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Solving the Content Conundrum

Cadillac House. Image © Gensler.

As the retail landscape continues to evolve, brick-and-mortar stores seek to provide new experiences that will lure consumers away from their smart phones, and inevitably towards the cashwrap. Our clients are always in search of that “wow” moment and, in turn, so are we. This often results in a heightened sense of retail theater, with technology and digital media taking the front seat.

For Primark, it’s leveraging the brand’s robust social media content to promote new product and wayfinding. For the NBA, it’s embedding real-time scores, highlights and game footage into their flagship. For Cadillac, it’s generative art that samples campaign media heritage assets.

A smart content strategy for these experiences is as important as the spatial design itself. However, these unique architectural expressions are often at odds with traditional content management. Advertising agencies generally focus on print, web, broadcast and mobile. They represent the pipeline through which a brand pumps out their marketing. So what happens when we have 18 digital columns running the length of the floor? Or a sculptural media wall wrapping around a cashwrap? Yes, they look great in a rendering, but who is going to feed those hungry pixels with great content? Commissioning unique media for a single location is generally not an option, or at least not in the long term.

Cadillac House. Image © Gensler.

So how do we bridge the gap between these unique installations and a content workflow that is rooted in more traditional media channels? The solution is a software engine that straddles the two. Working closely with our development partner (AV&C), we sought to create a generative design tool that continually refreshes the environment from a myriad of existing assets and artwork.

For Cadillac, this engine is connected to a web browser that can be accessed anywhere via the internet. Once inside, a user can upload assets of their choosing (still, graphic, video), and choose from a series of parameters to explore different visualization options. This portal truly serves as a design tool, offering hundreds of permutations without the need for a software programmer or motion graphics designer. A pre-visualization of your design is delivered as a rendered animation, as seen above. Once approved, content is scheduled for playback within the built space. Already, Cadillac is utilizing this generative approach for events, runway shows and brand partnerships.

Cadillac House. Image © Gensler.

For the NBA, an automated approach leverages their vast broadcast streams. Daily highlights, real-time scores and player stats are dynamically refreshed within their retail flagship. Requiring little to no daily content management, the system operates autonomously. Additionally, unique templates are available to feature product or individuals, allowing the in-store team to pivot merchandising strategies in context of last night’s player performance.

NBA store. Image © Gensler.

This generative design strategy can be scaled to match a brand’s appetite for content management—whether it’s an automated “hands-off” approach, or a robust design tool. As the lines between digital and physical continue to blur, it’s critical that everything happening behind the pixels is as well designed as the spaces they inhabit.

Matthew Calkins is a senior designer within the brand studio in Gensler’s New York office. He specializes in brand strategy and design, including brand positioning, information architecture, digital media design, signage, wayfinding, identity design and creative direction. Contact him at matthew_calkins@gensler.com.