What is Experiential Design?

Then I realized, it’s sort of impossible to explain Experiential Design (XD) because, at G+A, it begins by understanding how you want to make your audience feel. That is to say, we begin with questions and sentiments long before we ever get to telling, doing, or explaining a single thing. Let me give you an example.

An Origin Story

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, and the only place I ever wanted to visit when we went to the city was FAO Schwarz. It’s the New York-based toy store most may remember from the movie Big (everyone wanted one of those giant pianos to play with their feet). But to me, it was the ultimate escape into my imagination.

I remember the wonder I felt as I walked up to the giant nutcrackers guarding the entrance. Then I’d walk in to be greeted by an enormous stuffed giraffe taller than me, and immediately, I was ready for an extraordinary safari adventure. A Teddy bear was hanging out in his kid-sized car beckoned to me – “Hop in and let’s go exploring!”. On the next level were the dolls (Barbie included if memory serves) and their houses. Every display was designed for someone my size to immerse themselves in the far fetched realms of my imagination: rockstar Mallory, the princess in a castle Mallory, 50s rollerskate clad diner waitress Mallory (okay, that was an odd one but nonetheless). Suddenly, I was in a world where everything elicited wonder, excitement, and joy. Afterward, my imagination would run for days.

Although I have literally never owned a toy from that company (my parents were on a budget, ok?), I remember those feelings. To this day, FAO Schwarz is the only image my brain conjures when I hear the term “toy store.”

Considering the Chicago location doesn’t even exist anymore, that’s a pretty powerful experience to have created. However, visit their “About Us” page, and it’s clear there is no mistake about their intent:

“A visit to FAO Schwarz is an experience unlike any other. You are at the center of the story. An adventure larger-than-life that sparks the imagination in all of us awaits every time you step through our doors. Over the years, we continue to create new, lasting memories for generations of children and nostalgic moments for adults alike.”

When you design experience, it should be with a focused vision of the feelings you wish to elicit from your audience. The possibilities become limitless, and the result is beauty, guiding you to experience the moment precisely as it\’s intended.

For me, FAO Schwarz embodies the quintessential spirit of a well-designed experience. For others, it may be the perfect blend of serenity and simplicity in an Apple store. Maybe it\’s the artfully curated luxury on display in the ever-evolving windows of the world’s high-end fashion houses that spark joy. I mean, have you checked out Gucci lately? Their marriage of iconic design with the electrifying trends emerging today is a delight to behold.

Experiential Design in the Real World

What’s fascinating about XD is how nuanced it is, and how real-world application of our methods can lead to vibrant and exhilarating results. Events, spaces, digital journeys, culture and even people’s experiences can all be designed with intentionality and thoughtfulness, which is what we do day in and day out at G+A. In future posts, we’ll share how we apply XD principles to help clients, individuals and even ourselves create the world’s greatest experiences.

The reality is everyone has experienced XD whether they know it or not, and most don’t because exceptional XD often goes unnoticed. When we’re consumed by an exhilarating experience we don’t often pause to consider how the experience came to be, and that\’s the joy of XD. We get to take you to entirely new places through a million tiny touchpoints, all ending in one big dream.

All the best,
Mallory Gott, Founder, G+A