Walk into any Marketing 101 class, and you’ll discover that “brand” is almost
always taught in two dimensions. Sure, everyone knows that the act of branding
should be more strategic than tactical, but that doesn’t keep most account
managers from thinking in terms of a flat, two-dimensional sensibility that
focuses on identity and advertising. “All I need is a logo and a media buy” is a
line all brand strategists fear, but it’s a common edict handed down from
countless clients and front-line managers.
Without a doubt, we have all
come to understand the relationship between brand and experience, and that’s a
good thing. The retail world and, especially, the food and beverage world
certainly have embraced this idea, as that awkward adolescence of themed
restaurants and so-called shoppertainment of the 1990s has given way to venues
like the Apple store, quality dining, and other more sophisticated outlets that
embody brand, foster fanatical loyalty and actually move merchandise. So, all is
well in the world of branded environments. But what’s next?
corporate clients—many of whom could be considered titans of conservative values
and flame-keepers of traditional design—have shown a significant interest in
something beyond an efficient and pretty workplace. They want a brand, they
claim, and they want it now.
It’s hard to say where this awakened passion
comes from. Perhaps from all those CSI shows in which office space presents more
like a nightclub than a workspace. Or from a younger workforce that seems more
interested in the social aspects of work than, well, the work aspects of work.
Or a wall of media that incessantly drums home the value of a good brand (ah,
yes, the branding of brand). Whatever the case, corporate end users have grasped
the idea that a dynamic work environment can be an instrumental strategic
In the last five years, we at RTKL have re-tooled our approach to
corporate design to include not only a stronger strategic component to get
closer to our clients’ decision-making and push us higher up the value chain,
but also a brand component that focuses on a company’s core values—and how those
values can be translated into a built environment. It’s a way of giving that
two-dimensional sensibility a third dimension—a bricks-and-mortar take on
Today’s corporate users, however traditional they may be, are all
jockeying for position in an increasingly competitive and cutthroat world. They
need an edge, and a branded work environment can help them:
• Improve the
recruiting, retention, and morale of employees;
• Simplify the integration of
corporate mission, core values, and company history into the design process—and
• Create a higher perceived value from investors and
• Strengthen the public’s perception of the corporate
entity—its mission and values;
• Differentiate the company through a deeper
understanding of products and services.
Already, we’ve helped clients see
Our design for the new American Trucking Associations (ATA)
headquarters enabled the organization to strengthen its mission by translating
intangible business objectives into tangible design solutions. We began by
leading ATA through a series of interactive visioning sessions, helping the
organization define its strategic goals and articulate its mission prior to
putting pen to paper. As a result, every design decision carefully reflects
different aspects of ATA’s identity. Today, the organization’s brand is an
experience that permeates the entire workplace environment.
Group approached us with a different challenge: employee retention. Significant
growth within the firm had simultaneously led to increases in staff
turnover—creating a need and opportunity for CoStar to refocus its corporate
identity as a way of attracting and retaining a new generation of workers. We
developed a branded concept to be rolled out in multiple office locations that
strengthens the firm’s ability to deliver real-time, industry-specific
information in a vibrant workplace that is inimitably their own. CoStar’s staff
turnover has gone down by as much as 24 percent since the implementation of the
new workplace concept.
Most recently, we used this same strategic
approach to design our new office in downtown Washington, DC. We wanted the
entire process to serve as a laboratory for our design talent and as a test case
to share with clients. As a result, we’ve created a workplace that, we believe,
serves as a tangible representation of who we are and what we stand for.
Regardless of our client’s goals, we combine architecture and interiors with a
range of non-traditional design services to help clients make the most of their
Thom McKay, a vice president at RTKL, heads up the Environments Studio in the firm’s Washington, D.C.,
office. McKay brings two decades of marketing and communications to the
brand-oriented and experience-based design studio. RTKL, an international
design, engineering and creative services firm, has been part of the ARCADIS
global network since 2007.