The Visual Runway
You’ve heard of helicopter parents, right? They’re the parents who hover around their children, keeping them from any potential danger or failure. They’re overprotective, thereby stifling their child’s creativity and the chance to discover new things on his or her own. Helicopter parents, it’s been discovered, are not good.
I don’t want to talk about helicopter parenting, though. This is a creativity magazine. Instead, I want to talk about helicopter design. Specifically, the illustration I’m making is about the way they helicopters get into the sky.
A helicopter takes off straight up. The engine whirrs and, once there’s enough power, takes off. An airplane on the other hand, takes a long runway to get going. Unless it’s a very specific type that takes a ton of fuel to run (eg. money), an airplane requires a distance to get going. A runway.
So what is helicopter design? Helicopter design is the design that immediately grabs you. It takes off immediately. Instant gratification. It’s great for marketing, because you don’t have much time to grab people’s attention. You need to put your best foot forward from the get-go, hoping it’s enough to get people’s imaginations off the ground and excited about what you’re saying.
Helicopter design is great for marketing. But it’s really bad for events and live services.
You see; helicopters are great for short distances. But they aren’t intended for the long-haul. In the same way, marketing is meant for a single action but your services are meant for life change. Life change is a long distance haul.
Thus, you want to provide a runway for your visuals. You want to give people’s imaginations a chance to travel a distance before they take off. With this sort of approach, you’ll go much further than instant gratification, helicopter design.
So what does that mean, practically?
A strobe light is exciting for 2 seconds. But it’s straight up annoying for a whole hour. The same is true with motion graphics, lighting, environmental projection…anything live. Great live visuals are about a slow progression instead of everything at once.
One of the best examples I’ve seen of this recently was at a conference in Nashville. SALT Conference is all about creativity and live visuals, so of course they had to do this well.
During the first main sessions, the visuals were incredible. There were 3d Mod Scenes panels on each site of the stage, projection mapped with delicious visuals. There were lasers and huge projection screens along with great stage lighting. Yet during that first main session, there wasn’t a single color used in the visuals or stage lighting. It was all white light.
It was intentional.
Then during the next session, they used their rigging to move some stage lighting up and down, creating different atmospheres throughout the session. But still, no color.
It was intentional.
Finally, during the third and fourth sessions, we finally saw some color. And by the end of the fourth session, they let loose and released everything they had. It was like the floodgates opened and they gave me everything good they had.
They practiced extreme restraint. Rather than using all of the tools at their disposal to go 100% the whole time, they started slowly. They created a runway. Then they gradually accelerated the visuals. That gave my imagination a chance to catch up to the visuals during the sessions.
The end result of their restraint? I’ll always remember that event. It will always spark my imagination.
Through restraint, you can give people a visual runway that will help their imaginations go the distance. I’m not saying your services need to start boring. You could go full-speed at the beginning, and then slow down in the middle, revving up for one more final push at the end. But the point is, you need to use restraint to give people a chance for their imaginations to keep pace with the intensity of the visuals. 100% for one hour will lose people. But if you choose restraint and proper pacing, you can give people’s imaginations a chance to soar.
Instant gratification is great for marketing design. But when you’re designing for live events, a good visual runway will take you much further. Give people a chance to join you on your journey.