Next Store: Digital Flamingos

Learning about the business of grabbing attention
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Posted August 16, 2017

Seldom do iconic images come along that so perfectly represent a state of mind. Such is the case of the often-photographed (and occasional lawn decorative) pink flamingo, which has evolved into a fitting representation of what we so often seek when we’re designing an ideal environment that uses digital engagement. 

Stop and think about it. That bright pink flamingo has the power of color, movement, sound and uniqueness that makes us take notice – even if we’ve seen one before, we just can’t help ourselves. 

The flamingo was a symbolic backdrop that framed two conferences and exhibitions I attended in Florida this past June, which were focused on the business of “experience” and creating a digital show as breathtaking as watching a flock of flamingos. Remaining in awe and taking in new sources drives us to build solid foundations for the “next store,” and designing for a complex consumer requires fresh perspective.

ALL ABOUT EXPERIENCE
With that in mind, I started with the Society for Experiential Graphic Design’s (SEGD) Experience Conference in Miami. The term “experience” is frankly what attracted me in the first place. And what better destination than Miami to see how design and architecture are helping to create spaces with notable experiential graphics.

The conference incorporated my favorite topic – digital – which was sprinkled throughout almost every major session during the three days. It made me think of how key visual communications are in creating new and exciting retail destinations. So often I’d assume the static signage and graphics community was behind the times, but did I ever get schooled! The dance between digital and traditional graphic communications is arguably an important aspect of creating a dynamic environment: One can almost never live without the other.

One of the workshops I attended was titled “Design Thinking: User-Centric Innovation.” Many people today use the term “design thinking,” and in some circles, it has grown to be one of those overused phrases that’s easy to talk about but often difficult to put into everyday practice. In this case, I think the session represented a seminal factor that must be considered when thinking about what exactly a so-called “next store” is. Are we designing too much for the aesthetic elements and not enough for the consumer? 

Experience mapping is a key exercise that every design studio ought to be putting into its ideation and conception phases. Siggi Bachmann of Contexto (Miami) led us through the process that had me thinking, eliciting the proverbial “lightbulb” moment at the end. Stop and consider: How often do we ask our clients to put us in front of their target audience and ask questions? Seldom, if ever, has it been my industry experience.

Bachmann taught us how to first gather information by mapping the journey, and then by experiencing and understanding the stakeholder that would be our customer. From there, we listed their needs and generated insights. We could then define the problem that led to testing ideas and moving the potential customer to a solution with a prototype to interact with. User experience (UX) will be imperative to unlocking what the idea of “design thinking” should be to our community.

CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
I said goodbye to South Florida and moved on to Orlando for the InfoComm Intl. conference and trade show, which turned out some 40,000 attendees. I’d never before attended an event billed as the flagship trade show for the professional audiovisual and information communications industries, but one of my close business partners expressed that it’s simply one of those shows you can’t miss. Naturally, the VMSD editorial team was in attendance to check out the sights and sounds. And there were plenty of “digital flamingos” to grab our attention.

I’d never before thought about just how big this industry is and its impact on creating experiences, especially when it comes to bringing branded graphics, or even lighting, to life. But according to InfoComm’s Industry Outlook and Trends Analysis (IOTA) 2017 report, the global professional AV market is projected to grow to $230 billion by 2022, up from $178 billion in 2016. 

Another surprise was the amount of lighting products on display. As we’ve observed in retail lately, lighting controls are indeed the way of the future, and this was evident at InfoComm. One of my favorite and most inspiring conversations happened around a tunable low-voltage LED system that was powered and controlled over a single Cat 6 cable. So often digital signage content is compromised by lighting plans that don’t relate to the display, but with simple controls, the light can automatically adjust and make its surrounding environment as dynamic as a live concert. The possibilities are virtually endless, and I can see that a new cooperative service for design is coming as we begin to stage digital interiors in the coming years.

Other notable InfoComm showstoppers were sensor-based flip-disc signage (think train stations in Europe) that incorporate a customer’s outline onto the sign; floors and walls comprising LEDs that gave the impression that you were actually standing in a virtual environment in one show booth (potentially applicable for retail and hospitality design and associate training); and wall-mounted LED and LCD video systems that continue to push toward zero-bezel nirvana. Projection mapping has also advanced to become another VM feature in our toolkit. Seamless digital backdrops will continue to be desired features as merchants look for ways to become the “digital flamingo” that’s necessary in today’s crowded field. Software simplicity is making for some visually stunning effects that can map to almost any shape and bring about a fresh content experience to any display.

Both shows – SEGD’s Experience Conference and InfoComm – will be imperative resources as our own abilities continue to expand and our craft seeks new avenues. And there were so many new ideas that sprang forth that I’m sure we’ll be seeing them in future “next stores” soon enough.