The Art of Mutualism (in Art): Architecture + Graphic Design

The Art of Mutualism (in Art): Architecture + Graphic Design

How multi-disciplinary, integrated design teams can enhance the identity of “space and place.”

The disciplines of architecture and graphic design have long been intertwined. The Bauhaus, founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius was grounded by the idea of creating a Gesamtkunstwerk (universal artwork) in which all of the arts would be brought together. Another pioneer, Frank Lloyd Wright, as noted by Aris Georges, “…was as much an experimental graphic designer as he was a groundbreaking architect. He recognized that image was a force of influence on society and culture well before that idea developed its present prominence.”

At its most fundamental level, graphic design combines images, words, and colors to convey ideas. It also, and perhaps more importantly in this context, influences our interaction with the identity of spaces. From logo design and visitor orientation to infographics, visual communication plays an important role in helping occupants, visitors, and the public form a sense of place. Strictly from a marketing perspective, effective visual communication can also help architects pitch their concepts better, help developers market their projects smarter, and help real estate teams sell their properties faster.

A general understanding of the role that graphic design can serve in the architectural process is critical. Often, it’s less about an individual logo mark or color system and more about the consistent presentation of ideas. Simplifying ideas and creating visuals to express them can have a noticeable impact on the efficiency of the process. To help connect the dots, here’s a brief overview of how visual communication can assist the design team in each phase of the architectural process:

Phase 1: Proposal — Conveying a firm’s unique brand story in this initial touch-point can often contribute to winning over a client, but it usually goes beyond the layout. This is where the unique selling proposition (USP) of individual firms must be clear. Minimalists might opt to present a proposal that strategically eliminates complexity, while luxury residential or hospitality-focused firms might opt for a presentation that conveys more user experience. Communicating brand ideals, both visually and conceptually, gives proposals a distinct voice and firms an early advantage in the RFP process. 

An X factor for many mixed-use and experiential projects can be introducing brand designers to the project team. Bringing together diverse areas of expertise like this can add perspectives that drive immersive experiences. Firms like Gensler, HOK, and HKS have been offering brand design services for years. For smaller firms, presenting this level of collaboration can be a +value to help sway clients.

Phase 2: Schematic Design — When facing the challenge of pitching to a client, a municipality, or the public it’s critical to simplify ideas visually. It’s too often that concepts go unrealized simply because of poor presentation. Whether it be in the form of information graphics, mood boards, or simple illustrations, visual thinking contributes to clarity. Research suggests that 65% of the population are visual-spatial learners, so it’s important to simplify concepts and present them in accessible ways. Doing this within a concise, cohesive narrative will help steer conversations and educate clients…  and educating as opposed to pitching is the best way to de-commoditize offerings.

Phase 3: Design Development — Nailing down brand values with the client at an early stage, rather than implementing them after a building is built can produce impressively coherent results. This is particularly evident in projects involving any sort of experiential design. As space plans begin to take shape, preliminary brand designs for potential uses can assist the architect—as well as the owner/developer—in bringing the vision to life. Logo marks, color systems, and mood boards often provide a needed early glimpse at the intended outcome. This level of vision can also help fuel public, investor, and bank presentations.

Phase 4: Construction / Administration — Depending on the nature of the project, communication goals during construction can range. Whether it be informing the public, soliciting interest from potential buyers, or simply documenting the process for promotional purposes, visual communication can lighten public relations, sales, and marketing burdens.  

From a self-promotional standpoint, photographing and documenting the construction phase can be an effective content marketing strategy. The content from a single photographic case study can fuel social media and blog posts for months, relieving the burden of content creation. This type of “proof-of-performance” content has value well beyond traditional marketing.

Phase 5: Completion — Complimenting the architecture is the primary focus when the project is complete. Ideally, much of this work should be done collaboratively, in conjunction with design development. If that’s not realistic, wayfinding, color theory, and other human-centered design applications can help solve communication and navigational challenges. These techniques also impact the occupant’s sense of place—both positively or negatively if mismanaged—and can connect the architecture emotionally with its occupants. This is at the very core of experiential design.

Buildings are ultimately manifestations of an organization’s core values and should communicate them effectively. Introducing multi-disciplinary teams to help identify and express these values early in the process—in harmony with the architecture—will result in smooth, effective, and engaging environments that speak confidently and positively influence how people experience them.

Photos by Joanna Kosinska / Art Lasovsky via Unsplash