Your Source For The Arts In Atlanta

Joel Krieger takes a break in his Second Story lab.
Joel Krieger, 41, leads a team of more than 35 at Second Story's Atlanta studio. He was always interested in art, but had a moment in college where he wondered: "How am I going to support myself through drawing and painting?" The answer was interdisciplinary studies.

Q&A: Second Story’s Joel Krieger designs experiences and tells stories for a living

When you design experiences and tell stories across cultural and brand landscapes for a living, diversity is key. At Second Story — a network of design studios in Atlanta, New York and Portland, Oregon — professionals do everything from designing visuals to engineering hardware.

Among them is Joel Krieger, a 41-year-old University of Georgia graduate who leads an interdisciplinary team of 35-plus at Second Story, which has worked with Coca-Cola, CODA Tech Square in Midtown, the High Museum of Art and Epson, among others.

Second Story is a seven-time winner of American Institute of Graphic Arts awards. A recent example of its work is the art installation Unity at Legacy Union in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 10-acre, mixed-use development is intended to be a community gathering place that pays homage to Charlotte’s past while celebrating the promise of its future. Krieger and his team of animators, engineers and environmental designers used riotous colors and complex algorithms to create a constant dance of motion that never looks the same way twice.

The riot of color at Legacy Union in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Unity” at Legacy Union in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 10-acre, mixed-use development is intended to be a community gathering place that pays homage to the city’s past while celebrating the promise of its future.

Krieger recently sat down to talk about his career and the storytelling/design that takes shape at Second Story’s Atlanta studio.

ArtsATL: Interdisciplinary studies was a relatively new area when you graduated from Georgia. Why did it spark your interest?

Joel Krieger: I knew I wanted to pursue my interests in art. Halfway through school, I had a moment of panic and thought, “How am I going to support myself through drawing and painting?” Interdisciplinary studies had only been around for a few years. Essentially, the program allowed students to construct a program of creative practice. I studied traditional art forms alongside digital media such as 3-D animation, using digital tools like Corel Painter, Dreamweaver and Photoshop. It was really these myriad creative disciplines and experiences that prepared me. These days all you hear is the word “innovation.” If you want to be innovative, then you have to be willing to try something new, and that inherently means that you will fail before you get it right. When I look back at my early years, I see that those experiences gave me a solid understanding of all of these creative practices and laid the foundation for my role as an orchestrator.

Work in progress in the Second Story lab.

ArtsATL: Can you tell us more about Second Story and what it does?

Krieger: We are an interdisciplinary design practice with people from very different walks of life. Our skill sets range from visual design, experience design, architects, industrial design, engineering and visual effects. We have folks of different genders, ethnicities and diversity sitting together under one roof. The magic is really this cross-pollinating of very different creative disciplines and viewing creativity as a collaborative act.

Second Story has one foot firmly planted in the cultural space, doing work for museums, universities and nonprofits. The other is in the brand world, designing temporal spaces that could be categorized as experiential marketing or brand immersion, like the work we did for World of Coca-Cola.

Two designers collaborate at the Second Story lab.

ArtsATL: What is the value for brands that incorporate experiential design and adopt this type of culture?

Krieger: What we see now is older formats of digital media that are full of noise. Consumers are locked into this awful disruptive advertising model that just makes you feel gross. Everyone is fighting for your attention. I don’t want that to happen to the built environment, and so we have an ethical design conversation about what happens when digital spills over into the built environment and what that means for people. The goal is to serve the interests of a business and the people that are occupying the space at the same time.

If you’re a company, your most powerful brand-building vehicle is your space. In digital advertising, you only have 30 seconds of someone’s attention. If someone’s in your physical space, you have the potential to engage them longer with all five of their senses. If you do that right, the experience makes them feel something about you or your brand.

Teamwork in the Second Story Atlanta lab.

ArtsATL: What is your creative process like?

Krieger: Our design process is like a sculptor making something out of clay. An idea can start out as a raw lump of clay, and together we’re all molding and shaping it. We have an ethos called GRIT. It stands for Get Real Iterate Together. When our team is tossing ideas around, there is a moment where the hair stands up on our arms and everyone goes, “That’s a great idea!” Then we stop, leave the room, go to the lab and start making something. It can be made out of duct tape and foam core and look ugly, but that doesn’t matter. The point is you quickly birthed the idea, and then, together as a team, we can begin to ask questions and make changes. We watch this prototype move from this very rudimentary thing into something beautiful over the course of a few months. The process is playful. We’re willing to try new things, find out if they work and move on from there.

ArtsATL: How do you measure success?

Krieger: One of the greatest things about working in this field is that it’s really easy to see if you did your job. You can go to a site and look at people’s faces to see if they’re interacting with the thing you made. It will be pretty obvious that either they’re enjoying it or they’re not. Many businesses are still stuck on antiquated metrics such as dollars per square foot. Everyone knows it’s all about the experience. What’s the value of having someone in your store for 30 minutes and having a great experience that makes that person feel a certain way about your brand? It’s really hard to track that. There’s still a desire to want to quantify some sort of business value, and I just think the world has not caught up yet on how to put a value on experience.