Panasonic's Graphic Genius

Panasonic’s North American headquarters celebrates innovation and the world-changing people who make it happen.

Innovation drives Panasonic and is at the heart of everything the company does. But sometimes, even huge multinational corporations need to be reminded of their roots, and that was at least part of the motivation behind Panasonic’s new LEED-Gold-designed North American headquarters. When the company decided to move from Secaucus, N.J., to the Newark waterfront just across the river from Manhattan, it wanted to celebrate innovation and the people who make it happen.

It chose GHD | Graham Hanson Design(New York) to translate what “Innovation” means in the new 340,000-square-foot workspace. The goal was not only to engage and inspire employees, customers, and new recruits, but to reflect the spirit of change the brand is currently undergoing, says Tom Murano, Director of Brand Strategy at Panasonic North America Corp.

“We wanted to create a modern, world-class facility to support the future of Panasonic and create synergies that closely align with our strategic goals. And we wanted to ‘live our message’ by fully integrating the brand with the built environment.” To do that, adds Murano, the office needed to embody collaboration, inspiration, and innovation.

Making their mark
The existing condition would not be difficult to improve upon, says Graham Hanson,whose firm won a competitive RFP process to design the environmental graphics, base building signage, and wayfinding.

“The Secaucus office was dark and dreary, with essentially no brand presence.” In large part, he adds, the project’s goal was to “to help reinvigorate a complacent workplace culture that lacked an innovative paradigm.”

The new office is located in a brand-new, Gensler-designed 12-story building that  earned both LEED Gold (core and shell) and Platinum (commercial interiors) certifications. The interior design, by HLW International, provided an open, sun-drenched canvas for environmental graphics, with large windows and great views of New York City.

The GHD team launched the design process with discovery interviews with Panasonic employees, then initiated a series of conceptual studies focused on how to bring the Panasonic brand to life. “Innovation is a theme they’ve used for many years for obvious reasons and continue to push, so it was a clear choice,” says Hanson. The question then became, “How do we bring that vision to life in a tangible, compelling way?”

The final solution was fairly straightforward: Honor and celebrate a diverse selection of historic innovators and the world-changing designs they created. “In this setting, we thought it would be most effective to show people examples of innovation in an overt, tangible, and understandable fashion. Within this culture, it seemed more effective than nuanced or abstracted graphics.”

New ways of thinking
The team researched and chose seven great innovators—being careful to balance the representation by gender, race, and culture—to be the “stars” of the building’s main floors.

“When you start to look at well-known historical innovators, the initial impression seems to lack diversity,” Hanson says. “We wanted to inspire a more diverse way of thinking about things and remind people that past and present innovators come from many backgrounds.”

So in addition to Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Albert Einstein, the graphics feature American computer scientist and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, Marie Curie, and African American inventor Granville Woods. The 12th/executive floor is dedicated to the innovations of Panasonic founder Konosuke Matsushita and other innovators who work for the company. (Current CEO Kazuhiro Tsuga’s patents were incorporated into the graphics, and during a site visit when the new office opened, he signed the wall that features his innovations.)

For each of seven main floors, the team assigned an innovator, a color palette, and one of Konosuke Matsushita’s basic business principles (honesty and fairness, cooperation and team spirit, etc.). Environmental graphics include large-scale photographic portraits of the innovators as well as wallcoverings featuring their actual patent drawings and notations, overlaid with inventive typographic treatments inspired by the linework drawings.

“The draftsmanship-like quality of the drawings became the basis for the visual vocabulary carried through the space,” says Hanson. The team combined, manipulated, and overlapped Helvetica BQ, Times New Roman, Rockwell, and Futura to complement the drawings. Signage uses Helvetica BQ.

Real-world challenges
The drawings and their inspiration were a bonus for the GHD team: a key project challenge was making a graphic impact in the large office space while staying in budget, and through their research, they discovered they could use patent drawings in the public domain.

“During the initial phases of the project, we learned the budget wouldn’t cover expensive stock imagery,” notes Adam Tanski, GHD senior designer. “The budget was more focused on fabrication and installation costs. With that in mind, we purposely chose innovators/inventions that were historically iconic and had imagery available in the public domain and/or royalty-free.” 

The project also had LEED goals that impacted material choices. The new headquarters are part of Panasonic’s effort to be the leading green innovation company in the electronics industry by 2018, the corporation’s 100th anniversary. Tanski chose Nova Polymers’ NovAcryl PT Series for ADA and acrylic signs. Painted-MDF NAUF (No Added Urea Formaldehyde) panels were used for floor directories, and Tanski specified Terralon Earth Intelligent Wallcovering throughout. He investigated environmentally friendly alternatives to vinyl film but the manufacturer would not warranty the product for its specific use, so Avery SF103 was used for all glass graphics.

Despite the budget and LEED challenges and a tight timeframe, Panasonic is enthusiastic about the results, and believes the new environment inspires employees and advances Panasonic’s changing brand culture.

“It's all about living our brand message,” says Murano. “A significant reason for the positive and uplifting reaction to the building was the very collaborative process we had with Graham Hanson's group. They were extremely professional and adaptive to the unique culture of a multinational Japanese company like Panasonic.  We found creative solutions within the scope/budget and dedicated the time and attention to meet a tight deadline as well. [Panasonic CEO] Mr. Tsuga noted after visiting our new headquarters that it is the best Panasonic office in the world and reflects the spirit of change that the brand is currently undergoing.”


Client: Panasonic North America Corp.
Location: Newark, N.J.
Architecture: Gensler (building), HLW International (interior architects)
Design: GHD | Graham Hanson Design
Design Team: Graham Hanson (principal), Adam Tanski (senior designer)
Fabrication: Drive 21
Materials: Avery SF103 (vinyl), NovAcryl PT Series (ADA and acrylic signs), Terralon Earth Intelligent Wallcovering
Photos: Deborah Kushma



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