Raw & Honest: Joanne Harik on navigating the world of experiential design and connecting with audiences.

We spoke to Hirsch & Mann’s Creative Director about seamlessness in design, how experiential is changing, and the importance of evoking emotions in branding.

Can you explain what experiential design is?


Experiential design is the creation of experiences in the tangible world. It can bridge the gap between the physical and digital, sometimes referred to as "phygital" design. In simple terms, it's the design of interactive, multi-sensory experiences. You can find experiential design in exhibition spaces, cultural institutions, public activations, pop-ups, and retail environments. It's about creating playful, memorable experiences that blend product design, software, and electronics.


Has experiential design become more important over the years?


Absolutely. While people can connect with brands through billboards or digital content, immersing them in an experience is a different level of engagement. For instance, when brands launch products, they want customers to connect deeply with them. Experiential design allows for that deeper connection, whether it's functional and / or emotional.

Multicolored Generative Artwork for H&M by Hirsch & Mann, Photographed by Jonathan Taylor.

Can you describe your creative process and how you collaborate with others to bring your ideas to life?


My creative process spans the entire timeline of a project, from brainstorming and ideation to production and installation. I'm heavily involved in the earlier stages, and as we progress towards design for production, I work at a more macro level: I collaborate with a wider team of creatives and engineers to execute various elements of a project. My role is to have a holistic overview of the creative, ensuring that everything promised to the client is delivered. I'm lucky to be part of a tightly knit group at Hirsch & Mann, and we lean on each other's expertise to ensure our projects are executed in the best possible way.


How do you work with external partners?


I collaborate extensively with a broader network of talented animators, engineers, production partners and manufacturers which we hire on a project basis when required. Working with such a diverse group has enabled me to fine-tune my approach with each type of individual and iterate the structure of my process over time. It's a continuous learning journey for me, but being exposed to various skills provides invaluable insights.


Joanne, during your seven years at Hirsch & Mann, you've worked with a diverse range of clients. How do you adapt your approach depending on the client?


You know, every client is unique. Some come to us with a clear vision, while others might just say, "Hey, I saw this cool thing you did, can we do something like that?" No matter the situation, we always start by diving deep into what the client really wants. We dissect the brief, if there's one, and ask a ton of questions. It's all about understanding how it all connects to their target audience and their needs. And part of my gig as a creative director? Guiding clients, giving them advice, and steering them towards the best decisions for their project.

Multicolored Generative Artwork for H&M by Hirsch & Mann

You've mentioned being direct and sometimes even blunt in your communication. How does that play out in your role?


Oh, absolutely. I'm super passionate about what I do, and I won't beat around the bush. If I believe in something, I'll push for it, even if it means ruffling a few feathers. Sometimes, you've got to stand your ground, especially if you know it's right for the project.


Joanne, how has your background in graphic design influenced your current work?


My graphic design roots are everywhere in my work. From preparing presentations to working with typography and colours, it's all there. It even affects how I collaborate with freelancers, like animators or photographers. But the biggest takeaway? My graphic design background has shaped my taste and style. No matter how my projects have evolved, concept and functionality always drive aesthetics. I aim for rawness and honesty in everything I do.


How do you leverage technology in your designs?


At Hirsch & Mann, we aim to create stimulating experiences for brands. While technology doesn't drive my ideas, it's a medium that can enhance the user experience. It's not always about having overt technology; sometimes, a subtle touch can create a moment of surprise and delight. For instance, an artwork that reacts to passersby, leaving a temporary trail, can create a beautiful connection between the person and the artwork.

mutable futures Sculptures for H&M by Hirsch & Mann, Photographed by Jonathan Taylor

Can you give an example of a project you've worked on recently?


A few months ago, we worked on a project for H&M's flagship store in Regent Street. We installed a huge LED wall, and we wanted to treat it as an extension of the architecture instead of a mere screen. So we created a generative artwork that reacts to people on the escalator, leaving a trail on the artwork. It's a discreet interaction, but if someone notices, it creates a memorable connection.


It sounds like you want your work to evoke emotions. Can you elaborate on that?


Absolutely. I want people to feel something when they engage with our work. It could be excitement, happiness, shock, or even outrage. It's all about making an impact. But it's a balance, right? You want seamlessness, but not so much that it goes unnoticed.


Can you share a project or experience that solidified your passion for design?


Oh, that takes me back to my bachelor's graduation project. It was a multimedia campaign that raised awareness about migrant domestic workers' rights in Lebanon. The project highlighted the inhumane and sometimes racist behaviours they face. I reached out to NGOs and the workers' communities, collecting both quantitative and qualitative data. The final visuals were informative, raw and shocking, showcasing the physical and psychological pain these women endure. It was a heavy and taboo topic, but the campaign made an impact. 

How do you stay updated with the latest trends in technology and experiential design?


I won't lie; I don't always chase the latest trends. But when I make time for it, I do some reading, attend exhibitions, and listen to talks. Having a tech-savvy dad helps too! He's always showing me the latest tech products in the market. As for experiential design, I don’t usually find inspiration in the obvious places. But every now and then, it’s good to look at what our peers and our clients' competitors are doing, to understand the landscape.


Lastly, any advice for budding designers?


Dive in and have fun! Trust your gut instinct. When I first started, I used to overthink every design decision, trying to solve all problems upfront. And I produced some of my favourite projects when I was in an ‘unhealthy relationship’ with the design process - leading me to think that no great outcome happens without sleepless nights, sweat and tears. But I've learned to take a step back, and realise that the process doesn't have to be painful for the outcome to be great. It's about taking control of the design process, not letting it consume you.


Thanks Joanne!




Joanne Harik

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