April 6, 2017
Making Magic Behind the Scenes: Lisa Chafin
Lisa at one of her favorite projects —American Beach Museum — with Senator Nelson and the project team.
A. What should we know about your design background?
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design from the University of North Florida and spent the first 10 years of my career as the graphic designer for an architectural engineering firm. For the next 20 years, I was a project manager and creative director for a graphic design production company. And this evolved into my current role as project manager and creative director with a focus on environmental branding.
B. At what moment did you realize that you were creative?
From the time I was young, I liked to draw and took art classes throughout high school and college. It was not until my sophomore year in college when my drawing professor introduced me to the graphic design program at UNF that I realized I could get a “real job” in the creative field. I told my dad, “They made a major just for me!”
- What attracted you to join Dimension Design?
When I met the leadership team in the spring of 2016, I looked up Dimension Design and thought “WOW! I want to work for them.” As of October 1, 2016, I do!
- What’s your most important role at Dimension Design?
My most important role is to promote and expand our environmental branding capabilities.
C. What in your background or personality makes you best suited for this role?
After being introduced to environmental branding in 2000 based on a client request, I have expanded our capabilities for them and other clients. Over the years, I have applied the knowledge gained from each new project to the next.
- What does environmental branding mean to you?
I’m an “environment person.” My physical environment impacts my life. I feel it makes a difference, whether we consciously recognize it or not. Consistency, flow and overall look and feel evoke a response — be it a feeling, an attitude or whatever. It contributes to our sense of well-being, our productivity and our overall health.
- Can you share a bit about the process you use when working on a new project?
I get to know them and how they feel about branding an environment. I start by assessing the client and their vision. This can be challenging because many have not thought that deeply about the individual elements of their brand and how they project in a large room. My role is to keep them focused on the overall brand and develop a package that fulfills their vision while staying true to their guidelines.
The second part of the process is to assess the space and choose the right materials for the visual concept package. Many factors come into play: Is there an established décor? If so, does it reflect the brand? If not, what approach do we take to produce items that flow and do not look out of place — all while staying true to the brand? Other considerations that we have to factor in have to do with construction and architectural issues. What type of walls are in the space? What workarounds do we have to contend with in regard to necessary items such as fire alarms, electrical switches, sprinklers, columns and security cameras?
- Where do you find your creative inspiration?
Everywhere. I am constantly looking around at the environments I encounter every day — airports, hotels, retail spaces, medical facilities, restaurants and even people’s homes. I also get inspiration from magazines, movies and television shows.
- What branding influences are important to you right now?
Color and fonts. Those are the most noticed elements of any brand, whether a viewer recognizes it or not.
- Have you been in an environment in which you would have loved to have been the creative director? If so, why?
Yes! The crème de la crème of environmental branding — Walt Disney World. Every detail is meticulously coordinated. For me, half the fun of rides and events has always been standing in line. I love to look around and see all the details that they put into the surrounding area leading to an attraction. Every nook and cranny is accounted for and themed.
Even though each “land” is designed with its own look and feel, there is a consistent environmental branding foundation that runs throughout the entire property from the parks to the resorts to the restaurants to the retail shops — even the corporate offices. The consistent use of fonts, colors and overarching graphic elements in wayfinding signage, display signage, name badges and more pull the entire environment together and contribute significantly to the overall experience. With its visual consistency, organization and neatness, for me it truly is “the happiest place on earth.”
- What do you think should come first: Design or Utility?
I have learned over the years that utility must come first. You can have a beautiful design, but if it isn’t functional, it won’t be appreciated and will eventually cause frustration and nonuse. Half the fun of design is creating something that embraces function and form. It is easier to design a beautiful piece without constraints, but add constraints and that is when real creativity starts!
Reality of Being Creative
- Do clients truly believe in the power of storytelling through branded environments?
Most of the partners we work with are marketing and communications specialists, so they do “believe.” The challenge at times is selling this concept upstream to the C-levels. But once the project is approved and installed, they become believers too.
- How do you sustain long-term interest in designing for a brand?
Once a project is installed and the client sees the difference it makes, they usually have a lifelong interest. The space becomes important to the client and they want to maintain the integrity and consistency throughout their environment. Clients often reach out to us when items need to be updated or replaced to ensure that the look and feel of the space remain intact.
- Pick a brand you’ve worked with for a long time. How has that brand’s environmental needs evolved over time?
The Florida Blue brand has been the most sustaining brand that I have worked with. Over the past 16 years, the brand has moved from the approach of providing happy and healthy Floridians with a health plan that they “don’t have to think about” to being a more encompassing health solutions company.
Their environmental branding needs have been ongoing — from the initial promise poster and brand photo groupings in their conference rooms to the branding in their 18 Florida Blue Centers throughout the state.
As Florida Blue has come under the umbrella of the GuideWell system, we have also taken part in developing and producing branded environments for GuideWell’s emergency doctor facilities and their corporate entities.
- How do you adapt a branded environment for different audiences?
Knowing who the audience is dictates a lot of how we develop a brand package. Let me explain:
- Is the audience patient based? We have to think about practicality and simplicity in communicating the brand while simultaneously being extremely functional, subtle and compassionate.
- If the audience is consumer based, we are in an environment with ever-changing messaging and the promotion of products and services. Often we will develop a foundation that can be easily updated with new messaging and can work with changing campaigns and seasons.
- When we work on projects that focus on an internal team, the approach involves developing items that communicate the company’s culture and message in subtle ways that people can live with in their daily lives. Items and elements need to flow with the space, so it becomes incorporated into the audience’s everyday life.
- What was your most memorable client and project, and why?
Every client and project is memorable. I couldn’t pick just one.
- What excites you the most about the environmental branding scene?
I love graphics and I love interiors — environmental branding involves both. Environmental branding fills my need to make the world “matchy, matchy.” I like environments that are well organized and reflect the personality of those who reside there.
- Is it more frightening to work on an experience that will be used by many users for a long period of time versus a temporary environment?
No, not at all. Both have similar requirements from a design, fabrication and installation perspective. Each also has to tell a story and project the brand to the audience. Ironically, one-off campaigns often end up staying in place longer than they were intended. And there is nothing more frightening to designers than outdated visuals!
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