Event Styling: Design that Brings Brands to Life
PBJS Chicago Senior Art Director Lulu Almazan shares her design approach to creating a live event space that stays true to a brand’s story.
Perspective, specs and story all take a role in figuring out what print pieces or installations are right for your event. These physical aspects of designing for an event have always intrigued me. So when PBJS asked me to take my graphic-design aesthetic one step further, I immediately accepted the challenge of becoming an event stylist and designer.
Mentally, this was an easy transition for me because good experiential marketing, like design, is already focused on the full end-to-end experience. This opportunity created a new role on our creative team that encouraged me to apply creative ideas into everything that I touched.
I’ve learned that successful experiential marketing art directors need to exercise a broad perspective to create a completely branded experience where your design works harmoniously with the brand’s story and within the physical space. As a designer, this means that I need to consider much more than our client’s visual brand guidelines and how the artwork will live within the marketing experience.
Here are my top-five strategies for on-brand and on-point event styling:
1. CREATE A VISUAL LANGUAGE FOR THE BRAND’S MESSAGE
Our job is to connect brands to consumers in the same way that they seek to do so through their advertising or online presence.
Being able to understand the strategic thinking behind these messages makes visualizing an event much easier.
PayPal’s presence at Outside Lands Music Festival communicates the helpfulness at the heart of its brand to consumers through one of their biggest passion points — music! A lot goes into creating a visual system for an event like this — graphic elements, activation pieces, color scheme and furniture all need to speak to the audience within this specific environment.
2. UNDERSTAND AND STICK TO THE STORY
The flow of the end-to-end experience is just as important as the content presented.
The power of the content can be delivered through an impactful flow and together create the experience as a story, hopefully a memorable one. Understanding the experience of each attendee should impact what you design.
Our work on Game of Thrones: The Exhibition immersed fans in the mysterious world of Westeros from the moment they signed up for tickets, by asking them to pledge allegiance to their favorite House. The journey that followed was brought to life through a thought-out plan for large-scale imagery, costume and character placement, prop display cases, online content, and live interactive experiences.
3. ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
As much as you prepare for your event, there will always be “make it work” moments that require quick thinking and onsite problem solving.
With so many moving parts, details and vendors to work with, you have to be open to creative solutions. It requires having a team of people ready with customer service numbers, a rental car with serious trunk space, and/or a willingness to help build a bookcase from IKEA the night before an opening.
When it comes to international events, these moments are built into the planning. Activating the 3D White Shakira Media Event in Barcelona came with many obstacles, including a language barrier, schedule differences, new vendor relationships and shipping costs.
Having a team that could prepare for and work through all of these issues resulted in creating an exclusive experience and luxurious look that surrounded the launch of 3D White’s global products. This three-day event was styled to correlate with the luxury brand’s essence of beauty, culminating in a live-streamed interview with Shakira as their newest brand ambassador and followed by a 3D White gala dinner.
4. DESIGN FOR THE BIG PICTURE
What I love about designing and styling for experiential marketing is that nothing stands alone.
My teams are dedicated to creating the full package for our audiences. Producers, designers and vendors all have to be committed to the same goals in order to pull it all off. For me, this means that the graphics on the walls must play well with the objects in the room — collectively acting as the canvas.
The Coupons.com Commerce Innovation Center is a beautiful example of storytelling — combining both big and small moments into an overall experience. This immersive environment uses cutting-edge projection-mapping technology and real-world vignettes to make digital-first promotions a tangible reality.
The narrative includes a functional grocery store and a retail store, as well as communal meeting spaces. Making sure the branding of each store worked well with the products we used to style was vital to its success. At the same time, translating the brand’s voice into the style of the overall space made this environment truly unique.
5. IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
While keeping your eye on the big picture is important, there is a certain power that lies among the smallest moments of the experiences.
Whether it is graphic design or a styled event, one of my favorite parts of bringing something to life is incorporating the little touches of detail that may or may not get noticed, but together, help put the final touches on any story.
This ethos is incorporated into every project that I work on. Here are just a few examples:
- A pop-up coffee shop with hand-drawn chalk menus and artwork
- Retail store vignettes with tagged merchandise
- Furniture with charging capabilities
- Restaurant vignettes with local beer selection
- On-brand colors and textures worked into furniture selection
Entering the world of event styling was no easy feat, but I openly embraced the challenge knowing that I had a solid team to support me along the way — which is also one of the many things I love about working at PBJS!