Audiovisual technology drives our senses, and it has become an integral part of many of the experiences we encounter day to day. As an AV practitioner myself, I’ve always looked for different ways technology could be deployed within commercial spaces—whether to help speakers connect with their audiences, enable musicians to create their art or give vibrant life to an important message. Because audiovisual technology creates and shapes those experiences, maximizing its utilization became a no-brainer. Now more than ever, we’ve come to know that AV will continue to grow as a tool for storytelling and the delivery of unforgettable experiences.
Of course, creating experiences has always been a part of what we, as AV practitioners, do; today, it has simply been brought to the forefront of our consciousness. In a previous era, when integrating AV in a conference room, stadium, house of worship or other commercial space, the discussion typically centered on the hardware that the client needed to effectuate the integrated system desired. Now, the thinking is reordered: Starting from the initial design stage, conversations have shifted to the experience the meeting participant, sports fan or worshipper is meant to have. This shift challenges us to do new, more complex things in new, different ways. It’s also pushing us to be more creative—to think as storytellers and to partner with other creative fields to maximize people’s experiences.
A handful of companies have led the way in experiential design, and it’s been exciting to watch as their designs have come to fruition. Take, for example, eBay’s interactive “Main Street” space at its San Jose CA campus. ESI Design was the lead experience designer for the building, and it worked with partners such as Diversified and Float4 to tell the story of the eBay brand in a way in which AV truly elevates the experience of both employees and guests. The innovative design led to ESI winning an AV Award for Corporate Project of the Year and being named a 2016 Spark:Experience Awards finalist.
ESI Design has been in the business of transforming spaces into experiences for more than 40 years. Michael Schneider, Senior Designer and A/V Technologist, offered insight into how the firm has set the bar so high. “It all started for us with the Brooklyn Children’s Museum,” he said. “Our founder looked at the children’s museum experience and realized it wasn’t about the things…it wasn’t about the objects. It was really about what you did there, and what the programming was. He really started to think about the human experience within that space.” Schneider continued, “That practice has stayed with us in everything that we do. It’s always about starting with the story and the experience.” This is the roadmap to experiential design, and it reflects how the thinking in AV has shifted.
Story And Experience First
Thinking about story and experience first is where the shift lies for AV professionals. It begins with high-level client discussions about what they actually envision, going far beyond the technological componentry itself. It’s easy for systems integrators to deliver hardware and software; AV practitioners have done that for years. As reflected by the advent of AVIXA, however, the days are over where a client would come to us, saying they want “X” software, “Y” videowalls and “Z” microphones for their space, and we’d put in a bid, install the system and move on. A system is not an experience; a system is a means to delivering an end. The most successful integrators deploy solutions, presenting greater value to their clients, and potentially gaining added revenue, by fully understanding the experience they’ve been hired to create.
John G. Melillo, President, Diversified, Digital Media Group, underscored that point. “It all starts at the beginning,” he said. “Technology integrators must shift from simply focusing on the hardware and labor required and, instead, look at themselves as storytellers first. The client is looking to communicate a message. Technology companies must begin to ask a new set of questions about the desired outcome of the interaction.” And that’s equally as true for a conference room as it is for a flashy interactive attraction.
Melillo continued, “All of us are part of telling the tale of a brand. From the start, it’s about achieving good communication. In a boardroom or conference room, participants must be able to hear and see everything effortlessly. The presenter must seamlessly incorporate media, because fumbling and bumbling creates a story of its own…one that, in some instances, cannot be overcome. I like to imagine us as supporting a theatrical production that doesn’t look theatrical—unless that’s the story you’re telling.”
Successfully shifting to the experiential takes a tremendous amount of communication and coordination, as well as the imaginativeness to work on two different planes at once. On that point, Schneider added, “All team members are taught to be thinking in both the real world and the experiential world simultaneously. Having an awareness of the practical requirements of the space as we develop the story, we can also work in parallel to develop the tools to tell that story. But we have to move all these things forward together.”
Henry Ford is quoted to have said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” As the commercial AV industry shifts, we can expect to see more and more content creators involved in what we do. Some integrators have already begun looking into employing user experience (UX) designers, graphic designers and others to ensure their firms can deliver complete experiences. Others continue to outsource, partnering with design agencies and nurturing relationships. Float4’s Co-Founder, Alexandre Simionescu, weighed in on the significance of AV professionals aligning with creatives. “UX is a very important field that we should be more exposed to, because it considers the user or the audience first and foremost,” he emphasized. Underscoring the need to create a tighter bond with creatives and UX designers, he added, “By giving ourselves more exposure and coming to understand what drives their decisions, we can learn how to collaborate in a way that provides the best solution and experience.”
TJ DiQuollo, Director of Creative Services, Diversified, Digital Media Group, joined the chorus calling for tighter alignment among disciplines. “AV integrators need to understand the importance of aligning with architects and design agencies,” he stated. “These three fields, when brought together, can create the most breathtaking experience for brands and customers alike. The story, movement within the space, and visual effects blend together holistically and naturally when all three components are developed together, rather than separately. Starting with shared goals and open communication will lead to award-winning work on all fronts.”
DiQuollo continued on the subject of how disciplines can collaborate closely even as team members work independently on their own piece of the larger whole. He said, “The key to success on projects that rely on many different disciplines coming together in harmony is to understand the swim lanes for each. Once the bigger picture is clear to everyone, the corresponding roles, responsibilities and deliverables will fall into place. Much like an orchestra, it’s paramount to have a conductor to keep everyone moving toward the same goal.” He added, “Being open minded and engaged with the talent of each disparate field will bring tighter alignment, and success will be shared once the project is complete.”
Schneider added that it’s important to seek to work with firms that have a proven track record and that can bolster your integration in an area where it might not be fully developed. “It’s important for integrators to partner with design firms that continuously transform places into experiences,” he noted. “Collaborating with studios like these—that have demonstrated experience seamlessly weaving physical and digital worlds together to create immersive experiences—will be critical for integrators that don’t always have those design skills in-house, but that are extremely effective at bringing the vision to life.”
Continued outreach efforts to different vertical markets, such as what AVIXA has begun to undertake, should hasten the commercial AV community’s partnering with creatives of all stripes; that, in turn, will help us deliver enhanced experiences to our clients. And as more AV practitioners get on board, those multidisciplinary partnerships should strengthen further.
A Brand With A Story
AV is all about communication. After all, our systems are mostly driven by whatever content must be shared by our client to their audience. So, even though it’s refreshing to see AV practitioners partnering with UX designers, architects, graphic artists and others, it’s also exciting to see marketing and communications departments taking a seat at the collaboration table. As the delivery mechanism for experiences, our audiovisual systems become more valuable when the content itself makes an impression that aligns with an established brand’s identity. Although DiQuollo is not on a marketing or sales team, as Director of Creative Services, he is an expert in communicating and delivering a brand’s story. “The most satisfying projects to work on are those in which we get to work hand-in-hand with a very recognizable brand that has a clear story to tell,” he explained. “AV is all about enabling communication and helping brands create memories.”
DiQuollo proved the power of experiential design with an application whose brand and story is known around the globe, transcending language, culture and nationality. He said, “When a leading American athletic shoe manufacturer and distributor built a temporary exhibition space for the US Olympic Trials for track and field competition, everything from the ground up depicted a sense of the effort needed to compete at the Olympic level. The visualization of kinetic energy took the form of explosive triangular pavilions designed by Skylab Architecture. The temporary structures were sheathed in a lightweight translucent poly membrane. Like a sprinter coming out of the starting blocks, the pavilions lean and cantilever, stretching to their structural, physical boundaries. The steel-framed pavilions are a hyper-light translation of the posture and tectonics of speed. Intersecting running track lanes connect the pavilions in a geometry of unfolding and refolding of space.”
“Digital media is an immersive thread throughout the site, a result of a highly collaborative design process,” DiQuollo continued. “Diversified worked with leading design companies to build large tunnels of LEDs for an immersive speed-tunnel experience, so participants could test their abilities versus the best in the world…. Place yourself in that environment, and I think the memories created will last a lifetime, and, perhaps, inspire a young Olympic hopeful to begin their quest.” Just hearing him speak about the experience his team helped create made me feel as if I were in the tunnel myself, living out that experience. If words can engender so strong a reaction, just imagine what AV technology, in the hands of a skilled storyteller, can do.
In light of AV integrators’ increasing realization that our role has always been that of a storyteller, Kelly Perkins, Marketing Communications Manager at AVI Systems, offered a reminder to integrators that think of themselves simply as business-to-business (B2B) entities. “We get caught up in the fact that we don’t necessarily think of ourselves as consumer brands, but we are,” she said. “We’re B2B, but you can’t forget about the actual end-end-user who is using the technology and experiencing it.” We’re in the business of ensuring that the end-end-user has a compelling experience, leaves with a positive memory and fully grasps our client’s story.
It’s not that the role of systems integrators has changed as much as that we, as integrators, must think about our job very differently than we used to. Less technology provider, more storyteller…less vendor of gear, more maker of memories…less system installer, more facilitator of experiences.
Following this paradigm will futureproof our industry and ensure that we maintain profitability, creating the truly exceptional experiences of tomorrow.