In Harman-y - Customer Experience In-Store

When Harman International asked Gensler to design its first North American audio flagship store on Madison Avenue in New York, the Gensler team approached the project with two questions: How do people consume music? And how can we provide an unforgettable, immersive customer experience at the new store? (This award-winning project will be profiled at SEGD’s CX Workshop March 10 in Las Vegas! Join us there!)

Gensler provided strategy, interior design, merchandising, and experience design for the 8,000-sq.-ft. store, including a suite of interactive digital touchpoints that immerse customers in the Harman product portfolio and brand stories. 

Gensler’s challenge was to design a platform and environment showcasing the wide range of audio products under the Harman brand umbrella (including Harman/Kardon, JBL, and Mark Levinson, among others). The project goals were to create a modern, fun, and relevant experience for its diverse customer demographic, showcase the range and quality of Harman brands, provide a launchpoint for new Harman products, create a distinctive image for the parent Harman company, and leverage Harman’s audiophile roots.
“We started out asking, how and where do people listen to music, and how can we build in-store experiences around that?” says Matthew Calkins, senior associate.

The answers to that question play out in a store designed to be approachable to all types of customers, from casual music listeners to serious audiophiles. The store layout is organized by lifestyle, providing customers fun ways to experience Harman “on the go,” “at home,” “in the car,” "in studio," etc.

The store is multi-layered, but first and foremost a high-tech soundscape. Faceted wall panels made of custom-molded resin were inspired by were inspired by the anechoic chambers at Harman’s sound labs, and reinforce Harman’s legacy of science and innovation. Custom-formed, perforated-metal ceiling panels have acoustical properties and also recall, at larger scale, the ceiling treatments found in an anechoic chamber.
The Gensler team created a minimalist, contemporary backdrop for the products with crisp white Corian tabletops and white lacquer finishes, warm teak accents and wood floors, custom inset carpets incorporating geometric patterns that reflect the wall treatments, and metallic wall finishes and “painted” glass columns that reinforce the “Science of Sound” theme.

With a suite of interactives it conceived, designed, and art directed, Gensler hands over the controls to customers—inviting them to explore audio content and experiment with Harman’s brand portfolio based on their own preferences. On the first floor, one of the first experiences customers encounter is the Sound Concierge, an electronic touchscreen station that helps guide them to the areas that might interest them the most.  “The interactive platform allows visitors to browse merchandise by brand, product type, or lifestyle use case. This degree of choice and flexibility is critical in showcasing a vast array of product to a diverse range of consumers,” explains Calkins. Integrated with the table is a vertical display showing ambient brand media.

The Sound Spider is a signature, architecturally integrated circular console beneath a ceiling-mounted headphone rack, where multiple Harman shoppers can test Harman headphones by interacting with touchscreens that allow them to select from a curated music library.

Sound Check is an interactive DJ console and stage area that hosts recording artists and other special events in-store. The video wall and stage area is designed to allow customers to experience large-venue, premium sound in-store. The Pro-Audio display gives customers unique insights into the professional music industry, allowing them to explore audio mixing while supporting Harman’s portfolio of iconic music venues worldwide.

At the center of the ground floor is the Sound Cube, a soundproof listening booth where customers can compare Harman products to its competitors. The cube’s faceted, monolithic form and fabric-clad walls recreate the feel of an anechoic chamber and invite customers to “hear the difference.”

Gensler executed an advertising campaign for store launch, including product and lifestyle photography. As a backdrop to the interactives, these “brand billboards” feature super-scale imagery anchoring the home audio and portable product areas. A deconstructed capacitor wall punctuates cashwrap and grounds shoppers in Harman’s commitment to science and innovation, says Calkins. 

As a backdrop to the interactives, “brand billboards” featuring large-scale lifestyle photography, a brand wall made of capacitors, and other graphics ground shoppers in the Harman brand story, says Calkins. And select individual products are presented as art, elevated within museum-like glass vitrines.

The project won the Digital Integration Innovation Award in the 2015 International Store Design Awards.

“For the Gensler team, it was about creating a Destination for Sound," says Calkins. "We sought to design a customer experience that is unified across all touchpoints, from fixture design to user interface. The store uses technology to supplement brand stories, but doesn’t let it overwhelm the experience.”


Client:  Harman International Industries

Location:  New York City

Architect:  Gensler

Design Team: John Bricker (creative director); Kate Russell (retail design), Matthew Calkins (brand design) 

Digital Media Design:  Gensler

Photography Art Direction:  Gensler

Systems Designer and Technical Consultant:  Technomedia Solutions

Sound Systems:  Harman International Industries

Photos: © Chris Payne/Courtesy Gensler 

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