Today, experiences often start online before coming back onto the streets. And in some cases, an experience is only finished once it returns to the web.
If you’re drawing a blank, look no further than Yelp.
Diners experience an eatery’s brand online first via ratings and recommendations. Even after the perfect place has been selected online, customers take Yelp’s content with them—remembering which servers are best or which sandwiches have “the good bread.” Then, after the meal is long gone, the person returns to rate the food and engage with others.
This online-offline relationship isn’t limited to rating-based applications. In fact, one of InVision’s most recent in-person initiatives emphasized turning our digital brand into a tangible experience—and we’re sharing insights for any company looking to do the same.
Major things to consider before you bring the brand to life
When your goal is creating an experience, a lot of the heavy lifting happens before anything is truly made.
- Quantify the timeframe.
Setting a timeline upfront helps clarify the scope of possibility for everyone involved. Though experiences can be stretched or shrunk to fit any period—weeks or just hours—competing priorities and hiccups should be expected.
Once you’ve gotten the ball rolling, you can make strategic decisions about what to include or skip based on how much time you have compared to a predicted outcome.
- Source ideas and collect internal inspiration.
The second step involves teamwork. While you’re ironing out the details of what kind of experience to create, source ideas from your team.
At this point, everything is theoretical—and incorporating viewpoints from multiple functional areas is a sure way to represent the entire brand, not just ideas from event planners and marketing maestros.
How do we know this is an essential step? Because in our experience ideating an invite-only experience, the idea to use a progressive dinner format came from a team member. The Design Thinking Collective Dinner was then designed around multiple venues and courses.
- Decide agency or in-house.
Once you and your team have solid ideas in mind, and a timeline for creating them, create a text brief and vision board. This source of truth will also anchor your experience as others contribute.
That’s where you also need to draw a line. Will you create everything in-house or outsource design elements to an agency?
In our case, keeping asset creation in-house meant we could better control the overall aesthetics. We also wanted the experience to be highly curated. Every pixel matters in digital design—like every touchpoint matters in person.
- Make important branding decisions.
Many times, the go-to solution is to print a large banner or poster with the event name and company logo. That drastically changes how visitors perceive and experience what you’ve created—especially if your digital brand isn’t being translated into a tradeshow or banquet. The branding decisions you make are key to establishing the feel of your experience. Before you start putting things together, decide how many explicitly branded elements will be part of the mix.
Will you use your company’s colors? Will logos be present on all design elements? Is the goal to showcase your brand or a different idea?
There’s a big difference between layering your company’s branding on top of an existing environment versus working it in naturally.
Designing an experience without overt branding
When it’s time to pull your company’s persona out of the screen, focus on the why and not the how. By framing each of your branding decisions around a goal—generating leads in a new market, meeting customers, showing appreciation for the community—you’ll be able to control the vibe attendees feel.
“There’s much more to branding than popping a logo on something,” said Michaela Alexander, the Marketing Events Manager who spearheaded the Design Thinking Collective Dinner.
In this scenario, the “why” was to give top design leaders a creativity-inspiring, intimate environment to discuss industry challenges and design thinking without the pressure of an organized panel or media presence. The theme also played off of San Francisco Design Week’s slogan, “Question Everything.”
With each of these things in mind, InVision made every detail of the evening surprising in some way—most fittingly through its design. With the exception of a few small details, the company logo wasn’t present, and it certainly wasn’t the focal point.
Using the narrative that we had crafted in planning phases and in conjunction with the Design Week theme, we based every design decision on our target experience.
When doing this for your own brand, think of how your experience embodies the company slogan or mission. That serves as your branding, without the need for a hundred logos.
To drive home the idea that decision leaders would be gathering in an elite but comfortable environment, we added several personal touches. Other things we did to embody our brand included:
- Using the environment to reinforce our intentions
- Making the experience fluid by incorporating multiple venues
- Controlling the ambiance of each venue in collaboration with vendors
- Selecting vendors with congruent design philosophies and approaches that matched the aesthetic being created
- Foregoing digital components to celebrate design outside of the online community
Focus on these touchpoints to bring your brand to life
All other considerations aside, we found these areas to the the most important for creating an experience beyond the web. Each touchpoint draws from our own experiences, but can easily be adapted to work with your brand.
Related: Rebranding an event in just 5 days
Choose the environment that best supports your narrative
When your goal is connecting people, the environment you put them in matters as much as the conversations.
Approach this like a web designer considering the digital limitations of an interface and how that impacts a user’s journey through the website or app. But instead of an on-screen journey, you’re designing a physical one.
To set the tone for this experience and communicate the timeline and format, we used an nVite page. The language mirrored the event’s sophistication, relayed the timeline, and hinted at the overall aesthetic.
Because we wanted to facilitate authentic connections and keep attendees guessing, an immersive dinner with multiple venues gave guests a clear journey. Each stop of the evening was inspired by a different quote about design from various industry leaders.
Pinpoint venues and vendors needed to complete the experience
Similar to choosing the right environment is selecting the right vendors—and other venues, if needed—to round out the intention. The environment isn’t always created by one space alone.
To make movement a real part of the experience, we chose 3 complementary venues to anchor each phase. In each venue, attendees were introduced to a different question about design or its challenges.
When it came to vendors, we chose respected providers whose approaches to their crafts were similar to how forward thinking companies approach design. As a result, every detail helped shape the experience and reinforce the very ideas we used to build the event’s narrative.
Conceptualize visual elements and how you’ll create them
To get at the crux of creating a standalone experience—and not just an extension of the brand in another medium—balance branding with purpose.
For this event, I wanted to stay away from the typical options. As a marketer, there’s an impulse to make the brand as loud as possible with pull-up banners and logos at every turn. Instead, I wanted it to feel elevated and integrated into the experience. – Michaela Alexander, Marketing Events Manager
One of the most ingenious ways to integrate your brand is to extract the visual elements that help define it on the web, and then apply them to the physical space.
For example, we worked with vendors to adds pops of InVision pink to the menu without straying from the overall color scheme.
You may run into visual constraints—but that’s where creative solutions come into play. Designing for the web is much different than print. In some cases, those differences could throw a wrench in your plans as they relate to the overall aesthetic.
One major constraint for this event was the printer’s limitations,” said Connor Murphy, an InVision designer who created assets for the Design Thinking Collective Dinner. “For example, we had nice black and gold materials with the plan to have them foil-stamped. It would have added a luxurious element, but it wasn’t doable at the time. To improvise, I looked through different Pantone golds and chose one that gave a similar effect.
Translate digital components into physical details
You’re probably used to working with your brand’s digital elements. Style guides house the specifics, and each project provides insight into interface challenges and on-screen best practices.
Unfortunately, transporting all of that from the screen to a scene isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.
Black and gold suited the Design Thinking Collective Dinner best, so we didn’t run into the challenging of matching InVision’s usual pink to in-person touchpoints.
If you choose more traditional branding, colors will absolutely be something to consider. Translating a hex code to PMS doesn’t always yield a perfect match, so you’ll have to choose an alternative that still feels on-brand.
Stylistic content decisions
Incorporating quotes from design leaders spoke to the bigger picture of design thinking, but these were printed—unlike most content features from InVision.
Designing for print, or any physical materials, is a bit different than designing something for the screen. With a screen, you can see exactly what your design will look like—with all the correct colors, the right sized fonts, image quality, etc. In print, it’s a bit harder. Colors don’t usually appear on paper as they do on the screen, and fonts maybe shift when printed, becoming harder to read. – Connor Murphy, Designer
The nuances of print also affected other components of the event. One of the only branded points of the evening was a screen projection with the InVision logo and words “Question Everything.” However, this was projected in the daylight in a fairly large gathering space, so using the same color scheme or font as other collateral wasn’t as easy.
A second branded element we incorporated was a customized laptop sleeve for each guest, embossed with InVision across the sleeve’s flap. However, InVision’s signature upper-lowercase styling looked much different stamped into leather than it does on the product’s homepage.
Ultimately, we decided to stray from the usual logo and use all capital letters.
Sizes and proportions
Type size should be a big consideration when it comes to physical materials. Will people need to read a message from far away or will it be right in front of them? How can the type be interesting without going too basic or too hard to read? And lastly, do bleedlines need to be incorporated for printing?
Incorporate authentic ways to delight
Designing an experience that felt highly curated was our way of surprising and delighting guests. Choosing things just for them aligned with the idea of being respectful, honoring different opinions from design leaders, and making the evening welcoming with InVision as the host—not the focal point.
“There are things you can do to delight people and get them to engage with materials that you may not be able to do on screen,” said Murphy.
Surprising guests worked well with our Question Everything theme. Early on, a team member suggested we use the tablescapes to challenge assumptions of what’s edible. After teaming with an inventive caterer, we decided to make the dinner salads part of the actual floral design.
How you want people to engage and connect with something your brand produces—especially when it’s tangible—is a huge opportunity to make a lasting impression.
And sometimes, you say the most when you don’t clutter the message. Subtlety goes far; connection to a narrative and purpose can go even further.
Related: Inside InVision’s events team
Your biggest win will be getting people to connect
The entire experience matters when you’re translating your digital brand into the real world. Each touchpoint needs to be thought through from both a branding and design perspective—and the design differences may drive the ultimate game plan.
If you’re a designer, this is considering small details, thinking through user experience in the context of a room or physical space, and adjusting digital styles to complement elements outside of your control.
From a marketing and branding perspective, this means tying your ‘why’ to what you produce. Everything from cocktail menus to looping welcome messages should be screened through the lens of a person, not a prospect.
If done with attention to detail and purpose, creating an experience—rather than just another event—can meet a need that resonates with people for months.