Thursday, September 30, 2010

Brand Environment Trends

Brand Environment Trends

Who sets the trend in brand environments? Well if you approach each design with a goal of telling your clients story in a way that can really reach today's audience, then most likely it’s you! And I mean that collectively, because trends are the defined amalgamation of many creative expressions and social phenomenon that help us make sense of the range of expression in modern design. I think of it like the contemporary and future version of Art History. We know so much about previous generations by looking at their art and design. Looking at what is happening now in the more cutting edge parts of our society can give us clues about what messages and images will connect with our audiences by the time our current project reaches the market.

Exhibits can be a catalyst for design in commercial interiors just as hotel designs are a catalyst for home interiors. People see new effects in these deliberately emotional experiences and grow to embrace them in their more everyday lives. Exhibits show new products and express new business ideas often for the first time in a dimensional way. So exhibit designers seek new materials and compositions that excite buyers and entice them in a very competitive environment. In this experimental environment some will engage buyers and others will not. You can help your clients be the winners in this struggle by applying the current catalysts and social trends to your designs just as you do the timeless elements of composition and iconography.

The case of exhibits at the leading edge was very memorable from the 2008 EuroShop. In Dusseldorf in February every three years the brand environment world gathers in a city sized exhibition center to see what is new. While some exhibits imagery keyed into the network of intersecting lines (perhaps inspired by the same influences as the architect of the Birds-Nest amphitheater of the 2008 Olympics) some of us noticed the fire and ashes colors that foretold the coming economic meltdown. These elements had been seen previous to that in art and entertainment in Europe and their collective use by companies at EuroShop signaled that this industry agreed that it was headed for drastic change from the natural colors of the environment that had preceded it. At the time only the the toughest bears were suggesting that we were on the verge of and economic catastrophe but soon we were all enveloped by the black, whites, grays, red and yellow of fire and ashes driven by the economy.

Our society is pluralistic and there are always a number (and often competing ) style trends. It’s important to remember as I discuss them that some will be more relevant for your target demographic or for your specific message. As critical as it is to make your message relevant it should never be used an an excuse for compromising the story you tell. When we talk about trend for product design it important to assure that your product will coordinate with other vendors. In a branded environment that is not so much the issue, what is important is that people emotionally connect with your specific story as relevant to their current needs.

With all that in mind let’s look at some of the design drivers.

Clean and Simple

Right now we are still in crisis mode with many feeling that we have been lied to. There is a lack of trust in the business, religion, social sectors. Reestablishing trust and authority are critical missions for business that design can help with. Clean and simple designs predominate not just due to budget but because buyers need the security of a straight forward approach. Black and white has been a predominate ‘color’ scheme not just for it’s clarity but because items in those colors are always a good investment. A black and white approach makes using rental a good option too. A single clean photographic image predominates in graphics no room for shading, layering or fantasy. It’s all about selling solutions and trust not a dream this is crisis mode.

Color you can trust

As we come out of crisis mode there is a call for color again. Building on the certainty of black and white people are starting to look for colors they can trust. Pure water blues and solid navy. Retro themes are popping up with classic reds and heritage warm red-oranges. Taupe, Gray and beige are the new safe neutrals for those who have tired of the drama of black and white.
As the work/life mix changes with boomers retiring and younger generations in management positions their is an acceptance of ‘youth culture’ in business now. It’s OK to play and use playskool pallet of childhood in advertising and environments.

Look at opportunities to outfit sales teams with very portable impact. Building trust is best done face to face and clients with curtailed travel budgets still need to be visited. They might just welcome a bit of the trade-show coming to them. Many companies are investing in their own training centers and museums so when they do have a client to their facility they can help them visually understand what they stand for. It’s increasingly important since our ‘products’ tend to be ideas as apposed to goods. When you visited a factory what a company did and how they did it was fairly obvious. Not so with software developer or a consulting business.

Sustainability as a lifestyle

Increasingly the story about ‘being green’ has become more nuanced and integrated into every part of a project. It’s expected that you will be building sustainably and that can mean many things but it’s not expected that you will look ‘crunchy-granola’ to do it anymore. Visually it can be expressed through all the colors of clean and pure nature. The pure blues of the sky and water, mineral tones rather than earthy, and still the leafy greens.

But beyond the colors, the design that does just what you need it to is more sustainable. Did other people have clients that set their shipping cost for their old booth as the budget for a new fabric booth build as I did? It’s client looking for design to be right sized and versatile so they can look smart and sustainable to their company and their clients. As client hit their frugal fatigue and begin again to invest in environments expect them to look for long lasting value that is sustainably built.

Hilary Howes is an independent color and design consultant in Washington DC. She is a Chairholder in the Color Marketing Group, that creates color forecast information for professionals. Her occasional observations on event design can be seen on her blog the Event Design Diva ( and at HilaryByDesign on Twitter. With 15 years as a thought leader in the exhibit industry she is looking for permanent, retainer or contract opportunities.