscraper or sponsorship areas at a conference, the key to success lies in understanding the client’s goals and brainstorming how you can leverage design — and as a result, architecture — to deliver those goals as well as the brand message in the most effective and relevant ways. That’s how good design can play an important role in delivering memorable experiences.