Wednesday Live: The Power of the Visual Message

For this week’s Wednesday Live, we had Gary Porter from Elemental Design in The Attic. With an enviable client list, Gary spoke to us about how he uses visual message and visual communication in designing shop windows and displays, and how he creates a world of fantasy and perfection behind a pane of glass. “A pane of glass is what separates a grubby road to a world of perfection” explained Porter.

Elemental Design comes in at the point where the customer and the brand meet. The store allows the customer to touch the brand in a way they cannot from adverts or online. The window is the silent salesperson that inspires, impacts and informs; it is like the cover of a magazine as you have very little time to grab the passer-by and get them inside the store, or buy the magazine. You need to make a big impression – quick. The key, it seems, is an emotional connection: “if you strip everything away from a brand, you are left with a story at its essence”. It is this story that Gary tells with his window campaigns.

One case study is the Cambridge Satchel Company, who wanted to create a cool, urban men’s boutique in their Covent Garden store. Gary achieved this in three short weeks pulling together mood-boards and colour schemes, taking inspiration from the library as an intellectual space with books, busts and “rhythm”. Gary scoured South London markets to collect knick-knacks for the space to draw people in, and created a dynamic store that told the story of the Cambridge Satchel Company through the intellectual, animated, library-like boutique.

A frequent request from the clients is an interactive experience, whether that is through social media or audience participation. A Viktor and Rolf experience space succeeded in the mission to drive social media interest through a beautiful floral space that sparked social media images going viral. In a store window display at Harrods, the Elemental team created a different type of interactive experience through high-tech. The brand was Zegna, who had the whole shop front of Harrods, and for one of the windows a computer model of one of their shoes was created by taking a picture of it from every angle. The model was then placed on an image bought by NASA, and infrared lasers were used to detect the movement of those who were in front of the window. The sensors would read the movement, and mirror this onto how the shoe moved in the window, creating an animated, innovative window space.

As you can imagine, to create these campaigns many qualities and skills are utilised in these multi-media spaces. To be a successful commercial artist, you must be a conglomerate of creative elements: part-graphic designer, part-stylist, part-curator, part-interior designer, part-story teller. The campaigns that Gary discussed oozed success and cool, but could the broad spectrum of skills needed to make these windows be brought into new sectors of business? Perhaps we should all take Gary’s lead and figure out how we can bring strengths from areas outside of our work into our own personal work.

After Gary’s talk, there was discussion about how his work in window displays could translate into big business. Is there space for the visuals of retail in the world of law? This returned us to the discussion of what happens if you strip everything away from a brand: you are left with a story. The story of a brand is the essence of a business, and using elements from Elemental Design, it could be suggested that emphasising a business’ story creates that emotional connection so quintessential to Gary’s work. The story of business told through the power of the visual message.