Environmental Branding: Creating Immersive Experiences

RGD's Environmental Branding series invites creative leaders to share insights on creating effective wayfinding, signage and architectural graphics. In part four, designers weigh in on the importance of creativity and creative problem solving. 


A professional designer works within the space but thinks outside the box.  


Working within existing brand guidelines can be challenging, but it can also be an opportunity to brainstorm new ideas and test out different executions. "Any designer, as part of their practice, should work to move the industry forward. One should push clients and design team to think beyond the obvious, easy solutions," says John deWolf RGD, Vice President of Form:Media.


"We encourage our clients to use their space in a more meaningful and engaging way." Michael Kelar RGD


Project: Weston Bakeries, Jacknife Design  


Debbie Adams RGD of A+A Design also emphasizes the importance of balancing a brand's established look and feel with new interpretations that could be inspired by the space. "Environmental branding is an opportunity to integrate a brand into an overall design plan—the overarching concept or approach, the materials, colours and finishes of the space must be considered—but it is also an opportunity to make a statement and create a unique brand for a space. Viewing distance, appropriateness and integration into the design vision are key to the success of a project."


Project: The Bentway, Field Trip & Co 


Jessica Vitale RGD (FORREC) points out that environmental branding provides an opportunity to bring a brand's unique character to life. "With environmental branding, it’s capturing those ‘moments’ and bringing them to life for an immersive experience," she explains. "Environmental branding is an opportunity to take the branding, as defined in the brand guidelines, to a new application. The methodology for translating a brand to web or print or an environment is essentially the same, even if the end result is something totally new that the media or outlet allows for. Where there is no established brand, to be able to define the brand character in an environment we can physically experience is truly a gift!”


Michael Kelar RGD, Creative Director at Jacknife agrees that the expertise of a design team can help clients create a more distinctive experience within their physical environment. "We encourage our clients to use their space in a more meaningful and engaging way. We always want to create work that challenges and doesn’t become dated shortly after installation," he says. "We typically look at our clients' brand guides for only very functional information such as brand colours, logo restrictions and any rules around other brand elements. Strict brand elements mostly appear at reception where they serve a functional role as brand signage, but once we move into the space the brand needs to spread it wings and take on a more dynamic expression."


'Outside the box' thinking can also be helpful for addressing restraints within the physical space, as Iliana Sergeev RGD discovered in IS Design Labs' design for Viral Arcade & Lounge. "The open warehouse space had very few walls to work with," she explains. "Our design solution was to create 10 square play areas where players would be safe from bumping into one another or a hard wall. The areas also needed to be secluded to create a mystery beyond the entry lounge area." 


Project Examples


Jacknife Design: Weston Bakeries Branded Environment

For the Weston branded environment project, the goal was to turn employees and their partners into enthusiastic brand ambassadors. The Jacknife team focused on creating unconventional and engaging large format creative that aimed to highlight Weston's core brands, bread culture and the evolution of the Weston Bakeries steeped history. Access to the client's extensive historical image library meant the team was able to re-contextualize the imagery and bring to life Weston's new philosophy, "Fresh Forward." Their brand story was told across Weston’s full space including reception, meeting rooms, common spaces, staff kitchens, employee staircases, bathrooms and office areas.




IS Design Labs: Viral Arcade & Lounge

Viral is a virtual reality arcade and lounge in Mississauga, Ontario. The scope of this project was to create a visual identity, branding package and interior design work for a themed start-up. The client had just leased a commercial space and was looking to create a VR arcade to stand out from the competition in an increasingly crowded market. 'Modern Space' was selected as the theme for the design, with the following description: "Aboard a ship with amazing deep-space views, the immersive environment will prepare your eyes for what will follow. Players will explore various types of seating options and visual cues in a clean, modern surrounding while waiting to enter the dark matter space where the gaming will start." 





Click here to read more from RGD's Environmental Branding series.


Series Contributors 


Debbie Adams RGD, Principal at A+A Design

Debbie graduated with honours from the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) in 1983. Following employment with two top Toronto design firms, Burton Kramer Associates and Spencer Francey Peters, she established the partnership of Adams/Bhandari in 1987 and her own firm, Adams + Associates Design Consultants (A+A) Inc in 1988. She has acted as principal, creative director and designer at A+A for over 20 years, overseeing and creating award-winning design communications for a full spectrum of clients.


Claude Auchu, Partner and CEO, lg2

Claude has been named one of the top 15 creative directors in Canada, one of the top 10 personalities of the year in Quebec by Infopresse and has been a member of multiple prestigious international juries, including the Cannes Lions Festival, the CLIO Awards and the London International Awards, in addition to chairing the jury for Canada's two largest design competitions. In 2006, he joined lg2 as a founding partner and creative director of the design studio. Since then, the studio has become one of the most respected and rewarded in Canada, winning more than 400 national and international prizes. It was also named Canada’s Design Studio of the Year in 2017.


John deWolf RGD, Form:Media

Form:Media is a interdisciplinary studio, based in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. With sister company Ekistics Planning & Design, the integrated studio of architects, landscape architects, urban designers, planners, graphic designers, interpretive planners and brand experts sees beyond the traditional silos of discipline and collaborate to create meaningful engaging, and evocative built environments.


Joseph Duffy, DUFFY & Partners.

Joseph was born into the design business—literally. He has learned from some of the world’s most talented creative people and set out to follow in his father’s footsteps from day one. Joseph is charged with bringing brilliant creative opportunities to the Duffy team as well as being the keeper of the Duffy brand. Joseph’s work has been recognized for design excellence by: American Institute of Graphic Arts, Communication Arts, Print, Graphis and numerous other publications and organizations. He also travels around the country speaking to design organizations and schools and often judges design competitions and award shows.


Michael Kelar RGD, Creative Director, Jacknife Design

Michael is a product of Ontario College of Art & Design’s respected graphic design program. He co-founded the experimental design studio AmoebaCorp in 1996 and in 2013 came together with other highly respected industry contemporaries to create a refreshing new multi-tooled design led agency Jacknife. Throughout his professional career, Mike has brought his unique brand of creative craftsmanship and leadership to major projects for the likes of Nike, Molson Coors, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Red Bull, Second Cup, Hudson’s Bay, Weston and Nestlé. An advocate of designing with purpose, he believes that good design is the meaningful bridge between functionality and human experience, intuition with inarguable reason.


Jean-Pierre Lacroix RGD, President, Shikatani Lacroix Design

Since opening the Shikatani Lacroix Design doors more than 25 years ago, JP has grown this company into one of the most respected and sought after multidisciplinary strategic design agencies in the world. Along the way, he has developed a reputation as a true innovator and first-rate problem-solver, with expertise in providing clients with unique, results-driven solutions for their product and service needs.


Iliana Sergeev RGD, IS Design Labs

Iliana has spent the last 10 years in the design industry working with international brands all around the world to bring ideas into reality and creating multi-sensory experiences. She is passionate about finding creative ways to interconnect brands and spaces strategically by uniting them through consistent brand storytelling - signage, poster series, murals, statement walls, installations. 


Carolina Soderholm & Alison Garnett, Field Trip & Co

Field Trip & Co is a Toronto-based creative studio that works collaboratively to build thoughtfully crafted, compelling brand stories, across multiple disciplines and platforms. Carolina has worked as a designer in Sweden, Vancouver and New York. She spent six years as a senior designer at Bruce Mau Design in Toronto and led Designholmen for seven years, before Launching Field Trip & Co.  Alison is a Toronto-based creative director with over 20 years of global and national design, advertising and digital experience. Through the course of her award-winning career, Alison’s work has spanned various industries including automotive, retail, consumer-packaged goods, professional services, telecommunications and not-for-profit. 


Hans Thiessen, Creative Director of Design, Rethink

Hans Thiessen is the Creative Director of Design at Rethink. He throws curveball ideas, sweats the details and eats a bowl of laughs for breakfast. Over the past decade, Hans has helped ambitious clients achieve success including IKEA, Uber, Nike, EA, Molson Coors, WestJet, Shaw, A&W, CBC, Canada Skateboard and The One Club among many others. Hans’ work has been recognized with over 100 national and international awards, including the prestigious D&AD Black Pencil.


Jessica Vitale RGD, Director, Graphics Studio FORREC

Jessica holds a Bachelor of Design in Graphic Design from OCADU. After graduation, Jessica worked for several graphic design firms, including over six years at multi-disciplinary design firm DIALOG. Jessica’s journey to FORREC has led her to channel her knowledge of design, branding, advertising, marketing, digital, and environmental graphic design to create material for many different clients across multiple sectors including inspiring companies such as UNICEF Canada, Plan Canada, Kids Help Phone and CAMH.


Published April 2019