Can you feel it?

The role of design in building brand values is about more than just looks. It is about creating a physical and an emotional experience, says Richenda Wilson

Some brands have little or no presence other than the products they sell or the services they offer. While these may be backed up with strong advertising campaigns, when it comes to having a physical quality, many brands remain in a void. Designed environments can go a long way in emphasising a brand’s values and bringing it to life in experiential terms.

Take Guinness. There’s the stout itself, of course – an incredibly strong brand. There’s the advertising – challenging, award-winning and attuned to the brand values. But for a product that is all about social interaction, when it comes to the environments in which the drink is consumed, the brewer itself has no control over lighting, colours, noise and other physical elements.

However, at the Storehouse in Dublin, Guinness has a space that it has made its own, conveying the brand’s personality innovatively.

Storehouse is the result of collaboration between Guinness and design consultancy Imagination. The goal was to create a brand “home” where Guinness could develop relationships with its internal, business, consumer and community markets: Storehouse has restaurants and bars and an exhibition space.

The brand is emphasised through various elements, such as an exhibition charting the history of Guinness and an atrium in the shape of a pint of Guiness, the “head” of which is a top-floor bar with commanding views over Dublin.

“Normally, we have to put together a tone of voice for the brand; but Guinness already had a tremendous insight into ‘Guinnessness’,” says Ralph Ardill, marketing and strategic planning director at Imagination. “However, it wasn’t in the “place-making” business and had no rulebook for bringing the brand to life physically. So our design work started there – talking about culture, ambience and lighting.”

Irish cream

Storehouse is intended to act as the ultimate experience of the character of Guinness. The aim was to emphasise cultural citizenship, rather than to create a corporate cathedral. And it seems to have worked. Not only has it become Ireland’s top tourist attraction, but its bars, parties and events also pull in young Dubliners, who feel they own the home of Guinness as well as the brand itself.

Ardill sees the definition of design expanding as design companies are asked to grapple with more strategic elements of a brand and to look at the “design” of relationships and business models.

He also envisages an increasing interest in experiential design as a way of broadening the influence of a product and of conveying more information about the brand than advertising can. “You have a captive audience and you don’t have to work in 30-second slots. You can engage them over a longer period of time.”

Unilever, which has been involved in sponsoring exhibition space, has also faced the challenge of conveying the brand’s values without being too overt. The company sponsors Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, commissioning a different artist each year to create an original installation for one of the world’s most iconic arts spaces.

Pia Collocott, account director at Creative Partnership Marketing, which worked with Unilever on the Tate sponsorship, explains that the tie-up and its visual identity are intended to reflect Unilever’s strong commitment to nurturing creativity that challenges and expands minds.

“Design should never overshadow a brand; it should be integral in supporting and elevating it,” says Collocott. “The sponsorship also provides an opportunity to give employees privileged access to the originality and inspiration of the artists’ work. It thereby directly encourages and symbolises for employees the creativity that Unilever regards as vital to its competitive strength in today’s market.”

Space-planning consultancy Idea has been involved in a similar exercise for the BBC, looking at using design to persuade consumers and employees that the corporation is becoming more open.

BBC Birmingham is moving from Pebble Mill to The Mailbox in the city centre. Designs for the space emphasise the BBC’s openness, transparency and accessibility by using glass walls, open-plan offices and public areas, such as a café and gallery. Fun interactive elements, such as an area where visitors can try reading the news, are also planned.

“Pebble Mill wasn’t open to the public, in that you saw what the BBC wanted you to see,” says Idea interior design director Fran Raybould.

She adds that the designs for The Mailbox are as much about convincing employees of the corporation’s new values as about building the brand for visitors and viewers.

“Internal communication is a difficult task for many,” says Raybould. “Some BBC staff were reluctant to make the move. A lot of our work is about communicating the move to staff and explaining that the design will help them to work better and make teamwork easier.”

No to rule of thumb

As the BBC example shows, physical environments can have a major role not just in underlining a brand’s key values but in helping to reposition it.

Design company Odd has been working alongside TBWA on PlayStation, as the games brand aims to move away from its hardcore gamers “Third Place” positioning to a more inclusive “Fun, Anyone?” proposition. This means taking the brand – and the concept of fun – and putting them in unusual environments.

Odd has worked on the PlayStation Experience, an event held at Earl’s Court in August. Rather than simply having banks of consoles, Odd came up with more immersive environments, such as having real punch bags in the fight game zone, a ball pit in the children’s game area and basketball hoops in the sports section – all elements designed to attract non-gamers.

The real deal

When it came to designing the flagship store for online wedding site, brand design consultancy Coley Porter Bell faced a different challenge: how to bring a brand that had existed solely on the internet into the real, three-dimensional world. The visual planning for the store included consideration of Confetti’s mood and personality. The store had to feel contemporary, urban and cool as well as magical, celebratory and fun.

“It helps that we had never looked at the brand simply as a dotcom,” says Coley Porter Bell creative director Stephen Bell. “When we did the original identity, we looked at it as a total brand and made sure we had all the ingredients, such as the type, logo, colours and the photographic and illustrative style. That made it easier to take it into stores.”

With the opening of the first store in 2002 – and a second in Leeds early last month – Confetti is becoming a stronger brand, demonstrating the ability of design to bring a product to life and allow it to be experienced in new ways.

As Ardill says: “People talk about brands having a personality but they are often bland and developed with a two-dimensional, broadcast mindset. The emotional centre is missing. Through experiential design you can engage people in a different dialogue and can say more profound and resonant things.”

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