Staging a Fantasy: Print’s Role in Window Displays
For brands with brick-and-mortar locations, window displays are a powerful tool for capturing consumer attention, and convincing them to come inside and interact with the brand. They run the gamut from simple graphics and logos, to elaborate displays that incorporate print, fabrication, and even high-tech elements.
With all those elements in play, how important a role does print have in the process these days? The answer: a lot. “Window displays can reach a wider audience than the targeted marketing, sort of like car wrapping,” says Hiroshi Kumagai, the founder of Brooklyn, New York-based Full Point Graphics. “You never know who will see it and react to it. Well-designed large-format prints can attract your attention from afar. It can turn unused window space into interesting artwork, billboards, POS, etc. And print can do it overnight.”
That is a sentiment that is echoed by Jeff Shumaker, COO of Direct Edge Media, headquartered in Anaheim, California. He notes, “Print is integral in everything that we see advertising-wise. The diversity of substrates and ability of the presses to facilitate so many different looks and feels has really transcended what used to exist in that market. It has allowed us to create so much more.”
That said, print — which was once the only real medium brands could use to help convey a message in their windows — is now only one part of the equation. And it needs to integrate seamlessly with every other element to bring a vision to life.
“In general, print plays an important role in almost every application of a window program,” notes Brian Hite, principal and co-founder of Image Options, based in Foothill Ranch, California. “For many of the luxury brands we deal with, fabrication is a large part of the displays. So building things, whether it’s putting acrylic domes together to make giant snow globes, or creating the fixtures and fittings that support product, it might have nothing to do with print, but print is part of the application. For example, we put up walls that are entirely printed in combination with signage associated with the products, from banners to high-grade pieces that go in the displays. If you had asked 10 years ago, I would say print is predominant with window clings, banners, and other graphics, but now it has become a little more artistic in nature, where we’re creating an experience for shoppers.”
“In the last five years, we’ve seen a trend toward more fabric,” says Dan Hirt, president of Cypress, California-based Primary Color. “Now we’re doing more dimensional work, and people are enjoying the 3D displays. Those are more interesting than just a flat poster or piece of fabric on SEG frame. Typically, [brands] want to go with something more interactive, maybe even an Instagram moment.”
Overcoming the Challenges
Given how varied today’s window displays can be, printers offering this service must be prepared to create everything from wallcoverings, to banners, to window clings, to vinyl wraps for all types of dimensional objects, as well as fabricating 3D elements, or incorporating technology such as a monitor, touchscreens, QR codes, or other interactive elements. With that in mind, there are unique challenges to
keep in mind if you want to succeed in this space.
1. Measurements are critical
This is especially true when creating displays for multiple locations, and the brand wants them to be identical, or as close to identical as possible. Every store will have different sizes of windows, different square footage to work with, and different restrictions to keep in mind. Knowing the exact dimensions of every space the display needs to fit into will help tailor the graphics and elements precisely, and help cut down on wasted materials that can’t be used in a given location.
“Especially in a situation where it’s a new customer, and they have not done site surveys or measurements, but they’re trying to put the same thing in every space,” says Hite. “Just the challenges around conducting surveys and measurements of 800 stores across the United States, in small towns, in big towns. The costs to send someone to each location to measure and document photographically these spaces, even number of fixtures, [can be a lot.] Our role is to reduce the amount of waste by auditing the stores and making sure if we’re sending 20 graphics for 20 signs, there are actually 20 signs to put them in.”
2. Communication is critical
For most brands, knowledge of print and displays is minimal, at best. They don’t know — or care — how a display comes to life, only that the end result is a reflection of the vision they had for the space and meets the objectives they have for the installation. That means understanding the vision and knowing what questions to ask along the way can make or break a project.
“It’s the concept versus the actual display,” says Shumaker. “I think it’s the ability for someone to communicate what it is they have in their mind that they want to create, and for us to interpret that into media and layers to project what it is they are envisioning. You develop that with the client as you develop the relationship. You come to understand what their vision is and get comfortable with the different media based on what they’re trying to do. And because we have been doing this for so long, and have become such experts in the field, we know where to take them to help create anything they are envisioning and give them options.”
3. The concept is critical
It’s not just the brands coming up with a vision for the display either. More and more, brands are relying on their partners — including their print providers — to bring unique and innovative ideas to them based on your in-depth knowledge of the various mediums and substrates, and how to use them to create new experiences.
“I would say the biggest challenge we face is that we are typically required to spend some time coming up with a creative solution on the spec for the customer,” notes Hirt. “Before we can even price it, it becomes a bit of an investment we have to make, not knowing if we’ll get the job or not.” He continues, “We’ve found tremendous success [with that approach]. We have a great creative team, and when we do get involved in a creative shootout, investing time and money to come up with a cool design for a 3D display, we typically end up being looked upon favorably to get the project. There is not as much bidding out because we’re the ones that came up with the ideas.”
4. Design is critical
When it comes to window displays, brands have to convey a lot of information in a very short amount of time, in limited space. Knowing how to use every element for maximum impact and advantage, and how to covey the most amount of information in the least amount of space is the difference between a window display that goes viral on social media, and one that barely gets a second look.
“[It’s a challenge] how to keep the information at a minimum,” notes Kumagai. “You tend to put too much information on the display, but less is more. People are walking by (often their face glued to their smartphone), so you need to grab their attention.”
Tips for Getting Started
If all of this has made you eager to get out and start talking to local retail locations about helping them transform their windows and displays to really capture consumer attention, one of the tips that all the experts stressed is beginning with what you know best.
“Focus on products you’re good at producing, whether its window films, or banners, or wallcoverings — pick your lane, and stay in that lane, and market to companies that use those services,” says Hite. “That’s really key for someone just trying to get into it.”
Another tip that many of the experts stressed was hiring the right team to embark on this project. Just because someone is great at designing banners, or signage on its own doesn’t mean they’ll be great at putting together displays, which need to be cohesive across every single element and medium. “Hire a good designer,” says Kumagai. “Just because you can use Photoshop and Illustrator, it doesn’t mean you should design it. A Japanese proverb says, ‘Leave the baking to a baker.’”
Hirt notes that keeping the pieces simple enough that they can be installed by anyone is another key element to finding success in this space. He notes, “That’s what most people don’t think about, and then the installation cost is higher than producing the display — we have made that mistake before. You have to make it in panels that are easily accessible. You can build a beautiful display but putting it into place can be a huge problem.”
Finally, Shumaker encourages shops to think beyond the types of print they’re used to creating — once they have a good handle on the basics, of course. “Push yourself to create things that haven’t been seen before,” he notes. “Layer technologies and media; there are so many good products out there, and technology has come so far in what we can put on media now — you are only limited by your imagination.”
Toni McQuilken is the senior editor for the printing and packaging group.