"Your real work is to figure out where your power base is and to work on that alignment of your personality, your gifts you have to give, with the real reason why you are here. Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you." – Oprah Winfrey
Our role as designers is to create settings that connect brands and people. As such, we strive to design compelling immersive environments that bring life to brands and allow consumers to experience and engage with them.
Most of the branded environments we visit are designed to include a series of touch points that give users reasons to make purchases or develop an affinity for the brand. Some brands are known for their ability to orchestrate their physical and virtual environments to produce remarkable customer experiences. These experiences elevate the brand in a way that feels as if it had a soul of its own. How do they do it?
Some brands such as Warby-Parker and Southwest Airlines do this through an affordable and uncomplicated experience delivered with a friendly upbeat tone. Other brands, such as Vosges Haut-Chocolat and Tesla Motors, convey an aura of discovery, expertise, and sophistication that reframes the meaning of quality in the minds of their consumers.
Regardless of what kind of promise defines a brand or its approach to deliver value to customers, there’s one ingredient that makes remarkable brand experiences stick with their users: integrity.
Integrity means staying true to one’s word by letting actions speak for themselves. For brands, integrity is the pursuit of a consistent and unambiguous position in the consumers’ mind. It is achieved when the brand and its business operating model become a mirror expression of one another.
Integrity is what makes Ritz-Carlton the first name to pop into most people’s mind when they think about luxury hotel experiences. From aesthetic elements carefully chosen to deliver a perfect balance of contemporary elegance, simplicity, and serenity – to value-driven hiring and training – the carefully designed experience permeates it all. Exquisite taste, attention to detail, and seamless precision anticipating and addressing guests’ needs is consistently felt across every touch point. The brand’s motto, “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”, is felt across every touch point (physical, virtual, or even emotional), elevating both guests and employees.
When it comes to physical spaces, integrity is not just about showcasing the brand. It is also about activating it. An environment designed with integrity enables the people and processes that support it to constantly reinforce the brand’s promise and its point of view.
The best brands will go as far as crafting signature experiences that engage all senses, giving the brand a level of depth that augments its presence. Think back to your most memorable hotel experience and picture yourself in the lobby: What music was playing? What fragrances did you take in? How did lighting set the mood? How did the colors and textures make you feel? What artifacts were available to you? How did your drink taste? How did the staff carry themselves?
All of these details were carefully engineered to play a part in your perception and recollection of the brand, even if you didn’t realize it.
When it comes to integrity, details matter. Just as a single faulty gear can spoil a fine Swiss watch, an incongruent element in a brand-driven environment has the power to derail an entire experience, disappoint users, and undermine the brand’s credibility.
Integrity is the result of deliberate design choices that, together, work to tell a common story. Integrity is a system. That’s why designers must spend upfront time studying the various layers of their clients’ brand, exploring the inner-workings of their operational model, and understanding their business aspirations. The overlap of these research inputs is where the brand experience begins to unfold. Hence, every creative decision, whether large or small, must be vetted for integrity.