4 Secrets for Developing and Deploying Outstanding Nontraditional Displays

Developing and Deploying Outstanding Nontraditional Displays

P.T. Barnum knew the power of the unexpected. He realized that when you deliver unexpected experiences – in his case, oddities – your audience will have feelings of wonder, curiosity, and joy. Today, creative teams are harnessing this same approach and serving up an elevated sense of fanfare by engaging viewers with nontraditional display canvases.

Essentially, a nontraditional display canvas is any creative vehicle that falls outside traditional displays such as print ads, billboards, or television commercials. Think LED walls with cutouts for windows or doors that are installed in corporate lobbies. If a display combines technology, artistry, and engineering, it’s probably going to fall into the category of a nontraditional display canvas.

Nontraditional displays can draw a ton of attention because they’re unique and seldom “seen in the wild.” At the same time, they’re very complicated. Attempting to create a nontraditional display with off-the-shelf content rarely works – neither does applying the same creative deployment road map used for traditional display types.

So, the question then is, what does work? How do you create a nontraditional display? Below are some key tips for doing just that:

Ensure Creative Is Never an Afterthought to the Technical

When considering nontraditional canvases, there are two aspects to keep in mind. The first is the architectural design, which is essentially how the creative content is applied to the physical canvas. The second is the creative content that’s going to be displayed. Both of these elements belong in the first steps of the planning phases. Otherwise, the form and function of the nontraditional display installation won’t come together.

For example, when planning for a new nontraditional display canvas build, you don’t want to only talk about technology, lighting, and related components. You should discuss the storytelling that’s involved, too. Having a thorough content plan ahead of time will make a difference in the outcome and quality of the nontraditional display canvas.

Make Collaboration the Name of the Game

From the very beginning, bring all stakeholders together to explore, expand, and brainstorm the vision for your nontraditional display. The artists on your team can visualize what it could look like and cast the vision. The technicians can talk about ways to ensure the display has a compelling physical presence and, if desired, leverages real-world data.

Collaborating at the start allows everyone’s voice to be heard, which can help identify potential problems before they manifest. Case in point: Can your display wall support the weight of what you’re hoping to accomplish? Does it need reinforcement? Are you able to core the wall for a recessed look, or would it be better to build it out? These types of questions will arise. Having experts in the room helps answer them. Another advantage to having multiple viewpoints is that you can start to pull together a more realistic timeline and responsibility chart, which will help guide the creative process and keep everyone on track.

Look for Inspiration to Guide Your Ideas

It can be hard to know how to envision your nontraditional display canvas. Certainly, you don’t want to incur negative experiences for either consumers or your internal team members. One way to avoid this issue is to learn all you can about other nontraditional displays and use them as springboards for your own brainstorming sessions. Study the displays you admire to understand how they work and how you can do something similar.

A great place to start your investigation is by checking out the displays and their content, like this LG one in Times Square or the displays created for the White Castle lobby. In both cases, the content is designed to trick the eye into seeing texture and depth; and both rely heavily on a multimedia mix. Another inspiring work can be found in Leviathan’s data-powered pillars in Chicago. The pillars move through randomized color cues at a mesmerizing cadence that, at times, has no rhyme or reason while, at other times, is driven by external data sources. They’re modern mosaics built to both disguise the mundane and amplify the artistry of the space.

Aim for Broad Simplicity Peppered with Magical Moments

It’s tempting to try to do too much, especially when you’re creating a nontraditional display canvas from the ground up. The key is not to overthink. You can pull out some incredibly dynamic display effects using nothing more than basic lighting tricks. With the right combination of tried-and-true elements, you can make sure the display in your lobby, atrium, cafeteria, boardroom, Zoom backdrop, etc., is high impact without being high maintenance.

Certainly, fold a bit of complexity into the recipe. You might want to use candy graphics or nonstock assets occasionally. Just be sure that you don’t bite off more than you can chew or your audience can take in. After all, humans can only focus their attention for about 8.25 seconds.

The ever-evolving technology landscape and interconnectivity between devices have opened the door for creatives to explore more nontraditional display types. If you want to freshen up your creative output, don’t be afraid to go the unconventional route. Done well, it can net your brand credibility, recognition, and buzz.


  • Scott Schoeneberger

    Scott Schoeneberger is the managing partner at Bluewater, a design-forward technology company that helps support sensory storytelling across digital and physical canvases. Specializing in integration and event tech services, Bluewater creates experiential moments for brands, their projects and events.

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