Living the Brand through Strategic Workplace Design

HLW Workplace strategies: Brand Identity and the Office  

Corporate real estate leaders have discovered a powerful tool for increasing employee engagement. Brand identity represents how an organization is perceived by both employees and consumers. Strategic workplace design can incorporate branding elements with messages reinforcing a company’s values and mission. In the office, employees have the chance to live the brand on a daily basis, engaging fully with the organization’s values, while aligning work practices with the big picture mission. 

Office Brand Identity and Workplace Design               

At a recent HLW Round Table event, the topic of discussion was office brand identity. HLW team members, along with a sampling of our clients and guests, met in the Knoll Showroom in Manhattan to discuss “brand identity” and this design trend’s transition from a company afterthought to being at the forefront of workplace design.

HLW Director of Strategy and Discovery Liz Burow led a lively panel discussion with several of our client partners: Eric Ho, Manager of Culture and Outreach at Capital One, Adam Lutz, Real Estate Project Executive at Google, Denise Burke, Eastern Regional Manager of Adobe, and Nico Curtis, a designer at Graham Hanson Design. The discussion covered a range of topics from new approaches to brand expression to identifying key components that contribute to a company’s overall brand. Note, broad discussion ideas, as well as participants’ specific comments, are included in this article.

Three Big Take Away Ideas


The dynamic conversation about incorporating brand identity into office design involved sharing industry best practices and personalized examples from the workplace. Three overarching themes can be gleaned from the discussion.

1.  Engage end users in the design process to gain support during implementation in the workplace

2.  Understand that brand is more than just your product; it is comprised of your people and their ideas

3.  Improve other aspects of your organization by using brand identity as a tool for generating ideas, increasing employee satisfaction, etc.

Your Biggest Advocate is an Engaged End User

“When trying to implement [a brand strategy], nothing is more valuable than having champions on site.”

Companies often overlook a crucial component of their brand: their people. As one panelist pointed out, people inform the culture of a company more than the other way around. Experience has shown that you can’t just “copy and paste” a workplace strategy into an environment and expect people to conform to a new work style. It is important to involve end users in the brand development process, making it clear that their feedback is being implemented. The result is a win-win scenario, reducing the scale of the design effort, while engaging end users in authentic ideas. These same individuals will ultimately support the design and brand decisions, both online and within their community, knowing that they were an important part of the process.

Dig for Deeper Design Solutions

“Everything should have meaning. Creatives latch onto meanings.”

Workplace branding should not necessarily be a literal representation of the products or services that your brand represents. Brand “moments” in the workspace—space that reflects company values and goals—can inspire people and help create a sense of company pride. Such opportunities make a company’s identity unique.


As stated by one panelist, “When you are trying to innovate, think of your current state and ask yourself, ‘Why? Why do we still do this?’” Digging deeper when designing means constantly questioning current standards. Asking questions will help identify what is actually limiting the potential of your brand identity. In addition, when it appears as if a particular strategy has lost its purpose, repurposing may be the solution. Sometimes, old ideas can carry significant cultural value within an organization, but, unfortunately, they don’t align with the company’s current brand identity. Giving new life to these ideas—to realign with brand identity—can create new and/or appreciated value, as well as inspire people to be creative, in general.


Messaging that Pushes the Envelope

“Challenge the vision of the workspace so that people challenge themselves through their work”

The desire to innovate is at the core of many business decisions. When it comes to brand identity in the workplace, companies often focus on the benefits innovation can have on the physical space. In contrast, maybe there should be more emphasis on the effects that workplace innovation has on employee creativity.

A panelist representing a leading tech company famous for its innovative workplace interiors said, “Our [workplace] decisions are not just conversation starters. They’re challenges to question what a workspace can be.” Brand identity is an innovative tool for sparking creative thinking in the workplace. If you want innovative ideas, create an environment where it is difficult to be traditional!

Cost-effective Design Solutions

“Are good ideas expensive? Not if you’re creative.”

It is a common misconception that bold design decisions related to brand identity are too expensive; it is inaccurate to assume that their impact will be negligible. In truth, creative workplace solutions often have significant impact on a project’s success and at a low cost. The ability to creatively reimagine a space or product can go a long way toward creating a meaningful brand experience, and this can be accomplished without breaking the bank.

In response to the topic of “brand identity on a budget,” one panelist warned that the solution can’t be cheaper execution. The cost of execution isn’t going to budge. Rather, by increasing the quality of the expression of your ideas, it is possible to yield more powerful applied solutions. If necessary, sacrifice quantity, not quality.

Create Your Future by Upcycling Your Past

“Where will our space be in 25 years? Let’s start getting there today.”

Brand identity is not static. Just as a brand evolves every day, so does brand identity. For this reason, it is important to look beyond industry standards and guidelines that typically fail to evolve in tandem with the activities of innovative people and organizations.

As an alternate approach, try what one panelist referred to as searching out “lessons learned.” What worked well? What was a disaster? Were any of your successes a surprise? Reflecting on past experiences will help inform future brand decisions. In addition, regular introspection helps create a workplace with a lasting future. Once you know where you want to go, start taking the first steps toward getting there today.


A great big thank you to our Round Table guests and to Knoll for providing a beautiful setting for the event.