Branding Without Borders

POSTED BY Christina Arbini on Apr 13, 2010

At HA we are bringing together a variety of consumer experiences together through the lens of brand. Insight drives our process. This Portfolio.com article is part of an ongoing series about how powerful interaction is in the realm of branding. Interactive is not digital; it is engagement. In the coming months we’re going to be talking about our much broader Hornall Anderson POV (so keep coming back for more).

Branding Without Borders

by Jamie Monberg, Special to Portfolio.com Apr 13 2010

Great brands tell great stories, whether it’s an environment, a package, or a website. They engage people emotionally, get them talking, touching, learning, and laughing. It’s in telling those stories and facilitating those interactions that good design is evident, and much of this is owed to designers’ ability to think about brands in more than one dimension.

There’s a simple equation that results in a tremendous opportunity: interaction = engagement. What you participate in, you care about. Whether designing a beer bottle or a website, the goal is to achieve that deeper level of interaction that will cement brand affinity and drive behavior.

In the design industry, “interactive” is often a misnomer for “digital” and/or “Web.” There’s a more literal interpretation: Fundamentally, an interactive experience is a dialog. It’s any experience through which a user actively engages with a brand, a product, or an idea.

While more and more firms are moving towards merging digital and analog disciplines, some companies are successfully circumventing that process and pushing the boundaries of what an “interactive” experience can be.

Here are some of the clients we've worked with and how we used design to bolster their brands.

For Madison Square Garden, we employed an immersive interactive experience that enables its guests to virtually preview New York City's famous soon-to-be-renovated arena all within the walls of a presentation center. Each room uses a unique combination of technology and storytelling to communicate a different part of the brand story. Iconic, physical “keys” initiate a series of immersive experiences, cuing video, sound, light, and interaction, emotionally connecting visitors to the Garden’s iconic legacy, while clearly and tangibly demonstrating the vision of its future.

In this age of social networking, user-generated media, and unlimited connectivity, people are already having conversations about brands, and the brands can’t afford not to be participating in them.

Microsoft has embraced this idea of an open dialog in several places. At both their new Visitor Center and their renovated Candidate Lobby, visitors are invited to add a “digital thumbprint” on the experience by adding their thoughts about the Microsoft brand. For the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, they turned the centerpiece of their exhibit into an interactive audiovisual experience. “The Nucleus” was a collaborative environment where attendees not only connected with the Microsoft brand, but also with each other, by interacting with the walls to activate and alter different layers and beats in the ambient music track, which could later be downloaded as personal ringtones.

A brand experience is more than a logo; it’s the relationship a consumer forms by interacting with a product, and great experience design can drive business success in any category. Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower (previously Sears Tower) provides visitors with a truly epic view of Chicago, but that view often came at the end of more than two hours in a roped-off line. That was a part of their brand experience that they were anxious to lose. Through a symphony of technology, art, and strategic planning, that line evolved into a series of interactive experiences that transformed what had been a waiting area into an immersive, interactive environment, positioning the Tower as an integral part of the city’s identity and driving an influx of traffic from both tourists and locals.

Whether creating consumer packaging, websites, retail spaces, or software suites, it’s important to use what’s called a borderless approach to design: integrating strategy and interactivity at every level. The philosophy is that for a consumer, a brand is a relationship, not a piece of packaging, so designers—in any medium—should strive to create experiences that enrich that relationship.

A borderless approach to design means that no matter what the deliverable, a brand is being looked at in 360 degrees. For designers, a package must be grounded in brand strategy, and an unboxing experience is also an exercise in interactive design. But the other half of a borderless approach to design is to look at that package as part of a broader brand experience. It must inform and be informed by all the other elements in that ecosystem: marketing efforts, websites, physical environments, social media, mobile phones.

All of these entities need to work symbiotically to create that brand relationship—or they won’t work, either for the client or the consumer.


Jamie Monberg (Chief Experience Officer) joined Hornall Anderson in 2005 and has been creating interactive technology for more than 15 years. During his tenure at Microsoft he helped guide the creation and successful launch of Sidewalk.com. Throughout his career, he has served as a consultant to start-ups and venture capital firms, concentrating on sustained growth and strategic market positioning.

WRITTEN BY Christina Arbini

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