Monthly Archives: July 2020

Experiential Graphic Design: Welcoming Employees Back to the Office

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By Bill Thiemann and Jessie Kaising

Huddle and conference rooms now feature experiential graphic design signage with the number of people allowed in the space at a given time to ensure social distancing.
Huddle and conference rooms now feature signs with the number of people allowed in the space to ensure social distancing.

In March, COVID-19 changed everything. Employees from many industries began working from home, while others—essential workers—began following new protocols and policies to maintain their health and safety. There was a huge shift in the working experience, one that no one was expecting.

Now, as many organizations prepare to welcome employees back to the office, they are met with a challenge: How do we make employees comfortable while also changing their former routines to ensure the health and safety of the workplace?

The Need for COVID-19 Signage

Like many companies, BHDP was looking forward to returning to the workplace. Despite the enthusiasm to see coworkers and collaborate in person, the well-being of BHDP employees was a top priority. When the leadership team began to strategize about the transition back into the office, the need for clear, concise messaging became apparent.

BHDP’s Experiential Graphic Design team regularly works with a myriad of clients to create visually rich storytelling experiences that elevate the intangible, communicate messages, assist with wayfinding, and sometimes most importantly, encourage behaviors. Naturally, the Experiential Graphic Design team was eager to take this challenge and turn it into an opportunity.

With our unique point of view, we know how to use strategic signage and tone of voice to shape behaviors. All our offices—Cincinnati, Raleigh, and Columbus—required signage that would educate employees on the “new way to work” in a space that everyone was accustomed to.

Naturally, the Experiential Graphic Design team was eager to take this challenge and turn it into an opportunity. With our unique point of view, we know how to use strategic signage and tone of voice to shape behaviors.

After getting the go-ahead from government officials to operate at 50% capacity, our team—with counsel and support from Senior Interior Designer Carrie Beidleman as well as leadership and human resources—got to work on the solution.

Developing our Strategy

Teaching people a new way to work is not an easy task, especially in a familiar office environment where people spend a huge chunk of their time. We develop routines and habits, and these are hard to break.

Have you ever heard the phrase “I could get there with my eyes closed”? This phrase affirms how strong repeated behavior can be. So how do we prevent people from going on autopilot when they return to their workplace? We use visual reminders that disrupt routines and patterns.

Our strategy ensures the safety and well-being of BHDP employees by clearly communicating new routines with frequent reminders of current standards. Through information gained from roundtables with clients, research, and open dialogue with BHDP employees, we developed five categories of messaging to address key concerns and communicate CDC protocols. These five buckets are as follows:

#1: Program Protocol

Program protocol refers to the broad-scale messaging that outlines the new set of rules and regulations in the workplace. At BHDP, program protocol was actualized as a large, free-standing kiosk in our entryway that calmly demonstrates new sign-in procedures. It gives employees insight, before they even walk through the door, about what to expect in their new work environment. Icons were used to illustrate behaviors, and a step-by-step visual guide demonstrates the current procedures and the order in which they should happen.

A kiosk welcomes employees to the workplace and outlines new guidelines.
A large, free-standing kiosk welcomes employees to the workplace and outlines new safety procedures and guidelines.

We leveraged a bright color palette for all COVID-related signage that was strategically “off-brand” to reiterate the idea of disruption in the office environment.

#2: Suggested Behaviors

Through this pandemic, we have become accustomed to language about what not to do and have been inundated with mandated “don’ts” coming at us from all directions. Behavior suggestions flip the script and encourage healthy behaviors in a kind, suggestive tone—allowing employees to take advantage of collaboration in a safe way.

Experiential graphic design, like temporary wall clings with behavior suggestions, encourage safe collaboration.
Temporary wall clings with behavior suggestions encourage safe collaboration.

We placed temporary clings in key collaboration areas to promote and inspire safe teamwork. For example, one clings asks “Need to share your screen?” then suggests sharing your screen digitally, through Microsoft Teams, to safely practice social distancing. Other clings suggest alternate ways to collaborate at a distance.

#3: Proximity and Circulation

When surveying employees, one key concern was navigating high-traffic areas like the restrooms or kitchen area. To help alleviate this stress, we used signage to designate new paths of travel. In some areas, purple arrows signify one-way travel. This prevents gatherings of large groups and averts awkward shuffles between coworkers.  

In all closed or semi-closed areas—like huddle and meeting rooms—Carrie determined the appropriate occupancy based on the density of a six-foot radius. Where there were twenty chairs before COVID-19, there are now five. To reiterate this change, we placed occupancy postings on the door of each room.

#4: Queuing and Reminders

How do you ask your boss to give you more space? The sociological effects COVID-19 has had on human nature was a common concern we wanted to address. To alleviate the stress of reminding others to keep their distance, we developed stickers. The stickers, provided at sign-in, are worn as a visual reminder for others to respect boundaries and keep a six-foot distance. One sticker simply states, “I practice social distancing,” while the other states, “I am physical distancing for ____,” allowing employees to fill in the blank. It is essential to remind employees they are not simply social distancing for themselves but also for their colleagues and even sometimes for their colleagues’ families.

It is essential to remind employees they are not simply social distancing for themselves but also for their colleagues and even sometimes for their colleagues’ families.

Stickers that say "I practice social distancing," are available to all employees at sign in.
Stickers that say “I practice social distancing” are available to all employees at sign in.

To prevent other old habits from returning, we designed and installed reminder clings at decision-making points throughout the space. Washing your hands, practicing physical distancing, and wearing your mask may seem obvious, but it is crucial to remind people of correct behaviors.

#5: Cleaning Protocol

Due to the nature of the virus, an enhanced cleaning protocol is essential. We placed sanitation stations strategically around the office and developed table tents with a checklist instructing employees to take their personal belongings with them, wipe down all surfaces, put their masks in place, and lastly, to wash their hands.

Refining our Message and Delivery

Once we had identified what types of signage were important and why, it became critical—perhaps even more important—to strategize on how to deliver our message. This meant understanding the tone of voice of our messaging as well as the actual design and color of the signage.

  • Tone: We rarely design with fear in mind. But, due to the state of the world right now, fear is inevitable. Still, that does not mean we have to communicate in a way that is clinical or somber. It’s important to remain human and to give clear and concise information that is simple, authentic, and to-the-point. Our signage includes plain language and minimal text to promote clarity, and our tone is calm and understanding.
  • Color: BHDP’s brand colors are a blend of blues, greens, greys, and oranges. For the new COVID-19 signage, we required a color that would stand out and catch people’s attention. As stated previously, disruptions are necessary to counteract old routines and ways of working. As a group, we decided on purple for its distinctive, yet professional, qualities.
  • Material: The signage is temporary and moveable. Changes are happening—fast—so signage that can be easily installed and removed is key. Window clings, table tents, and our free-standing kiosk are examples of the flexible signage we implemented.

The Results

Many employees have adjusted to the new policies and are choosing to pop into the office occasionally.
Many employees have adjusted to the new safety procedures—like wearing your face covering at all times.

Although BHDP’s offices are currently operating at 50% capacity, the feedback from both employees and leadership has been extremely positive.

One BHDP employee, Emma Webb, said “It makes me so happy to be back in the office. Our Experiential Graphic Design team was very successful in designing all of the signage and posters to help our employees feel safe in the workspace.”

Employees are sporting their new stickers, adjusting to the new paths of travel, and finding new ways to collaborate at a distance.

“It makes me so happy to be back in the office. Our Experiential Graphic Design team was very successful in designing all of the signage and posters to help our employees feel safe in the workspace.”

Emma Webb, Human Resources Coordinator

We are designers, but we are people first. When the Experiential Graphic Design team started talking about the importance of signage in a post-COVID-19 workplace, it felt natural to tackle this challenge for BHDP. We were able to have candid and open conversations as a team—bringing the wall down and talking about our fears and personal perspectives with a professional mindset.

As with many of our projects, we listened with empathy and designed a smart, clear, and easily implemented solution: A Design for People.


If you would like to read more about experiential graphic design, check out Building Memories—a blog by Lisa Bambach about how memories can drive successful design.

Creating Communities of Work Post-COVID-19

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Singular events such as pandemics challenge everything: established social norms, assumptions about how we should do the most commonplace tasks like shop and work, beliefs about what is truly important to everyday life. Because of their rarity, immediacy and severity, cataclysmic events such as the onset of COVID-19 also tend to shine a spotlight on social changes that may already have been in progress – but will now accelerate at warp speed.

Think about virtual work and the role of “place.” The past few months have prompted everybody – and we don’t mean just everybody in the real estate and workplace design industries – to think about the very nature of work, how and where it is done, and the relative importance of physical and psychological safety, connectedness, and socialization.

As more of us work remotely, which almost all of us will certainly do to some degree moving forward, the importance of place and creating communities of work will be more critical than ever. Ninety-nine percent of respondents in recent studies say they value the flexibility and security of working remotely. How can companies balance that understandable desire with the need to foster connectedness and a sense of corporate identity? What technological tools can help bridge the gap? How should physical space evolve to stimulate innovation, collaboration and engagement?

As more of us work remotely, which almost all of us will certainly do to some degree moving forward, the importance of place and creating communities of work will be more critical than ever.

Community design, which has its roots in urban planning and focuses on enabling social connections and a sense of shared purpose by putting people at the center of the design process, has much to teach us about these questions. The essential insight of community design is that place can propel the relationships which lead to commitment and a shared mission for a group or organization.

Here are some thoughts for how to improve the sense of community and cohesion in the office – wherever it is – from workplace design innovators at Fidelity Investments, one of America’s largest asset managers and financial services companies, and Fifth Third Bancorp, a diversified financial service company and one of the largest banks and money managers in the country.

The inviting interior of The Forum, framed by natural light from the outdoors, is open to the public and visible to street-level pedestrians.
The inviting interior of The Forum, framed by natural light from the outdoors, is open to the public and visible to street-level pedestrians.

1) With virtual work, leverage remote technology to “catch the culture”

The likelihood is that post-pandemic as many as 50 percent of workers will work from home at least part of the time. Although there is no substitute for a physical space in building community, there are a wealth of technological innovations that can help diminish the distance and address the challenges employees face doing remote work. Tools that Fidelity and Fifth Third employ include:

  • The adoption of agile work processes which necessitate regular, frequent interactions amongst colleagues. Establishing regular touch points enables distributed teams to close the gap, build connections, and deliver results.
  • Ubiquitous video such as BlueJeans, Webex, etc. which ensures that remote talent is both seen and heard, and begins to address the communication challenges presented by our over-reliance on phone calls, e-mails, and text messages to patch together conversations that would have traditionally occurred face-to-face
  • Digital spaces such as Batterii, Slack, Google, Microsoft Teams, monday.com, and AirTable, which allow a distributed workforce to collaborate, create, and manage work in a consolidated manner, rather than patch together continuously out-of-date documents.

2) When workers come back to the office, find ways to surprise and delight them

The lockdown has also taught us an enduring truth: we lose something when being exclusively remote. A physical space that exemplifies the corporate culture while encouraging workers to come together and connect is core to creating a vibrant community. It’s critical, in the new nature of work, to draw people in and provide an opportunity for both planned and unplanned interactions, where people can chat and form relationships.

Fifth Third has made major investments in spaces such as The Forum and Project Connect as hubs for its headquarters campus. Both are designed to connect the workforce and community through shared experiences integrated with daily work practices at the crossroads of the campus.

Town Greens offer a relaxed, informal, and flexible community setting that encourages employees to collaborate and more frequently communicate.
Town Greens offer a relaxed, informal, and flexible community setting that encourages employees to collaborate and more frequently communicate.

Project Connect, as its name suggests, connects two formerly separate buildings on its downtown campus via a two-story glass atrium providing a sense of security to employees and customers as well as the convenience of not having to go outside to transit between buildings. It features a variety of seating areas and amenities with integrated retail and restaurants. The Forum is a conference center, open to the public and clearly visible to street-level pedestrians. It is designed for client and community meetings with multiple conference area options – from two to three person huddle rooms to a thoroughly updated bank vault that celebrates the bank’s heritage to a 200 person auditorium -all outfitted with the latest technology and collaboration tools.

Fidelity has addressed the challenge of building community by creating what it calls “centers of gravity” or destination points within its workspaces. These can be receptions areas, workplace cafes or “town greens” which are open, welcoming and often provide amenities. These areas typically offer a variety of seating options, feature natural materials and use warm lighting to create an intuitive, thoughtful and authentic “experience.”

The “Town Green” at Fidelity’s Covington location is an excellent example. It is a central gathering place, situated at the primary entrance to the building, with food options, reconfigurable work areas, larger meeting rooms and other “opportunities for collision and connection.” More than just a space for employees to come together over lunch or breaks, it is expressly designed to function as an informal work zone throughout the day where employees can run into and talk to people with whom they may not otherwise interact. It’s also designed to be a beacon – a welcoming place that draws remote employees to the campus, provides company information via digital screens, and fosters a sense of community.

3) Consider organizing space into work “neighborhoods”

Legacy floorplates are all too often characterized by long corridors of walled-off offices and cubicle farms, the veritable opposite of community. In an effort to create spaces that support people while breaking down barriers and humanizing work, Fidelity organizes its workspaces into 30 to 60 person neighborhoods, divided by visual screens, walls, or a mix of open and enclosed activity areas. Regardless of the organizing principle, the emphasis is on building community, and creating a sense of identity. Some of the neighborhoods have even been given names – such as “Upper East Side” – by their employees.

Each neighborhood is anchored by a versatile community wall that can be updated to suit the whims of the employees who live there.
Each neighborhood is anchored by a versatile community wall that can be updated to suit the whims of the employees who live there.

Fidelity has also invested in community managers to help organize the work neighborhoods and has built in standard design elements – such as “identity walls” – to encourage connection. Associates can curate content and personalize these walls in a variety of ways, and community managers are encouraged to post “call and response” messages such as “What are you being for Halloween” to foster engagement.

4) Pay special attention to how people take in information and navigate workspaces

“Neighborhood”-based seating plans with a variety of work settings are just the start of successful community design, however. How people navigate an environment can have a major impact on how they connect to it and whether they feel part of a shared enterprise.

The design community has long understood the importance of way finding and how people take in information, especially with regard to urban planning. In 1960, Kevin Lynch published his ground-breaking book, Image of the City, the result of a five-year study of Los Angeles, Boston and Jersey City, in which he argued that people form mental maps of their surroundings based on archetypal elements such as boundaries and edges. These provide familiar reference points and ways for people to relate to an urban environment.

Fifth Third Bank has applied Lynch’s thinking to its workplace design guidelines, creating human-scaled spaces with intuitive paths, landmarks and nodes. An excellent example is their use of elevated, “loft” spaces in floors plates to create visual beacons (as well as functional meeting spaces) for employees. These landmarks, which are built eight feet above the floor and sport space-identifying colors, assist with navigation through larger floor plates. Fifth Third has taken Lynch’s approach to way finding and organized it into new and exciting forms as part of the company’s approach to work placemaking and design.

5) The essential truth: Place is people. People is place.

Think about the most successful and memorable social spaces in your life. What makes some neighborhoods really “work” while others don’t is a combination of qualities including accessibility, functionality, comfort and the ability to engage and connect. This results in a community experience – people engaging by meeting, talking, walking and being together – that provides existential, not just theoretical, benefits.

The open and airy space in Project Connect links Fifth Third’s low and high towers while providing easy access to and from downtown Cincinnati’s iconic Fountain Square.
The open and airy space in Project Connect links Fifth Third’s low and high towers while providing easy access to and from downtown Cincinnati’s iconic Fountain Square.

City planners have long understood that enabling these social connections and building a sense of civic identity requires putting people and social structures at the center of their work. Far from being driven by the binary balancing of form and function characteristic of more traditional modes of design practice, community design begins with the culture and identity of the people who use a space.

The key to creating communities of work is a shared vision, derived from open communication, with everyone involved feeling a sense of ownership. Ideally, the design process begins with engagement, bringing employees from every level of an organization together to solicit input about their behaviors throughout the day, what they hope to accomplish, disconnects between the overall mission and day-to-day practice in the workplace, etc. The focus is on how place can enable the relationships and social connections which lead to commitment and a shared mission for a group or organization.

The key to creating communities of work is a shared vision, derived from open communication, with everyone involved feeling a sense of ownership.

A key success metric in community design is the reflection of the attributes of that community’s culture, which leads to a greater sense of attachment, happiness and pride of place for users – all things which can be measured in surveys, feedback and cultural assessment. Safety, functionality, and productivity are all very important, but attachment to place, which supports a shared identity and a shared purpose, is the ultimate goal.

Communities of work truly happen when places are designed based on the perceptions and expectations of the workforce, also known as people, as well as the purposes of an organization. Taking cues from successful communities, great work places can be great people places. Like great cities and neighborhoods, they can express a shared sense of history and meaning to inspire people to embrace the mission and energy of an organization and through that experience, set the stage for future success.


This article was originally published in WorkDesign Magazine.

If you’re interested in reading more from T. Patrick Donnelly, check out “Convergence Teams: The Power of Integrated Design” and “Stop Designing Your Workplace Around Millennials.”

What Do Shoppers Really Want?: Lessons Learned from Clicks to Bricks

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Clicks to Bricks Retailer Bonobos' Charlotte, NC, store
The announcement of a Bonobos store opening (pictured above) garnered hundreds of likes and comments.

It’s a whole new era for retail. It wasn’t that long ago when the mall was “the” place to shop—the epicenter of retail, where a less saturated collection of brands co-existed in harmony. Over the last decade, shopping habits changed, and many categories became crowded which triggered fierce competition among brands. These issues are creating new challenges for traditional mall retailers, even causing some to go out of business or barely cling to life. The future of the traditional mall format is in question. Yet, even before COVID-19 and social distancing restrictions, many retail spaces in malls were already unoccupied and the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating this. Now the tide is turning. While online shopping is currently the preferred method due to the pandemic and, in some cases, the only available method of shopping, shoppers’ choices are on the increase as retailers are reevaluating the physical space.

One portion of the retail category that is “getting it right” is the Clicks-to-Bricks (C2B) segment—those previously online-only retailers that ventured into brick and mortar physical retail spaces. C2B retailers understand how to compete successfully and survive by listening to shoppers, understanding their habits, uncovering their unmet needs, and finding new ways to attract them.

Matching expectations and experiences from clicks to bricks

“I expect the in-store aesthetic to be similar to the colors and design of the website.”

Clicks to Bricks Shopper

BHDP, an international, award-winning retail design firm, initiated research to learn more about shoppers’ behaviors, both online and offline. To accomplish the goal, the firm engaged an independent, online market research group to gather input from 1,000 adult U.S. shoppers between February and March 2020. These shoppers were required to have experience purchasing both online and in a physical store from a list of established C2B retail brands. This research revealed the importance of fulfilling shoppers’ expectations through a holistic brand experience. Almost three-quarters (69 percent) of shoppers who shopped at the brands’ retail stores after making an online purchase believed that the in-store brand matched the online brand. This was primarily due to product availability (63 percent) and the décor or aesthetics of the physical retail space (33 percent). “I expect the in-store aesthetic to be similar to the colors and design of the website,” said one shopper. The majority of these shoppers (89 percent) were extremely or somewhat satisfied with their in-store experience compared to their online experience. “Found exactly what I was looking for, and if I couldn’t, staff was happy to help. Much like [the] search bar online,” said one shopper.

Brand consistency is critical. There shouldn’t be a disconnect between the online brand and the in-store brand experience. Successful retailers create a seamless transition from online to in-store shopping by designing the physical space to reflect the aesthetic and voice of the online shopping experience and bringing their brand equities to life in a physical form. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed shopped at the C2B’s retail store after purchasing from their online site. One shopper, commenting on the décor and aesthetics of the retail store and how it positively reflected the online brand experience, stated, “It felt like a candy shop, the feeling you get visually by looking at the website.” Overall, shoppers expect that items will be the same price and quality whether purchased online or in a retail store. They also expect the retail store to offer similar return policies and customer service as compared to the online site. Shoppers want the store to feel like a full shop and not one that only carries limited products. One shopper stated, “It should be nice and resemble your online shopping experience,” while another said, “I expect there to be perks to encourage me to shop in-store instead of online, like helpful representatives and the ability to try on products.

Understand the shopper

“There has to be a big reason for me to go into the store. Probably the ability to try things on in many sizes/styles and get customer service when needed.”

Clicks to Bricks Shopper

Online brands excel at collecting data about their shoppers and shaping the online buying experience to match their shoppers’ wishes and desires. Traditional retailers, however, struggle to capture data from their customers to understand their behaviors. Shoppers want the opportunity to touch and feel the products and leave the store with product in hand or ordered with free shipping if the product is not available in-store. “There has to be a big reason for me to go into the store. Probably the ability to try things on in many sizes/styles and get customer service when needed,” stated one shopper. Half of these shoppers stated that access to in-store personalized customer service affects their decision to visit a brick and mortar store and 58 percent of shoppers said it is important to be able to order online from a sales representative while shopping in-store.

It’s time for retailers to be more innovative and to create the authentic, in-store experience shoppers seek. Technology must be an integral part of capturing information about in-store shopper behaviors similar to how data is captured about online shopper behaviors. In-store technology can measure how long shoppers are in the store, where they move and linger, if they fulfill their purchase or leave unfulfilled, among other valuable data points. Additionally, AR and VR allow customers to virtually experience more products than are available in the store. C2B retailers also can strengthen the in-store experience, by offering:

• Professional and personal customer service and one-on-one consultative help.

• New technologies, such as kiosks, to assist shoppers in ordering directly from the website if the desired product is not available in-store, and test-fit products like cosmetics with virtual capabilities.

• The ability to observe the entire product line via monitors to compensate for smaller product assortments in-store.

• Options for shoppers to pay online after selecting their products in-store, to reduce the time spent waiting in check-out lines.

• Enhanced shopping experiences from the brand’s app. One survey discovered that 70 percent of Generation Z shoppers wanted to receive personalized recommendations from the brand’s app while they were browsing in the brand’s retail store.

• Amenities such as areas to recharge phones and free WiFi to appeal to Generations Z and Alpha and increase engagement while in the retail stores. Requiring sign-in for WiFi allows retailers to capture additional information.

Adapting retail experiences to COVID-19 restrictions

DTC retailers should listen to their specific shoppers’ wants and desires as it pertains to in-store experiences and embrace the physical store model.

Traditional retail stores were hit hard by the COVID-19 restrictions, while online sales increased during the pandemic and in some cases and categories soared. As in-store shopping restrictions are starting to relax, retailers are figuring out how to entice shoppers to return to their physical stores. C2B retailers are ahead of the game when it comes to recovering from the COVID-19 crisis. Their ecommerce sites were already well established, and their customer base is comfortable with shopping both online and in-store. In fact, these shoppers typically research products heavily online first for selection and deselection before visiting the retail store for validation. This means they need less time in the store and are less likely to touch every product they see, which is more in line with the COVID-19 recommendations for reopening retail stores.

The role of a retail store is to be a place where shoppers can gather, connect, learn and discover. Even with the movement toward online shopping, many still want that in-store experience. Surprisingly, research with the Gen Z population discovered that 81 percent of those surveyed prefer shopping in retail spaces more than online. In fact, most Gen Z shoppers want to visit those retailers that provide more engaging in-store experiences. No matter the generation category, most shoppers expect convenience and the ability to fulfill their shopping needs immediately. They want reassurance of shopping securely. Most importantly, shoppers need to trust the brands they support, necessitating brands to realize and meet their expectations.

It’s not business as usual anymore for retailers. Shoppers now have full control—dictating what they want, when they want it, how they get it and where. With all of the available tools to capture valuable data about shopper behaviors, DTC retailers should listen to their specific shoppers’ wants and desires as it pertains to in-store experiences and embrace the physical store model. Meanwhile, traditional retailers can emulate the C2B model and be better prepared for future crises by learning more about how their loyal customers prefer to shop in a physical space and providing a cohesive online and in-store experience that satisfies their demands and desires.


This article was originally published in design:retail.