The Importance of Telling Brand Stories in the Workplace

Perkins+Will‘s Meena Krenek explains how, by integrating the client’s brand, designers can tie employees and consumers together in the workplace.

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The AutoTrader.com headquarters. Image courtesy of Nigel Marson Photography.

Typically, workplace design concepts are distilled into a single parti diagram created to inform the value of the programmed spaces and the specific needs of a client’s business. While this is critical, in my opinion, the parti diagram cannot stand alone. It must be overlaid with an emotional response to the company and its space — an integration of the company’s brand.

Each company is unique and individual with its own story and foundation that results in the brand. A brand is purely not a logo on a wall. It is the subtle or bold gestures of why this workplace exists, what takes place in the environment, and the mission that drives the company. To realize this integration, one must understand the business and its identity, then create an expression in the design that embellishes the mission and messaging.

Telling the brand’s story in space

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The IMG/WME College office. Image courtesy of Nigel Marson Photography.

An example of a project we previously worked on was the 42,000-square-foot office design for IMG/WME College, the nation’s leading collegiate sports marketing company targeting 190 million college sports fans. The workplace we were tasked with designing had to celebrate the language of the college sports industry.

To start, we created a brand map that touched every scale of the space. The entrance became the “pep rally,” the open office layout was transformed into a “football field” with yard markers, and the cafe was named “Half Time.” Door handles were wrapped with pigskin leather featuring stitching similar to a football, so every day when an employee touches the handle, there is a nod to the sports industry they are serving. Larger graphics were embedded into the walls or in the carpet patterns to represent yard markers. Together, these details served to create the IMG/WME experience.

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The IMG/WME College office. Image courtesy of Nigel Marson Photography.

Most employees in the workplace today are seeking a deeper meaning, experience, or contribution to society. This connection to the company’s overall mission is crucial for the aspirations and passions of the employees. Further, a brand generally has a consumer or end user it is trying to connect with — a special point of view. By integrating the brand, a workplace should be able to tie these two audiences (employees and consumers) together, recognizing that one drives the other.

Integrating the customer’s voice

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The Carter’s headquarters. Image courtesy of Nigel Marson Photography.

Another project example I’ve worked on was the corporate headquarters for children’s retailer Carter’s in Atlanta. For this project, the voice of a child was the connective tissue between the employees and their consumers. This understanding led to a concept focused on growth and the milestones of a child’s life. Spatially, this translated to workspaces for growth and evolving employee needs. Graphically, this played out in different ways.

For example, in each floor’s elevator lobby, we added measuring ticks on the walls to represent a child physically growing over time, with huge oversized numbers to showcase the floor number, which changes positions on each floor. Milestones of a child’s life were expressed with the unique storage components and custom furnishings on the floor plan strategically to define groups, and create these moments in the open office. These concepts were welcome and celebrated.

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Image courtesy of Perkins+Will.

Brands have different personalities and tones — the exciting part is incorporating them into the design. If done well, the workspace becomes a lifestyle destination, a place made for employees to socially engage with like-minded people. Today’s workplace is about creating an authentic culture and connecting a company with an individual’s own integrity — allowing them to think, “How am I advancing and contributing to society as a whole?”

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The rear view mirrors in the AutoTrader.com headquarters. Image courtesy of Nigel Marson Photography.

Through our work with online car marketplace AutoTrader.com, we found that the forms and shapes of automobiles — coupled with what it means to be a “.com” company — drove the project. AutoTrader.com is about cars, but it also has a virtual aspect. To tie both aspects together, we designed the workplace to resemble a big car, reminding employees of their connection to the product. As soon as you enter the elevator lobby, a huge tachometer greets you, defining the floor number.

Car parts were also used in various ways. The metal trim is the same used in automobile production. We embedded rear view mirrors in the hallway and wrote the company’s mission statement backwards on the adjacent wall (when you look into the mirror, you can read the mission statement clearly behind you). When interior design has this aspect of invention, it leaves a mark and creates buzz for the end users. This is what drives me to continue to develop these experiences in the design.

Designing for all ages

One important consideration in this type of integration is to ensure that you’re listening to and responding to the needs of all users rather than catering to any trends or strictly Gen Y/Z-oriented notions. This is about elevating everyone and creating a highly engaged workplace culture. There is value in creating experiences that deliver on the brand promise. The office culture becomes aligned with the unique DNA of the mission and, hopefully, employees’ personal brands become directly related.

In today’s world, everything is so highly competitive and constantly evolving that brand awareness creates a level of captivation that serves as a differentiator.

Without the brand expression in the work environment, the story is left untold. In today’s world, everything is so highly competitive and constantly evolving that brand awareness creates a level of captivation that serves as a differentiator. Human emotion is uniquely tied to human behavior. An emotional connection to a brand can directly provide a sense of belonging to an organization. This is valuable for developing an engaging workplace culture.

A well-designed, branded environment offers benefits for customers, employees, and for the brand itself. Clients report increased employee recruitment, retention and productivity, and improved morale, in addition to a higher perceived brand value with investors and increased sales growth. If you embed the brand, the storytelling will directly affect your business. It’s really the only way forward.

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