Understanding Experiential Graphic Design

How to Engage Potential Customers through Branded Environments

What do you see, but probably not notice, anytime you go to a game at your favorite ballpark, visit a local museum, shop at your nearby mall or spend the night in a hotel? At each of those locations, you are immersed in experiential graphic design, or XGD for short, whether you know it or not. Which is why understanding how to make it work for your business is more important than ever.

What is XGD and what happened to EGD?

Experiential Graphic Design is actually a relatively new term, even within the industry. It wasn’t until the end of 2013 that the Society for Environmental Graphic Design (SEGD), which had been in existence since 1973, voted to change its name to replace “environmental” with “experiential” to reflect the impact of new media.

According to SEGD, experiential graphic design “involves the orchestration of typography, color, imagery, form, technology and, especially, content to create environments that communicate.” By applying the field of communications to the built environment, a company can create branded spaces that engage users and deepen their interactions.

More than just signage, XGD is a holistic design approach that creates an atmosphere by using every component of a space, from its landscaping to its paint colors and even to the font used on the signs that designate the restroom. XGD professionals from a variety of disciplines apply an integrated, strategic vision to a space’s typography, color, imagery, technology and architecture. Some of the most commonly used XGD systems include wayfinding signage, retail design, and environmental signage programs. Over the past 20 years, these systems have been enhanced through the use of digital technologies that make it possible to present dynamic content, such as motion graphics or interactive user-manipulated portals.

Who Uses It and Why?

Experiential Graphic Design is ubiquitous. Any person who has ever ridden public transportation, navigated a city or attended a concert has likely encountered XGD, although some spaces may have a more understated approach. For example, a public park may incorporate a cohesive, contemporary style to its wayfinding signage, light fixtures and garden bed plots, but may not need to go the extra mile to create interactive content.

In contrast, businesses with sales goals, such as retail stores and entertainment and hospitality destinations, usually find great value in investing in more extensive XGD. That is because XGD enhances these business’ capability for storytelling and engages their customers more deeply, which builds loyalty. When implemented successfully, XGD creates a space where people want to linger, which contributes to brand affinity—and ultimately dollars spent.

Spaces that exist to educate and edify also tend to invest heavily in XGD. For example, museums and historical attractions enhance guests’ experiences through interactive portals, enriching placards and eye-catching displays. Even places of worship have a very long history of utilizing XGD. For example, the soaring, stained glass windows embedded the spires of the world’s great cathedrals create a mood that directs parishioners’ attention heavenward. It is a low-tech—and incredibly effective—example of XGD that has been around for ages, literally.


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