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Creative Genius: Environmental Branding on a Budget

Environmental Branding on a Budget

Every environmental branding project has an aspect that requires “special attention.” Perhaps it’s the “I need it done yesterday” deadline. Or maybe it’s the ever-present column that breaks up an otherwise sweeping, open space.


The most common constraint that presents itself is good old-fashioned financial limitation. I remember coming out of design school long ago and being met with real-world scenarios after countless classroom assignments. In stark contrast to inspiring assignments with due dates weeks if not months out, it became “Here’s your economy paper, two colors and one font. Whip it up and have it ready for review in 45 minutes.” In the real world, you don’t get the big box of crayons — you get your box of eight broken crayons, and you deal with it.


While financial parameters indisputably limit design options, any designer worth the cost of his or her business cards knows that a tight budget is where the real creativity begins. Shoestring projects have a way of becoming the best portfolio stories for pioneering designers.


Almost without exception, the key to stretching a budget is finding the right material to create the desired look and feel without breaking the bank. A few from-the-trenches examples:


Photo Groupings

The first substrate that many designers consider as a backing for a grouping of photos is acrylic. Acrylic is lighter and more durable than glass, but it can arrive with a hefty price tag. In those cases, my go-to solution is gatorboard. I typically use ½", 1" or 2" thickness, and it’s still more lightweight than acrylic. This approach provides a look and feel similar to acrylic but with a significantly lower cost.


Typeface and Logo Treatments

Brushed aluminum lettering is a popular choice for “statement” elements, particularly in front office reception areas. Although brushed aluminum adds an aura of substance, it is beyond the reach of many projects. A clever alternative, which I’ve used, is foam backing with a brushed aluminum laminate to achieve the same look and feel. This technique delivers serious bang for your buck. 


In other instances, I’ve used highly textured stone or metal materials, which lend a rich feel to their appearance. These materials can be quite pricey, and clients sometimes come to us with a limited budget wanting to emulate an “inspiration piece” from a higher-budget project. In these cases, veteran designers can tap their creative genius to propose a resourceful solution.


That’s exactly what my team did in a recent project for a nonprofit client who wanted an entrance sign with an aspirational look and feel that seemingly exceeded the planned budget. After putting our heads together, we proposed a photo of the desired texture under a ¼" acrylic overlay that looked deceivingly 3-D. This shrewd execution of the inspiration piece had an opulent look and feel at a cost that they could feel good about reporting to donors. 


Office Signage

In most commercial scenarios, whether for business or healthcare, office occupants move around a lot. That’s all fine and good except that the interchangeability of signage is rarely considered. What does that really mean? Instead of a thoughtfully designed interchangeable sign, many newly constructed buildings have custom office signs that cost upwards of $300 apiece. This means that brands have to cough up $300+ every time an office location or occupant changes.  I recommend that signs be designed with a quality foundation that allows for a branded insert to be interchanged as needed. This dramatically reduces the physical, administrative and labor costs when offices are reassigned or occupants change.


Wall Treatments

Walls are often overlooked design asset. Instead of painting and planning framed wall décor for newly-constructed or redesigned spaces, I often propose using dramatic wall murals that can include brand imagery. Both the visual and financial effect of wall murals can be quite powerful.


With today’s immersive graphics, designing a space for maximum impact can be a daunting task. Even when budgets are less than ideal, where there’s a will, there’s a way — you just need the right designer on your team.


What budget-conscious branding solutions have you used?


POSTED UNDER: Branding, Environmental Design

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