Borrowed from History

What do you do to breath life into an existing biotech campus? Start by checking into its past. District Circle is a tenant amenities facility of a biotech campus that was built on land previously occupied by an old paper mill that closed it’s doors nearly a century ago. The old district mill was named for the fifty three different types of pulp that made-up the proprietary blends of paper the factory produced. Known in the industry for its innovative approach for making paper, The District 53 Paper Mill pioneered its craft, filing multiple patents under its name. To borrow from this storied reputation of innovation and productivity, as well as convey the new facility’s downtown city-life atmosphere, the history of the location was leveraged and the name District Circle was born.

The campus was founded on the belief that companies are most successful when their most important resource - their employees, are happy.

But this wasn’t until later. When we were introduced the project, all that was in place for the campus was a beautiful facility and a solid philosophy. The yet-to-be-named campus was founded on the belief that companies are most successful when their most important resource - their employees, are happy. If campus life is good, productivity will flourish. The guiding principle that proved so helpful in the planning of the facility’s offerings, would again come into play to inform the messaging platform the brand would eventually adopt.

The goal was always to attract world-class life-science tenants like Illumina and Lilly by providing a campus facility, loaded with the lifestyle-focused and collaborative amenities that further enable them to entice the vast scientific talents in the surrounding area seeking employment. The resulting campus accomplished all of the initial goals, but in spite of the area’s rich history, the facility lacked the sense of character that was befitting of such a world-class establishment.

It wasn’t long before the campus was scheduled to undergo some expansion and with that came an opportunity to revisit the design. We got the call to have a look. When we first experienced the facility ourselves, we were very impressed at all there was to take-in. At first glance, it seemed to have everything. But as we began to look a little deeper we could see it lacked that something special to tie it all together. It had a story, but it wasn't telling it. What it needed was a brand. 

Naming a Brand That’s Ever-Evolving

Expansion by way of construction wasn’t the only evolving aspect of the campus. With so many tenant services fast making their way onto the planning table, a challenge began to arise concerning the facility naming and the need for a naming system that would steer clear of a hodge-podge feel considering the new amenities of the expansion.

We were branding a community where a tenant employee could recreate, exercise and perform day-to-day functions without ever having to leave.

The aim was to create a campus community where  tenant employees could work and collaborate, but also recreate, exercise and perform day-to-day functions without ever having to leave. Doing this would require the facility having it’s own restaurants, a gym, a salon, a cleaners, as well as a legitimate brewery to make life feel a little more complete. What began as the relatively straight forward approach to the branding of a single thing, became a complete system for the branding of, not just a family, but an ever-growing family of things.

The eventual naming solution allowed for a system of proprietary sub-brands that would express their unique offerings in a way that is distinctive yet, directly cohesive with the parent brand. Although our naming process led us to something fairly obvious, we felt good that given the unique challenges, our solution was nothing short of brilliant. The history-of-the-area inspired name, District Circle provided flexibility where we needed it, and the foundation for a system of naming the other amenities the campus sought to offer.

A Brand-in-Brand Approach

Initially, the various amenities that were in place either went nameless, or were conceived in an ad hoc manor. All-in-all, the offerings were inconsistent and somewhat dull. Some felt established and actually had a sense of brand, others had no way of communicating they were even there. Since some of the more convenience-based services offered were entirely created by the campus, continuity was a concern. Consistency became the key directive, and the system for the naming, as well as the brand, would center around the District aspect of the campus.

Since some of the service offerings were entirely created by the campus, continuity was a concern.

While it’s desirable to have a sense that the services and offerings are a proprietary part of the District, having it feel like a cookie-cutter community was not an option. This created a considerable diversity challenge. As opposed to having outside entities come-in to set-up shop, it was decided that District Circle would adorn these offerings with a cohesive adaptation of its own brand to build brand equity and add to the ambient brand environment. 

Solid Messaging to Support the Solution

With so many different “little companies” needing to convey their offerings, how would it be possible for them to express their own individual personalities, while maintaining consistency the parent District Circle brand? The solution that involved such practical naming and simple design looked great on paper. But how would the naming system that had to be self-evident to easily carry the story from the deli to the cleaners with continuity and the style of minimalism, look as a brand when it was all put together? Was using the word “district” as the key pairing ingredient going to work for us as we shifted our focus onto other aspects of the brand? Questions led to diagrams, diagrams led to mock-ups... Eventually we had answers and a little three-word piece of messaging that would add meaning relevant to today’s life science culture and further extend the voice of the campus. The words ... All - things - life.

Three to four letter names were selected for their purest, most obvious meanings 

All things life would become the slogan for the overall campus and its wink toward the world of life-science helped to make it a platform for each of the amenities to adopt as a part of their own messaging conversation.

Three to four letter names were selected for their purest, most obvious meanings, and the template for a system going forward was set. Simple science-related forms such as squares and circles are used to enclose and connect the brands, while also adding a “element” of elasticity. The circle itself played a role in the thinking behind the name; as it represents life as seen through a microscope, so it stands to reason it should have a place in the design system as the symbol of “your element.” 

Inspired By “All Things Life” With An Emphasis On Lifestyle

In all honesty, our first-round presentation sent us back to the drawing board with absolutely nothing to bring forward from the first, to the next. A completely new start from scratch. Our work was too based around life-science, as opposed to around life itself. “Our audience is a lifestyle audience. We want to enable them by offering a respite from the life they already know way too well in the lab.” “ The modern scientists of today are just like the rest of us. They’re young, they know what’s trending, they love fashion and culture, and they’re tired of the stereotypes commonly associated with people of science,” they continued. We got it. In fact, we couldn’t believe our luck. We were now, designing for ourselves.

THE MODERN SCIENTISTS OF TODAY ARE JUST LIKE THE REST OF US… they’re young, they know what’s trending, they love fashion and culture, and they’re tired of the stereotypes commonly associated with people of science”

The new approach allowed us to go straight to work putting our flexible design story to the test. For the most part, this went off without too many hitches. One such hitch was in the occasional use of the parent company Ambrosia. Originally, they didn’t see the need to have the District brand accompanied by the parent brand, but after warming-up to the simplicity of our solution, they wanted a plan to be in place for an occasional-use lockup. They blamed the curveball on the investors, but we were happy for it to be only an “occasional-use” variant.

Productive Body, Productive Mind

When you build a campus that, to appeal to the employee inhabitants, offers all the niceties of a small city, you create a major concern for the employers you are targeting as tenants for the facility. The concern is that for all the happiness the amenities bring, they also bring distraction. Ambrosia had done the research; the benefit of happiness far outweighs the potential of distraction, but it was on us to help make it apparent in the various messaging opportunities. In the case of the district gym, there was also a need for the trainer’s to have a separated brand within the company. Again, lifestyle came into play for this unique twist, as we wrapped our heads around a naming solution for their elaborite fitness facility. It’s a truly amazing gym. The facility, with it’s world-class trainer’s teaching ethic and technique, and top-line equipment, was deserving of a name that had the potential to live in space outside of the campus. Perhaps a franchise. Maybe even an apparel line. We settled on Life Athletic.

A Brewhouse and A Brew

In another unique twist for brand, the campus brewhouse - District Mill, plays the story of old District 53 into its system of brands with its “Fueling the spirit of innovation” messaging and the use of the old mill’s likeness as its Millhouse Spirits and Brew logo. Both the Millhouse brewery and its product-line, District Brew which includes 5 beer offerings, glassware and apparel, live under the District Mill umbrella. 

The District Element

As the slogan “All Things Life” implies, the campus-lifestyle is designed around the notion that if you have everything you need to be happy, healthy and productive, you will always feel at home “in your element.” Your Element is the name given to the circle that surrounds each of the brand’s logos, as well as the bi-monthly science and lifestyle magazine “District Element” which is published to the tenant employees and the surrounding community. We built an easy-to-use template system, complete with grids, design story and style guide.

For a magazine with a primary focus of work/life balance and simplifying the good life, it only seems befitting that the style of layout is open and minimal.

Guiding a Family of Brands

Due to the flexibility requirements of the District Circle brand, the guidelines were at first thought to be a daunting task. But because of the cohesive and comprehensive overall strategy, brand standards were as seamless and straight-forward as any. With the complete system and all its variants, its easy to feel confident about the future growth of both the campus and its ever-evolving brand.

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