How Design Thinking Transforms Spaces with 'Environmental Branding'

RGD asked industry leaders to explain how strategic design thinking can help extend a brand into the physical environment. Check out Part One of an ongoing series exploring how successful brands communicate their message through well-designed spaces.



Design professionals understand the brand (and the space). 


Designers and clients alike know that a brand is more than a logo; among other things, it should communicate a feeling, a philosophy and an experience. Through architectural graphics, wayfinding and identification signage, a space can be transformed into an influential and memorable tool for conveying a brand's message and personality. A well-designed space engages audiences with your brand from the moment they walk through your door. 


"If branding is about aligning promise with expectation, then a person's experience within an environment should be considered a form of branding." John deWolf RGD


Image: Nu Xtore, Shikatani Lacroix Design 


"If branding is about aligning promise with expectation, then a person's experience within an environment should be considered a form of branding," says John deWolf RGD, Vice President of Form:Media. "We begin every project with a discovery phase intended to reveal a core idea, which allows the team to make decisions based on a focused approach."


Establishing the core idea of the brand at the outset of the project helps inform the flow of each subsequent decision. "Agreeing on the tenants of the brand, as well as the design strategy, is first and foremost," says Joseph Duffy, DUFFY & Partners. "From there we establish a set of design principles which will help articulate the brand in a visual way."


Image: Coast Capital Savings HQ, Rethink


Open dialogue and effective collaboration between client and design team are essential for achieving a cohesive brand experience. As pointed out by Jean-Pierre Lacroix RGD, President of Shikatani Lacroix Design, "The most important step is ensuring each element is thoroughly planned, developed and approved by the client." For SLD's work on the Nu Xtore in Shenzhen, China, this involved daily concept reviews and approval through the client's management structure. "Each zone [of the space] has its own personality, reflecting the brand position and identity, and the the customer journey has been choreographed right from the entrance."


Project Examples


Shikatani Lacroix Design: Nu Xtore

On November 23, 2018, Nu Skin officially unveiled their new experience center, Nu Xtore, in Shenzhen, China. Designed by Shikatani Lacroix Design (SLD), the state-of-the-art Nu Xtore features an increased focus on the customer experience and incorporates the latest in design and technology. Incorporating Nu Skin’s history and high-quality products, the space creates an immersive experience for shoppers and business partners that supports the idea of “discovering the best you.” The addition of interactive technology allows customers to gain a further understanding of their health and body, while an improved store layout that is centred around the “Fountain of You” communicates Nu Skin’s brand essence and values.  Nu Xtores are expected to be opened in cities across China, further solidifying Nu Skin as an industry leader in rewarding business opportunities and innovative beauty products.





Rethink: Coast Capital Savings 

In 2016, after five years of planning and development, Canada's largest credit union by membership Coast Capital Savings moved into its innovative new headquarters. During the building's development, Rethink was tasked with an environmental design brief that had a clear objective: bring Coast Capital's fun and quirky brand to life in the physical space while reflecting their membership in various communities. This manifested into many different design elements including a history wall, regionally designed cafes, boardrooms with a localized naming convention and branded wayfinding throughout. The resulting experience is the deliberate antithesis of a traditional corporate head office with Coast Capital's brand, values and culture woven into every aspect, big and small.



Look for more Environmental Branding insights coming soon! 


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.


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.



Published January 2019