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Carly Wickham, Head of Marketing

Wow! Retail Design Expo 2016 was an amazing event, we loved meeting everyone and seeing their reactions to our stand. In this blog, we let you in on the thinking and psychology behind our stand experience.

A restorative experience

We set out to give visitors to Retail Design Expo the best experience we possibly could. Why? To put theory into practice. We believe that designing #CompellingExperiences for brands builds a connection with their customers that goes beyond the rational; connecting with customers emotionally, powerfully. By demonstrating this power to our visitors, we help them imagine what we could do for their customer experiences.

Set in the context of a busy industry show environment, we wanted our presence at the show to be restorative. Visitors are bombarded with advertising and over-stimulated by messaging. The result is mental fatigue, a poor starting point to begin engaging with our visitors.

Lifting mental fatigue, shifting mind-states

To lift this mental fatigue, our behavioural psychologist shared research by Kaplan and Kaplan with us. They investigated ‘soft fascination’, which looks at how people find naturally occurring patterns and organic/biophilic design subconsciously fascinating. The brain can engage without being shouted at, without filling to cognitive capacity.

Green Room Design - Retail Design Expo 2016 stand

We wanted visitors to our stand to be engaged and present in the experience, with the mental capacity to still reason and form judgement. The opposite of feeling overwhelmed.

Another piece of more recent research has scientifically proven that nature causes positive electrochemical changes in the brain, which can lead people to enter a highly beneficial state of ‘effortless attention’. At the opposite end of the spectrum to mental fatigue, ‘effortless attention’ is a mind-state that is excellent for gently offering information and influencing behaviour. So, we set out to try and shift our visitors to this receptive mind-state.

Four replicable ways we designed for ‘Soft Fascination’ and ‘Effortless Attention’

To achieve the receptive mind-state of ‘effortless attention’ we created an environment inspired by nature, and we designed four examples of ‘soft fascination’ into our experience:

1. Organic patterns

We used geometric patterns emulating dappled sunlight to attract the subconscious which finds organic patterns naturally fascinating. The movement of the light pattern deliberately draws the eye into our stand.

How does it work? The light is projection mapped. The design is hexagonal, devised to mirror the tactile floor pattern. The light effect is activated when a pressure sensor detects a person. The environment thereby reacts to the visitor.

Green Room Design - Retail Design Expo 2016 stand dappled light hexagons

2. Tactility

The second way we enticed visitors with soft fascination is through tactility. The birch bark is intriguing, invites interaction, gives permission to play. As designers for The North Face, we’ve been tasked with adding tactility to their store environments for the same reason. We’ve included living moss walls, stone cladding and tree trunks to help to ‘bring the outside in’.

How does it work? The bark is painted on the reverse with a conductive paint. Touch completes the circuit which triggers an audio response, which takes into consideration time of day, discussed further in the next design feature.

Green Room Design - Retail Design Expo 2016 stand touch bark

3. Soundscape

The third medium used to fascinate involved another sense. The design team created an audio soundscape of birdsong to stand out from the event hubbub.

Over 30 birds were integrated into an ambient audio overlay which reflects the time of day, changing from an early morning dawn chorus through to the twit-twoo of a barn owl late afternoon. Unfortunately, the woodpecker got the chop as he was a little too invasive!

4. Ambient light

Finally, the tree canopy is illuminated, and the ambient light adjusts throughout the day. Again, the subconscious is alert to this shift from dawn pastel colours, through the bright light of midday. In the flood of fluorescent light, our considered presence stands apart.

How does it work? Within each treetop balloon is a DMX light controller. The controller is connected to the stand’s central management system, which responds with a pre-defined “colour recipe” reflecting the stand’s relative time of day. There are four colour recipes, with predefined time periods and transitions to create a natural blending of light from dawn through to dusk.

Green Room Design - Retail Design Expo 2016 stand


How could you integrate organic patterns or tactility into your customer experience? Does your soundscape work hard enough to create the atmosphere you desire? And does your light alter throughout the day to help to influence your customer’s responsivity? All context for further investigation with the aim of creating the perfect environment for your customers.

Want to find out more? We’ve written some blogs on #CompellingExperiences and why it’s particularly relevant to retail environments. We’ve also discussed evidence of the benefits of biophilic design in the workspace in a recent blog.

Enjoyed our restorative experience? Use the hashtag #CompellingExperiences to join the conversation. Or contact us to talk to the team about delivering new experiences for your customers.