Reinventing Santa for the Modern Kid

Wonder for the season already exists – tap into it!
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Posted December 16, 2015

I don’t believe in Santa Claus. I never did as a child. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have holiday spirit. To me, the season was much more than Santa Claus. It was the first snow day, the glitter of ornaments, the religious meaning, the wonder and anticipation of presents and parties and the joy of singing and giving.

So I spent this past summer immersed in the “most wonderful time of the year” – I was gazing at garland, sipping hot cocoa and listening to Christmas music far too frequently. I needed to summon the season, explode with imagination and connect with my inner Christmas child to successfully design Santa sets for the modern kid. Finally, in my 30s, I made him real.

Here are a few ways you can create a fresh holiday experience and make kids and adults alike want to believe (maybe for the first time):

1. Go big and bold with color. I realized fairly quickly as a young mom that there was a reason why primary colors are so popular. Babies are drawn to them. Babies are downright delighted with them; their eyes light up and they reach for the brightest, boldest color. I traded in my neutral wooden toys and the notion that my home would be a page out of Dwell magazine and embraced chic disorder with bright, bold colors. Use the rainbow as your guide.

2. Think about the scale of your space and/or product. Although large-scale items may have more visibility, small-scale elements can have the same visual impact. Exaggeration is key. Selfridges used tiny Santas in an advertising campaign featuring headphones, while Tiffany & Co. always creates intimate vignettes for its product.

3. It doesn’t have to be literal. Don’t underestimate the mystery of the season – it’s already there. Add to the wonder by surprising kids with little Santa faces in unexpected places or messaging that makes you do a double-take. In the past, Target has used its bull’s-eye as a hill for a sleigh, and last year, Bloomingdale’s had a fun post on social media featuring a polar bear with the comment: “I love your coat. Where did you get it?”

4. Make sure adults are happy, too. We all know babies cry and kids have endless energy. Create an interactive queue with crafts, fun games or hands-on activities so they have things to do while waiting. At Disney World, the Dumbo ride line is a play area for kids, and the Helix rollercoaster at Liseberg, an amusement park in Gothenburg, Sweden, has a synchronized game where winners can skip the line. Keeping them occupied while waiting in line for Santa will help keep the Grinch at bay.

5. Make memories the priority. One of my mentors recently told me that Holiday decor was about making memories for people. Tap into the things you remember as a child. One of my designers remembered hearing “Jingle Bells” when she walked through the door at Christmastime. Another loved the smells of pine and gingerbread cookies. Sounds and smells are takeaways that are preserved in a customer’s mind. And real cookies? Even better.

As you go through the season, watch and listen to how kids experience your decor. See if it’s magical enough. Remember when “The Wizard of Oz” movie transitioned from black and white in the opening scenes to color after Dorothy arrives in Oz? That’s the goal. Tweak what you can this season and reinterpret for next year. In the meantime, if you need me, I’ll be behind the curtain.

Faith Bartrug of FBD Studios (Columbus, Ohio) has more than a decade of experience in transforming national brands. Her background includes brand strategy, environmental design and visual merchandising, and she has been able to practice what she preaches with leading design firms and clients such as Starwood Retail Partners, Neiman Marcus, and JCPenney.