Work / Future of Shade

Art, innovation and
functional design.


Why is shade important to humanity? Human beings depend on sunlight for life, but we must balance this need with its harmful effects.

For centuries, people have sought shelter from the sun: from prehistoric people erecting tents from animal hides to modern designers crafting pretty shadow patterns that also protect outdoor diners.

What we’ve learned along the way is that shaping light has emotional resonance. A shaded space provides protection from the sun, but it can also calm or enliven, depending on how sunlight is suppressed. Unfortunately, many designers dismiss the most common form of manmade shade—awnings—as outmoded or boring, and because of that negative perception, they have forgotten the value of shade as it relates to the way we live, work and play.

Our challenge was to overcome negative perceptions of awnings by elevating the conversation to focus on shade design and the role Sunbrella high performance fabric plays in creating artful and innovative shade.

The Idea

Wray Ward brought together Sunbrella® fabrics and Architizer to develop a program that would position Sunbrella as a thought leader and excite architects and designers about shade design. Working with Architizer, we created the Future of Shade competition to invite the A&D community to explore shade created with fabric as an opportunity to combine art, innovation and functional design. By crowd sourcing new and innovative shade designs from industry professionals and students, this holistic program allows Sunbrella to engage with its target audience by showcasing their ideas and sparking a global conversation about innovation in shade design.

Sunbrella + Architizer logo


Using arresting imagery with innovative and artistic uses of shade, we created a series of traditional print and online ads that spread awareness of the competition while showing just how inventive and unexpected shade can be. These ads close the loop by driving the trade online to find a Sunbrella specialist and fabricator who can help them build out their ideas.

Digital Design

Our team created a responsive website that allows users to learn more about the competition and get inspired by browsing submissions from past years on any device. To drive traffic to the site, we developed a comprehensive display and retargeting digital advertising campaign that ran on industry-specific websites.


To position Sunbrella as a thought leader, we launched the program with a short documentary in which experts ruminate on the question, “Why is shade important to humanity?” We also created a series of video profiles of the winning designers and their projects to uncover the inspiration behind the winners’ creations and explore the impact these designs could have on the world.

Trade Show/Brand Experience

To further engage the trade, we created tradeshow booth graphics featuring the current year entries in order to and spark conversations around shade design. In 2016, a panel discussion event will give the New York City A&D community an opportunity to interact with our judging panel through a conversation about shade design and this year’s winning entries.

Educational Content

To capitalize on the success of the Future of Shade competition, we developed two continuing education courses (CEU’s) for designers and landscape architects, featuring submissions and ideas from the competition. These courses generated added brand awareness and served as a resource for industry professionals by providing both inspiration and course credits.


Our comprehensive, fully integrated campaign has changed the conversation, helping the A&D community see Sunbrella as an innovative material that opens up new, creative avenues of shade design.

The contest has grown exponentially since its launch in 2013, yielding a trove of rich content, innovative designs and meaningful engagement from a key audience. The success of the competition has resulted in a year-over-year increase in Future of Shade registrations with a 73 percent increase in 2015 and a 71 percent increase in 2016. In 2017, we received 348 entries from more than 30 counties and saw a 43 percent increase from 2016.

Twisty, the grand-prize winner from the first competition, was built-out and displayed during Architectural Digest magazine’s AD Oasis event at Art Basel in Miami. Additionally, more than 4,400 professionals have completed the continuing education courses developed using content from the competition.

As a result, Sunbrella is becoming top-of-mind for architects and designers when it comes to designing shade.

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