Interview with an Expert: Peter Ogden

As a Senior Designer on our Environmental Branding team, Peter Ogden helps our clients tell their unique stories through branding of their spaces. With a background in communication design, his diverse experience spans brand strategy, identity, publication and experiential design across Australia, the UK and the US.

Currently, Peter is leading environmental brand design projects around the Midwest including Downtown Milwaukee’s The Avenue and Bayshore redevelopments, Chicago’s 1.5 million sf mixed use property The Fields, and a range of Kellogg’s headquarters projects in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The Avenue

Why did you decide to enter into the field of design?

I was one of those kids in school who spent way too long laboring on a project’s cover design. A combination of Letraset and tracing letterforms from magazines and books around the house were the equivalent of my encyclopedic ‘research.’ It’s interesting now to recognize that some of the magazine designs that most grabbed my attention were architecture magazines — I loved the design of the pages themselves, but just as much, the content really appealed to me. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, the stars were aligning around a career where those two disciplines meet.

What is your favorite part of designing branded environments?

I love that the work we do helps people to better engage with the spaces they spend time in. Where architecture can provide space — and all that that entails — environmental branding can color space in such a way that people can better understand it. Sometimes it’s helping people navigate, as in the case of wayfinding and signage systems; at other times it’s educational, as in museum and exhibit design.

A significant part of our work is helping organizations to identify their brand’s unique stories — historic, aspirational, process-oriented, people, etc. — and to then express those stories in impactful, memorable ways. What makes that sort of work challenging is also a big part of what makes it so interesting. Often, we have to dig deeper than expected to discover a brand's truths which we can then translate and integrate into the overall design of the environment. By doing so, we can have much more impact than only designing the physical space.

How has environmental branding changed how clients view their spaces?

Clients are much more savvy in the way they want spaces to communicate their brand. Traditionally, environmental branding may have extended simply to a mission or vision statement on a lobby, café or fitness center wall. Today, clients understand that their brand can be communicated in a vastly more considered, integrated manner. For example, everything from the way the space is planned and programmed, flooring materials, lighting, and furniture selections all can help to articulate a brand’s voice and point of view. And when done effectively, serves to support the larger brand story.

Brookfield Conference Center

For me, personally, this has always been the draw of practicing in this field alongside architects and interior designers. I love that environmental branding is where that integration can be a very natural part of the broader design process. Words, images and logos are still important parts of environmental branding programs, but it’s the way they are uniquely crafted for each project to feel like they’re truly a part of the space they’re in — and not just an afterthought — that has become a baseline expectation of many briefs.

Outside of graphic design, what other fields do you draw inspiration from?

Architecture has always been a strong influence in my graphic design work. The structured minimalism of John Pawson, the rich textures of John Wardle, the play on light and shade of Zaha Hadid and Calatrava — these (and many other) architects have such conviction in their work, and are able to execute on their vision seemingly so completely. British sculpture artists like Anish Kapoor and Thomas Heatherwick, along with light artist James Turrell also each have such an incredible body of compelling, unique and visionary work that’s hard not to be inspired by.

And, just for fun... What are you watching on Netflix right now?

Unorthodox. Having previously lived in Williamsburg, I was always curious about the Orthodox Jewish Community which is such a striking presence in the neighborhood. I know you can’t believe everything you see on TV, but there are certainly some interesting perspectives shared that seem to paint at least part of the picture. Shira Haas in the lead role is exceptional.