Branding and the built environment.

October 2018

A Q&A dialogue with Jessica Mann-Amato, Spectorgroup’s design director, and Nico Raddatz, partner at GHD Partners, a workplace branding firm that frequently partners with Spectorgroup on key projects.

What is branding and how does it influence workplace design?

Nico Raddatz (NR): In the way we’re talking about branding in the workplace, it’s a visual creation that’s representative of a company’s culture, which is different from how brands express themselves to customers. The idea is to get to the core piece of a firm’s values and translate it into abstract and ambiguous graphic treatments in the workplace, to allow for an environment to live and be representative of a company for the years the firm occupies the space.

Jessica Mann-Amato (JMA): The use of branding in interiors is so powerful because it helps create a feeling about the space that’s not always palpable; making the space feel richer and multi-dimensional. Often, when we start working with a client, we bring GHD in as part of them team for the early conceptual design session, where we work together with the client, to develop the big picture idea. These ideas then feed into the design and graphic concepts for the space. Having a solid foundation that all parties have bought into allows the architectural and branding elements to mesh seamlessly into the overall design.

What factors should be considered in a company’s establishment and expression of its brand?

NR: It takes a large amount of research to understand the ‘who’ that a client is and some of that is done without client input. Our impression of who a company is from the outside can drive it forward to a new direction and its leadership can help guide it there, including through the office design.

A visual interpretation of the company and concept that we’re trying to push forward in the early stages includes different options. It’s a collaborative process with the client. There’s a back-and-forth that results in 95 percent of the work being tossed out and 5 percent being distilled into what will be used in the environment.

JMA: It depends on the client and the research. Sometimes it’s a very literal story and culture, and sometimes it’s more abstracted or a combination of the two. When people go through the initial workplace strategy phase, we try to come up with guiding principles that will guide us through the project.

Often times, the design and branding process, allows the client to revisit the root of a company’s core values and revisiting those values invigorates the process. It’s a great way to get the company excited about its redesign and an opportunity for them to reimagine or realign who they are. Involving the employees helps ensure the design process is positive and rewarding from concept through completion.

It’s amazing, early in the process, when the leadership team of the company talks about what their values are. They may be different, individually, depending on the discussion. It helps them solidify their positioning through the company’s redesign.” ~NR

How does a company’s brand affect its internal culture? That is, how does it support or encourage a firm’s ethos?

JMA: Expressing the history and integrity of a company within its space tells the story of how it evolved and often creates a sense of pride; the idea of being part of something bigger. At the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, we not only had client facing areas but also focused on doing  interesting things between those zones, telling their story and providing wayfinding in an more abstract interpretation.

NR: We’re finding a balance between how much literal translation and how much abstraction is needed. It’s a space that everyone gets on board with in the first few weeks, although graphic interpretations have different meanings at different times.

In the front reception and waiting area of Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, the GHD design team used 1-inch thick high-density foam to create large, cutout outlines of physical maps of the four regions in the U.S. where the bank is located. Bringing the old-school bank into the modern age with the maps’ clean look, helps the space—that is, the company—compete with tech firms also interested in the available talent pool.

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The Surdna Foundation is another project where its internal and outward expressions were interpreted through branding. How was that done?

JMA: Built around shared ideals and initiatives, Surdna Foundation has an amazing story to share. Our design is based on the idea of using framed elements to define spaces and moments as you travel throughout the office. Art and artifacts are carefully curated throughout the space explaining pieces of the history, while richly layered textural materials create a sense of warmth guiding people to the main café and social zones.  The framing elements, finishes, graphics and branding seamlessly meld together to create subtle wayfinding and highlight Surdna’s rich history and future initiatives. The design of the space, including that it achieved LEED Gold certification, has helped create a sense of pride in the office for the employees.

NR: Each stretch of framing was done as an abstraction. For the Foundation’s 100 anniversary, we took data from the previous five years and created circles made of smaller dots, with the size of each circle relating to the project funded. The patterns related to the local economy, sustainability of the environment and thriving cultures.

At the base level, the graphic treatment needed to look good and work for the client. On the second level, it became much more unique and powerful. The circles relate to the creation of these ecosystems, funding projects around local communities and the impact on the region. They overlap and seeing all these things together can create a much larger change.