David Schwarz: Blurred Lines: Content and Brand

Brand Storytelling at HUSH

David Schwarz is Creative Partner with New York design agency HUSH. In Schwarz’s world, experiential design is the nexus for brand storytelling. He’ll focus on “Blurred Lines: Brand and Content” at Xlab 2014, happening November 6 in New York. 

Tell us a little about HUSH.

What we design is a mixture of visual content and design (graphics and filmmaking), physical spaces (architecture and structure), and technology (software and hardware). We work mostly for major brands, creating experiences informed by the brands’ ideologies and ethos. Some of those spaces are permanent (i.e., retail stores) and some are temporary (pop-ups and experiential activations), but we work anywhere that brands want to express their creativity and innovation to the world.

What current and recent projects are you excited about?

A year ago, we launched Under Armour’s experiential retail location in Shanghai, and now we’re in development of some other major flagship retail experiences. We’re also engaged in quite a bit of work around experiential sales centers for major new real estate projects in New York City. Right here in our own neighborhood, we also recently won the bid for the DUMBO Fitness Loop project to bring artistry and fitness together in a series of installations.

Your work focuses on creating digital experiences to tell brand stories. How do you make sure all these experiences—touchpoints—are in sync? How do you ensure the brand story doesn’t get fragmented?

It’s THE challenge. How you avoid it is by having a singular creative vision and a strong brand strategy as a foundation for any creative work. When there are lots of voices involved—whether within the brand’s organization or with other associated partners in a project—it’s tough to align and track against the same brief and pursue the same vision. That’s when it can start to feel piece-meal and divergent.

So the key is developing a strong creative platform or visual language and use that as the lens through which you view each project. Whether it’s a film or an event or architecture, make sure it is embedded with the same creative ideology so that when we mix those mediums, there’s a nice handshake—continuity.

How do you grapple with the challenge of integrating digital experiences with physical ones?

How the space feels in the abstract sense is as important as any technology or hardware. Materials are as important as software, lighting as important as pixels. In our project for Nike Camp Victory, we had the best creative brief ever: “Make Nike customers feel fast.” That was the start of a long, fun road. It was also the lens through which we looked at all the brand expressions, from space and materiality to digital interactions to sound. What were the ways we could literally make people feel fast? Our architectural partner, Skylab, was focused on the space and materiality, while we tackled digital space and interactions. It was a fantastic collaboration. We inspired each other, sending ideas back and forth in 24- to 48-hour cycles.

Tell us about your Xlab 2014 presentation, “Blurred Lines: Brand and Content.” What will we learn?

Our clients, especially in experiential and retail, can no longer just hang their brand on a wall and display products. The most forward-thinking brands are creating great customer experiences that offer a unique, immersive look into what makes the brand tick. These experiences are less about hard-core metrics and definitive ROI and more about their playfulness and spirit.

This is an amazing opportunity for us as designers. It’s less aggressive. It’s an approach that recognizes an audience will be won over, and stay loyal, through engagement and surprise. Given that the web is such a sophisticated transactional space at this point—online commerce is smooth and enjoyable—it’s even more important that we create compelling spaces for our audiences to experience brands offline.

On the landscape of experiential design, what is the coolest thing you’re seen lately?

I’m an incredibly harsh critic, so I’m very appreciative when I see something good. Any of [light artist] James Turrell’s recent work is a huge source of inspiration for our studio. His command of space and experience has changed the way even the most mainstream (but museum-going) audiences understand how the human body perceives space, light, and sound. Having his work in LACMA, Houston MFA, and Guggenheim, on more accessible, grander canvases, has changed the way people think about art and space. Even though our brand clients operate on the periphery of the art world, his work gives us more credibility when we talk about the power of these mediums. His work shows that time, space, and calm are as powerful as anything you see in commercial work that’s often 10 times as loud.

Photos: HUSH (except as noted)

Join David Schwarz at Xlab 2014 in New York!

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