Published in the Renovation and Construction Showcase issue of the ACUI Bulletin, the article explores how environmental branding can be harnessed to improve the campus atmosphere without having to completely reshape the campus environment.
The desire to invest in branded environments is being driven by a shift in how students define what makes an effective place. Previous generations were accustomed to static campus environments that carried a similar, conventional tone throughout various buildings. But students today demand more from their campus facilities—they expect the spaces to support their needs and reflect their identities and interests. Environmental branding is a powerful tool that engages students through physical elements that are welcoming, functional and inclusive.
Because environmental branding can be designed to be flexible and changeable, it’s an extremely effective tool in keeping pace with trends—whether repositioning a long-standing building, providing a minor refresh of a recently built facility, or planning a new building from the ground up. It’s especially well suited for student unions and dining halls, areas that often invoke strong feelings of belonging, pride and ownership in students.
Launching a successful environmental branding program goes far beyond discussions about what gets put on walls. It requires a thoughtful and deliberate process, fueled by student engagement and close partnerships with stakeholders at all levels of an organization — from marketing and communications to student affairs, affinity groups, admissions, student government and more. The aim is to create a program that represents the collective voice of your organization and your student population — and that requires extensive engagement and constant evolution.
The article introduces our unique environmental branding design process and explains how it’s being applied at Western Michigan University’s (WMU) new student union and dining facility (currently underway). The 230,000-sf building is designed to be the new epicenter for campus life, fostering a vibrant and inclusive environment for all. With input from thousands of campus stakeholders and in partnership with a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant, the university and project team designed an environmental branding program that inspires students to make their mark.
Capturing students’ voices, the campus brand, and community identity, WMU’s large-scale environmental branding project showcases a comprehensive program: changeable graphic displays, motivational quotations, interactive displays, panels articulating campus history and culture, functional graphics and wayfinding strategy. From the entry of the building to the third floor and all across the floors, the space is filled with interactive branded moments that weave together the fabric of the university.