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The Future of Branded Environments?

By Miller Zell

The first-annual “Miller Zell Innovation Scholarship” asked college students pursuing a degree in business, fashion merchandising, retail, banking, architecture or another related field to provide their thoughts on how they might redesign branded environments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

We received a number of thoughtful responses. Most, reasonably, led with customer and associate health and safety. The best ones, however, provided specific ideas centered on technological and design innovations that had been accelerated due to the new standards for public spaces.

Here are some of the highlights.

Biophilic design: Several entries explored the use of biophilic design as a means to infuse a sense of calm and serenity into spaces of tomorrow. Biophilic design, with its focus on a love of nature and sustainability, incorporates natural elements into spaces, such as plants and water features.

It aims to  “increase occupant connectivity to the natural environment through the use of direct nature, indirect nature, and space and place conditions.” 

While not a new concept, it does have merit as we consider how to relieve the stress of returning to public spaces en masse. In fact, Miller Zell designers have incorporated it recently into work with a number of our clients, including TD Bank.

WELL Building Standards: Not surprisingly, WELL Building Standards, “a roadmap for creating and certifying spaces that advance human health and well-being,” (International WELL Building Institute) are also highly appealing.

Several entrants believe that design that focuses on developing a branded space's attention to details that bolster health and well-being, such as air quality, lighting, facilitation of movement, thermal comfort, sound and community is a natural response to post-COVID-19 expectations.

Reviving showrooms and/or webrooms: Some are anticipating that showrooming and webrooming will make a comeback in omnichannel shopping behavior, where customers use both online and in-store experiences to make purchases.

If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that retailers, in particular, must be accommodating to retain shopper loyalty. While one shopper will want to visit a store to check out a product and then purchase online, another may want the opposite. Retailers need to recognize and serve these complementary behaviors, thereby understanding the diversity of potential paths to purchase and making them as frictionless as possible.

Building cleanliness and social distancing clues into the design: The real or perceived need for distance and hygiene will be with us long beyond immunization efforts taking effect. Many of our entries noted it was time to elevate clues and instructions for customers by designing them into the spaces themselves. This could include patterns in the carpet or flooring to suggest distances for queues, as well as installing fixtures and surfaces that are specifically made to be easy-to-clean/sanitize.

Finally, other ideas our entrants noted included using technology to monitor crowds and other crowd control methods, developing more outdoor-like spaces (i.e., retractable roofs, garage doors) that looked good and improved ventilation, and concierge-like services to direct traffic flow and minimize time spent in-store.

Miller Zell appreciated the efforts and thoughtfulness of many of the entries. They recognized that branded environments are an extension of a company’s purpose and they should connect with customers.

Great design builds brand affinity and customer loyalty, so it’s critical for it to deliver return on investment.

And every detail matters.

End-to-end branded environment services under one roof to craft the optimal customer experience wherever people gather, shop or learn.