All brands love a big screen. Or a piece of architecture, towering magnificently above a crowd, a showcase for your products and content. But extraordinary experiences are not always about scale. Instead of just focusing on the big stuff – important as it undoubtedly is – I propose that we should also be asking ourselves ‘what is the smallest thing we could do to make this experience better?’
‘Small’ is bottom-up, not top-down. ‘Small’ is to design an experience with a real person in mind. Small is to delight in the details and the intimate quality of an interaction, to depart from renders and imagined headlines, to attend to the minutiae of a brand experience – to create the micromoments that become the stories we share and savour.
Small is beautiful! But this level of attention is sometimes a casualty of a lack of care, or a lack of time; failing to think small is to create a spectacle that never crosses over into an experience, a grand visage that ultimately feels empty or hollow. But if you think small, you make things ‘happen’ to people.
Invent the extra touchpoint
One of my favourite examples is Disney’s ‘Popsicle Hotline’ at its LA-based ‘Magic Castle’ hotel. If you’re spending a day by the pool, kids can pick up the bright red phone to hear someone answer – ‘Popsicle Hotline, how may I help you?’ You can then order popsicles galore, free of charge, served up on a silver platter. The hotel itself looks fine - albeit in need of a bit of a revamp – but it’s rated 3rd out of 357 hotels in LA on TripAdvisor. The disproportionately high ratings are because of ‘peaks’ like this that become the-thing-that-you-tell-your-friends-at-home-about – that extra step, that extra indication of care, that defines this hotel as an unusual experience.
Create a sense of invisible care
This example, dizzying in its attentiveness and skill, took place at Heston Blumenthal’s experimental restaurant ‘The Fat Duck’. A friend visited for a do, and returned waxing lyrical about the food and also the remarkable attentiveness of the waiters. They had noticed that my friend was left-handed, and had swapped his knife and fork around to accommodate him – without him even noticing. It was the molecularly-spliced cherry on his evaporated cake. This was true service – embodied in the most minute of touches.
Bring people to their senses
I was once traversing the strange and arid dystopia that is the modern tradeshow when I had an out-of-body experience. Fatigued at the end of a day’s wanderings, oversaturated by sight, size and sound, my spirit left my physical form. I hovered above the crowds, and began to fear that I was doomed to haunt the carpeted aisles for all eternity. Until, that is, a woman dressed in flowing Chinese robes materialized in front of me and offered me a shot of some Chinese spirit. My hand gripped the wooden cup. The liquor burned my throat. I snapped back into my body. If it weren’t for the attention-grabbing tactics of that Chinese handset manufacturer I do not know if I would be here today. Our attention is finite; we are drained by protracted stimulation; lulls need to be designed into the experience journey. Break people out of their bubble. Press the reset button. Create a sensation!
Give ‘em the ol’ one-two
The shape and form of every space, and the experience of moving through it, communicates its own implicit message. A large, impressive statement can say much about the confidence and capabilities of a brand - but if it doesn’t follow up by communicating at a human scale, it can leave the individual feeling lost. The Ericsson experience at MWC is vast in scale (covering a massive 6,500 square metres) and communicates on a human scale throughout. This year, four ‘gateways’ led guests from a bold central path (itself 30m long) into distinctive product and demo areas. Each gateway housed a live, real-time interaction that used motion sensors to respond to guests’ movement. A range of bespoke animations transformed guests into a flock of connected particles, accelerating bursts of light, and more - inviting guests to pause, interact, and get a ‘feel’ for each customer-centric space. This blending of scales - big, bold, directive vistas, followed up by more personal and impactful moments, created a confident experience that was empowering without being overwhelming.
Back off and do nothing
I was once going through the guest feedback for a particular event when I came across this golden nugget: ‘all the best conversations happen in the corridors’ (I’ve since learned they pinched this quote from Steve Jobs, but am happy to forgive them). This became a key insight for the next iteration. Rather than throwing more content at something, sometimes the ‘smallest’ thing you can do is to stop shoving things down people’s throats and give them the space they need to create moments of their own. So clear the space to breathe – and design serendipity and chance encounters into the experience.
The capacity of small thinking is potentially limitless. It is borne of care and creativity; it disrupts expectations, habits and routine. Small moments are moments that ‘happen’ to people; they are the creators of extraordinary experiences and through this, memories and stories. So don’t just think big. Shrink your mind. Think small!
Lewis Robbins is senior creative associate at Jack Morton Worldwide