A place to embody a brand:
Designing a location to represent the Sony brand experience
Sony recently exhibited at IFA 2017 Berlin, an international trade show for consumer electronics—and the company’s fun-filled booth made an indelible impression on the crowds. Behind that success story lies a major evolution in Sony’s event designs, which has shifted its main thrust from product functionality to the concept of “experience.” For this interview, we sat down with Sony’s IFA project members to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on creating a new booth design to enrich the Sony brand experience at the event.
(CD Group, Creative Center)
(CD Group, Creative Center)
(Event Management Section, Brand Strategy Department)
Creating an easy,
engaging touchpoint with a touch of human warmth
Hoping to provide emotionally moving experiences, Sony has dramatically reshaped its approach to event design. How do designers go about creating interfaces that deliver the Sony brand experience?
Kondo: In years past, Sony’s booths were like showrooms for highlighting the designs and features of individual products. They were clean and chic, but they tended to be pretty inorganic—kind of cold—in their presentation. From our perspective, we had to go in a different direction. Returning to the Sony mission of moving customers emotionally and inspiring their curiosity at the “last one inch,” we knew that our booth touchpoints needed to deliver inspiring experiences with the power to reach people on an immediate, emotional wavelength. New experiences and new surprises would form those visceral gateways, ushering visitors into a deeper sense of what the Sony brand stands for. That was the basic approach we took in creating the booth, and the process really hinged on forging a design that could awaken an emotional response.
Kita: Sony’s event designs aren’t the only things that have been shifting from functionality to experience—customer needs are trending in the same direction. Quality experiences, then, are vital. After the IFA project brought us designers on board, we all decided to move past the conventional focus on product features and get to work on building the exhibit around the “experience” concept. Working with Schmidhuber, our agent in Germany, we started thinking up ways to add a suggestive dimension to the design: hints that would give people ideas of how products would fit into spaces, what kinds of roles products would play in everyday life, and how products would align with different lifestyles. Basically, we were aiming for a comfortable, engaging experience in a welcoming environment, a place where people could imagine themselves using the products we were showcasing. Maximizing comfort meant foregrounding a relaxed, casual feel, so we went with wood and other organic materials to give visitors a relaxing environment to experience the products in.
Mitsugi: We had to make the message clear, too. Sony has so much audio and video content to offer, including a wide array of products along those lines, but trying to give all those different elements equal exposure and let every different product speak for itself would garble the overall message—we’d be spreading the Sony brand too thin. We needed to outline a clear, unified direction for the event as a whole. For starters, we reworked the product information from a flood of category-by-category details into a simpler configuration that would jell with the overall design motifs. That got us on the way to establishing a clear message for the brand, one that visitors could understand without having to wade through competing information sources.
Landscaping curiosity into the experience
For Sony's IFA 2017 booth, the project team focused more than ever on individual product experiences to elevate the overall brand experience even further. The approach makes perfect sense, of course, but not everything at the booth was so easy to figure out—visitors had a lot to wonder about. Why all the open windows, for example?
Kita: To take advantage of IFA 2017 in deepening the Sony brand experience, we wanted to present the stunning diversity of our product experiences in a dynamic, captivating way. The “Land of Sony” concept let us do that: It made the whole booth a playground, so to speak, for people to go crazy with Sony products and really just enjoy their time. We opened the windows to bring in more natural light, which made it easier for users to experience the products like they might in everyday settings—it helped people picture themselves using the products in real life. If we’d used all artificial lighting, people probably would’ve had a harder time projecting their booth experiences onto their day-to-day life experiences. Overall, we were shooting for an open, almost outdoorsy booth design that would spread out like a sprawling mountain landscape to explore, find surprises in, and get curious about.
Another goal was to let users engage with the experiences naturally; we didn’t want to force anything. To do that, we got rid of the walls separating the different product categories, opened up all the sightlines, and created organic paths for visitors to follow—almost like a mountain trail across a landscape full of fun. The structure of the booth itself reflects Sony’s manufacturing philosophy, too, with the exposed framework giving the space a do-it-yourself, homemade look. For the tables and chairs, meanwhile, we used warm materials to make the space an inviting place to slow down and take a breather after trudging through the big venue.
Mitsugi: Graphics were another big element of the “Land of Sony” worldview. The web and entrance banners at the venue all conformed to the basic design and coloring of the booth’s mountain-range motif, creating a setting that would beckon visitors into our “mountains.” To inspire and fulfill visitors’ curiosity, we wove the graphics and booth structure together into a story tying the entire narrative of the Sony booth experience together. We carved parts of that story into everything from the fixtures and the accessories decorating the space to smaller details like the video content, uniforms, and lanyards. Those little touches finished off the overall ambience with a consistent tone, bringing the brand experience into clearer focus.
Don’t just change the brand—enrich it
Given the extensive scope of the design elements that go into an event, outsourcing all the design work to outside agencies is one common approach to event planning. Sony, however, has decided to tackle event projects project with in-house designers on board. How does that benefit the overall effort?
Kondo: If you hand all the reins over to an outside agency, you often end up with a design that looks new and fresh but lacks a grounding in a comprehensive strategy and story. It’s hard to maintain any kind of continuity or growth in the booth’s thematic elements. Bringing in-house designers on board to help orient the whole project, however, lets you keep the themes on the same trajectory over time. For the IFA project, we knew that our audience wasn’t just going to be industry people—it was an event for a broad, general audience. It was a kind of laboratory for experimenting with user reactions, you could say, so our approach to communicating the Sony identity kind of became a template for a wide range of different things that regular users would see; our display methods and design techniques for IFA were in position to shape our in-store displays, showroom displays, and even packaging. In-house designers enable us to develop a brand experience with a global consistency, a key element for enhancing the Sony brand value and making a difference on the business side of things.
Kita: The great thing about having in-house designers on a project team is that you can develop better ideas through a clearer, more unified process. Designers collaborate closely with product planners and engineers to visualize the best ways of conveying experiences to customers as intuitively and directly as possible. As those visual elements take shape, the designer can go back and forth until the ideal route to customers’ perceptions emerges. It’s an approach that eliminates any gaps between the engineers’ target experiences and our design output, coalescing the message on a clear product appeal.
Mitsugi: As in-house designers, we get to work right alongside all the developers who know everything there is to know about the products. Exchanging ideas is so much easier that way; we have a direct line of communication for deciding which points we should emphasize to showcase the products most effectively. Planning an event is a long, drawn-out project. Being part of the actual Sony family, we’re right there, every day, getting direct exposure to internal changes and approaches in real time. Without in-house designers, I doubt we’d be able to create designs that speak to the now of the Sony message.
How does Sony see its brand concept evolving at future events?
Kondo: Due to the limited reach of our company stores and showrooms, events like IFA are valuable opportunities for us to present the Sony identity in concrete terms. Since we’re always aiming to develop our booths around concepts that make immediate, emotional connections with visitors, I want to keep infusing our exhibits with the element of playfulness—that kind of enjoyment has the power to make those connections. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of forward-looking, convention-breaking, imaginative ideas our designers can come up with next.
Mitsugi: I’ve done a lot of work on exhibit designs that put the focus on people and day-to-day life. Through the IFA project, though, I think I’ve started to bring a new element into my booth-design approach: giving the brand a deeper, richer level to flourish at. With the booths I design, I want to go above and beyond Mr. Kondo’s expectations.
Kita: As both an in-house designer and a user myself, I’m always thinking of how to enhance the draw of the Sony brand and make the products more appealing from both perspectives. It’s never easy to create new value or enrich the brand, but I know we can do it if we have the courage to disrupt conventional value systems and find new, compelling angles to showcase the Sony brand from.
An event is a key touchpoint with customers, a place that embodies the brand.
Always in search of a deeper, richer brand experience, Sony Design is constantly developing designs that
put fun front and center, make people curious, and pack an emotional punch.