If These Walls Could Talk: The Power of Environmental Graphic Design

by John Nelson

On a basic level, environmental graphic design (EGD) is about communicating information through visual media and tactical installations. But it’s not just about conveying information, it’s also about expressing ideas and identity. On a more engaging level, EGD is about making a space memorable and about connecting people to spaces through the thoughtful and strategic use of graphics, signage, art and artistry.

EGD includes a wide array of applications and expressions. From practical and simple design to inspiring and uniquely thoughtful compositions, EGD professionals blend environmental graphics with both the built environment and interior design to reinforce identity and bring elements of an organization’s professional culture into the space. In other words, EGD isn’t just about where you are — but more importantly, who you are.

Chelsea Curry, Graphic Design Lead of M+A Architects

Chelsea Curry, Graphic Design Lead of M+A Architects

For owners, managers, businesses and brokers, understanding the power and potential of high-quality EGD is critically important. It can greatly enhance the properties that people own, operate, lend on or broker — helping to sell a space and vision or sell a client on your brand, building or business.

Influential Storytelling
EGD attracts people to not only a polished, beautiful space, but can also visually demonstrate the potential of a space through a wide range of design elements, including material, color, texture, shape, style, lighting and imagery.

That variation and virtually unlimited aesthetic possibility are important because environmental graphics are not just about physical design elements, but also personality and perspective; it’s about telling a story. That storytelling not only defines, differentiates and highlights a space, but also reflects the personality of those who live and work in it.

Thoughtful and well-executed EGD can be more than prosaic signage and art on the wall; it’s an invaluable asset that speaks to both your internal team, as well as to clients and colleagues. A well-designed EGD package analyzes how people move through a space or building. Those various paths highlight where the high volume areas are, and ultimately highlight where graphics can really create a meaningful moment.

The way people typically move through your space can function like a kind of living storyboard, presenting information in a specific order and in a style that is designed to facilitate conversation and communicate ideas in an intentional way. For instance, when employees take their daily path from the entrance of the Gorilla Glue Headquarters in Sharonville, Ohio, to their desk or meeting space, they have to walk around a collaboration room hugged in red oak paneling with floor-to-ceiling glass walls. The company’s catchphrase is highlighted in brushed aluminum lettering and its brand is showcased in the interior through wall graphics that depict the progression of the Gorilla Glue bottle design. This showpiece reinforces what Gorilla Glue stands for and subtly communicates the intangible characteristics of the brand: tough, honest, playful and trustworthy.

How to Get Started
Because EGD can be such an active and integral part of your operation, an important first step is to sit down with an EGD expert and discuss what your space offers, in terms of opportunities to communicate your culture and identity. Early conceptual renderings or mock-ups, can be created to quickly demonstrate ideas for how EGD can transform a vacant space.

After the initial mock-ups, you and your EGD team can really dig into what makes the organization tick and why people work there. Heritage, brand, unique quirks and future goals all make an impact on how the designer starts to think about graphically representing the organization.

Using Revit and Adobe software, environmental graphic designers will process all of that information and create 3D mock-ups and renderings to help convey how EGD will look in the space. This makes it easier for companies to visualize and buy into how the concepts visually communicate the space’s full potential. EGD can help differentiate the space in a buyer’s mind.

Popularity and Potential
The potential utility and significant return on investment (ROI) is helping EGD to expand rapidly. In fact, EGD has now crossed over into every market and is continuing to pick up speed as it grows in familiarity and designers continue to push the boundaries on unique and different applications.

A large part of its expanding appeal is the desire for something new and interesting; people are tired of typical and boring. EGD introduces unexpected surprises in the form of materials, colors, textures and imagery, and it does so in a way designed to deliver the kind of experiential punch that gives a space a memorable and enduring sense of place. It can be done very simply and cost effectively, or can be part of a more elaborate and dynamic package.

In the Crawford Hoying corporate office in Dublin, Ohio, an experiential installation of over 1,200 silver keys represents the foundation of the brand — one that started with one apartment lease and grew into a successful business. The keys appear to float on the lobby wall, creating a glittering field of texture while integrating metal plaques showcasing Crawford Hoying’s memorable milestones.

In the Crawford Hoying corporate office in Dublin, Ohio, an experiential installation of over 1,200 silver keys represents the foundation of the brand — one that started with one apartment lease and grew into a successful business.

In the Crawford Hoying corporate office in Dublin, Ohio, an experiential installation of over 1,200 silver keys represents the foundation of the brand — one that started with one apartment lease and grew into a successful business.

Impacts on the Bottom Line
The diversity and dynamism of high-quality EGD can make a meaningful bottom-line difference. EGD can serve as a powerful sales tool for brokers, making it that much easier to sell a specific vision to potential clients as they walk a space or talk through ideas. The visual and experiential appeal of a space with outstanding EGD can help create a profound connection between people and place, making EGD a powerful tool for recruitment and retention. Along those same lines, most developments have a story, or brand, that’s used to help attract tenants. Leveraging EGD gives you another outlet to communicate that message and differentiate your development from your competitors.

With that in mind, understanding the basics with respect to EGD possibilities becomes an important asset. From the standpoint of an owner, operator or broker, becoming more knowledgeable about the wide variety of ways that you can customize a space for a group or individual almost immediately expands your pool of potential applicants — and increases the odds that one of those future occupants will sign on the dotted line. If a broker’s client is interested in EGD, then the broker’s ability to connect them with established professionals that can help them execute their vision, which further reinforces their value, industry connections and knowledge. Essentially, a basic understanding of the ways in which you can present a brand, an image or a message to make a space more memorable and appealing is a value-added service for potential buyers or tenants.

And because EGD is such a flexible way to showcase a brand, a building or a business, even a temporary environmental graphics and signage package can make a dramatic difference. The bottom-line is that the ability to transform a formerly conventional or uninspiring environment into a powerful communication tool is a remarkable asset for any business or any professional.

— By Chelsea Curry, Graphic Design Lead of M+A Architects. M+A has offices in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio.

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