As designers, we love to use words like engage and inspire to describe the purpose for our work. We can’t help it! Without engagement from the humans we’re designing for, our design remains lifeless, without purpose. And without inspiration, it’s missing the emotional connection that gives personal meaning and power to the experience.

So when designing for the physical space, where does one start? What are some ways to engage and inspire the people the space is designed for?

Create a User Journey Map

Start with a User Journey Map that ladders up to research and strategy—to your core brand essence and messaging. It’s a tool you may see referenced more in the digital space, yet it serves the same purpose—understanding the journey of your audience—in the physical realm. It answers key questions. What are the needs of the people visiting your organization? What are they doing, thinking and feeling at key touchpoints? By grounding this exercise with your core brand essence and your messaging strategy, you’re curating an experience that reinforces who you are as a brand.

One example from our work is the Visitor Journey Map we created for BECU. As the largest community credit union in the country, they wanted to update the Tukwila Financial Center and Cooperative Headquarters (TFC) to better serve their growing community of members and employees. BECU engaged us to develop and execute the entire brand expression for both interior and exterior spaces.

Using personas developed during our initial research, we created journey maps for each use-case scenario a visitor might have when visiting TFC—using an ATM, visiting a teller, meeting with a consultant, doing business, and using the drive-up ATM. We prioritized their needs using an Attract, Invite, and Engage approach. We considered how to attract members from 30 or more feet away, how to invite them in at 10 feet, and how to engage them at 3 feet or less. This methodology helps create an experiential hierarchy, providing ease, clarity, and impact for your audiences as they interact with your physical space.

With journey map in hand, you’re able to strategically plan out where and how to engage with the people the physical space is designed for.

Engage through personalization

Thanks to the proliferation of social media and its impact on our culture (the good and the bad), people are more willing to express themselves and interact when invited to do so. No surprise then—one of the most effective ways to engage with audiences in the physical realm is through personalization.

This proved to be a powerful way for another one of our clients, Premera, to engage their employees during a critical shift in their brand strategy.

Having once focused on “operational excellence” as the driving force for decision-making, we led the organization through a repositioning of their brand. Premera’s core essence became Passionate Advocates. It was important that employees embrace this change from the inside out and become inspired, every day. We started by reimagining the physical spaces of their headquarters through the lens of their new brand essence and visual language.

As part of the design, we created a Wall of Advocates, a centerpiece installation featuring more than 400 Premera employees standing behind their pledge to improve customers’ loves by making healthcare work better. The photography style captured the authenticity of their personality and spirit. Even better, the photoshoot created excitement and camaraderie between employees.

Personalizing a branded environment engages each employee and connects them to the organization’s purpose in meaningful ways.

Inspire action with values

An organization’s values can be a powerful tool to inspire action. But they must be communicated in the right way. It’s hard to inspire action when your values show up once a year in a PowerPoint at the company retreat. To really live into your values, why not integrate them into the physical environment where your employees can be inspired by them every day?

BECU is an organization that walks the talk when it comes to their values. Every employee is guided by five values, values that inspire and empower them to make the right decisions for their members.

BECU Values
Be Real
Do the right thing
Know your stuff
Own it
Members first

When we designed the branded environment at TFC, we dedicated one of the five values to a floor in the Cooperative’s headquarter offices. When employees get off the elevator on each floor, they’re greeted with a message inspired by the value dedicated to that floor. As they move into the hallways, the value is featured again, accompanied either by an inspirational quote or an interesting graphic treatment of the value. This approach provided a system for messaging and design that employees experience as they move through the building throughout the day.

A branded environment is a powerful way to reinforce your values and who you are as a brand. How you do this is critical. Ask yourself: are you engaging and inspiring your audience, or leaving them feeling confused or unimportant. The impact of the latter can create a damaging perception that your brand lacks vision and direction, both literally and figuratively. But the former helps you engage and inspire audiences, inviting them into your space in a way that creates emotional resonance.

What does your environment say about you?