commercial building design ideas

4 High-Impact Commercial Building Design Ideas That You Won’t Expect

Published on: July 16, 2019

High-impact design components can truly transform a commercial space. Without getting into serious structural work, you can use paint and color treatments, material upgrades, landscaping, and lighting enhancements to give a new look to any building. With so many options on the table, developers sometimes overlook environmental graphics and how they can be used to completely transform a space.  

The world of environmental graphics, wayfinding, and architectural signage is rich with solutions that instantly upgrade a commercial property. From monument signs to supergraphics and even identifying sculptures, environmental design can be a catalyst for meaningful change in your built environment. 

Commercial Building Design Ideas With High-Impact Graphics

To transform your property through custom corporate signage, start with a human-centered approach. Consider who your building was designed for. Do these graphics support the function of your building as well as the needs of the employees, clients, and customers who will be using it? 

The other crucial element of environmental graphic design is sustainability-—in all its forms. Powerful environmental graphics programs are designed around physical objects that are well-manufactured with high-quality materials that will last through the coming years. They also involve timeless designs that won’t “go out of style” in 18 months. 

The following examples show how human-centric and sustainable design make a huge impact on a commercial space: 

1. Building on Existing Brand Equity

When Nasdaq built out a new Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco, the company planned to imitate several key design elements from its headquarters in New York City. Despite concerns about San Francisco city codes, Nasdaq was approved to incorporate large news ticker signs on the building’s exterior. The concept of digital ticker signs has already proven to be both functional and timeless, maintaining nearly 100 years of consistent use in Times Square. In San Francisco, these graphic elements enhance the existing architecture of the Entrepreneurial Center and proclaim Nasdaq’s holistic corporate identity. They transport employees to Wall Street every time they enter the office—and confidently announce the company’s presence to all of downtown San Francisco. In the case of Nasdaq, big impact comes from implementing graphics that build on the equity of this powerful brand. 

2. Installing a Signature Graphic Element

commercial building design ideas

If your company doesn’t already have a nationally-recognized visual presence, you might want to create one from scratch. ONE CA chose to install a sculptural object that could uniquely identify the building through its shape, form, and pure mass. The impressive size of the ONE CA sculpture combined with its intriguing aesthetic design created a seriously iconic entrance—as well as an attention-grabbing photo spot for tourists and locals alike. This signature graphic sculpture sets the ONE CA building apart from other Bay Area companies and makes it a popular destination in downtown San Francisco. 

3. Making a Massive Statement

commercial building design ideas

Sheer size isn’t the only factor leading to the success of an environmental graphic but sometimes it’s all you need to take a development to the next level. Fallon Gateway, a retail development in Dublin, CA, desired to make their presence known to traffic passing by on Interstate 580. They implemented a monument sign with bold detailing and sharp angles that stood a massive 99-ft tall. This massive identification sign is designed with clean lines and simple shapes that will continue to attract visitors for years to come. Directional and directory signage continued the brand experience to the pedestrian level, clearly presenting Fallon Gateway as a modern mall destination for local shoppers. If making an impact depends on catching the attention of a large community, this visual brand strategy certainly did the trick.

4. Bringing Bold Color

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Our final example shows how architectural signage can transform a commercial complex into a more unique and interesting destination. The old AT&T campus in Pleasanton, CA was in the midst of a full rebrand when developers chose to implement a new wayfinding and signage system. The goal was to make Rosewood Commons appear more open, friendly, and welcoming to multiple tenants. Sculptural building IDs and supergraphics in bold colors helped make each of the six buildings in this complex more distinct and gave the entire complex a new atmosphere. These bold designs are timeless in their simplicity and highly sustainable in design. They improved the navigational experience for visitors and made a huge impact on the exterior appearance of Rosewood Commons as a whole.  

How to Maximize Your Graphic Design Success

Great commercial sign programs are human-centered, sustainable, and high-impact. They’re also well-planned. Signage is often an afterthought for developers, but these projects succeeded because graphics were an integral part of the development strategy from the very beginning. These environmental signs were carefully planned, budgeted for, and implemented— not tacked on at the last minute.  

Whether you plan on using environmental graphic design to reposition an existing commercial building or you’re in the midst of new construction, it’s always a good idea to get the design team involved sooner rather than later. A competent environmental graphics and signage design firm will run a comprehensive site audit to help you identify potential opportunities for graphics and signage. They’ll provide budgeting estimates so stakeholders can make key decisions about where funds should be spent. And they’ll work with your architects to ensure that the new graphic elements are fully integrated with the overall building design. 

The best commercial building designs arise from close collaborations like these. We encourage you to see your environmental graphics and signage consultant not just as a vendor, but as a strategic partner. Together you can create impressive building designs that have the highest possible impact on your target community. 


GNU Group is a premier environmental graphics and signage consultancy firm specializing in fully customized solutions for commercial developments. We work closely with developers to create programs that are impressive, impactful, and effective. If you’re looking for a strategic partner with unlimited commercial building design ideas, connect with our team today.