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Interview : Redefining Spatial Identity

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How is space a core element of a holistic branding strategy? How can spatial design reflect and empower your brand identity? Olivier Caluwier, founder of 5AM, and Carine Aussems, Studio Director, share their vision of a global physical experience that goes way beyond interior decoration trends.

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For more than a decade, 5AM has been redefining spatial identity. What our your approach different?

Olivier: First and foremost, it’s essential to understand that for us, spatial identity is not just interior design. We favour a global vision that encompasses a whole range of elements, including sometimes going as far as sound and smell, for example. We work in a holistic way, so we start by creating a framework, based on the brand’s identity, that allows us to build consistent storytelling.

When we talk about spatial branding, we are not just talking about enclosed spaces, but more generally about everything that covers our physical and sensory experience. We're sitting here on the banks of the Schelde for this interview, in the open air but in a defined space. The choice of wooden beams to create a resting point, their volume, the floor covering... all this is part of a concept and tells a story.

Carine: Our association with SKINN is in that regard very profitable. We can really tackle all aspects of the brand. We of course also work independently – many clients have already established a branding strategy – but the combined strengths of 5AM and SKINN lead to strong concepts. When everything is aligned, the framework is even more relevant, with an even wider range of emotions and surprises at our disposal.

It is all about telling stories, does that mean that the branding elements must be present in every corner of the space?

Carine: Quite the opposite. The translation of the core concept and of the framework can never be too obvious or too prominent. An excess of stimuli is counterproductive, people need to be able to experience emotions without being overwhelmed. Every detail must be thought through, but not everything needs to be put on the same level.

Olivier: A typical mistake would be to put the logo everywhere or to repeat the colour codes literally in every corner. The translation of the branding into a spatial identity must be done differently, with more subtlety. We refine, taking away everything that doesn’t belong to the concept, without necessarily being minimalist. A working space or a store have a longer lifespan than a visit card or even a logo, it’s also important to leave room for further branding evolutions.

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Modularity is an important part of the spatial identity?

Olivier: It is indeed. For the same reasons of lifespan that I mentioned. We designed the spatial identity of Filou & Friends – a Belgian chain of children's clothing shops – following that philosophy, with a system of furniture that can be adjusted within the brand identity, not only to each location but also over time. After seven years, the concept is still fully functional and has yet evolved.

Carine: Budget-wise, it’s not conceivable for brands to fully renovate their spaces every time they rethink their branding strategy. We dedicate a big part of our creativity to making our concepts time resilient. So, we try not to let ourselves be guided by trends and we avoid lapsing into feature design.

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Should every spatial concept convey a more positive energy or emotion?

Olivier: You obviously don’t expect to experience the same emotions in a funeral home, a store, a restaurant, or an office. A working space will have to convey creativity, a store might need to bring a feeling of comfort or be kids friendly, a funeral home will offer an ambiance of rest and serenity…

Carine: It’s not about positive or negative, it’s all about coherence. Each person will experience a space differently, but everyone should get something unique from it, something directly linked to the brand identity. In collaboration with SKINN, we recently created the spatial identity for Frydate, a new take on the typical Belgian ‘frietkot’.Rethinking such an iconic space, with all its codes and deep roots in the local culture, was a big challenge. The key was to create a home feeling and to encourage clients to stay longer, and to change the perception people have of a fast-food joint, without making it too exclusive.

Olivier: Frydate’s branding is very colourful; we chose to tune that down in the spatial concept to leave room for future evolution. We put the focus on materials that convey that homey feeling, and we added a series of nods to the brand identity, with a touch of humour. The result is an inviting space, at the same time familiar and surprising. A tribute to Belgian fries’ culture in an innovative envelop. It embodies what spatial identity should always be: a total experience.

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Keynote about spatial identity

Stijn Geeraets, Business & Concept developer at 5AM, shares an in inspiring keynote about how spatial design shapes our behaviour. You can book his talk 'Unpacking spatial identity' for your event.

Contact us here!