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How Experiential graphics can extend architectural design

Melbourne Central amenities

‘Experiential’ is the new buzzword; everything now has to be experiential – even the graphics. But in this case, there’s definitely zero ‘tokenism’; graphics can make spaces pleasurable, they can inform, entertain, communicate and, as Dan Coman writes, if you can keep someone in your centre 1% longer, they spend 1.3% more!

Experiential graphics “create a sense of place, help people find their way, communicate important information and fuel a dialogue between users and the spaces they inhabit” (Society of Experiential Graphic Design, SEGD).

When was the last time you entered a space and felt there was an opportunity to interact or connect or engage with it? What was it that drew you in? How did you connect with the space?

In this article, we would like to explore the symbiotic relationship between architectural design and graphic design, and how an integrated approach can drive value on projects and build a sense of connection for the user to a space, place or building.

Traditionally, architecture provides the building form, space, and function, whereas experiential graphics share a sense of purpose, create a sense of connection and communicate a narrative.

Experiential graphics can communicate the layers of a place, be they ecological/cultural/historical, whether woven into the building fabric or displayed through wayfinding and signage or wall art. They are design elements that provide additional meaning and moments for connection along with the architecture. They help us find our way, connect with a place and communicate a building’s narrative, and bring delight and the possibility of engagement and interaction.

Peter Dixon (SEGD) describes experiential graphic design as involving the orchestration of typography, colour, imagery, form, technology and, especially, content to create environments that communicate.

The Goods Shed, Ballarat

We regularly see examples of experiential design in wayfinding, architectural graphics, signage and retail design within themed or branded spaces.

There has been a recent explosion in immersive experiential graphic design involving the use of digital technologies and systems that present dynamic interactive content through motion graphics. This use of digital technologies can bring about a live interaction between the building user and the space while also providing information or a narrative in line with the brand of a place or space. However, these can often appear as impermanent narratives of place. While creating wonderful experiences leveraging the latest and greatest technologies can play a part in extending the place narrative, the power of storytelling can really be seen in the narrative that is woven into the built form.

As humans, we are innately geared towards storytelling; from the days in caves to the modern day, we are surrounded by narratives. Whether they are selling us a dream, warning us of some great danger or helping us make sense of a brand or place, stories drive our connection and create meaning with the world we’re in. Marc Català, partner at Mucho suggests, “We can remember a story. And so ultimately, stories become the truths we live by. The truths we live in.” This creation of narrative enables within ourselves a belief system to flourish. We gravitate towards and relax into well-told stories and experiential graphics can play a part in this belief building.

We should all be familiar with statistics surrounding the correlation of ‘dwell time’ leading to an ‘increase in sales’. As a refresher, the general guide is if you can extend your customer’s visit by 1%, you can expect a 1.3% increase in sales.

Narrative building and creating connections are one way of driving dwell time. As far back as cave paintings and hieroglyphics, the embedding of experiential graphics in a built form is not new; in fact, it is an ancient art form and way of bringing people into relationships with the built form and forming connections. So, it’s no surprise we are seeing a rise in the use of experiential art and graphics to dress up our built forms – but are all visual narratives created equally?

Communication through graphics unique to place and demographic in a time where we are increasingly faced with the same brands and all too familiar retail offerings that are placeless – graphics can connect with the soul of people experiencing a space. Stepping away from the creation of mono-cultured retail environments and the use of generic graphics as a distraction, we see the success of these spaces being elevated through experiential graphics.

Experiential graphics can be used in a variety of ways and have differing impacts on the shopper or visitor, such as communicating a centre’s brand in a fun, engaging way or inviting visitors to learn about a layer of heritage or bring people closer to the cultural significance of the land their retail centre sits within.

Working on the amenities for GPT’s Melbourne Central, located on Boonwurrung, Wurundjeri Country, offered the opportunity to take what is often an under-considered space, in terms of graphics, and turn it into an extension of the overall brand experience of the centre.

This led to the creation of multiple quirky characters who act as brand ambassadors to those using the facilities. From the mirror-eyed kitty that welcomes users to the space to the ducks and various dancing figures, these amenities create an unexpected moment of joy.

Through the use of Graphico printed tile, the added texture and vibrancy ensures a tactile material experience while also offering durability and protection of the graphics. The eccentric graphics, paired with the interior design, enhance the brand experience to facilitate memorable and joyful moments, connecting users to the space and the Melbourne Central brand.

The Goods Shed, located on Wathaurong Country, Ballarat, saw the restoration and revitalisation of a heritage train yard historically used to transfer goods from Melbourne to Ballarat.

As part of this redevelopment for Pellicano, our integrated team of both graphic designers and architects collaborated to develop a signage strategy that celebrated the place-based heritage of the precinct. This led to the development of bespoke mesh, which features designs celebrating characteristics from the original Ballarat site, paying respect to one layer of the site’s history.

An abstracted logo for VicRail (now known as V/Line) was also included as part of the bespoke mesh to intertwine with the original form of the historical building, anchoring the nature of the site and its former use as a goods distribution line.

This subtle use of experiential graphics within the signage invites visitors to learn and connect, forming their own interpretation while in the context of the site and the place.

A real privilege for our team was the collaboration with local Quandamooka woman, Delvene Cockatoo-Collins, who was gracious enough to trust our team with her incredible artwork originals.

The key component of the design strategy for Haben’s Cleveland Central Shopping Centre was the co-design process with Delvene. Through collaboration with our integrated interior design and branded environments team, the stunning artworks were applied across a number of mediums and finishes; from sculptural ceiling features to fabrics and wall coverings.

Delvene’s artwork was lovingly transformed to create an incredible impact throughout the centre. This enables visitors to journey through her art as a seamless experience and be embraced by Quandamooka Country.

The experiential graphics worked to retain the intentions of Delvene’s art, while also ensuring a truly unified and beautiful experience for visitors – with Delvene herself stating: “It’s a feeling of gentleness throughout the shopping centre, it hugs you as you walk through. The team at i2C interpreted my work better than I could have imagined, my art has been protected and my work has been valued in that space – I always love working in a great team.”

Cleveland Central Shopping Centre, QLD

Through the combined disciplines of architecture, interior design, computational design, sustainability and graphic design, we begin to see the power of storytelling come to life in the built environment. From outside, through the built form and straight into the devices in our pockets, we’re embraced by narratives. Creating experiences with longevity, consistency and authenticity is where the power of integrated services really succeeds. The generation of a single source of design, connected to place and told through a variety of touchpoints, enables your brand to connect with your customer, and that’s the goal, right?

This article by Dan Coman, Branded Environments Lead at i2C Architects features in the latest issue of SCN magazine.

About the author

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Dan Coman

Dan Coman - Branded Environments Lead
i2C Architects

Dan has gained extensive experience as a designer working on brand identity, creative application, packaging and digital platforms.

As Branded Environments Lead at i2C, his meticulous design skills and passion for creating visual elements that connect with the end user is an asset to the company.

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