Stories are how we think, they are how we make meaning. Call them schemas, scripts, cerebral maps, or metaphors. Stories are how we create our identities and define and express values.
This is no truer than in today’s highly competitive world of workplace design, where effective brand storytelling is so much more than an oversized logo or illuminated signage. Increasingly, companies are looking to designers to create meaning and tell their brand’s story authentically. As design influencers, we have the power to leverage experience of space as a window into who they are.
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An empathetic design approach
Impactful brand storytelling begins with a curious and open mind. At Perkins and Will, we keep our eyes and ears open to every nuance. We are constantly asking ourselves ‘why’ and ‘how come’ to develop highly branded experiences with a level of engagement and emotional connection that sets our clients apart.
It’s only when designers understand their audience – the end-user – that they can build spaces that reach both their hearts and minds.
Twenty-five years ago, there was a belief that workplace design needed to assimilate, to be like everyone else. Today, there is deep value placed on leveraging design to create moments or experiences that take users on an emotional journey through the company’s brand.
I constantly strive to empathise and develop emotional connections with the clients, cultures and communities I’m designing for, so that the messaging, meaning and novelty is tailored to them.
An example of a project where we realised this integration was through the design of online automobile marketplace AutoTrader.com’s new headquarters. Relocating offices across six locations to a single building in the Metro-Atlanta area, Autotrader.com wanted a workplace that empowered their employees while telling the story of its brand as kinetic, innovative and inspirational.
Tasked with supporting their goal of becoming a leader in the automobile marketplace and an expert in the automobile industry, we coupled distinct themes within the 400,000 sq.ft. space like the forms and shapes of automobiles, to what it means to be a ‘.com’ company.
Through small interventions and integral structures, our design team achieved a fluid space with a design that elevates connectivity among people, cars and the information highway.
Designed around the concept of an engine block, imagery of automobiles and ‘scenery’ becomes the background as you travel throughout the office space. Additionally, we introduced undulating ceilings and gradient wallcoverings to capture a feeling of movement and energy flowing throughout, which also functions as playful wayfinding for visitors.
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Immersion and invention
In order to craft culture and instil loyalty among employees, we must make them active participants in their place of work by examining how they are immersed in the branded space.
For AutoTrader.com, we played with vibrant colours, textures, sculptural walls and lighting layers to create a visceral experience that makes end-users feel like they’re in an automobile or inside the world wide web.
We used car parts to tell Autotrader.com’s story in a unique and playful way. As soon as you enter the elevator lobby, a huge tachometer greets you, defining the floor number. We embedded rear-view mirrors in the hallway and wrote the company’s mission statement backwards on the adjacent wall. When employees or visitors glance into the mirrors, they can read the mission statement clearly behind them.
Ultimately, when interior design embeds this level of invention and immersion, it leaves an indelible mark long after the end-user has left the building. It creates not only an experience but a lasting memory of the brand’s identity that can resonate more than any banner ad or logo could.
Over the years, I have been lucky enough to work with companies, like AutoTrader.com, that are boundary pushers and thought leaders in their industries. Companies that aren’t scared to dig deep in order to bring emotion into the workplace and create authentic experiences that foster brand loyalty and connection to its users. Throughout my tenure at Perkins and Will, I have learned that workplace designers and architects are just as valuable brand storytellers as any marketing campaign. We have the ability to impact human behaviour through our design decisions, our understanding of environmental psychology, influencing emotional connection to space in such a way to spark a sense of belonging and purpose. We aren’t just interior designers; we are social scientists.
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Director of Perkins and Will’s LA studio, Meena Krenek, asks if more could be done to design story-telling spaces that are more representative of the brands they house