Cataclysmic Differentiation in a Sea of Mediocrity

Published by: Jeff Day

What’s the most memorable place you’ve been in the last month? How about the last week? Better yet…in the last 24 hours? Are you walking through “blah” spaces, completely uninspired? If your answer is yes, PLEASE come visit Detroit! We are literally watching history unfold before our eyes!

Flash back…like 100 years!  Detroit is on a massive rise on the heels of a boom in the automotive sector! New skyscrapers began dotting the city’s skyline as the city experienced unprecedented expansion in the industrial revolution. Detroit was a hot bed of innovation, creativity, and incredible architectural design! Architects like Albert Kahn, Wirt Rowland, Louis Kamper, C. Howard Crane, and many others designed structures that have come to define a city that today straddles two eras and nearly 100 years.

One of the most significant things I’ve seen moving through these buildings today are the incredible lobbys! The design and beauty of a past era lives on! The artistry and wonder stuns still today. And it's because those architects knew much about how to create emotion through their design.

Fast forward to now. Recently, I witnessed the ribbon cutting of the Little Ceasar’s Arena in the heart rof Detroit. On the old site of historic Mowtown headquarters and across the street for the famous Hotel Eddystone, we literally sat under gorgeous blue skies in the middle of a massive, 50-block inspirational development now marking a new chapter and era in Detroit. The 'Detroit’s Back' era!


Conceived and brought to live through the vision of the Ilitch family and others, LCA embraces both old and new ideals of inspiring design. Since I’m looking at the story through “tech” eyes, let me call out some key learning I took away.

People Infused Architecture. LCA uses brand activations everyway to put people into the story. From photo shoots with the Wings starters, your own bobble head step and repeat, or the Coca Cola fan experience using mixed reality to put the pros in a photo shoot with you, the experience is RICH with YOU. Destination experiences require deep consideration of how to physically and digitally draw people in.

Hands on Magic. At every entrance of the LCA, and throughout the space, are activations. Photo ops, interactive walls, history boards, and TONS of historical markers. The Olympia team has done an amazing job of delivering an animated and interactive experience. The stuff people crave! Brands and planners that get this notion in destination locations know that interactivity drives positivity and favorable emotions that translate into brand power and followership.

Digital and Physical Symmetry. I love how the LCA uses a great blend of physical and digital art! Through the stadium concourse, and outside the building, are spectacular, massive paintings. I like Don Kilpatrick’s work especially on the North walls! LCA also uses LOTS of LED and LCD displays to reinforce the physical art. The color palate they used on launch day was sheer eye candy striking a cool balance with color, contrast, and richness. Sometimes screens, LED especially, can be overwhelming. Or signs that don’t complement each other can be distracting. Destinations that use all the tools at their disposal gain a significant advantage in memorability factor!

LCA Photo Activation.jpg

Intervention Art. I call this “excite and delight.” When an element reacts to your movement, or is triggered digitally from something you’ve done, that creates what we call “the moment.” LCA uses two great activations to make this happen. A Coca Cola wall that super imposses players in a real-time, live video feed. It’s like you are there with them! And GM’s display uses some really cool physical black/white flicker panels that create real time shadows of yourself on the wall, forcing you to stop and look. These are great interventions.

So there you have it!  Cataclysmic differentiation in a sea of what could be mediocrity. Taking lessons from the architects of the past and applying real-time in our hyper connected lives today! We demand better experiences in live venues that beat out the alternative of staying home. 

The LCA does that in spades and got it big time! Next time you walk down Woodward near the LCA, stop and think about what’s happened and what’s happening now. Detroit is differentiating! 

“Let us make our future now, and let us make our dreams tomorrow’s reality.” - Malala Yousafzai


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