Interactive branding is the future of inclusion
Graphic designer and art director, Alexis Simone Quarles, specializes in experiential branding, with a focus on uplifting minority communities. This interview dives into how to make experiences inclusive, diverse, and expansive.
Brooklyn-based graphic designer and art director Alexis Simone Quarles, has made it her mission to use her interactive expertise to create a better future for marginalized communities.
Her most recent work for Apple's Platoon label is Lifting Black Voices an interactive site that invites users to recognize musical influences while discovering new Black, African, and POC artists. Consisting of an index of 75 influential musicians and legends spanning decades and genres, the site launched on June 20th in honor of Juneteenth and Black Music Month.
Quarles sat down with us to give us an inside look at why she thinks experiential marketing is one of the best ways to connect brands to minority communities.
First, can you give us a quick intro to how you got into the interactive branding space?
I began designing interactive digital spaces as a part of the in-house team at Complex Media on their online and mobile platforms, which aimed to create fun and playful interactive elements based on cover stories from their print magazine, and culturally relevant feature stories. I also had an interest in spatial design and creating physical interactive spaces, which led me to an internship at the Whitney Museum with exhibition design team in college, and later professionally.
This experience sparked an ongoing interest in the physical design world, where I continued to focus on pop-up events for brands including Adidas, Under Armour, Palm Angels, and Apple. These projects focused on providing experiences for guests and fans around a specific product, music launch, or messaging campaign. Now I am a Senior Designer for Platoon, an artists-services company, where I lead creative campaigns for musicians spanning digital and social campaigns to music video and album art creative. Most of the projects I choose to be a part of speak to authentic and culturally relevant activations for people of color.
Above: Screenshots from Lifting Black Voices
Why is interactive branding important to future-facing brands?
Culture is ever-evolving, and so should brands who truly want to push the needle. Interactivity allows brands to develop a personality and specific point of view, that is necessary to connect with all generations. No longer will people accept being dictated to; they want to feel a personal connection with a brand that has the same values, ideas, and concern for relevant current events. People want to feel something.
Why is establishing interactive minority initiatives important for the future of branding and advertisement?
Inclusivity and diversity should be a foundation pillar of any and all modern brand or campaign. The world is comprised of more than one look, or viewpoint and it’s important to embrace that.
There’s a sense of freedom the virtual world allows us to escape from reality and create our own worlds.
People don’t want to see brands solely exist to sell the latest product. Instead, brands should aim to show that they embrace all cultures, skin tones, body types, life experiences, and struggles. Minorities want to see a true reflection of themselves.
What are some of your favorite interactive branded experiences (with or without an inclusivity bent) from the past few years?
I’m always inspired by the branded experiences of Solange and her design team at Saint Heron in the digital spaces. The Seventy States site that launched in 2017 alongside Tate Modern’s Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, her Black Planet site in 2019, and the new Saint Heron website launched this past month, which focus on black art and creation, has been one of my favorites to follow throughout the years. Her physical performances, which are also works of art, are an inspiration as well.
Above: A screen recording of the interactive art piece, Seventy States, by Solange
How do we make experiences inclusive, representative, or even expansive?
For so long, there has been a monolithic interpretation of branding and advertising, especially when it comes to concepts within the minority sphere. Part of the solution, is including more minority representation within the early stages of the conversation in concept development and execution. Giving minorities a comfortable safe space to speak freely about their ideas is invaluable.
People want to feel something.
Allowing minorities the opportunities to take the front seat in leadership roles is key to expanding representation. In addition, we should provide a means of accessibility for black and brown creators. We should aim to educate more young boys and girls into the possibility of working within design so that it hopefully becomes a means of expression and conversation for them in the future.
How do virtual experiences make room for minority groups?
There’s a sense of freedom the virtual world allows us to escape from reality and create our own worlds. It also allows us to shine a spotlight on the very real, hard truths of life as a minority or celebrate the triumphs that other people don’t often recognize or commend us for. Virtual experiences can create a sense of a larger community, one you may not have access to in real life.
People don’t want to see brands solely exist to sell the latest product.
What’s the most important thing for brands to do when creating experiences based on a marginalized experience or culture?
I always say: anything for us, should be made by us. Including people of color in the development of products, means it’s truly inclusive from the ground up. Diversity goes beyond the final product in the picture, but also should expand to the team you are assembling along the way to make that product come to life.