Ghosts, Goblins… and Environmental Graphics

Eerily lit jack-o-lanterns. Light-up ghosts lining the walkway. Tombstones on the front lawn. And that cauldron of candy bars on the front porch with the note reading, “Zombies asleep inside – don’t ring the bell. Quick – take some candy before they wake up!” You’re probably envisioning Halloween. I’m seeing some pretty awesome environmental graphics.

Environmental graphics are one of my favorite areas of creative work – sort of where industrial engineering meets graphic design. They often show you where to look, where to go and how to get there – all while reinforcing the mood you should be feeling.

That Halloween scene is a great example. The jack-o-lanterns tell everyone that trick-or treaters will be welcome there. The ghosts on the walkway show how to get to the front door. The tombstones reinforce the eerie mood. And the candy cauldron and sign tell people not to ring the bell, but to take some candy while highlighting the fun part of the holiday.

Of course, not all environmental design is that dramatic. Think about the easiest airport you’ve ever traversed. From almost anywhere you might be standing, you can look around and see something that will show you where to go. Those signs are all the same shape and color so that once you’ve seen one direction, the rest are easy to spot. And the combination of font size and typeface make the signage easy to read from a distance. Everything feels crisp, clear and uncluttered.

Or take the example of Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights. Everything there takes visitors on a journey from immersive history experiences to walls of history that feel like they’re coming straight from the era in which they happened. You feel comfortable moving slowly from exhibit to exhibit. As you ascend through the floors of the space, you’re taken from past to present, finally emerging in a bright, upper-floor area that inspires emotion to turn to action.

In both cases, (unless you’re a professional designer yourself) you’ve probably never noticed how all of these components come together to guide your way. If the environmental designers did their job right, their work is all but invisible – all you know is how easily you’re getting from area to area, how you don’t feel rushed in some places and how you feel effortlessly whisked along in others.

One of my favorite environmental design projects is the one we’re implementing now for Kimberly-Clark. The goal was to communicate K-C’s global reach, international brands, commitment to sustainability and corporate culture to visitors and employees. We began by identifying who would be likely to be in key areas of buildings and what component of the K-C story would be easiest to tell on the walls.

In the public-facing spaces, we wanted to tell stories of how the K-C mission to lead the world in essentials for a better life come alive all around the world. So, in Beijing, we captured the scene of a young couple bringing home K-C products in the baskets on their bicycle. In Rio, a woman is carrying clear shopping bags that reveal a variety of Kimberly Clark necessities. We even used a drone camera to capture a dramatic landscape in Utah where Huggies® and Pull-ups® happen to be made. Other walls feature the logos of Kimberly-Clark brands – both those known in the North America and others familiar to consumers all over the world.

Moving deeper into the building, elevator lobbies feature the numeral for the floor – as well as that number spelled out in all of the 20+ languages spoken by Kimberly-Clark employees worldwide. Environmental sustainability initiatives are highlighted. And messages about what qualities characterize Kimberly-Clark and its employees line hallways, reinforcing pride and commitment.

Look around you. If certain places always make you feel a certain way, when certain locations are always easy to get around, no matter how many other people are there, it’s possible that it happened by accident. But it’s probably the work of an environmental designer.