Universal Everything, Zaha Hadid Architects and Samsung Flock Together

At Milan Design Week 2017, the Samsung Galaxy design philosophy of “no borders, no boundaries” was brought to fulfillment in an immersive interactive brand experience designed by Zaha Hadid Architects and Universal Everything.

The opportunity to create an immersive brand experience for Samsung at Milan Design Week 2017 with Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) came in the form of an invitation from creative agency Iris Worldwide. The Board Director of their global work for Samsung, Robin Davies, proposed the work to ZHA and Universal Everything and conversations evolved from that point.

Universal Everything is a combination digital art and design collective founded in Sheffield, England in 2004 by Creative Director Matt Pyke. The studio uses technologies like 3-D printing, sensors, projection mapping, touch screens and complex sound design to create works that often reference modern architectural and figurative themes. Their innovative work is a great complement to the bold and futuristic architecture of ZHA.

Initially, the Universal Everything team worked closely with the Samsung and ZHA teams to determine what needed to be communicated through the experience and to explore the conceptual possibilities a seamless merging of design and technology could offer. The goal was to create interest and differentiate the Galaxy S8 in a saturated smartphone marketplace. It became apparent the design team needed to create an expression of the product features and the “no borders, no boundaries” philosophy in an entirely novel way—a requirement that would come to the forefront of the design process.

The design team performed user research within Samsung and internal client groups, conducting workshops with both creative partners and the core client team in Seoul. This research was vital in the development of the design team’s understanding of the brand vision. In parallel with the conceptual study, the team was completing technical exploration into real-time graphics generation using unconventional screen formats.

Their interactive concept centered on the star, the Samsung Galaxy S8 and its traits: its materiality, its geometry and its ability to empower users. Visitors would use the smartphone to create custom forms based on the device itself, and those forms would then become an integral part of the larger experience. The strategic approach then centered on the idea that Samsung products have the power to enable users to change the world around them.

“Drawing on the unconfined design of the Galaxy S8, we conceptualized an installation where visitors create flying avatars—inspired by the fusion of nature, mathematics and technology—which as a collective appear to enjoy unconfined freedom, leaping between the architectural structures designed by Zaha Hadid Architects,” explains Mike Hughes, creative director at Universal Everything.

The installation would be a fusion of visitor-generated forms and soft-edged, curving screens that echo the geometry of the smartphone. Once that concept was fleshed out, meetings began with the leadership and expanded production team from coders and developer to fabricators and lighting designers. Each member of the team brought valuable expertise to the collaboration.

The project, while rewarding, had its challenges. The team needed to be mindful to balance the need for brand identity consistency with a desire for maximum freedom of expression for visitors. Displaying seamless video content across the curved structures the ZHA team designed, meant the team spent extra time on alignment and determining visitor sightlines.

Other hurdles included managing real-time interactive video output across seven displays, ensuring that every guest creation was unique and identifiable and retaining an intimate ambient experience for every user (despite having over 30,000 visitors in one week). “A lot of research and development goes into perfecting the concept, evolving it and fine-tuning it until the last week on location,” remarks Pyke.

The space was split into two areas doubling the original size to accommodate Samsung’s desire to expand on the original experience.  A brighter area follows the darkened, immersive experience area to display product and allow visitors to experience the functionality of the device.

In the initial darkened room, seven enormous—approximately 49-foot by 11-foot—screen forms, or “petals,” hang from the ceiling and four swooping, curved pedestals with embedded Galaxy S8 devices (outfitted with the custom visitor creation app) greet visitors and efficiently shatter the dominance of black, rectangular screens.

Messaging near the entrance reinforces the Samsung “no borders, no boundaries” brand concept, which the forms of the experience reflect in turn. As visitors draw their avatar and swipe it “off” the Galaxy S8 screen, it appears to leap onto the petals and begins moving in lifelike ways—it may even break into a soundtrack-synchronized dance.

Behind the scenes, the digital creations are processed by multiple graphics PCs, then output to synchronize across the seven displays. Universal Everything developed what they call a “collective creation” design system, which enables visitors to generate their own unique digital forms that then fly off to join the flock of previous creations. By devising and art directing and coding a set of visual rules, the team ensured every user creation would be aesthetically pleasing, as would the collective flock.

The sculptural forms create a continuous and undulating canvas that expresses seamlessness, blurs the lines of physical and digital and pulls visitors through the experience as their digital avatars soar ahead. “Samsung was confident to present the event as an artist-architect collaboration, akin to an installation in an art gallery,” says Pyke. “It was an authentic, holistic audio-visual-spatial experience in its own right.”

Every visitor became part of the collective art installation as they moved through the space, watching their creations join the flock. “It entrusted and respected the visitors to create the visual content for the experience,” says Pyke. “It would not have existed without their input.”

When the installation opened during Milan Design Week in April 2017, it instantly generated a wealth of positive PR for the client, across the design, cultural and technology press. It was also widely shared on social media channels. Younghee Lee, executive vice president of global marketing, mobile communications business at Samsung Electronics told Harper’s Bazaar: “Milan Design Week represents a unique opportunity to demonstrate the total refinement of the Galaxy S8 and S8+ amongst the brightest and best minds of the design industry.”

The installation also signifies a successful collaboration between ZHA and Universal Everything. “It was a successful cross-pollination of disciplines—a fusion of architecture, moving image, light, interaction design and sound design—that created a cohesive immersive experience,” states Hughes. 



Project Name: Unconfined: Samsung Galaxy S8 Launch installation

Client: Samsung

Location: Milan, Italy

Open Date: April 2017

Project Area: 8,611 sq ft / 800 sq m

Experiential Graphic Design: Universal Everything

Design Team: Matt Pyke, Mike Hughes (creative directors); Norra Abdul Rahim (executive producer); Greg Povey (senior producer); Carl Martin (production manager); Chris Perry (animation director); Chris Mullany (lead developer); Owen Hindley (developer); Simon Pyke (sound designer)

Architecture: Zaha Hadid Architects

Project Management: Cheil Worldwide and iris Worldwide

Fabrication: Setsquare Staging Ltd

Collaborators: Bluman Associates (digital integration), Freefarm (sound design), C3 Productions (sound installation), Event Concept (lighting), Renegade Design (lighting installation), Deathprods (UI/UX design), Ponies & Light (additional development)

Photos: James Medcraft

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