In the past few years, temporary space design has entered unchartered territory. Previously limited to exhibits and tradeshows, temporary or so-called “pop-up” space has been embraced and championed by some of the world’s leading brands. Recently, consumers have purchased everything from Black and Decker drills on Target’s floating showroom and pies from Martha Stewart’s pop-up pie shop in New York City to the latest fashions at a temporary holiday shop in Atlanta by Billy Reid, the 2010 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner. Beyond retail, some of the world’s leading chefs are launching pop-up restaurants, such as Wiley Frank’s celebrated Shophouse Seattle and the James Beard Foundation’s JBF LTD in Chelsea Market. For chef’s, temporary restaurants offer an outlet for testing experimental dishes and expose their brands to new neighborhoods. For retailers and manufacturers, pop-up shops and showrooms allow them to do the same by making their brand and products more accessible. For consumers, pop-up enterprises often translate into access to high-end products at more affordable prices, not to mention an opportunity to experience and play a role in something ephemeral.
On closer examination, recent trends in pop-up stores and restaurants do not drastically differ from more conventional temporary commercial spaces, such as tradeshow exhibits and holiday shop-in-shop designs. From temporary showrooms on the seventh and eighth floor of the Chicago Merchandise Mart at NeoCon to See’s Candies’ holiday booths in major department stores, temporary space design allows brands to promote and sell their products to a wider, more focused target market.
As a somewhat fleeting brand extension of permanent space, however, design strategy for temporary space plays a critical role in creating memorable and profitable ventures. Regardless of the perceived value of the products in these spaces, design plays a critical role in guiding consumer brand perception. The most successful temporary commercial spaces employ great design to engage new customers and, more importantly, to create lifelong brand fanatics. With this in mind, here are a few suggestions for designing memorable and effective temporary commercial spaces:
1. What Goes Up Must Come Down. Temporary commercial space is on a timeframe and demands simplicity in design, fabrication, installation, and, of course, dismantling. The most successful temporary spaces center around a straightforward concept that is well executed, so keep it simple by focusing on a strategic message from start to finish.
2. Create Lasting Memories. Since the very nature of temporary commercial space is fleeting, it is imperative to design and create a memorable experience. If a consumer merely visits a pop-up shop or exhibit for value alone, you might as well promote your products alongside the tables of knock-offs in Times Square. Strategically and well-designed temporary spaces should create a lasting impression. Novel techniques, materials, and events are memorable assets that can be used to recruit new mavens and connectors. These consumers thereby become brand evangelists with word-of-mouth recounts of their experiences with an exhibit, pop-up shop, or short-lived eatery because they experience something special and exclusive.
3. Engage the Senses. One of the easiest ways to create memorable temporary spaces is by engaging the senses. As simple as it sounds, sensory experiences translate into permanent perceptions in the brand psyche. For example, Grant Design Collaborative (GDC) designed a Best-of-Show exhibit for Muzak at GlobalShop (shown right). To get the tradeshow attendees to see beyond the brand’s misconception of “elevator music,” we designed a 20 ft. by 30 ft. cube that demonstrated how the retail environment could be transformed and programmed with branded sound design. By creating a virtual music vault in the center of the space for Muzak’s audio architects to meet with prospective clients, the exhibit’s theme changed each day of the show. On the first day, the structure was surrounded with red roses and Muzak programmed classic love songs while the air was scented with a chocolate aroma. The second day featured martinis with a twist, as lounge music and citrus scent filled the air. On the last day, classic rock-and-roll blasted as the faint scent of leather wafted freely throughout the exhibit. Even entering the space engaged the senses, as visitors had to separate a beaded bathtub chain curtain that evoked a familiar and pleasing tone.
4. Make it Interactive. As social media has demonstrated, gone are the days of one-way dialog with customers. Exhibits and other temporary environments must now be designed to foster conversation with the user by making them an active participant. In other words, the space is transformed as users interact and move throughout the space. Adobe Systems retained GDC to design an exhibit to launch its new InDesign software to creative professionals (shown below). After much research, GDC determined that the exhibit experience should drastically differ from Adobe’s previous, high-tech tradeshow booths. Introducing designers to an exciting new tool to unseat a trusted competitive product required a new conversation. GDC thought Adobe needed to communicate its shared passion for great design and how InDesign would facilitate great work. In lieu of the typical metal booth plastered with computer monitors, GDC opted for a simple birch backdrop that held 2,500 live red roses. Each rose on the wall was personally addressed to tradeshow attendees. Inside the letterpress envelope was a card that asked the designer to complete this sentence, “When it comes to design, I am passionate about _____________.” Designers completed the phrase with one word to receive a heart-shaped "Design Passion" t-shirt package. When they returned to their studio, a personal message catered to the designer’s interest was waiting in their inbox. Furthermore, the rosebuds on the actual exhibit wall blossomed over the three days of the show, creating a memorable and natural passion wall.
5. Get Emotional. Over 85 percent of purchasing decisions emanate from emotional factors. While permanent space offers the comfort of familiarity and consistency, temporary spaces should strive to connect with the user on an emotional level. Whether by offering the most amazing Thai street food in a unique setting, like Shophouse Seattle, or by showcasing shared passion for design excellence, like Adobe, temporary spaces typically have one opportunity to move people and make a lasting impression.
6. Extend the Fun. A fatal flaw of many temporary exhibits and spaces originates from a lack of follow-up. Once engaged with a memorable yet fleeting brand experience, it is imperative to further engrain brand perception in the consumer’s mind. Even the best designed temporary spaces requires follow-up and additional conversation with potential customers. Without a doubt, social media is an excellent conduit for extending the dialog and word-of-mouth that stems from temporary space experiences. A simple Facebook search for “pop-up” supports this notion. So while design excellence is important for temporary commercial spaces, it is only one component of a comprehensive and consistent strategy for recruiting and maintaining raving fans. Temporary space design introduces users to a brand or changes their perception, but it is up to the exhibitor’s brand managers to transform such transient engagements into lifelong relationships.
Bill Grant is president and creative director of Grant Design Collaborative in Atlanta and past national president of AIGA. He was named an AIGA Fellow in 2005 and is an Affiliate IIDA member. Grant helped author and produce the AIGA “Business and Ethical Expectations for Professional Designers” and chaired GAIN, the 2002 AIGA Business and Design Conference. Grant Design Collaborative's cross-discipline work includes communication design, brand strategy, advertising, product development, branded interiors and experience design.