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Curating an Experience Through Environmental Branding

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As an Interior Designer, people often ask me what's in, what's out and what definitely shouldn't be missed in their office design. While there are many factors and trends to consider, my essential recommendation is the same – don’t skimp on environmental branding. If you want to take your project to the next level, make your space an experience – tell your story through design. All around us, elements in our world are vying for our attention and creating impressions, whether we’re conscious of it or not. Environmental branding offers the opportunity to narrate who you are and what you’re about to people who come into your space.

When a client decides to undertake an office design – be it small updates, a large renovation or brand-new office – I always advise on how to integrate branded elements. There are so many considerations that go into designing a space, such as flow, functionality and, of course, aesthetics. Graphic design, architecture, lighting and art fuse together seamlessly to create an experience for the user. Office design is an investment of time and money, so if a client is already going to the effort and expense, it makes sense to take advantage of the opportunity to enliven their space, infuse their culture and inspire their clients and employees.

Why Incorporate Environmental Branding?

The benefits of branding a space are well worth the investment. More than slapping a logo on a wall, environmental branding can provide a curated way for people to experience your brand. You want people to remember your space and the associations they connect to it even after they’ve left; branding has the ability to elevate a space beyond its core function associating emotions with your company. For example, a dimensional depiction of your logo can turn it into a sculpture to be studied, clear wayfinding can help people navigate your space, giving them confidence and signage can serve as a source of inspiration, encouragement or even playfulness.

The areas I have found that benefit from environmental branding the most are client facing and key employee spaces. In client facing spaces, such as a reception area, branding can be used to convey a message you want someone to perceive about your company. This could be in subtle ways, such as colors and finishes, or more obvious ones such as large wall graphics, visible mission statements and physical curated displays. These spaces not only create positive initial impressions but also leave a lasting taste in someone’s mouth, prompting them to share their thoughts with others about a company. Why not create an environment that helps them perceive and remember the way you want to be represented?

For employee areas, environmental branding can serve to elevate their experience as well. For a company to invest time and money into the spaces that their employees see and experience every day communicates a lot to their staff. Branded elements such as environmental graphics in back of house areas can further express the company’s missions while encouraging innovation and collaboration, and fostering a strengthened sense of team unity, leading to positive employee well-being and a recruitment advantage. ­­­­

How to Incorporate Environmental Branding

I believe in order to provide good design for a client, you need to know them – really know them; understanding what their culture is like, their key values, company history, aspirations and more. Branding is a complex platform for every client, with each brand being different, so there is no copy / paste approach when it comes to design and branded environments. I’ve found that the best way to go about understanding a client prior to design is by starting with a visioning session. This is a fun, collaborative process where the design team works with the client to take a closer look at their goals, culture, mission, industry and corporate aesthetics. Following this session, the design team presents initial ideas and concepts for the client’s feedback to capture the look, feel and messaging that best represents them.

It’s vital to understand each client and their motivation. For example, a law firm probably doesn’t have the same objective for their clients walking through their space as a tech company. Most law firms would like their employees and clients to feel a sense of security, trust or empowerment upon entering the space (and again, this is dependent on each unique firm and can also vary with the type of law they practice). Using a firms individual branding, this could be done through sophisticated messaging, high quality finishes, or infusing a color palette that exudes the firm’s values and objectives, such as bold, contrasting tones for strength or softer earth tones for a more peaceful, reassuring vibe. On the contrary, a technology company may want a fun, youthful and cutting edge feel to their space to attract the best and brightest talent, while demonstrating that they are innovators. One of my favorite examples of this is a well-known tech company who incorporated a branded, interactive video wall that people could engage with and the wall would engage back creating a playful interaction between the user and the environment. It captured the spirit of the company while being very memorable.

Another way to incorporate branding in a space is by highlighting the client’s industry. In my past life when I was designing for a government agency, our team utilized graphic wayfinding to help people navigate a nine-story, 11 department space, infusing the history and mission of the agency to define the levels and departments. The agency’s history was celebrated through custom wall montages and photography display niches in main corridors. Custom window film and wall graphics represented the flow of water, which tied to their mission statement.

My Advice

For any client considering incorporating environmental branding into their office design, I would advocate strongly to make the effort and make sure your branding is solidified before embarking on your office design. Occasionally, clients will undergo a joint effort of re-branding themselves while renovating or moving into a new space. Rebranding can be essential in elevating your brand; however, this is a time extensive process, and I would recommend having firmly established elements such as a brand color palette, type treatments and logo usage before the facility project begins. This way, the interior design team isn’t duplicating efforts and the project isn’t costing more by re-designing things that may change, making the process go more smoothly for everyone.

No matter how big or small a project is, you can always incorporate environmental branding, even if it’s in subtle ways. Although there are different levels of customization, environmental branding is more than just paint or some text on a wall ­– it’s an investment in people’s experience with your company.

I’d love to hear about your experience with branded environments. What are some spaces you’ve walked away from that still resonate with you, and why?

This article was originally featured in CREJ's Building Dialogue Magazine.

Gretchen Butterfield, NCIDQ
Interior Designer

Gretchen Butterfield, NCIDQ, is an Interior Designer with EUA working out of the Denver office. When she has spare time, Gretchen explores the outdoors through skiing, camping and traveling.