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How did you first become interested in experiential design? After a childhood visit to Epcot, I’ve had a life-long mission to make live films. I still don't fully know what that means, but the way everything is coalescing these days, it seems I’m on track to find out. After just coming back from the Chattanooga Hills, Georgia, electronic music festival TomorrowWorld, I see where the field is heading: fully immersive experiences that have a narrative component.

Finally, I have to credit the film festival RESFEST, where I got my start producing large-scale events. Though RESFEST is now defunct, it was really ahead of the game in branded experiences.

What do you wish you had known before launching your companies? I wish I’d sooner used my left brain to counterbalance my extremely right-brained mode of being and producing. Spending the money on someone who would ultimately save the companies money through better financial practice, accounting and business planning likely would have been a great help and allowed me to focus on the creative big picture rather than having to do it all myself.

How is your job different now that SFX has acquired your companies and you’re a creative director? The biggest adjustment is layers of approval. I’ve been a creative director for some eight years now. However, before, I was the final say. If the client had a problem, that problem came directly to me. Now there are layers and layers of approval and red tape; what once took a day now takes a week. I’ve always taken pride in my company’s ability to deliver at a rapid pace and a high level of quality, and it’s been difficult to get used to this new pace of hurry up and wait, taken to the extreme. We are actively resolving this and finding ways to optimize the layers.

What has been your favorite project to date? #FEED powered by Twitter in 2013, a ten-day community experience at SXSW with music, yoga and an interactive digital display of tweets. It was the culmination of a vision that was ahead of its time, done with supreme care and quality with results that speak for themselves. The combination of concept, artistry, execution, music booking, environment and vibe all just aligned beautifully. Despite how the sausage was made, or the amount of money I lost due to being burned by a sponsorship deal, it’s still my favorite.

You helped make the bowling alley, restaurant and music venue Brooklyn Bowl one of the most searched keywords in the metro area. How did you do it? How did design contribute to that? So many factors lead to this, mainly the time and place. It was 2007, just after Twitter had popped up at SXSW, when I first started building out the marketing strategy, which was to be the first-ever social media-centric live music venue. Tristam Steinberg’s incredible interiors and our brand identity design certainly played a huge role in this—as well as the band bookings, the level of customer service, the fried chicken, the bowling, the private parties we held before opening, and on and on. There are so many factors to BB’s success, I’d be silly to take too much of the responsibility here, but I’ll happily take some of it.

What exciting trends do you see in experiential design? Costs rapidly decreasing with processing power rapidly increasing is leading to incredible innovations. What took a server farm forever ten years ago can now be done in real-time on a laptop. When someone nails the immersive theatrics of British theater company Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More with interactive technological innovations—that’s when I’ll be incredibly excited. Maybe it will be us?

What should all designers know about social media? That every channel has a unique approach. What works on Twitter doesn’t necessarily work on Facebook, yet social media is becoming fairly homogenous, so this is rapidly changing as well. Like any good design, you need to be able to whittle down the work to a place where there is nothing left to add, and nothing left to take away. How many simultaneous layers of meaning can you convey in as small a space as possible? Oh, and use kittens.

How do you hope to “redefine the relationship between art and technology,” as you say in your online bio? One is often perceived as a means of expressing truth, while the other is seen more as a tool. But I’m not going to tell you which is which. At the end of the day, it is my mission to find ways to remind audiences that we are all one interconnected organism. Art and technology, especially when combined, are the fastest means of achieving this mission.

How can technology and design work together to reveal human connections? Light, sound and vibration are all fantastic tools that transcend the everydayness of human life. When combined in the right ways, at the right times, with the right people, they can remind us all who we really are: each other. The internet itself is a great example of this. On one level, the web is a reflection of consciousness increasingly trying to be aware of itself. The best art is a mirror upon which we can project our realities and find and evolve meanings, both individual and collective.

What advice would you give to an aspiring experiential designer? Learn the art of expectation management and the good/cheap/fast triangle. Under-promise and over-deliver. Learn this early and buy yourself the time and freedom to do amazing work.
Justin Bolognino uses experiential, real-time design and technology to reveal hidden human connections. He is the founder and creative director of Learned Evolution, The Meta Agency and #FEED, powered by Twitter. In April 2014, Bolognino and both companies were acquired by SFX Entertainment, where he is now creative director of FX1, SFX’s in-house creative solutions studio. Bolognino lives in Brooklyn with his wife Elizabeth, his daughter Chloe and their dog Charlotte Mingus.
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