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Saturate | Spatial Graphic Design


In the broadest sense, graphic design represents a language of visual communication, adding layers of "complexity, nuance and subtlety"1to the comprehension of whatever information is at hand. When introduced to an interior environment, the added spatial dimension coupled with these graphic elements takes this communication one step farther, making it an experience. 

The Intypes research category Spatial Graphic Design defines a new sub-type of environmental graphic design that is interior-specific and based on the establishment of a spatial narrative of brand or theme. Spatial Graphic Design is a multidisciplinary approach that may include components of graphic design, industrial design, interior design and architecture. Applications of brand in interior settings relies on the interaction of various design elements to create layers of meaning, serving as a vehicle for the storytelling of the space's narrative of place. This narrative embellishes and reaffirms itself through varied use of material, color, lighting, and signage, among other design elements. The communication of an interior's brand concept or spatial narrative can be articulated in varying degrees, employing a range of communicative devices to make the expression more literal or more abstract, highly immersive or more discreet.

To understand this varied range of brand concept, the argument is made for three brand concepts or frameworks for analyzing or designing Spatial Graphic Design interiors-Understate, Activate, Saturate. This range is best understood as a continuum, spanning every increment level of narrative expression. The aim of the following three chapters is to define three nodes along this strategic branding continuum. Defining the two extremes (Understate and Saturate) and the median point (Activate) of this continuum helps to give structure to the larger spectrum of which they are a part. While understanding these three points helps to define the larger picture, it is equally important to see the continuum that they are a part of as a means to understanding the full range of brand concept that can be articulated within a space. 

Two archetypical strategic practices, Colorbrand and Repeat Repeat, punctuate the experience of space and may be used in any of the concepts. 

To make the case for each category, the chronological sequence is limited to the very best exemplars. For Saturate, in the 1970 to 2010 period, there are five examples representing the following practice types: nightclub, retail.

Each photographic example is coupled with a visual analysis highlighting the dominant graphic components in the space that are used to articulate the brand concept.


The saturated condition offers the most highly immersive experience of an interior's narrative of place. This concept is sometimes articulated through the use of one design strategy, sometimes by several working together simultaneously. Whether one or several, the distinguishing factor in the saturated condition is the level or degree to which these strategies are implemented. Rather than a singular instance of a brand strategy (Understate)or a series of elements punctuating an otherwise neutral space (Activate),strategies used in the saturated condition are applied to almost every plane within space, encapsulating the viewer.

The constant level visual overload found in the saturated interior actually makes for a less dynamic experience than one might find in an activated interior. Every element in the space is featured, keeping the level of immersion at an invariable high rather than peppering an otherwise neutral space with momentary pops of brand vocabulary. 

In such interiors, the brand narrative is often less literal than those found in the understated and activated interior. Rather than the explicit use of brand vocabulary-logo or logotype, slogans, icons-the narrative is often a more abstract representation of the space's personality or character, relying more heavily on the use of lighting, color, specific patterns and prints, imagery and artifact to round of the spatial experience. 

Saturated interiors are often found in retail or hospitality settings, where a highly emotive visual and spatial experience enhances the function of the space, engaging consumers in a relationships with the products they are about to buy and transporting hotel and nightclub goers on an escapist vacation from their everyday reality. 

Chronological Sequence

With a combination of color, material, lighting and iconic super-sized imagery, the Olimpo discotheque/piano bar creates a totally immersive and mysterious atmosphere for nighttime club-goers.The thematic discotheque/piano bar, styled after the story of Mount Olympus, the heavenly home of the Greek Gods, features larger-than-life imagery of such mythological figures as Bacchus, Diana and Laocoon. Ironically enough, the bar is located below street level and in Rome, Italy. The imaginative interior comes as a result of the free rein granted to designer Pino Piantanida, who crafted the space as a mix of "mythical antiquity [and] historic fact."

The site of the bar was once a complex of ancient Roman baths, inspiring the deep turquoise tiling used throughout on walls, steps and even the bar itself. The blue color is a prominent theme in the space, covering walls in murals of clouds and sky dotted with images of ancient Greek figures. The 3,800-square-foot interior is divided into three main rooms and a small bar, connected by a labyrinth of corridors meant to extend the spatial experience for patrons moving between rooms. Although much of the space is a vibrant blue, lighting is kept low, adding to the mystique of the experience. One of the few sources of lighting, the disco floor is made of structural glass, lit from below adding to the ethereal feeling of dancing in the heavens.

Located in London, Kabaret's Prophecy comes as a bold addition to the city's members-only club scene, quickly becoming a notorious hotspot in the city's nightlife. The exclusive subterranean nightclub is a graphic tour de force-graphic in every sense of the word-combining color, pattern, lighting, bold super-sized imagery, and text. Said designer David Collins, "In a club atmosphere, you have to keep things constantly changing. Kabaret's Prophecy is like an on-going project, with elements evolving constantly."5 

To achieve this dynamic and versatile interior experience, Collins partner with graphic engineers and live-performance video specialists, installing cutting-edge audio/visual technology throughout the club's main dance floor and bar area. Chameleon LEDs creates pinpoints of colored light, alternating between shades of red, green, and blue. Two of the space's four primary walls are dedicated to featuring multicolored graphic animations and text that alternates nightly. Modular intelligent LED pixel blocks displays live video feeds as lasers designed by light artist Christ Levine sweep across the laser-cut vinyl dance floor. 

Distinctive super-sized illustrations by cartoonist Jamie Hewlett break up the otherwise charcoal-grey walls. Prints of the provocative characters lurk in corners and are plastered on doors-some even appear to straddle the bathroom stalls. Elsewhere, glass doors are embellished with etchings of intimate and voyeuristic line drawings by artist Natasha Law. "It's tongue-in-cheek trashy," says Collins. "It perfectly achieves that retro-pop 1970's feel." The space creates an atmosphere of both maximalism and intimacy, with scintillating colors and lighting set to the dark, mysterious backdrop of London nightlife literally gone underground.

Another space whose design heavily revolves around the application of a mural (Billboard) was Abercrombie & Fitch's New York Flagship store.6 The 30,000-square-foot, four story interior is anchored by a massive mural running the full height of the space, even onto its ceiling. Painted in a classic style "best described as WPA meets Thomas Eakins meets Chariots of Fire", the mural narrates scenes of strapping young men rowing, wrestling, climbing ropes and engaging in other such displays of masculine physical prowess. The rugged scene is complimented by the low lit interior's rich material palette of water-picked granite floor tiles, oak paneling, and custom display racks made of blackened steel. 

This image of timeless Americana, a homage to A&F's 114 year history, is heightened with artifacts such as a taxidermy moose head and a stack of vintage wooden canoes, as well as small vignettes of bronze floor lamps and leather armchairs. Such relics sharply contrast the company's signature soundtrack, thumping beats one would be more likely to find in a nightclub than a retail interior. For the company's target demographic, primarily teens and young adults, the loud music, low lighting and pungent aroma of A&F's signature cologne play on the brands often sexualized image, striking a balance with the interior's craftsmanship and material richness. Different locations "require different attitudes," said designer Annabelle Selldorf, "but they'll still feel similar. The identity comes from the clothes."

The bold New York flagship store for Louis Vuitton, on its corner lot at 5th Avenue and East 57th, offers its first colorful display of iconic brand identity prior to even entering the store itself. The frosted glass of the multi-story façade is described by designer Jun Aoki as "a playfully sleek meditation on crystalline transparency and clouded translucency."7 The transparent and opaque checkers are reminiscent of patterns often found on Louis Vuitton textiles, and at night it was often lit with colorful arrays of the company monogram. This motif carries through to the store's interior, transforming the iconic logos and graphic patterns found on the brand's textiles onto spatial elements.

Throughout the interior retail space, these patterns are scaled to fit various surface applications, backing display niches, covering walls, and upholstering the occasional bench. The most notable applications adorn the interior's two features-it's so-called "Wonder Wall" and "Bag Bar". The former serves as the core to the interior's staircase, climbing three stories through the center atrium of the space. Backlit cubes of alternating color, again evoking the checkered print, are etched with a variation of the circle/diamond motif that so often accompanies the monogram pattern. The wall makes a colorful statement with constantly changing spectral light, and is visible from virtually everywhere within the space. The same circle/diamond motif is also used on the store's infamous "Bag Bar". Located on the second floor overlooking the atrium, the back wall of the bar is made up of a series of cubes recessed to different depths and adorned with various iterations of the same pattern. The spotlit cubes are affixed to motorized tracks, moving laterally to reveal merchandise hidden behind. A bar, complete with bar stools, is situated in front of the wall, where customers can sit and "sample" the products displayed behind. The statement feature was built custom for the store and has become a staple in many other Louis Vuitton locations, allowing for a unique and personalized experience of the LV merchandise. 

Swatch watches, first sold in 1983, made a name for themselves as being slim, fashionable and high quality, while still being extremely affordable. With interchangeable watch faces and colorful bands, partnerships with notable artists and designers, and official timekeeping for events hosted by big names such as O'Neill, UCI BMX, and Red Bull, the Swiss brand remains current through decades of changing fashion trends. In 2003, the brand brought on architects at the Zamparelli Architectural Group to tackle the design of their worldwide flagship store in Manhattan.8 The store's prominent location in the heart of Times Square promised high pedestrian traffic as well as competition from surrounding stores, demanding a visually impactful retail presence to match. The design of the space makes the most of its corner location, engaging visitors before they enter the store. A substantial brushed metal column defines the façade's exterior footprint, introducing the company name as well as the circular motif carries through the rest of the interior. 

Once inside, the store offers an experience of all things swatch. Massive circular chandeliers hung from various points on the ceiling, are constructed of hundreds of colorful Swatch watches. Display plinths shaped like watch gears rise from the ground, showcasing a wide variety of the company's latest product lines. White walls are covered in a supergraphic Billboard of stylish models and oversized images of the watches themselves, as well as repeated instances of the Swatch name and logo. Navigating the space offers an experience of the idea that is the foundation of the entire brand - time. The orientation of the display units make for winding, irregular circulation paths, slowing down passage through the space and extending visitors' temporal experience of the relatively small retail footprint. 

The highly experiential saturated interior is a much more contemporary trend in the construction of a branded interior, offering a more abstracted presentation of a space's character and personality as a counterpoint to the overt branding and marketing strategies so often used to target today's consumers.9

end notes

  1. 1) Alice Twemlow, What Is Graphic Design For? (East Suxxex, U.K.: RotoVision, 2006), 6.
  2. 2) Understate is a brand concept that occupies the lowest condition of a strategic continuum ranging from the least intervention to the most (Saturate). In this understated condition, brand identity is subtly repetitive, minimally distributed spatially, and applied at a limited number of scales and elements. Juliana Daily, "Theory Studies: Archetypical Spatial Graphic Design Practices in Contemporary Interior Design" (M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2012), 67-79.
  3. 3) Activate is a brand concept that occupies the middle condition of a strategic continuum ranging from the least intervention (Understate) to the most persistent and pervasive (Saturate). In the activated condition, applications of the brand vocabulary are distributed throughout the space on various scales and elements, often positioned strategically to get the highest impact from the most important locations in space, creating an active and dynamic experience of the brand narrative. Juliana Daily, "Theory Studies: Archetypical Spatial Graphic Design Practices in Contemporary Interior Design" (M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2012), 80-97.
  4. 4) Olimpo Discotheque/Piano Bar [1987] Pino Piantanida; Rome, Italy in Helen Barnes, "Olimpo," Interior Design 58, no. 4 (Apr. 1987): 264-67; PhotoCrd: Giovanna Piemonti.
  5. 5) Kabaret's Prophecy [2004] David Collins; London, England in Stephen F. Milioti, "Change Is Good," Interior Design 75, no. 8 (Aug. 2004): 162-69; PhotoCrd: Adrian Wilson.
  6. 6) Abercrombie & Fitch NY Flagship Store [2006] Annabelle Selldorf; New York, NY in Raul Barreneche, "Hot Property," Interior Design 77, no. 4 (Apr. 2006): 186-91; PhotoCrd: Eric Laignel.
  7. 7) Louis Vuitton [2011] Jun Aoki; New York City; Site Visit, Juliana Daily, 31 Mar. 2011; PhotoCrd: Juliana Daily, Intypes Project, 31 Mar. 2011; "Louis Vuitton Store, New York", Galinsky, accessed 18 Aug. 2011,
  8. 8) "The On-Going Story: Swatch History," Swatch, accessed 25 Sept. 2001,; Swatch [2011] ZAG Architects; New York, NY; Site Visit, Juliana Daily, 27 Jul. 2011; PhotoCrd: Juliana Daily, Intypes Project, 27 Jul. 2011.
  9. 9) Evidence for the archetypical use and the chronological sequence of Saturate in Spatial Graphic Design was developed from New York City site visits to Louis Vuitton and Swatch in 2011 and from the following primary sources: 1980 Olimpo Discotheque/Piano Bar [1987] Pino Piantanida; Rome, Italy in Helen Barnes, "Olimpo," Interior Design 58, no. 4 (Apr. 1987): 264-267; PhotoCrd: Giovanna Piemonti / 2000 Kabaret's Prophecy [2004] David Collins; London, England in Stephen F. Milioti, "Change Is Good," Interior Design 75, no. 8 (Aug. 2004): 162-169; PhotoCrd: Adrian Wilson / Abercrombie & Fitch NY Flagship Store [2006] Annabelle Selldorf; New York City in Raul Barreneche, "Hot Property," Interior Design 77, no. 4 (Apr. 2006): 186-191; PhotoCrd: Eric Laignel.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Daily, Juliana Richer. "Spatial Graphic Design: Archetypical Design Practices and Theory Studies On Constructing A Narrative Of Place." M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2012, 98-112.