Shipshape and Instagram Ready—RSM Design Brands Lido Marina Village

Located on a waterfront property on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, Calif., Lido Marina Village is a high-end, mixed-use retail destination that was recently revitalized by RSM Design, DJM Capital Partners and SMS Architecture.


Righting the Ship

Trendy tenants like Warby Parker, Jenni Kayne, Nobu and Serena & Lily have all taken residence at Lido Marina Village making it a regional shopping and dining destination, but the waterfront locale wasn’t always shipshape, or Instagram ready. Prior to DJM Capital Partners’ ownership, several developers endeavored to successfully transform the site but their efforts fell short, leaving the site uninviting and difficult to access and navigate, which left the city with doubts that any retail development would thrive there.

DJM Capital Partners, however, saw the potential to revive the existing buildings and energize the shared spaces in between the buildings and along the waterfront spaces in order to create a gathering space for the community between boutique retail tenants and the waterfront. They brought on collaborators RSM Design and SMS Architecture in 2014 to help bring the project to fruition using a holistic, storytelling-driven approach.

RSM Design was brought on very early in the process of visioning with stakeholders, synthesizing market research analyses with waterfront aesthetics to create an overall narrative for the project, which further evolved into a set of vision guidelines that served to align all the teams working together on the project. All of the teams involved in the project had a singular inspiration source to draw from in that vision book, complete with carefully aligned color palettes and aesthetic enhancements.

“Often, a client will be closing on a property and will want to hit the ground running,” explains Suzanne Schwartz, founding partner of RSM Design in San Clemente. “We’ll do a ‘vision DNA’ of what the property could look like; it’s essentially an aspirational look and feel book.” Kyle Richter, principal and director, adds, “We take this approach on nearly all of our projects—starting with that initial step of visioning to get on the absolute right path first.”

In addition to serving as branding and vision consultants, RSM Design team’s job was to refresh and fully utilize the existing architecture and in-between spaces through signage, wayfinding and placemaking graphics.


Getting Underway

Creating something new, fresh and engaging within the constraints of this existing infrastructure was a challenge; the heavy red brick facades and plastic-looking signage on the existing architectural structures were incongruent with the affluent, easygoing coastal tenor of life in Newport Beach. “The first order of business was painting the structures to unite the dissimilar architectural styles so that the property could be looked at as a whole,” says Schwartz. “The client was so committed to cohesiveness, they even offered to refresh the fronts of properties on site that they did not own.” The next step was signage.

Being so close to the harbor, it felt natural to create a relaxed waterfront aesthetic. Accordingly, the design team developed a nautical-inspired palette that was both neutral enough to showcase the boutique tenants, and flexible enough to allow for whimsical details throughout the property. Chris-Craft classic boats were a specific reference point for the designers, who emulated their elegant look by using highly polished teak, brass accents, rope and painted white-dipped design elements. The design team consciously, yet subtly, filled the project with rich detailing, which they affectionately refer to as “nautical nods.”

Given the varying character of the architecture, every sign had to be evaluated individually. Signage sizes were reimagined; each signage and wayfinding element was suited to its specific surroundings and viewing environment. Larger signage was used at highly visible, identifying locations while more intimate elements were implemented at key interior locations. The design team took great care in studying not only how each sign would work within the context of the overall project, but also how people moving through the space would interact at each touchpoint.

Throughout the revitalization process, the client team worked to cultivate a specific blend of tenants, knowing that the right mix could help boost the Lido Marina Village brand, and vice versa. As new tenants were brought on, the design team worked with each of them to create scale and theme-appropriate graphic and signage solutions.

While the new signage and graphic installations were highly visible and impactful, smaller changes like paint colors, updated lighting, seating and hand painted murals throughout the site contributed to a newly evident sense of place. One such solution was to turn an awkward utility area at the opening of the garage into a fountain in which young patrons can sail little push boats (that arrive via a custom-built Lido Marina Village branded cart). The garage itself was transformed as well, becoming enlivened with colorful, whimsical graphic wayfinding applications.

Working on Lido Marina Village flowed naturally, in no small part due to the client’s hands-on involvement and creative bent. “DJM definitely had a hand in steering the eclectic nature and layering of the graphics and materials,” says Richter. “They think of projects in a different way than most retail developers.”

The materiality of the project was a challenge to execute in some cases, though. Finding just the right wood, etching style and number of coats of urethane (it was six) through a series of mockups was an extensive process, but was ultimately very rewarding. “The materiality of the signage was my favorite part,” says Richter. “They were a sophisticated nod to boat accents: brass, teak wood, rope and etched, paint-filled lettering.”

The team designed nearly 30 sign types, in addition to temporary signs and barricades. Temporary graphics were lighthearted, with messages such as “Smooth sailing never made for a good sailor. Pardon our dust.” These quirky messages quickly became a bigger part of the branding, as some were chosen to be permanently hand-painted onto the windows and walls—becoming highly “Instagrammable” moments.


Full Speed Ahead

In fact, the RSM Design team helped devise a number of “social media moments” throughout the site, including hand-painted murals, fun seating arrangements, accessible identity signage and waterfront photo ops. “Engaging people through social media feeds the project’s brand,” says Schwartz. “When people see their friends taking cool photos somewhere, it generates buzz and interest and brings more people to the site.”

They thoroughly planned every “Instagram-worthy” photo op, from the visible branding and viewing angles to the artificial lighting and movement of the sun. Pedestrian and vehicular traffic and the speed at which the “moments” would be viewed were also taken into account.

The team has been able to generate consistent buzz through all phases of the project and throughout the year by using a combination of permanent and temporary installations and pop-ups.  “It’s become a huge part of what we do on a day-to-day basis,” notes Richter. “We consider not only specialty pieces like murals or quotes on walls, but also the signage for the project in general.” Schwartz adds, “You’d never think people would be taking pictures in front of the drinking fountain (where a graphic reads ‘don’t sink’), but it’s been a social media hit.”

The social media success of Lido Marina Village reflects the realization of DJM Capital Partners’ physical ambitions for the property. It stands as a completely unique retail project because of the location and its non-traditional development strategy. The goals of repositioning the space as both a sophisticated retail destination and a casual place to gather were seamlessly achieved by the client and design teams, attracting full tenancy and ultimately leading to widespread community approval.

For RSM Design, Lido Marina Village is not only a great example of their experiential graphic design acuity but also of why research is so critical to a successful project. “The greater context, demographics, user experience, existing culture and assets are all key elements that help inform our design process,” says Schwartz. “The end result is a perfectly seasoned space where every tenant complements the project as much as the project complements the tenants.”



Project Name: Lido Marina Village
Client: DJM Capital Partners
Location: Newport Beach, Calif.
Open Date: March 2017
Project Area: 122,000 sq ft
Experiential Graphics Budget: $500,000
Experiential Graphic Design: RSM Design
Design Team: Kyle Richter, Suzanne Schwartz
Fabrication: AD/S
Architect: SMS Architecture
Photos: Allison Richter Photography