Place-Led Branding—Looking Back to Move Forward

If you work in an urban environment, you’ll more than likely find yourself designing for adaptive reuse spaces at some point. These buildings often have a unique history and sense of place, which begs the question: “How do you embrace the past while designing for the future and the user?”

Join Rios Clementi Hale Director of Experiential Design Erin Williams for her 2018 SEGD Branded Environmentssession, “Place-Led Branding: Designing for Adaptive Re-Use in the Urban Environment,” and learn how urban neighborhoods and existing structures are being reshaped, reimagined and turned into new multi-purpose destinations through place-led branding. This session is sponsored by Color-Ad.

In the meantime, see what Erin has to say about her favorite projects, the essence of place-led branding and what she hopes you’ll take away from her 2018 SEGD Branded Environments session.

Your experience spans architecture, design research and strategy and information design. How did you land in experiential graphic design?

I figured out shortly after graduating from architecture school that this was where I wanted to be, but it took me a few more years to get here. I took a job in research and strategy when the construction industry was down and wound up learning much more than I expected, and really becoming a better designer for it.

How do you approach design?

I’m really a systems thinker at heart. I want to know how everything fits into everything else, how all the dominos line up to make something bigger and more interesting, what’s the story or the value proposition at the core of it all. So I constantly toggle between the big picture and the little details, making sure everything is working together.

What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on and why?

First Energy Stadium Renovation in Cleveland: This was a blast not only because I love football, but it was also such a fun challenge to really show them how to scale their brand up and pay attention to the pacing of the user experience.

ROW DTLA: The challenge of helping a century-old warehouse complex become this really engaging multi-use space for a very contemporary audience was really exciting. It’s been really rewarding that every time I go back I get to see how a new tenant has interpreted the guidelines and worked with the spaces.

Santa Monica Airport Park (Phase 1): This one is still on the boards, but I can’t wait to see it realized. The site is an airport that’s being decommissioned and has this amazing history dating back to the 1920s, propeller planes, and even a period of site camouflage during WWII. The team has put that story into every detail of the design, and it’s great to be a part of.

What are the top considerations when creating a brand-centric customer experience?

It’s really about finding where the user, the place and the brand(s) intersect. Ideally there is some common cause, some harmony of purpose or viewpoint. For me, it’s about balancing those different points of view, making sure all the different users of the space are getting what they need—the clarity, the representation, the excitement, whatever they need from that space.

What is place-led branding?

There’s been a big trend in branding places in the last several years. Every apartment building, every office complex, every little space seems to be getting “branded” now. And for new construction, that’s often about what we hope it can become—what we envision happening in some idealized future.

But what about when that building or that site has a past? How do we respect that and, at the same time, move forward? Especially when the brand is about a specific place, as opposed to applying an existing consumer brand, I think we have an obligation to honor that past.

At the same time, people have become so overwhelmed by branding. Our environment is so saturated that I think that this sense of history and authentic story is what we crave in response to that.

So when I say “place-led branding,” it’s choosing to putting the story of the space at the core—looking back to move forward.

What are some branded environments that inspire you?

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is a perfect example. You can keep your new stadiums; I wouldn’t trade the history of that place for anything.

Also, I was just in Austin and was so fascinated by South Congress. It was complete brand overload and yet so delightful in its irregularity that I didn’t mind.

What do you hope attendees will take away from your session?

A renewed excitement and reverence for the places and spaces that we work in, especially those with rich past lives.

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s Branded Environments event?

Getting to see what people around the country are doing! The SEGD community is such an inspiring one, and I can’t wait to see what everyone else has been up to.

Make sure you join Erin and the talented lineup of speakers at this year’s Branded Environments event. Tickets are going fast! Register now.