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Cool is the New Hot: Designing an Immersive Social Media Experience Offline.

Image © Chris Leonard

When Marguerite Loucas and Nicholas Cyprus, siblings and fourth-generation owners of New York restaurant Burger Heaven, approached Gensler to bring their “make-your-own-ice-cream” store concept to life, our mouths began to water.

Yes, literally. This new approach to the DIY dessert crafting experience invites a minimum of two guests to mix, churn and flavor a batch of ice cream at their own table. The mess begins with a creamy liquid ice cream base provided by New York’s favorite brand Blue Marble. Then, mix in a boastful list of candy and fruit add-ins, and top it off with a generous serving of your own imagination. Three steps, two people, one mess.

For the global firm that doesn’t often get the opportunity to do small-scale mom-and-pop projects, this was a great opportunity for Gensler to flex its “small studio” muscles. Our promise was not only to build a fully immersive dreamy escape into the land of all things sweet, but also emotionally engage the higher echelon that is the Upper East Side by fostering a community that would believe in and love the new kid on the block. To quote Marguerite: “I want lines out the door!”

Although aimed at a well-heeled audience, you will not find silver spoons at CoolMess. Instead, you will enjoy your ice cream with a temperature sensitive color-changing spoon that goes from magenta to purple at the first cool touch of the ice cream.

The elevated ice cream experience begins here.

Image © chris Leonard

In the height of hashtag culture, emojis and snapchat communication, this space had to be more than just a nice picture. It had to be good—#instagood—a totally enveloping brand experience that is both cool and hot in equal measure. Of course the store should be beautiful offline, but how do you design a space that is carefully outfitted for shareable moments at every turn? And more, how can the space sell itself to the social media mavens whose social identity can best be summed up by the pictures on their feed?

It was important that guests feel invited not just to admire, but to interact, play and participate in making the space come to life. So the entry experience begins with a bang: an all-enveloping sprinkle wallpaper portal that lifts you up into ice cream heaven— a place where #coolisthenewhot (which is spelled out at the top of the steps in vibrant neon signage). Push through the entry door, and be greeted by a magnetic chalkboard with custom sprinkle and letter magnets that spell out personalized messages to encourage the cool.

Image © chris Leonard

Image © chris Leonard

The graphics blend whimsy, creativity and cool in a kaleidoscope of color and pattern to make the space “photographable” no matter where you’re standing. But the space is more than just a pretty face—it also has a hip sense of wit and culture. As you make your rounds, you will find strategically placed hashtag signs, mustache mirror decals, emoji adorned code signage - even a backwards “Lookin’ Cool” sign in the bathroom that is only legible when looking in the mirror. It’s the ultimate selfie wonderland.

Image © chris Leonard

Image © chris Leonard

Have some time on your hands while you’re waiting for your ice cream to churn? Check out the fully shoppable self-serve wall of assorted candy, CoolMess branded merch, and hand-selected packaged goods from some of the best known sweets brands south of the North Pole.

Image © chris Leonard

Wit, puns and magenta inkblot splats aside, the heart and love in the core of the brand is strong, and that is why there are repeat customers and lines out the door at CoolMess. The brand was born on four generations of unyielding family values, hard-work and a passion for nurturing the local community - the recipe of the Cyprus family secret sauce that attributes to the success of Burger Heaven. For the new kid, the Upper East Siders of all ages have embraced CoolMess into their neighborhood quite warmly.

The elevated retail experience today is best measured by how well it can engage its audience at all points in the journey: How did I hear of this place? What does the brand say about me? Could the retail associate be my friend? Is this Instagrammable?! The emotional stages of the journey are an integral part of the experience. It has to sell more than a product—it has to be a lifestyle of carefully curated goods in an environment that is another extension of your social network.

At CoolMess, you can eat, shop, hang out, socialize, host a party, bedazzle your social media feed—but unlike other retail experiences, this one is a la mode.

Holly's background in event production, visual communications, and experiential brand strategy allows her to bring an eclectic mix of knowledge to Gensler New York’s branding team. At Gensler, Holly works in the brand studio as a graphic designer to provide design solutions for print, web, and interiors. A lover of bespoke moments and cultural relevance, Holly likes to bring a bit of truth, soul, and ‘joie de vivre’ into her projects. Contact her holly_murphy@gensler.com.

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