An experiential graphic design pro shares tips for enhancing your space with wayfinding and environmental graphics.
The workplace is constantly changing to accommodate a shifting workforce with various expectations and working styles. This accommodation is not only a trend in some workplaces, in many it has become a vehicle to attract and retain the best talent. Through experiential graphic design, we can meet these objectives by enhancing the architectural setting, creating a true sense of place for employees. Additionally, each architectural structure can stand as an extension of an established company brand, values, and culture.
Experiential graphic design employs wayfinding and environmental graphics to send a larger message about that place, communicate a value proposition that appeals to users, and creates positive experiences that can be associated with the company. Not surprisingly, the workplace is an environment where these factors become especially important. As a result, many companies are asking experiential graphic designers how to achieve this through graphic design, and how this integrates with the overall architectural and interior design layout.
Understand team objectives
A general recommendation is to begin the planning phase with a clear understanding of the objectives the company has for the space. That is, what they would like the space to help achieve from a corporate standpoint. When working with architects and interior designers, it is also important to understand their vision for the space and how the graphic design strategy can support this. Working with Deloitte Canada to brand their workspace, we found that their objectives were to create a place for collaboration while also accommodating new working styles.
Another project we had was to enliven the workspace for Royal Bank of Canada — they wanted to improve the overall employee experience, which we achieved through bright graphics and did follow-up testing to ensure we had met these goals. The graphics program received a 93 percent satisfaction rate from employees.
Evoke positive experiences
Experiential graphic design is a key foundation to placemaking, which informs, reminds, and enriches the daily lives of those who use a space. Key to placemaking, it is important for the workplace environment to evoke positive emotions from users, whether it be through local context, company history, cultures and values, or otherwise. It is especially important for larger companies with many offices all over the world so that they can differentiate themselves from their other locations.
Another way to evoke emotion is to focus on the psychological perception of certain graphic patterns and treatments. For example, the theory of biophilia suggests that people look for connections with nature and that this can improve their overall mood. While a great solution is placing plants and other living features in an office space, graphic treatments can also function to imply this sense of nature. Working for Munich Re on their office corridors, we looked both to the company’s history for our solution but also understood the positive effects of nature scenes in the built environment. Our final design solution was inspired by the parks and gardens popular to Munich, where the company headquarters are located. The graphic treatment resembles the gardens, creating a relaxed, social atmosphere protected by a leafy canopy with dappled light peeking through. For Deloitte Canada, we used a combination of strategies: taking photos both from the local and historical context of the company, but also teaming up with a local photographer Michael Mahovlich to capture scenes of Canadiana to provide this feeling of nature.
Find the right balance of privacy and openness
By kicking off the project with a thorough understanding of the company’s high-level objectives, you can understand how they want the space to be used by employees, the level of flexibility they require, and other traits related to the functionality of the space. In a lot of workspaces, finding the right balance between privacy and openness is a crucial consideration related to the built environment. The architecture and interior design play a large role through the layout of the building and work areas, but success also relies on the experiential graphic designer to supplement this with design choices that also work to provide this balance.
For Deloitte Canada, we tested multiple versions of vinyl privacy screens to ensure that the glass for boardrooms had the right balance of translucency, transparency, and opacity. This allowed the people inside the boardrooms to work undisturbed but also not feel excluded from what was happening outside. In other office spaces, finding opportunities for interaction with the space are ideal.
We worked with Sobeys on their new corporate head office that was bringing together 800 national and regional employees into one building for the first time. They wanted their employees to be encouraged to be active and eat healthy, following their company purpose to “Eat Better, Feel Better and Do Better”. We accomplished this by finding opportunities for interaction with the space, such as installing a chalkboard in the stairwell, not only encouraging people to take the stairs, but also communicate to each other and view the latest news and opportunities at the company.
Create neighborhoods through subtle wayfinding
Wayfinding is the process of defining path and place as it applies to three-dimensional spaces. Experiential graphic designers create a system that supports a user’s ability to navigate the built environment easily, efficiently, and confidently with items such as signs, directories, charts, maps, landmarks, and architectural treatments. In practice, wayfinding has increasingly become an integral part of today’s architectural design and planning process and a necessary tool for connecting people to place. Experiential graphic designers understand how individuals perceive and move through spaces, are adept at organizing information to communicate graphically, and select materials, structure, and manufacturing methods in order to transform concept into reality.
For Deloitte Canada, we used clear directional wayfinding, but also took opportunities to provide subtle wayfinding as well, that added to the overall experience. Every different level is signaled by a color unique to that floor. This color is added throughout the space in subtle ways to carry the theme and personality of each floor and create “neighborhoods” to further inspire community building. We also included images that were an interpretation of Canada East to West, North to South. For example, the graphic rendition of the prairie grasses on the boardroom glass signal the South, finding a balance between translucency, transparency, and opacity. The North side, represented by an interpretation of the Northern lights in the night sky rendered on glass walls, provides translucency and privacy for classrooms behind it while bringing brightness and color to an otherwise dark space. The trees represent Western Canada, while the scene of water and pebbles nods to Eastern Canada. These indirect wayfinding opportunities serve a dual-purpose of enhancing the user’s engagement with the space while also helping them navigate their way through.
Collaborate with architects and interior designers
As experiential graphic designers, it is our role to not only understand what the company hopes to achieve through the space, but also the architects and interior designers. Experiential graphic designers have specific knowledge on colors, typography, viewing distances, and other technical considerations, making them an indispensible part of the planning phases. The most important consideration is to have all teams meet and collaborate in the early stages of the planning process so that all elements of the solution can be unified seamlessly and cohesively. It is key for architecture, interior design, and graphics to all speak the same language in the built environment. By considering architectural and operational intents holistically, strategic decisions can be made to integrate wayfinding and environmental graphics. For wayfinding, especially, planning for journey flow can affect the overall layout of the building positively. Experiential graphic designers also pay attention to the architectural environment to ascertain whether the solution should subtly mirror the environment or bring in bold new elements. It is the combination of technical knowledge and an artistic sensibility that makes the experiential graphic designer an integral part of team planning.
In our work we understand the power of the built environment and constantly look for innovative ways to enhance spaces like the workplace. To guide this work, which includes environmental graphics and wayfinding, we have developed these five criteria for success. Understanding objectives is a clear and somewhat obvious recommendation, but crucially important for the planning process. Looking for strategies that can positively affect the emotions and experiences of employees will turn the environment into a tool for improving company culture. Balancing privacy and openness will ensure that the environment is functional and can serve multiple purposes. Subtle wayfinding opportunities and the creation of neighborhoods help to further personalize the space and heighten the overall experience. Keeping a connected and collaborative design team that includes all the necessary players will help to avoid a disjointed final product. On average, about a third of one’s life is spent working, so we owe it to ourselves and the companies we work with to create environments that provide comfort, connection, and enjoyment.