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  • Kivi Sotamaa

Communicating Strategy Through Design

This is the era of abundance, yet the world is suffocating in sameness. When there is history and a strategy that sets an organization apart, it must be told in a unique way. To implement a strategy you need a visual, spatial and haptic experience that delights, seduces and challenges people both inside and outside of the organization. This combination of emotional and intellectual response leaves a permanent mark, even changes peoples’ behavior.

In today’s world decoration is often mistaken for strategy. Design and architecture are most often used in their functional role with some added styling. However, correctly deployed they are powerful tools for telling stories and increasing understanding through experiences. Many of our best known works are living proofs of this idea. Ambitious strategic design can visualize and conceptualize strategy in a manner which leaves a lasting memory.


The first step was background research. In the case of IVA the task was to find as much material as about it as possible; read about history, interview people, research articles, learn about activities. We collected all available information in order to form an understanding of IVA’s identity and voice, what it stands for and what its significance in the world today is. 

Based on the research, goals were formulated. We agreed with IVA that the aim was to create spaces that communicate and support IVA's mission, vision and activities and to create an experience, which works on all of the senses, leaving a lasting memory of a 100 year young, dynamic, open and transboundary forum. For more than 100 years IVA has been a meeting place for Sweden’s future, building bridges between the research, business and political sphere. The goal with the renewal of IVA's spaces was to support the academy to continue for another 100 years. 


The idea of only using branding in the conventional sense of the word - graphics, posters, text, images - expecting that people will read and incorporate the material while visiting a space does not work. The answer is far more complex. Architecture and design have their own disciplinary techniques, which communicate and affect our experience on numerous levels simultaneously. Architectural design uses atmosphere, organization, form, materiality and representation in order to communicate with people. 


Atmosphere is to architecture what a soundtrack is to a movie. It affects our feelings without us being aware of it. It can be used to reinforce or challenge conventional behavior, suggest new ways of being in the world or simply to nudge towards something desired. Think about replacing the soundtrack of a horror film with that of a comedy. Or what if you transplanted the atmosphere of a nightclub to a courthouse? The effect of atmosphere on social and institutional space would become apparent.

In the case of IVA, the task was to design a social and political space, which is in line with the values and aims of the organization. IVA as an institution is both historical and forward looking, active and visionary. It is a social hub for political, business and science leaders. At the headquarters on Grev Turegatan color, light, acoustics and furniture were used to create pockets of spaces with distinct atmospheres within the otherwise sprawling spaces of the historical building. These pockets generate a nuances of social atmospheres for different kinds of encounters and variety of activities.


Organization is a key ingredient of architecture and it has impact on experience. Just as in theatre, architecture requires the careful staging differences in order to create experiences. Organization is key to staging the unfolding of experiences within a building. It is the dramaturgy of how one spatial experience follows and stages another. Calm before the storm, for example.

In the case of IVA’s we designed spaces for sensible contrasts, which enable dramaturgically considered transitions and counterpoints: History versus future, open versus secluded, white versus red. Our design for IVA creates a sequence of unique experiences as the visitor moves through the building.


An architectural space could be described in terms of its atmosphere, organization as well as the ecology of objects which occupy it. Furniture is often considered as singular objects rather than as elements within in an ecology of objects. In reality, each piece of furniture in a space acts like chapter in a novel. The whole story emerges only from the collective relationships between the objects and their environment.

In the case of IVA the furniture, both new and old, as well as other designed objects are integral parts of an architectural environment and an overall experience. Their form and arrangements are used to create a variety of atmospheres and social spaces.

The Happy Chair, for example, is designed to engender a playful, relaxed mood and a protective private space around each person. The design is driven by performance simultaneously in the social, theatrical and ergonomic sense of the word.


Strategies can be turned into unique experiences which matter to people. IVA is an example of how design and architecture can be used, in addition to their practical role, as a method for communicating strategy and making a point in today’s noisy world. 


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