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Marcd is a hyper-multi-disciplinary design studio based out of Columbus, Ohio creating interactive environments, products, and identities in both physical and digital space.
Marcd is a hyper-multidisciplinary design studio based out of Columbus, Ohio making things both digitally and physically. We work out of our apartment at an IKEA Linnmon desk. Marcd is two people. We don't have a studio but we can meet you anywhere or you can stop by if you'd like. We each have one phone, so you can call us too. We'd love to work together on whatever you're thinking about doing with your life.

Experiential Design- History, Terms, Ideas, and Tools for Creating Effective Experiences

An emerging field known as experiential design has changed the way industries engage and interact with consumers. While principle foundations of experiential design go back to the stone age, contemporary uses stemmed from those foundations continue to grow exponentially. To better understand these uses, researchers have begun to categorize experiential design and identify the optimal methods of research collection for its use and effectiveness.

Experiential design is defined by internationally recognized design firm, B. Brilliant, as, “the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, Omni-channel journeys, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions. Experiential design tends to focus on building a temporary or permanent environment specifically for conveying a message, establishing a brand, or arousing feelings & engaging the senses” (Buford, 2017). By this definition, researchers recognize that through various forms of design disciplines, experiences are formed that make up experiential design.

Experiential designs primarily exist in the realm of five categorized modes of design. These design modes include exhibition design, environmental graphics, entertainment, marketing, and place-making

(Munro, 2015)


Exhibition Design is a hybrid of storytelling and environment. This mode is a physical design primarily used in museums and art galleries in attempt to transform a space through a public, “display of works of art or other items of interest” (Munro, 2015). For more information on Exhibition Design, check out these readings:

Exhibit Design

What is Exhibition Design

Museum Exhibition Design


Environmental Graphics are messages displayed in both a physical and digital presence that are attune to the environment in which it is displayed. The intent of this design mode is to inform users of the way in which the space can be clearly experienced. An example of this could include a venue map that has been projected onto a building’s facade. For more information on Environmental Graphics, check out these articles:

40 Great Moments in Environmental Graphic Design

What is Environmental Graphic Design?

Environmental Graphic Design- Connecting People to Places


The most recognizable form of experiential design comes in the form of entertainment. Entertainment design can have other modes of experiential design supplementing it’s success, but the overall design consists of physical events such as concerts, theme parks, and festivals. For more information on Entertainment design, check out these articles:

What is Entertainment Design

Somebody Does That?! Theme Entertainment Design


Marketing, similar to entertainment design, uses sensory experiences like light and sound to produce experiences typically for launches and new product release. For more information on Marketing design, check out these articles:

8 Experiential Marketing Campaigns That Will Give You Serious Event Envy

Agencies Everywhere see Experiential Marketing as the Next Big Thing

A Field Guide to Branded Urban Space


The final category of experiential design, place-making, is primarily made of public installations and landmarks which are usually city commissioned to define the space around a community. For more information on place-making, check out these articles:

What is Placemaking

Placemaking Principles of Design

Creative Placemaking Design


*cue history lesson*

The evolution of experiential design has its roots in basic human communication. With some of the earliest designs coming in the form of cave paintings (learn about the earliest forms of visual communication here), societies are engrained to communicate through visual environments. Today, through the the advancement of art and technology, these early experiences of immersive storytelling on cave walls can now come to us in the forms of holograms and projection mapping. This evolution in experiential design was not only caused by a natural human condition, but also by a few key designers throughout history.   

Marcin Treder, the CEO of UX Pin, has a great blog on the history of User Experience that can be found here. Some of the key influencers of experiential design are mentioned).

A pivotal moment in experiential design history came when Henry Dreyfuss, an American industrial designer, wrote “Designing for People” in 1955 (Hassenzahl, 2011). In his book, Dreyfuss emphasized the importance of a human connection in the experience of design. This book created the birth of experience design that was soon applied to product, fashion, and notably, internet browsing. While his work was primarily physical, Dreyfuss recognized that positive human factors were crucial to everything from the height of kitchen counters to the placement of automobile pedals to a book’s type size.

Experiential design isn’t limited to only certain industries

(see this Harvard Business Article for proof)

Instead of limiting experiential design to certain industries, designers in the 1950’s began adapting the concepts from Designing for People to create human-driven work everywhere– airports, subway stations, hospitals, museums, and city streets to name a few. As these principles proved successful for physical products, designers began to move from the materialism to the experientialism- proving that if user conscious products could be sold, then there was a major market for a user conscious experience.

Nor is it limited to only physical products 

In the Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction by Armin Zahirovic, Jonas, Lowgren, John M. Carroll, Marc Hassenzahl, and Thomas Erickson, the example of material vs experiential is given by Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. In the book, Charlie finds the last Golden Ticket and is now one of only five invited to visit Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. As the story goes, Charlie is promised a day full of "mystic and marvellous surprises that will entrance, delight, intrigue, astonish, and perplex beyond measure. In your wildest dreams you could not imagine that such things happen to you!"

However, as the reading points out, Charlie and his family are incredibly poor and could sell the ticket for essential items like food and firewood. Instead, he is encouraged by his family to choose the experience over the material. “He could have had a winter coat or fire wood instead of the experience, but he already knew that only the visit to the chocolate factory had the power to add some meaning to his life.” Studies prove that Charlie isn’t alone, but that experiential purchases (e.g., the a festival, concert, or trip) make people more happy than material purchases (e.g.,  shoes and electronics) of the exact same value (Boven and Gilovich 2003; Carter and Gilovich 2010).

Professor Leaf Van Boven at University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Experientialism, Materialism, and the Pursuit of Happiness  dives further into this concept with studies exploring the value of an experience in this interesting read.

Tools for Creating Effective Experiences


User Experience

While Experiential Design and Experience Design may have overlapping definitions, they are not entirely the same (proof!). This is important when deciding what your company or design needs to be effective. If your goal is to create an environment that is representative of your business and culture, you want experiential design. If instead you want to design the overall ecosystem of a business, the products you are offering, and how you offer them, experience design is what you need (thanks B.Brilliant).

According to ISO, the International Organization for Standardization, user experience is about how one feels, perceives, behaves, and responds to using a service, product of system. This feeling is relative in each individual, creating a variation in experience that also must be taken into account. Through consumer research and surveys, industries can develop an understanding of trends in audience participation that can be applied to both experience and experiential design.

While everyone wants to better understand a participant’s motivations, barriers, and outcomes that relate to their participation, it is something that hasn’t been done enough in experiential design. The way in which modern experiential design can increase audience participation has yet to be thoroughly researched because the field is still emerging as a formal practice of design (even though as mentioned in the beginning, it’s been around forever!). While most industries are beginning to shift away from traditional media work and into the experiences delivered, few recognize the opportunity to document the success in experiential design.

Documented Moments of Success:
Classical Music

At times, classical music has the misconception of being boring (or enjoyed by only an elite class). These assumptions are validated by the lack of public education around classical music. For the majority of people, Beethoven and Mozart might be the only 2 composers they know (Choi, u.d.). Without the introduction of classical music from a young age, organizations find it difficult to attract audience members later on in life.

This becomes a pervasive obstruction for classical music as organizations attempt to attract a younger audience base. Organizations willing to try experiential design tactics have seen great success in attempts to change stereotypes by modernizing the musical experience through popular collaborations and electronic technology.

For example, the Columbus Symphony saw a successful music season when they performed the popular “Star Wars” score live along with the movie (Rittmeyer, 2017). Such an innovative attempt gave audience members a fresh outlook on classical music. This form of experiential design transformed a regular performance into something modern and immersive to those familiar with Star Wars. In another example, Yoshiki Hayashi, a classical Japanese pianist, successfully used holograms to perform a duet with himself in 2014 at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. Using environmental graphics, entertainment, and place-making design strategies, this blend of classical music and emerging technology created a memorable experience attracting audience members to classical music.

Documented Moments of Success:  
Music Festival

Day for Night, an immersive art and music festival in Austin, TX, combines nearly all categories of experiential design to create an immersive experience through light and sound. As stated by the Day for Night site, “the aim of the festival is to engage attendees with art installations throughout the festival campus”.

The layout of the festival is scattered through a warehouse building that has been set up in a sort of art gallery using exhibition design. There are projected maps and other pieces of information on display for visitors that use environmental graphics to give important information attune to the environment. Being a music festival, entertainment design is evident through the diverse music selections of musical artists and DJs. Marketing itself as an experiential festival, Day for Night makes every aspect of the two-day festival immersive. This makes the festival stand out among others as truly unique and captivating, landing it in the ranks as one of the best current music festivals in the world (Day for Night, 2018).

Documented Moments of Success:
Sound Box

A commercial product that uses experience design to create a meaningful user experience is FM3's Buddha Machine, noted as the Anti-iPod by the Wall Street Journal in 2007 (Wagstaff, 2007). The Buddha Machine is produced by FM3, an experimental group from China. The machine is an electronic device loaded with nine ambient loops that are played through a small inbuilt speaker. The machine also has a button to skip through the loops, a knob to change the pitch of the playback, and its volume. In its simplistic design, it was designed with the intent to create a meditative experience. In 2007, the Buddha Machine was a success, selling over 50,000 units. This success was due to the experience between the user and the device. The Buddha Machine acted as a perfect example of a device which, "manages to transcend the cheap plastic frame in which it's encased" (Heater 2008). The technology is able to create a meaningful experience that allows consumers to interact and engage with the device in a unique way.

Method and Data Collection

As mentioned, an experience for one person may be a different experience for another.

Experiences psychologically, “emerge from the integration of perception, action, motivation, and cognition into an inseparable, meaningful whole”

(Hassenzahl, 2011).
In order to collect data on the user experience and strengthen the use of experiential design, industries must understand various methods of data collection. In Measuring Cultural Engagement: A Quest for New Terms, Tools, and Techniques, a summary of a Joint Research Symposium titled “Measuring Cultural Engagement amid Confounding Variables: A Reality Check”, critical efforts were made to try to better understand methods in tracking audience participation in the arts. These efforts of tracking audience participation, done to keep industries relevant and “shareable”, were found to be difficult due to the  constantly changing media outlets and audience demographics. In the symposium, the researchers concluded that one of the most useful tools for industries to gage success was through internet data collection (simple email surveys). This method provides easy-to-collect data at low costs, with nearly instantaneous results. Unlike previous mail-in or physical in person surveys, email polls and other methods provide opportunities for all organizations to send out questions and get feedback.

If you’re scrolling to the bottom to see when this article will end. . . here’s the key things you need to know.

  • Experiential designs can be categorized into five modes of design: exhibition design, environmental graphics, entertainment, marketing, and place-making.

  • The evolution of experiential design has its roots in basic human communication- with some of the earliest designs coming in the form of cave paintings.

  • Henry Dreyfuss was an American industrial designer who emphasized the importance of a human connection in designing for people.

  • Experiential purchases make people more happy than material purchases.

  • Experiential Design and Experience Design are two different things.

  • The way in which modern experiential design can increase audience participation has yet to be thoroughly researched because the field is still emerging as a formal practice of design.

  • A useful tool to gage success is through the use of email surveys!


TLDR: Experiential Design is really important.


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Written by: Jake Pfahl & Malu Marzarotto