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Beyond Signage: How to Use EGD to Communicate and Distinguish Your Brand

The American Gas Association’s headquarters feature clever interpretations of industry symbols, including pipeline-inspired aerial moss and burner grate artwork, to connect with members.

Understanding Experiential Graphic Design

Simply put, Experiential Graphic Design (EGD) is the intersection of graphic design and the built environment. By communicating through a variety of static and digital graphics and content solutions including signage, wayfinding systems, and artwork, EGD brings environments to life with engaging and memorable experiences.

From visioning with clients and designers to coordinating with fabricators and artists, Rebecca Kelly, Art Director for Hickok Cole Creative and our resident EGD expert, orchestrates a team of creatives to bring delightful, educational, and emotionally compelling content to every project. Today, Rebecca shared her insights on the value of incorporating thoughtful EGD strategies into your next project and why right now is an excellent time to reevaluate how brand is expressed throughout your space.

Express Yourself

Whether it’s through a welcoming reception experience, interactive exhibits, or a colorful mural, a main driver behind EGD is to improve day-to-day experiences for the end-user. In a corporate environment, EGD contributes to overall satisfaction and improves retention by serving to remind employees of their value and how they contribute to overall mission and culture.

The National Association of Broadcasters’ headquarters prominently displays photos and messaging in high-traffic areas meant to inspire employees with their mission and vision.

As employers begin to look towards a return to the office, Rebecca recommends they reflect on their evolution over the past year working remote and whether strategic incorporation of EGD can help facilitate a comfortable transition back. “Think: How has this time away changed our culture and what can we do to re-unify and motivate employees?” she suggests. “Let’s generate excitement and give them something to look forward to. Something that makes them proud when they step back into the workplace environment. Being back will feel like a luxury.” She adds that it’s okay to start small like, “procuring new art that supports your company culture or prominently displaying your mission statement in a high-traffic area.” However subtle, what’s important is that these visual cues connect to the brand and evoke a sense of place and community.

Likewise, EGD can greatly distinguish multi-family properties. A branded lobby is an expression of the residence and provides a glimpse at a potential lifestyle. “There’s definitely a cool-factor associated with certain design concepts,” Rebecca adds. “You’re signifying a brand and creating a place that resonates so that by the third or fourth apartment tour, prospective residents can easily recall the details that made your property special.”

The Altaire Apartments logo is subtly woven into various interior design elements and immediately alludes to an elevated lifestyle.

Going Beyond Signage

A common misconception is that EGD focuses solely on graphics and signage but it’s really the whole experiential package and can extend to the subtlest of details. Often, the EGD team seeks elements from the interior design they can respond to in their marketing materials and collateral. Sourcing inspiration from the texture and materiality of a design concept and re-interpreting them for graphic assets creates another touch point that reinforces or complements the brand.

In some instances, uncommon materials can be woven into experiential design. Patterns, tactile elements, and origin can all have a story to tell. Rebecca recalls working with a GSA client to source fabrics from the various countries that they serve as a way to layer authenticity into the project. These colorful textiles became featured elements in an exhibit design, creating an emotional connection for teams and their purpose. Other examples of how one might layer brand story include using sustainably sourced, recycled, or local materials. “These small details combine to tell a cohesive story and a tangible articulation of your brand. Sort of like practicing what you preach,” she adds. 

While EGD is an effective storytelling tool, sometimes it’s a matter of bringing beauty into a space, making it a cooler and more enjoyable experience. A parking garage is the perfect black slate and often-missed opportunity to bring a brand to life. To complement the multifamily marketing package for Kingston, Mclean Crossing, hand-painted botanical murals were located at each level for wayfinding and improved resident experience.

A four-story parking garage at Kingston Apartments takes advantage of ample wall space with a botanical mural that drives home branding and delights residents.

A Cohesive Story: From Start to Finish

For maximum impact, plan to engage a creative team early in the design of a new project. “When we work together with the design teams early on, we are able to weave storytelling opportunities into the space in a more integral way,” explains Rebecca. “Each design decision informs another and through collaboration, we are able to trigger creative innovation and expose opportunities to strengthen the entire experience.”

Each touch point serves a purpose. Throughout the design process, think about the end-user and envision their perception of the space. Consider how they might interact with it and how each touch point might make them feel. The most effective EGD projects are human-centric. Whether attracting a future resident, communicating with an employee, or welcoming a guest, EGD serves to immerse people in an engaging and custom environment designed to educate, orient, inspire – and sometimes, simply delight.

Art + Progress

The virtual adaptation of this year’s Art Month allowed us to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals shaping the District’s art scene and expand the dialogue around the art community beyond Hickok Cole’s doors. Through a three-part webinar series, we invited key stakeholders in the art world – from curators and artists to developers and more – with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to comment on art’s unification qualities and identify the ways in which it impacts our society on a daily basis.

Our final Art Month panel, Art + Progress, examined how a renewed focus on social equity and justice in the arts is impacting creative communities in our region. Host Peter Nesbett, Executive Director at Washington Project for the Arts was joined by Cara Ober, Founding Editor at BeMore Art, Sandy Bellamy, Director of the General Services Administration’s Percent for Art, and Charles Jean-Pierre, a Washington, DC-based artist.

If you missed the conversation, don’t worry. You can revisit the recording, or read on for our top three takeaways from Art + Progress.

Our definition of progress is changing

“Today, progress is increasingly about issues of inclusion, accessibility, social equity, and justice,” says Peter Nesbett, Executive Director and Keeper of Imaginative Futures at Washington Project for the Arts,“which puts the attention on the context of art, and the biography and experience of the artist, as much as on the object.” Technology and social media have increased access to the artist themselves, carrying the artist’s voice and the messages behind their work further and than ever before. A recent example of this phenomenon is the reach and impact of the street mural at Black Lives Matter Plaza here in DC. Sandy Bellamy, Director of the General Services Administration’s Percent for Art program touched on the project’s virality, noting “it inspired people to emulate that particular work of art and express its simple yet complicated notion that Black lives matter.” 

Artwork, within the context of current events, politics, and today’s human rights issues, helps to tell a more holistic story by increasing exposure to a diverse set of voices and experiences. So as these experiences influence the artist, so does it influence their work, making it impossible to appreciate art without appreciating what’s happening in the world around us. “I’m finally at an age where I can recognize patterns in my work,” commented Charles Jean-Pierre, AKA JP, a DC-based artist. “And I feel like we’re in the same position as we were four years ago, heading into the 2016 news cycle. I feel like our Black bodies are politicized. But I think globally, darker people have been suffering and it’s not just an American problem. People are dying everywhere at the hands of people that look like them so I think this climate is based on racism but also on power dynamics. And that’s where I use my works to try to understand.” Today’s definition of progress calls on everyone to share in the burden because of how frequently we witness it’s presence – or lack thereof.

The message behind art can withstand the test of time

Governments have long commissioned artwork to reflect the ideals of the people in power. Sandy makes the argument that because of the lifespan of most public art, it’s important to commission culturally diverse artists and promote culturally diverse perspectives within our society. “When you look at neoclassical architecture and artwork in DC, there’s a lot of white men on horses, very few women and even fewer works commissioned by artists of color,” she adds. “But that doesn’t reflect who we are as a people today.” 

This is an opportunity for artists to break through the noise of divisiveness and realize the true definition of America. “Artists have always had the ability to speak directly to the soul and that will reveal the truth and the underlying humanity that we all have,” she says. “The more perspectives we have and the more artists of color at the table, the faster our journey towards embodying the true sense of freedom and democracy will be.”

Cara Ober, Editor at BeMore Art agreed, adding “By their nature, artists are comfortable saying things others are not capable of and they’re able to do it in a way that resonates.” She shares that the magazine’s community based and community accountable approach to local art has lent more people a voice when they want to express themselves while highlighting diverse talents and raising their profiles. 

How to create more equity within the art world

Working as an artist in a region with no shortage of established museums is an incredible privilege and undoubtedly provides inspiration to many. But Peter notes that they’re also seen as a point of contention in that they “embody the structural biases of the nation that gave birth to them.” “Museums have the most power of any entity in the art world,” Cara explains. “They have the power to legitimize careers. They have the money and the resources to invest in them and therefore it’s the job of museums to provide context and education and explain to people what they are seeing.” She pointed to declining attendance and membership as proof that these institutions are losing sight of their audience and the types of works today’s museum-goers hope to see. 

The hierarchy of decision-makers in the art world, including museums, elite galleries, and private curators, can create a barrier for contemporary artists seeking to broaden their reach. One solution to create a more democratic landscape is by expanding our approach to public art programs to increase representation and participation. “I’m currently working on a project with the Haitian Embassy where we’re commissioning Haitian artists to come to DC to create a public art installation,” JP shared. “I operate from a global perspective and from a place of privilege as an artist with an American passport. When I’m abroad, I’m constantly told how lucky I am to be an American so I leverage my privilege and access to help more people to create.”

Sandy adds that she’s working on a project that enlists the community’s perspective to make sure the work that’s installed reflects their lives and individual experiences. “I see it as a pragmatic decision. It’s important to meet people where they are instead of just plopping a work of art in their community selected by people who are not members of that community,” she explains. “Each property we commission art for has its own group of stakeholders made up of teachers, principals, architects, members of the ANC’s, and even high-schoolers. They select artists from a very diverse database of every demographic you could think of. And to me, they are perfectly capable of selecting outstanding works of art for their own community enjoyment.” 

Art Buying, Demystified

The virtual adaptation of this year’s Art Month allowed us to shine a spotlight on the talented individuals shaping the District’s art scene and expand the dialogue around the art community beyond Hickok Cole’s doors. Through a three-part webinar series, we invited key stakeholders in the art world – from curators and artists to developers and more – with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to comment on art’s unification qualities and identify the ways in which it impacts our society on a daily basis.

Our second Art Month panel, Art Buying: Demystified, focused on making the art buying process more approachable for novel collectors. From assessing quality and determining your style to spotting up-and-coming artists, DC creatives and art experts shared insight on building your collection while reflecting on the value of art beyond the physical object. Host Laura Ewan, Marketing and Communications Director at Hickok Cole was joined by Schwanda Rountree, Founder of Rountree Art Consulting, Philippa Hughes, Founder of Curiosity Connects Us, Angie Shah, Director of Marketing at Shah & Shah Jewelers, and Regan Billingsley, Founder of Regan Billingsley Interiors.

If you missed the conversation, don’t worry. You can revisit the recording, or read on for our top three takeaways from Art Buying, Demystified.

Understand what value means to you

Like with most big purchases, you have to do your research before pulling the trigger. Whether through Instagram or by visiting galleries, increased exposure to a wide variety of art is the best way to identify what style and mediums you’re most attracted to–and what you’re willing to spend. 

“For some of my more novel collectors, the decision making factor is definitely budget driven,” says Schwanda Rountree, Founder of Rountree Art Consulting. “But, as a consultant, my primary role is to educate the client on what it is they’re purchasing, especially when justifying a larger price tag.” Apart from aesthetic, Schwanda says one thing to consider is sustainability. “It’s important for me to know that this artist is dedicated to their craft and their success isn’t fleeting,” she reflects, adding that if artists have shown in institutions, museums, or certain private collections, that up-ticks the value of their work.

Angie Shah, Director of Marketing at Shah & Shah Jewelers approaches her art collecting with a long-term perspective. “The longevity factor is important to me,” she shares. “I ask myself, is this going to continue to inspire me and challenge me? Can I live with this for the rest of my life?” She advises that new collectors look for artists with a distinct point of view and one that matches their own. “Every piece should be a reflection of someone’s taste, likes, and how they live.”

The bottom line is art buying is a personal process and ultimately we determine the value of having art in our homes. “We all have limited budgets but I chose to put my disposable income towards buying art,” says Philippa Hughes, Founder of Curiosity Connects Us. “You have to decide for yourself, How much of a priority are you going to put on this in your life? How much is it worth to you outside of the monetary value?”

Investing in art goes beyond the physical object

Buying a piece of art is an investment. But you’re not just investing in your happiness or the decor in your home. Your purchase has a direct impact and is a reflection of your values. “It’s bigger than just buying something. I’m an advocate for artists and believe in supporting their livelihood,” says Schwanda. “I have a pretty diverse collection in terms of medium but the common thread throughout is that all the works are made by Black artists and that’s important for me because Black artists are underrepresented in the collecting realm as well as in institutions.”

When you purchase a work of art, you’re investing in that artist, their profession, and the community they’re a part of. “Maybe your investment actually helped pay their rent that month,” Philippa says. “Even buying art at a lower level helps allow that artist to continue creating.” And while art is everywhere these days, rather than purchasing a commercial print, buying locally has an authenticity component to it as well as a higher level of transparency. “I see a lot of cultural appropriation in design and in art. When looking to add a new work to your collection, it’s important that you understand where it’s coming from and are sure the artist is being compensated appropriately,” adds Regan Billingsley, owner of Regan Billingsley Interiors.  

Resist the urge to impulse-fill your white space 

What comes first, the art or the interior design? According to Regan, both can be true. A piece that holds a lot of value for a client might determine how a particular space is designed. “I recently had a client who had a bunch of old charcoal drawings of New York that we transformed into panels as custom wallpaper in her elevator.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, Angie shared her husband’s recent experience. “Having moved into an office space where the walls were dark grey, he commissioned two large charcoal works of clouds specifically to contrast the office design.”

Whether or not you’re remodeling or just moving into a new space, Regan said to embrace the white space and be patient until you find something that you love to fill it. “I might sit with a dining room table without chairs for six months before I find the right fit. And that’s the same way I approach art.” She emphasized how possible it is to make an impact with just one special piece. “Back up in the space, look at your focal points and really work with that. You can have an entire room centered around just one piece if it elicits joy, especially if you’re working from home. Everything in your space should feel meaningful.”

The Art of Giving : A Splash of Relief

The Art of Giving

As Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria approached the Gulf Coast and Caribbean Islands in the months of August and September, communities and families from Texas to Puerto Rico braced themselves for the impending storms. Among them were many friends and family of Hickok Cole employees, including a large contingency on the island of Puerto Rico. In the storms’ aftermath, the office rallied to help those affected, raising $745 in-house for Houston and the Gulf Coast, and $3,090 for Puerto Rico with industry partners Heller and Metzger, Structura, Perkins Eastman and McCullough Construction. But as long-term effects of the devastation set in, our Full Circle Committee – a grassroots volunteer group – challenged themselves to do more.

Inspired by three employees who jump-started hurricane relief fundraising and supply collections, the Committee approached owners Yolanda Cole and Mike Hickok with the idea to host a Hurricane Relief Fundraiser at this year’s Art Night. “These women inspired us to create a fundraising opportunity at Art Night,” says fundraiser organizer Lucia Tang. “They took initiative to self-organize and help communities impacted by hurricane disaster, and Full Circle is proud to support them in their efforts.” The Committee crafted a signature cocktail “A Splash of Relief,” and served them to the event’s 800 guests with a suggested donation of $10 per drink to raise funds for areas impacted by the recent hurricanes.

Proceeds from the signature cocktail totaled $1,200 and benefit the US Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, and Dominica. The funds will be distributed among the three charities below, each focused on aid in an area with a special connection to one of the three women leading the charge. Including this most recent effort, Full Circle Committee volunteers have raised over $5,000 for hurricane relief.


The Center of Disaster Philanthropy

Ellen Hearle is raising funds for The Center of Disaster Philanthropy, an organization uniquely focused on the long-term work of disaster recovery. The CDP Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund is delivering aid for medium- and long-term rebuilding, which includes rebuilding homes, businesses, infrastructure, meeting the needs of young children, supporting mental health needs, and boosting damaged agricultural sectors.

Ellen is a designer and technologist. She is an alumni of Tulane University and previous resident of Louisiana. Her experience with hurricane impacted areas motivated her to lead the fundraising effort after Hurricane Harvey. Ellen was student project manager for the LOOP Pavilion on New Orleans’ City Park Scout Island which won an AIA Merit Award in 2014.

United for Puerto Rico

Fanny Gonzalez is raising funds for United for Puerto Rico. The First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló founded this initiative in collaboration with the private sector with the purpose of providing aid and support to those affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. 100% of the proceeds will go to helping the victims of these natural disasters in Puerto Rico.

Fanny is a Project Designer who has lent her design skills to several pro-bono projects with the Full Circle Committee. She was born and raised on the beautiful Island of Puerto Rico. After the impact of Hurricane Maria, Fanny volunteered with Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration to send supplies and funds to the island. #puertoricoselevanta #unidosforpuertorico

Dominica Hurricane Maria Relief Fund

Tiffany Woolley is raising funds for Dominica Hurricane Maria Relief Fund. The Government of Dominica set up the crowd-sourcing fund to receive donations and assist Dominica with both emergency measures and the rebuilding effort that will follow.

Tiffany is a designer whose love for people and community inspires her to share the magic of Dominica and greater Caribbean culture. She has fond memories of her mother’s homeland, where many of her relatives still reside . She credits her time in Dominica with her love of color, curiosity for the natural world, and love of community.


The Full Circle Committee thanks Hickok Cole, Washington Project for the Arts, and the Art Night 2017 organizers for providing a venue for this fundraising effort. We’d also like to say a very special thank you to each and every donor who gave to our hurricane relief efforts. Every cent of your donation goes to support the communities and people directly impacted by these natural disasters – including the friends and family of our colleagues here at Hickok Cole.

Art Night 2017 raises $120,000 for Washington Project for the Arts

Washington’s art patrons and buyers packed the Georgetown, DC offices of Hickok Cole Architects for Art Night 2017 on Thursday, October 19th. Curators Rachel Schmidt and Betsy Johnson selected compelling works by local contemporary artists working in a variety of media. Art Night 2017 generated a record-breaking $120,000 in artwork sales, with many pieces still available. Art Night will be up for an additional week, closing on Friday, October 27th. Interested buyers are encouraged to contact Hickok Cole for a private tour.

Each year Hickok Cole works with Washington Project for the Arts (WPA) to host a juried art show with proceeds going to further WPA’s mission of providing essential resources to support the creative spirit and success of regional artists. All artists receive 50% of the sale price, with the other 50% donated to the WPA. Hickok Cole sponsors event expenses, allowing 100% of the proceeds to go to the Washington, DC art community. Now in its seventeenth year, this event has raised over one million dollars for WPA and the local artist community.

Hickok Cole generated $72,700 in advance sales through our Art Angel and Art Cherub programs. Each Art Angel commits $2,200 towards the purchase of art at Art Night, with Art Cherubs committing $500 each.


2017 Art Angels include:

2017 Art Cherubs include:

  • Anthony Balestrieri
  • Laura Ewan & Mark Palmer
  • John Bisch
  • Brook Katzen
  • Rob Holzbach

  • Samantha/David Prestidge
  • Noel Carson
  • Peter Colarulli
  • Rory & Lauren Pillsbury

Each Art Night, Senior Principals, Michael Hickok, FAIA and Yolanda Cole, FAIA, IIDA, LEED AP (Art Angels themselves) commit to purchasing a work of art for the firm’s collection. Employees vote for their favorite, and at 8:30 PM, the piece with the most votes wins. This year’s selection, is a collection of sixteen archival pigment prints on aluminum by American artist Shannon Collis.

If you are interested in purchasing any remaining pieces featured at Art Night, please contact Hickok Cole.