INTERIOR MASTER PLANNING: If You Don’t Know Your Brand, Neither Will Your Customers

several photos showcasing brands or the word brand We most often think of brands in terms of products, but every organization has a brand whether self-defined or by default.  Simply stated, your brand is the personality of your organization and the promise to your consumers. An effective brand identities your values, defines how they are communicated and reflects the emotions and experiences consumers will have when they interact with your business.  One group that handles branding particularly well is the hospitality industry. Most hotels and restaurants create a distinctive brand identity to differentiate their services and spaces from others in the marketplace.

inside of a four seasons bedroom
Can you identify which hotel this image is from? Hint: The artwork clues you into the name. The answer and photo credit link are provided at the bottom of this article.
inside of a holiday inn express bedroom in new york
How about this one, can you tell which major hotel chain is represented in this photo? Hint: the color theme is your best clue in this one. The answer and photo link are provided at the end of this article.

So if you are a retirement community, college campus, commercial entity or service organization, how do you go about articulating your brand? A good place to start is with the physical spaces where both existing and prospective consumers will interact with your organization.  This is where interior master planning can be a valuable tool for starting on the right foot.

What is Interior Master Planning?

An interior design master plan is a guideline that allows an organization to reinforce branding and provide a consistent consumer experience while maintaining quality and safety standards.

cabinet design plans “We have a number of clients that take advantage of interior master planning each year,” according to Jessica Jack, Senior Interior Designer.  “This pre-planning effort establishes a framework for annual updates with specific concepts and cost estimates for planning and budgeting purposes.”

The first step is making sure you have defined what you want your brand to be and then determining how it can be articulated in the physical spaces – through layout, interior design features, color programming and material selections.

Programming, space allocation, space planning and small scale interior alterations, which can often be phased in over time, provide a holistic approach for spaces that are not just aesthetically dated, but also are in need of a functional renovation.  Early space programming is essential for diagnosing if a space is working.sample interior master plan

“As programs evolve over time and leadership may have changed, it’s important to keep up with how spaces are being used,” says Jessie Santini, Senior Designer.  “Interior designers are specifically educated to provide this type of micro-scale programming, planning and design.  New finishes and furniture can revitalize a space, but sometimes it’s just a temporary Band-Aid on a larger problem.”

Recently we worked with a client in Indiana whose spaces were a bit of a hodge-podge after decades of accumulated furniture and accessories combined with partial renovations and finish replacements.  The spaces were not working for them functionally or aesthetically.  We looked at potential layout options, including adding/removing partitions, as well as ceiling treatments, lighting, finishes and Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E) to develop a booklet of overall plans, individual room plans and cost estimates. The resulting interior master plan provides them with a vision for the potential of the space and a guide for deciding how to prioritize their capital budget for the coming years.

An interior master plan also defines standards for health, safety and welfare considerations. For example, in senior living communities, parameters for chair heights, table edges and floor transitions are defined to make the consumer experience not only aesthetically appealing, but also comfortable, easily navigable and safe. Similarly, a wide range of office, educational and community spaces require new standards for furniture systems and layouts to foster collaboration and spontaneous interactions.  Other important considerations include initial costs, maintenance requirements, environmental impacts and the life cycle of various materials.

What are the Key Components?

The interior design master plan document is frequently a set of binders that may include programming guidelines, layout options, finish recommendations and specifications for construction and renovation projects including flooring, ceiling, wall finish, millwork, and architectural accent materials. Selection and specifications for furnishings, finishes/fabrics, and window coverings may also be included. Often parameters are defined for different types of uses to help establish a hierarchy of spaces, differentiate public and private areas and address issues of health, safety and welfare including accessibility and visual cues. The binder may be accompanied by concept images and/or a series of presentation boards showing the various materials set in finish schemes applicable to different areas.

interior detail plan “It’s important to note that manufacturers are frequently updating,” Stacy Hollinger, Partner, points out. “So for long-range master planning, we try to focus more on big picture concepts rather than exact materials since a specific selection may not be available in another year or two.”

“We also try to work with manufacturers that our clients can easily work with, or in many cases, they already have existing vendor relationships so we’ll focus on those manufacturers for them.” Stacy says.

Although the final form varies by client, the master plan serves as a roadmap to navigate through updates to various areas based on priorities, cost considerations and implementation approach.

“Sometimes there are relatively simple items that clients can handle on their own, such as introducing an accent wall or changing out a few lighting fixtures,” Stacy points out.

What Services are Typically Provided?

The specific scope varies according to each client’s specific situation.  The following steps provide an overview of what’s involved for most interior master planning initiatives.

Site Walk-Through to Define Needs – visually assessing existing spaces and defining areas to be included in the master plan.

“One of the first things we’re looking at is whether there are existing standards that should be maintained through any updates or if a sense of unity/brand identity is lacking,” Jessica says.

rlps interiors team collaborating Collaborative Visioning Sessions – meeting with client representatives to define need, goals, priorities and parameters.

“We often initiate the master planning process by presenting a wide variety of concept images,” says Jessie, “This allows us to quickly envision what the client is looking for—as well as what they do not want to see.”

“Sometimes we’ll step back and start with some form of focus groups to help clients articulate their branding goals and the different physical forms that can be used to express them,” Stacy says. “We work with each client to find the approach that’s going to work for them.”

Development of Recommendations – translating goals and objectives into specific options for interior design finishes and materials.

“This is where we take all the background information and client input and translate that into specific options for future updates,” Jessie says.

rlps interiors team collaborating Review Meeting and Finalization of Design Direction/Selections – meeting with the client again for feedback on options and recommendations.

“We then come back to the group and present our design schemes to make sure we’re on track with overall objectives for the concepts and specifications that go into the final plan deliverables,” Stacy reports.

Prdecorative interior concepts boards eparation of Master Plan Deliverables – creating the final plan documents, specifications binder, or other deliverables as appropriate for each client’s objectives.

“For some clients this is a binder that is used as a guideline for several years.  For others it’s an annual budget and interior design plan for spaces to be addressed within that particular year,” according to Jessica.

Why is Interior Master Planning Important?

Whether for modest annual updates or a more significant renovation or expansion, an interior design master plan is a valuable tool to help control project budgets and schedules and maintain design consistency for a better end result.

As Jessica puts it, “Master planning provides a framework to evaluate your spaces in the context of your brand.  The end result is an organized set of standards for a cohesive approach to future updates.”

two very different approaches to branding articulated in dining venues
Branding Comparison: These examples illustrate two very different approaches to branding and how it can ultimately be articulated in physical spaces – in these cases dining venues.

So what are your facilities “telling” customers about your brand?  Whatever the final form takes, an interior master plan should ultimately reflect your organization’s defined goals for everything from aesthetics to budget through sustainability and consumer safety standards to maintenance goals for your physical spaces.

Guess the Hotel Images:  First photo:  Four Seasons;  Second Photo:  Holiday Inn Express

Jessica Jack, IIDA, LEED AP, has 14 years of commercial interior design experience, Jessie Santini, IIDA, LEED AP BD+C, has been working in the architectural and interior design industry since 2002, and Stacy Hollinger, IIDA, Partner, has 23 years of experience and provides overall leadership for RLPS Interiors as well as day-to-day project management.

Jodi Kreider, LEED AP – Blog Editor

Some other interesting thoughts on branding:

“A Question of Identity,” from the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) points out the importance of balancing brand identify with local relevance, particularly for multi-site providers.

This IIDA article, “What is a Branded Environment,” provides a nice explanation and examples of how brands can be effectively articulated in physical space.

This IIDA article. “The Power to Define,” explores the potential impact of branding to answer the question of why coffee drinkers continue to shell out $4 for Starbucks’ Venti Cinnamon Dolce Frappaccino instead of drinking their own home-brewed java or even the free coffee at their office.

 “How to Differentiate Your Brand in a Sea of Me Too Competitors,” from Forbes highlights the reality that often your competition is doing something very similar to what your organization is doing, and explores way to address that challenge through brand identity.

Hatch Interior Design in British Columbia shares their ideas for strengthening your brand and some neat examples of branding articulated through interior design.