The Art of Multidimensional Experience Design Across Cultures

Recently Little Black Book (LBB) sat down in an interview with George P. Johnson’s SVP, Head of Creative EMEA, Jorge Narváez-Arango. Jorge charts his impressive career history, dives into the importance of brand playbooks and shares where he believes experience design is heading.

Jorge is an award-winning designer and creative director focused on the sensations, feelings, cognitions, and behavioural responses evoked by brand-related stimuli and experiences. At GPJ, he is responsible for creative excellence, design, unification and growth across the company’s creative teams in Europe, Middle East, and India. 

A trained architect, Jorge is focused on brand experience design across various touchpoints, including experience design, immersive media, digital media design, packaging, collateral design, product, and environmental design.

LBB> Briefly tell us about your career history and how you got into experience design?

Jorge> Experience design is an incredible field of marketing and advertising, where you’re able to bring everybody together to connect in a shared environment that becomes incredibly memorable – way more than any screen advertising can be. But I didn’t necessarily set out to work in this field.

I’m a trained architect and used to work on high rise buildings in California and the States. Then I decided it would be cool to be able to infuse more technology into it and make it more efficient. At that point, I decided I should complement architecture bricks and mortar with a little bit of digital media and technology. So I went to Harvard and got a degree in digital design and media, with the intent to apply it into architecture. 

That gave me really good exposure to some great architects and then eventually a branding and advertising firm from New York. They were creating a massive experience in Singapore and needed an architect to come into this advertising agency to translate the language of an architect and be that bridge. Working there blew my mind, to see how you can start to combine brands and architecture and start to tell stories and bring people together.

Soon I went to work for Bruce Mau Design in Toronto, which is another great branding firm but wanted to do something more experiential. And that’s when George P. Johnson called. 

LBB> And what’s your role at GPJ?

Jorge> This job has been all about how to infuse life into events. How to rebrand or restructure experiences. My role right now is to try to unify the different individual offices we have in EMEA under one leadership and put the right people in place. It’s more organisational, but I do get to do what I love, which is jump in, design, and come up with a journey. To me, it’s about creating worlds that people want to be part of. We live in one big world, but inside that big world, there’s many other little ones that you can inhabit. 

LBB> Looking over your career, what would you pick out as your top three highlights so far and why?

Jorge> I had the opportunity to work in the Gucci museum in Florence where I set up the whole storytelling journey throughout that space. 

Another iconic experience was with Fontainebleau Miami which was a pyramid of hotels that rebranded to come back with a bang.

2019 Dreamforce was an amazing experience too, just the size and scale of it with 170,000 people visiting. You have an idea in your mind and then you sketch it, you build it up and then all of a sudden you have thousands of people walking through it. Those are the projects that I love. 

In between, there have been many different things – branding projects as well as identity projects – that I really liked. I am very blessed to be able to work across many different regions and understand that when you create experiences you want to really understand the culture, you want to understand what moves people and what inspires them. Like when you do something in Germany, it should be different from the Middle East. 

LBB> In your professional opinion, what makes great experience design? 

Jorge> I think you start with the senses. A good creative director of experiences is multidimensional in essence. People learn by playing, by touching. That’s what makes experiential a really powerful tool. So as the creative director of experiences, I think it’s very important that you’re aware of how humans input data through all different senses. 

It’s the ability to pay attention to all the details and how they all come together to form part of a bigger ecosystem. The ability to coordinate the input on human senses and do it in a way that vibes with that brand in the right way is when you know you can achieve something really cool.

LBB> How can a brand ensure that global experiences are consistent and feel aligned to the brand overall? 

Jorge> You have to be true to the brand to a certain degree, and then it becomes a formula. I worked with Starbucks before when I was an undergrad and they said 70% of the brand remains true across locations but then around 30% is localised to suit different markets. We are doing playbooks and rule books that I like to continue to use but it all depends on how interesting the culture is. If you can be true to the brand and then infuse it with localisation from artists, music, food, then it starts to become real – just like how a regular person would go into another culture and would adopt that culture. If I go to the Middle East, there are certain things that I would try to infuse. I remain true to my own personality, but adapt to the behaviours of those great regions and cultures. As long as you understand what the personality of the brand is and the way it expresses itself, you can be a little creative around it. 

LBB> What challenges or stumbling blocks do you see brands going through when they are trying to combine their global experience? 

Jorge> A lot of brands have the playbook of who they are but the regional locations run away with who they want to be. At that point, you have a disjointed, multiple personality disorder within the brand. So the ability to coordinate across cultures is one of the biggest challenges.

I think that’s my biggest pet peeve, trying to make sure we align. A lot of the things that we do as an agency for our clients, is to help them run more streamlined. We help them organise things that otherwise would be impossible for them because that’s not their core expertise. That’s one of our strengths at GPJ, is the ability to help make a brand look good everywhere that we go. 

The next thing that I want to continue to do is to keep telling good stories for our clients and helping them tell better stories. Since childhood, we are predisposed to stories. Even through history, that’s how we educated people. It’s important to infuse storytelling into experiences. Sometimes it’s hard to get that across but it’s pretty simple really. Let’s immerse somebody in a beautiful story and then you come up with the learning. The learning is that you love this brand or you believe they are doing something great for the world or that their product is going to be amazing.

LBB> How do you see brand experience developing this year and beyond?

Jorge> We have new tools and these tools will enable us to be more powerful in the way that we tell the story. Being in digital media and technology, I really love how fast it is progressing. Artificial Intelligence is going to be a very powerful tool for us. It’s not replacing things, but it’s making us see things in different ways, kind of like the paintbrush was for the painter.

It’s really exciting to see the possibilities that AI is going to infuse from the creation of content. I don’t think it will replace human beings – at the end of the day, you’re still a creative director with a really cool tool that allows you to maybe ideate but you still have to execute it.

I love experience because it’s this one field of creativity where you can bring a tonne of things together; film, sound design, architecture. This is a playground to do all the things that you can and if you have the right patron behind that who understands the strength of this marketing, it becomes really incredible. Because that’s the world we live in. We’re physical beings. Even though I love virtual reality, and I’ve been an advocate for it, there’s nothing like experiencing in person.