Telling Stories and Living Them: Corporate Celebrations with Impact

Entro’s Rae Lam explores how companies can effectively host corporate celebrations and events to expose employees to great design and encourage interaction with their surroundings. 

Entro led the initiative to commemorate and brand the 50th Anniversary celebration for the TD Centre from the development of the program identity to the exhibition and its associated material. Image courtesy of Entro. 

Throughout childhood, our lives are peppered with birthdays, graduations, and other events that nurture constant excitement, connection and joy. These events are something to look forward to and share with others, and they set our expectations for the future. Now as adults, we spend our days in the workplace, we identify with our job title, and we imagine much of our future in relation to our chosen career path. In a way, our work consumes much of our lives and identity, as does the culture that is associated with our different workplaces and brands. For this reason, more and more organizations are paying attention to culture as a way to strengthen their overall identity and attract and retain employees. Design is an integral part of developing and maintaining this workplace culture.

Design and aesthetics offer a means of connecting people to places and ideals; drawing a direct link to powerful emotional outcomes like trust, legitimacy and loyalty. One way to enhance organizational culture is by punctuating employees’ everyday experience with unexpected events and celebrations. There are significant events and milestones in the life of a company that warrant real acknowledgement both internally and with the public. These milestones may become more relevant or worth celebrating as the company grows, changes or reaches certain goals. Common reasons are a major anniversary of 10, 25 or 50 years, a significant merger or acquisition, or a substantial achievement. However, other milestones or stories can also be worthy of an event or acknowledgement.

Whether the celebration is about employee contributions, team milestones or company history, a true and unique story can be told through a display in the built environment. As people are visual by nature, visual graphics and imagery hold a privileged position within our minds, communicating to us more clearly, holistically and intuitively than written language (Meyer et al., 2013). For example, in life we begin drawing before we can even speak, and what we draw is usually quite meaningful or intriguing to us i.e. family, pets, desirable objects. Visuals can also trigger memories, a key reason we take photographs of important moments – for the emotional response these memories bring us. When used intentionally and strategically, good design can profoundly influence brand experiences and engagement. We believe displays and exhibits offer one of the most tangible connections to corporate culture and celebration.

The Celebration

Creating an environment for celebration from a design standpoint means more than just balloons, banners and streamers. The format of your celebratory display will largely depend on your chosen target audience and the vision for how you hope the display will affect them: consider the level of engagement and what the lasting impression is that you want to make. How do you envision the audience will interact with the display – will visitors simply be walking through and viewing its components or will there be opportunities for them to touch, change, or even share the experience with others?

Time and place are the other major drivers for design. Along with determining the audience and how they will engage with the celebratory display, deciding the time frame and location of the celebration is key. Will it last a week, month, an entire year or will it become a permanent installation? Will it live in the workspace or instead in an area that can be publicly accessed and viewed? How will the event live beyond the physical installation – website, social media, memorabilia?

Home to over 70 tenants and 21,000 daily occupants, the TD Centre is the vision of two leading Canadian corporations, TD Bank Group and Cadillac Fairview. Image courtesy of Entro.

The Storyboard

Visually communicating a celebration is about telling stories that have meaning to people. Once the purpose of the celebration is clear, you can create a central theme, any subthemes, storyline, and content. For this it is important to consider – what is the message that you want to convey and how is it balanced with a company mission, value or brand impression that you want visitors to leave with? What is the outcome that you want to create? For example, we may want to highlight successes, and if so, need to determine what these successes are and how they impact the future of the organization. Special attention should be paid to highlighting how the employees have contributed to these successes; while some may think this is a given, it is important to not only recognize, but also to visualize employee contributions to success.

The Connection

It is one thing to tell a story, but having people feel a narrative through engaging and even interactive elements is entirely different. Whether the celebration is public, or more internal, there should be a strategy that directly considers how people will interact with this visual display. What are the key senses that we want to stimulate? Are they visual, tactile, auditory or otherwise? Will there be an element of surprise or a chance to look at something in a new way? Moments of engagement can strengthen the impact of the celebration, and these can come in many forms. An obvious method of engagement is in incorporating a digital component, or leveraging social media as a way to popularize or offer real-time engagement for a more public display. The metrics gained from these social media activities can also help companies perform post-mortem assessments to determine the impact that the display has had.

The Look and Feel

Connecting people at an emotional and even subconscious level, the look and feel sets the mood. Typically events or displays are a bold statement, whether this is flashy and colourful, or stark and monochromatic. Regardless of the type of celebration, the display should echo the basic attributes and values of the brand, either directly or through a more abstract approach. There are multitudes of ways to do this, such as using historical photos or key messaging, but a great starting point is to leverage existing brand guidelines. Experiential graphic designers usually begin by taking cues from the primary colour palette of the brand identity, but just this is not enough because as it can quickly become monotonous. Using only the primary brand colours also limits the display from its potential impact and doesn’t do as much to signal something unique to employees and visitors. Oftentimes, brand guidelines will include a secondary palette that allows the brand to be extended to various applications for multiple purposes. Creating or leveraging this secondary colour palette will extend the feeling of the display beyond the corporate constraints. Alternatively, designers can develop a new and unique brand for the celebration that either aligns with the overarching brand or is a subsidiary of it. It is important that this colour palette doesn’t stray too far from the primary colour palette and the brand itself, as this could cause a loss of connection to the main brand and thus appear as a completely unassociated display.

Beyond the colour palette, the complexity of visuals depends on the duration and location of the display. Typically, the shorter the duration, the simpler the approach so that it is easier to retain and more impactful. The imagery doesn’t need to have as much depth and complexity because it is short lived, and also needs to be simple in order for someone to be able to remember all of it. The longer or more permanent the display, the more likelihood for repeated visits, requiring complexity that will draw the user back each time. By using such considerations to design surprising and unexpected moments, we may develop increased engagement with the celebratory display and therefore with the message it is trying to communicate. For example, it has been found that surprising images are viewed for longer periods of time, while interesting environments are explored more extensively (Berlyne, 1974; Stamps, 2010). Often, taking graphical components such as shapes or patterns in conjunction with strong historical or illustrative imagery can create this complexity.

Corporate celebrations are about appreciation, purpose and autonomy. When these celebrations occur unexpectedly, they can have immense impact for the culture of an organization, connecting people to the soul of the brand. Major milestones and achievements may deserve real, tangible acknowledgement both internally and with the public and can help build a story that is impactful. Understanding the audience of this celebration and their ideal engagement can generate strong connections with this story. With this in mind, companies can expose their employees to great design, which encourages them to interact with their surroundings. This opens the door to a refreshed sense of the corporate brand as well as an experience that allows people to identify their place within it.

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