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Author
Avantgarde
Published
11.04.2019

Form follows experience: „The physical space is becoming the most important stage for brands“ 

30 architects and designers work at Avantgarde worldwide to create brand experiences in spaces. Marc Ottinger, Head of Architecture Studio, explains what real spaces have over digital worlds, and he reveals the biggest mistakes brands make in conceiving space ideas.

Marc, what trends are you currently observing in the field of brand architecture?

The boundaries between traditional spatial formats such as “retail”, “trade fair” or “showroom” are dissolving. All brands are looking for new formats to reach their customers in real life. They no longer have to leave their couch to get information, buy or book something. They can do everything online. The task then is to design activating narratives in order to motivate the target group to change rooms. Nowadays, a place must come to people – not the other way around. 

Why does physical space play such an important role in brand communication today? 

With all the digital glimmer that surrounds us, the battle for customer attention is getting tougher and tougher. Physical space is becoming the most important stage for brands to appeal to people on a completely level.  Only here we can capture their attention sustainably and enter into a real dialogue from person to person. It‘s precisely for this purpose that Avantgarde designs spaces – as places of community and experience.

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What are the advantages of physical spaces compared to digital worlds?

First, they appeal to all the senses and thus sharpen our attention. When you enter a new room, you register smell, you touch a piece of furniture with your hand, you perceive the mood of the lighting, you hear the sound of heels on the floor… All these impressions link the experience of the room with feelings you wouldn’t have when browsing the web.

Second, we can create a sense of community in space. This is much more difficult in digital because if you use a laptop or smartphone, you are usually alone. This need to experience oneself as part of a community is part of the human DNA. That’s why, for example, we prefer to watch crucial football matches in stadiums or with crowds of people on giant screens rather than alone on the couch. 

Google and Facebook have conquered the world without creating spaces in the real world for their customers…

As long as digital companies do not offer their customers more complex physical products for sale, this works. But since Google sells smartphones and other devices that need explanation, they are also thinking about their own stores, where their products can be explained and experienced in an environment charged with the spirit of the brand.

What does the focus on brand experiences mean for the way the team of the Avantgarde Architecture Studio works?

The traditional approach of architects follows the guiding principle “form follows function”. The starting point for planning is the room function that has to be fulfilled, e.g. the shop, the office, places of worship, etc. In addition, when designing brand architecture we are talking about ‘form following identity” to express that a room not only has a function, but also breathes the spirit of the company.

At Avantgarde, we always focus our work on the desired brand or product experience and ask the question, what do we want to achieve in and with the room? Beyond identical brand architecture, our maxim is therefore “form follows experience”.

From your point of view, which Avantgarde cases illustrate this approach particularly well?

A good example was the Porsche Brand Pop-Up where visitors could browse— like in a record store – and learn stories about the brand according to their personal taste.

An other was our Energy Best Practice Pavilion in Kazakhstan due to the world Expo in 2017. The journey was conceived from beginning to end as a holistic experience. With one iconic design element – The Energy Stream –  we combined architecture and digital interfaces and engagement. Thus, the visitors were in permanent dialogue with the exhibition, physically and digitally.

What are the common mistakes brands make when developing space concepts for customer communication?

In the 20th century, the focus was primarily on the representative, on brand identity in space. The two dimensional CI was often translated into three dimensions. Worlds emerged that looked purely like the brand, but felt totally artificial or didn’t fit the needs of the visitor. The experience factor was completely forgotten. We try to convey to our customers that the moment of coming together must take place in an environment that is human oriented. A place should be created where people like to meet and enjoy themselves. A longer stay also offers the opportunity to capture more attention for the messages you want to convey.

Is the time customers voluntarily spend in one place the most important KPI for the quality of spatial experiences?

No, you can’t generalize it that way. There are many projects where the circumstances do not allow you to linger for long. But the concept demands that quite a lot of people have to experience a brand space in a relatively short time and still have their own personal take-away. In our exhibition designs for the Expo, for example, we have to deal with an incredibly large number of visitors, who nevertheless have to take an immersive experience with them while at the same time conveying content.  

Among other things, digital channels help us to deepen the experience with additional information. Through the social channels, we extend the experience before and after the moment and create communities with which we can communicate beyond the spatial measure.

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