Procter & Gamble Branded Workplaces

Building P&G’s In-House Brand

At the world’s largest consumer products company, EGD is helping drive the evolution of a corporate brand.

Through its more than 300 health and beauty brands, The Procter & Gamble Company estimates that it touches consumers three billion times a day (yes, that’s billion with a “b”), all over the planet. But unless they read the 6-point type on the back of the shampoo bottle or diaper packaging, people probably don’t know that P&G is the source of the Pampers, Pantene, Charmin, Tide, or Gillette products they use every day.

Using its own considerable brand expertise and the efforts of a global community of design partners, the Cincinnati-based company is evolving its corporate brand, starting from the inside.

Following an internal brand audit, P&G is working to leverage its corporate brand equity and strengthen its identity as one company rather than as only the maker of Bounty, Cheer, Crest, or other individual brands. The brand evolution came about after P&G’s stock prices faltered in 2000, and the company realized it needed to take a fresh look at how it presented itself in the marketplace. The brand audit resulted in a new corporate-focused selling line (“Touching lives, improving life. P&G.”) and a new way of presenting the brand visually. Recognizing the power of design, CEO A.G. Lafley charged his management team with infusing innovative design into the company at all levels.  

Taking it to work

With more than 138,000 employees worldwide, P&G realized that any brand evolution should start internally. So for the past five years, the company has been focusing on its workplaces—30 million square feet of offices and technical centers worldwide—as a branding platform.

To do that, the company is integrating architecture, interior design, and environmental graphics to communicate P&G’s corporate brand equity, says Serge Bruylants, the company’s Brussels-based global architect. “We are a company that does branding for a living. It seemed like a natural progression to look into how our spaces can reinforce the equity of the P&G brand, and also be exciting and memorable.”

So far, Bruylants’ teams of architects and designers have translated P&G’s corporate brand essence into hundreds of P&G workspaces, from Paris to Dubai and from Beijing to Cincinnati.

Transcending brand and culture

The pilot project for the workplace initiative, and a benchmark for the projects that came after it, was P&G’s global headquarters in Cincinnati. The goal was to transform an expressionless 10,000-sq.-ft. lobby space into a spirited and memorable branded experience that would communicate P&G’s corporate mission to “touch lives and improve life.” It also needed to honor P&G’s longstanding culture of innovation, collaboration, and creativity, says Kelly Kolar, principal of Kolar Design (Cincinnati), whose firm was part of the multidisciplinary design team assigned to the project.

Rather than gutting the lobby space and starting over, Bruylants’ vision was to keep the valuable architectural elements and materials as a reminder of the company’s rich heritage, but add new layers of glass and contemporary elements to express the P&G brand. The result is an open, accessible, daylight-filled space where employees and visitors meet over coffee or their laptops. 

Kolar Design was also part of a team, led by Bruylants, that developed a set of design principles to guide the workplace projects. Ultimately, the six design principles—color, shape, transparency, materials, visual style, and transitions—are the physical expression of P&G’s brand attributes, says Kolar.

Transparency, for example, addresses the openness that P&G wants to encourage. “They want to create an open and connected culture, so, visually, they communicate this by opening up walls and spaces with the use of glass, transparent materials, and light,” adds Mary Dietrich, Kolar’s design manager.

The design guidelines are meant to be inspirational, not prescriptive, Bruylants explains, because they also need to be expressed across numerous geographic locations, site features, and cultures. “What we do in Beijing is not the same as what we do in Cincinnati or Manila,” he notes. “We have to be flexible enough to transcend boundaries and embrace the cultures that P&G employees live in.”

So there are a few visual constants, including P&G’s signature bold blue and the phase graphics that allude to the company’s historic crest and to the fact that consumers use P&G products throughout various phases of the day and their lives. In contrast, imagery, accent colors, use of light, and materiality differ from location to location.

In the headquarters lobby, for example, transparency and openness are communicated in a glassed-in, living room-like setting. The focal point of the space is a dramatic, changeable mural consisting of 4- by 4-ft. glass panels treated with frosted vinyl patterns and applied graphics, including modern-day interpretations of P&G’s phases-of-the-moon crest and digitally output photos of consumers from different cultures using P&G products.

In Beijing, where the newest workplace project is being completed, P&G is focusing on its sustainability commitments. Aidea Philippines, a Manila-based architectural firm, is customizing materials and sustainable architectural solutions to respond to the facility’s needs and the unique culture of its inhabitants.

“When you see our spaces in Paris or Frankfurt or Brussels or Cincinnati, you’ll see the same approach to design, and you’ll recognize certain elements that are constant,” says Bruylants. “But each of the spaces is different and should be in tune with the local culture. We’re not trying to create a cookie-cutter design that will be duplicated everywhere.”

From the inside out

While the workplace projects are being realized at P&G facilities all over the world, it is not an official program or mandate, as wholesale renovation of P&G’s vast real estate portfolio would be cost prohibitive. Instead, the projects are taken on by individual business units as they see fit—as new spaces are purchased or leased, new brands acquired, or units relocated or renovated.

It’s also not possible for Bruylants to be involved in all the projects. “It’s really more of an influencing game,” he explains. “I see my role as developing guidelines that are meaningful but don’t stifle creativity, and creating great examples that people love and will want to use as the benchmark for their spaces.”

His role also includes educating P&G decision-makers and other employees about the value of branding their workplaces. “Part of that is showing people how our buildings and spaces can help to reinforce what the company stands for, what we do, and what makes us unique from other companies. The brand is not just about a logo or a color palette; it’s an important symbol of the company as a whole.”

Kolar worked with Bruylants and P&G’s in-house corporate brand team, led by Holly Mullenix, to develop an internal marketing brochure called “Spaces Can Be Brands, Too,” which explains the value of expressing the P&G brand in the company’s workplaces. A companion “Inspiration Toolkit” provides guidelines for expressing the brand across two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and electronic media.

Community of Practice

P&G has long been recognized for its use of collaboration and creativity to bring products to market quickly and effectively. The way it works with designers is no different.

Bruylants steers the workplace initiative with the help of a global cast of architects, designers, engineers, and other consultants he calls on to realize projects all over the world. Three years ago, he established a global Community of Practice, which consists of external design practitioners and some in-house resources. They collaborate across borders and time zones using virtual technology, and meet face-to-face at least annually to assess the need for new tools, refine guidelines, and critique each other’s work.

“The evolution of how we use architecture and design to help express our brand is a continuous process, and we’re always trying to apply the most effective strategies companywide,” he says. “It’s how we do business. Through the Community of Practice, we’ve been able to significantly accelerate our learnings. If something works well in Europe or Africa, why wouldn’t we bring that to the U.S. and vice versa?”

P&G does not pay for its architects and designers to travel to the Community of Practice conferences. But the team members see it as an investment in their own businesses, says Kolar. “It’s such a valuable process to meet with practitioners from other disciplines and cross-pollinate. We take the P&G experience out into the world and apply those learnings within our own companies.”

The EGD vision

Kolar Design’s work with P&G has grown from an initial assignment as environmental graphic designers to a strategic consulting and visioning role as a collaborative partner. Team members travel all over the world for P&G, no longer just executing projects, but helping to guide the company’s strategies around design.

“Our role in the P&G story really represents how EGD has evolved from just signs in the ground to a way of thinking about places and brands,” says Kolar. “In the beginning EGD was considered just as artwork applied afterward. Now it’s evolved as the integration of architecture, interiors, and graphics to communicate a key message. We’ve been able to contribute not only our EGD skills, but our way of thinking about complex three-dimensional problems and how to articulate a brand story within a physical space. Before a project is kicked off, there’s a whole visioning process in place, and we’re all a part of that.”

--By Pat Matson Knapp, segdDESIGN No. 20, 2008


PROCTER & GAMBLE COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE PARTNERS:  Aidea Philippines, Manila; Beric Architects, Geneva; BHDP Architecture, Cincinnati; CUH2A Inc., Princeton, N.J., and London; Kolar Design, Cincinnati; Storme Van Ranst Architektenburo, Brussels; White Design, Cincinnati

Photos:  Joe Harrison, JH Photography

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