How to design a successful brand experience

Milan Design Week begins today! What started as just a furniture fair has grown into the most important design week in the world, with dozens of events scattered around various neighborhoods all over Milan. In addition to furniture makers, lighting and product designers, the big brands are increasingly present and making use of design, too. Last year, many thought they stole the show altogether. Our experiential spaces team creates exhibits that are designed for people and brands to interact and share meaningful experiences.

This year, we continued our years-long collaboration with PepsiCo’s design function, helping them with their third annual Mix It Up, which opened today as part of Milan Design Week. We asked our team–Creative Director Chris Miller, Experiential Spaces Designer Alice Bonaiti and Lead Product Designer Mauro Scamporlino—to share their insights on what to keep in mind to successfully design an experiential space.

1. Define precise objectives

There is a lot of buzz around each design week, and the possibility to have a massive amount of exposure. To succeed, you need to know exactly what you want to communicate, and with whom you are communicating. When we helped PepsiCo three years ago with the first Mix It Up, this part of the process was very important. Once we had a clear unified message and a common objective, everything else began falling into place. Defining the name “Mix It Up” was a eureka moment!


2. Choose your location carefully

Location is really important for an event such as Milan Design Week, as there are hundreds of events around the city, and each area now has its own specific character that is also partially defined by the brands that exhibit there. Aim at being physically in the right area with a lot of foot traffic, so people will see your exhibit. Visitors will exchange tips and experiences on social media and the grapevine. Ideally, by the end of the week, your event will become the “one everyone must see”.


3. Design for sharing

While PepsiCo received thousands of visitors at Mix It Up last year, social media and traditional media serve as a huge amplifier. So the space needs to be shareable, such that you can get a gist of the whole thing in one image. For the designers, this meant considering angles and photo-ops when designing the space. For this year’s edition, designers were invited to create objects around PepsiCo’s brands: these are strong communication tools as they are easier to photograph, understand and share with comments.



4. Create experiences

A great space will tell you a story, give you a feeling, allow you to experience, live and breathe the brand and its values. PepsiCo’s Design Centre, for instance, believes very strongly in reaching their audience through real experiences created around their brands, and so interpreting a space in this way perfectly matches this attitude. In the end, what visitors will go away ​with in the short term is a memory of what they saw, but in the long term, they will remember sensations at a deeper level that are intrinsically linked to the brand that invited them to live that experience.


5. Make the most of the investment

Design Week participation can be a costly affair – make sure that you will use it in a strategic way instead of signing a one-off check. Launching products and meeting stakeholders and clients is the traditional reason to attend a design week. Design weeks can also serve as a beta test. For example, in 2015, PepsiCo used Mix It Up to launch Kola House, which has since been rolled out at other events, such as at the Super Bowl and Champions League Final 2016. Last year, Pepsi opened the Kola House in New York as a permanent location.


6. Have a good partner

Now we might be a little bit partial here, ehh, but to get something this big and complex done in time, you need a very good, close team. We teamed up with PepsiCo, as their local partner, helping their design center with coordination, as well as a variety of other things such as lighting and graphics along the way. We had a blast! A huge thank you to the entire team!

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