How to Deliver Emotion-Packed, Tailored Experiences Through Design

It needs to go past being simply visually appealing

Directly targeting consumers in events will yield more engagement. Getty Images
Headshot of Bruce Mau

As a discipline, design has an identity challenge. To begin with, there’s quite a bit of confusion about what design actually is and what it can accomplish. In the most elemental sense, design is about creating outcomes. It’s no longer just about how things look and feel; it’s about how things work.

Take the world of brand experiences. The desired outcomes are audience engagement, relevance, emotional connection and, of course, action. Our job as marketers is to plan and design a path to those outcomes using the tools at our disposal: data, strategy, creativity and innovation.

Design matters now more than ever. Audience appetites for more personal, intimate experiences have grown, and technology has given us a greater ability to be thoughtful about how we design those experiences. From conception to completion, our design principles will drive future innovation and determine how brand experiences evolve in the coming year.


As an industry, we need to reimagine the way we kick off the design process. For far too long, the discovery phase has been an insular, private process that takes place within a designer’s head and on a screen, hidden from clients or colleagues who could (and should) be taking part in this phase.

As a guest, the last thing I want to be doing is work. I want to be entertained and dazzled.

Articulating and synthesizing insights is a methodology that empowers designers to put every thought and observation on a wall of sticky notes and gives everyone a bird’s-eye view of the problem they are trying to solve. This is a collaborative approach to making connections between ideas and uncovering new opportunities. When an aha moment strikes, every piece of the puzzle that led to it is exposed, visible and repeatable.

The ability to synthesize a moment of brilliance, no matter how seemingly random, can help us to design more thoughtfully.

Engage the senses

Live experiences have an innate advantage over any other media: the potential to engage the five senses and intensify interactions to make them more meaningful and memorable. With screens, we only get sight and sound.

In the competition between real and virtual experience, real wins hands-down. The average phone camera delivers an eight-megapixel image, but the human eye sees experiences in high resolution, at 576 megapixels. Home theaters generate sound at 150 watts while a convention arena delivers in the range of 4,000 to 150,000 watts. And when it comes to touch, taste and smell, there’s just no virtual alternative to live experience.

To leverage the advantages of live experiences and elevate their impact on audiences, we need to design for all the senses.


Making a brand experience functional is 90 percent of our job, but the best designers in the world are the ones that go that extra 10 percent. They don’t just make a brand experience functional, they make it personal. They make it easy.

Personalization is the driving force of “easy.” Data and analytics unlock insights that allow us to give users the power to tailor their experiences, in real time, to be as close to perfect as possible.

As a guest, the last thing I want to be doing is work. I want to be entertained and dazzled. I don’t want a show that meets me halfway—I want a show that comes to me, wherever I’m standing, and sweeps me away. Technology makes it easier for us to give guests that level of personalization.

At the end of the day, we are designing an experience for an audience of one. Each attendee should feel like they have been personally invited to spend time with a brand that wants to make an intimate, lasting connection with them. They should feel like someone has put thought into how this experience will shape them and resonate with them.

A brand experience has many moving parts, and they all come together after months of planning. We have to consider each part and every moment as an opportunity to enhance that experience and make it more authentic, beguiling, immersive, beautiful and meaningful.

Brands hire us because they want us to help them deliver a feeling. After all, emotion is the endgame of branding. We are investing in a future resonance that can be a very powerful tool.

Thoughtful design is the best way to accomplish that.

Bruce Mau is chief design officer of Freeman and co-founder of Massive Change Network.