Brand + Culture + People = Place


At IA, the Equation Adds Up to More Than the Sum of Its Parts.

Tresata in Charlotte. Photo by Monica Slaney.

Despite these days of being able to leverage highly advanced technology and data, interior design is still very much an art, not a science. Accordingly, the design of an interior or an environment – whether a workplace, a retail destination, or a restaurant – is not a formulaic enterprise. Each IA project is utterly unique, the byproduct of an inspired  analysis and synthesis of existing site conditions; end users’ needs; client peculiarities, personalities, and preferences; and a myriad of other factors.

But at IA, design thinking is guided by a sort of conceptual equation we hold as a truism:

brand + culture + people = place

Meaning that all three ingredients—a client’s positioning, its corporate culture and values, and the aggregate character of those who work there—are carefully and equally weighed when designing a space. Indeed, those three components are as much the building blocks of a workplace as are the furnishings, the technological infrastructure, and the building envelope itself. As a corollary, “place” is more than just a physical design executed in color and materials and finishes. Rather, one experiences place as a combination of concrete and intangible elements.

Applied Predictive Technologies in Arlington. Photo by Thomas McConnell.

At various stages of the design process, IA teams from our key areas of expertise conduct interviews, observations, and other such engagements to learn about the aforementioned factors:

  • The IA Strategies team delves deeply into a client’s brand and culture—an involved process necessitating much research, observation, discussion, and asking the right questions to glean information far more granular than what is typically conveyed in corporate collateral. Focus groups, site visits, interactive activities, and even word association exercises are among the tools used to uncover a crystal-clear picture of corporate culture and positioning. “It’s a very comprehensive and multilayered means of understanding who the client is,” says Mary Lee Duff, IA principal and director of IA Strategies.
  • The Experiential Graphic Design team is also heavily involved at the project’s visioning stage, and initiates its own set of queries and exercises to ascertain big-picture insight into a client’s brand, culture, and people—all ultimately to be expressed via features like wall graphics, site-specific artworks, interactive and digital displays, applications of branded color and materials, and additional sensorial gestures. A key focus of their investigation is to uncover what story lines the space should or could express. These potential narrative strands get bucketed into categories corresponding to the above equation; company history falls under “brand,” while employee volunteer initiatives fall under “people.” A branded environment should be calibrated based on how forcefully or explicitly the client wishes to convey its message. Some desire to display mission and value statements prominently; others prefer a more tailored, understated expression. “That might translate into softer-spoken elements like logos and motifs cut into wood, or etched into distraction film,” explains Julie Maggos, senior associate and director of Experiential Graphics. The EGD team also analyzes the “audience”—the varied user groups, both internal and public-facing—that the graphic program should communicate to: Should the space be geared strictly to employees, or will it also need to function as a showpiece to visitors, for instance? This exercise typically reveals audiences the client hadn’t initially considered. “For instance, the opportunity to give tours of their office to school groups—something they may not have done in their previous space,” says Maggos.
  • Culture is leveraged as a powerful tool for recruitment, retention, brand building, and even wellness enhancing. At the same time, every company’s approach to and valuation of health and wellbeing varies. Accordingly, our designers and strategists drill down on a client’s cultural subtleties to determine what measures will be the most effective and impactful investment. One client may benefit from a yoga/meditation studio, while another may prefer to implement a robust plantscaping program.
  • The Design Intelligence group innovates and exploits pioneering technology including virtual reality software to offer end users an immersive experience with their space prior to occupancy – ensuring stakeholders and staffers feel the design is an accurate self-reflection.

Scotiabank Digital Factory in Toronto. Photo by doublespace.

Sometimes a client’s brand and culture are quite clearly established; in other cases, those attributes are more challenging to discern. IA frequently works with companies in transition: rebranding, redefining, merging, perhaps purchasing a new subsidiary that needs to be integrated into the workplace. There may even be an influx of new hires, or a population turnover during this phase. The notion of change as a constant is at the root of IA’s thoughtful and probing approach to understanding and analyzing, through many lenses, a client’s unique culture and positioning—not only as it currently presents itself but also where the company might hope to take it.

In such cases, the goal is often a spatial design that’s both specific yet open-ended enough to support evolution. Design can encourage and enable cultural transition: an office renovation or relocation as an ideal opportunity to reinforce existing values and inspire certain desired new behaviors. “We’ve often witnessed a client’s culture shift dramatically on the very first day they move into their new space,” says Duff. When the environment is conceived with evolution in mind, changeability and interactivity will likely be important facets of the EGD program as well, giving clients the ability and flexibility to adjust graphic elements on an ongoing basis.

Every IA project exhibits a deft interplay of brand, culture, and people. Here are a few recent examples of how these three factors inform one another:

Applied Predictive Technologies in Arlington. Photo by Thomas McConnell.

  • Applied Predictive Technologies: The overarching theme of software company APT’s Arlington, Virginia, headquarters is data is beautiful, reflected in design features incorporating motifs based on data collection and the like—for instance, the binary patterns that appear in a custom light fixture above the stair and the feature wall behind reception. A materials palette that pairs raw, organic elements (exposed concrete, reclaimed wood) with more refined touches telegraphs the firm’s flat, egalitarian culture and startup-meets-stalwart sensibility. Flexible lounge, huddle, and office spaces that can be combined or reconfigured to accommodate team needs (and future growth) further communicate a culture of autonomy.
  • Tresata in Charlotte, NC. Photo by Monica Slaney.

  • Tresata: For the Charlotte, North Carolina, office of this predictive analytics company, IA embraced the concept of “contrast” to reflect the brand’s innovative, nontraditional culture. That is expressed through elements including dramatic lighting, the juxtaposition of dark and light colors, and a curvaceous drop ceiling feature that morphs into seating booths. An abundance of glass furthermore represents the company’s cultural emphasis on transparency.
  • Scotiabank Digital Factory in Toronto. Photo by doublespace.

  • Scotiabank: The FinTech company’s Toronto location—a headquarters for the firm’s digital team—bespeaks values of collaboration and community mindedness via such features as a central rotunda, color-coded neighborhoods, and welcoming gathering spaces. Scotiabank’s emphasis on a balance of work and downtime is evidenced by a robust amenities program.

  • IA is a global firm of architects, designers, strategists, and specialists .We focus exclusively on environments through the lens of interior architecture—a radical idea in 1984, when IA was founded. We are highly connected agents of change, committed to creativity, innovation, growth, and community.

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    At IA, the equation adds up to more than the sum of its parts. 

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