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Q+A with Dominic Russo,
Diadem’s co-founder and CEO

Dominic Russo is the co-founder and CEO of Diadem. For two decades Dominic has co-led a global team in transforming brand visions into built realities through a dynamic, user-centric approach.

To celebrate 21 years of Diadem, Dominic sat down with InDesign to explore Diadem’s unique collaborative approach and the company’s unique position at the forefront of the architecture and branding intersection.

What does Diadem’s role at the intersection of architecture and branding look like?

First and foremost, I think our DNA has always been centred around collaboration. It is so much to do with collaboration because we literally are talking about that intersection. We’re either engaged with a branding agency, communication designers, or on the other side of the spectrum, working with architects. Of course, we have the client in the middle too.

Our role is to work closely with clients and help them understand what they’re trying to achieve, and how that translates through the communication strategy they’re trying to deliver. Whether that’s through brand, or through navigation in a shopping centre, we need to ensure that the end user’s experience is going to be a positive one that reflects the brand.

Nothing is quite as rewarding as creating a positive connection with a brand, and this occurs in the built environment. Ensuring we take a human-centred approach to all of our work has always been paramount from the day we started the business.

How does Diadem’s approach inform the way you transform brand vision into built reality?

Unlike other mediums where you generally have a single stream, the built environment has multiple layers in terms of the architecture, the brand, how it’s being communicated, how people use the space, how it’s navigated, and obviously, servicing customers. With this in mind, we’re trying to navigate a more physical medium that might spawn out of a digital platform and consider how that translates into the built environment. Usually, one leads to the other.

Working closely with those different disciplines as well as our clients is how we built our reputation. This effectively became the facilitating factor. It’s like weaving that thread between all the different disciplines to make a built environment work.

We started to develop a methodology of being able to unpack all these elements, and then figure out how to stitch it all back together. This deconstruction process leads us to consider what the end result will be.

Ultimately, it comes back to who the end-user is. It comes back to human-centred design principles. It’s talked about a lot these days, but in my university training it was hammered into me; if you’re not designing for an end-user, you’re simply not designing. We’ve just taken that idea to the next level.

How has Diadem created authentic connections between the user and the place, and engendered culture?

There are elements we’ve introduced in our work that reflect place-making concepts and sometimes playful or through-provoking moments. The power of this immersive spatial experience is seen in giant commercial stores like Nike, for example. The user is invited to interact with the space’s multi-sensory elements, and they are temporarily transported out of their own reality and into the brand’s universe. This makes for a very enriching and memorable experience.

Digital is playing a bigger part in being able to create those sorts of experiences today. So, being able to transform people into a different space is a way of achieving that. In many ways, it’s about the context being applied to the project.

How has the significance of a brand’s presence been changed by the pandemic, and where do you think it’s going to land as we move into a post-pandemic era?

In my opinion, I think it’s short-term. We’re in the eye of the storm at the moment, and it feels like this is going to change our lives into the future. Maybe there will be some remanent behaviour changes.

In the short-term, we’re probably going to see changes to how we work. Hybrid work models will see people working from home, as well as in the office. There will be different de-centralised co-working spaces as opposed to large offices. That may sustain for a while, but I think possibly in a few years from now, things will probably return to some degree of normality. I see a really great opportunity to be able to really bring those brand principles forward under these changed conditions and create better environments.

I think we all crave that human interaction. We want to be entertained, we want to socialise, and we want to enjoy all those things that we haven’t being able to fully enjoy of late. I think those are the ideal prompts to remind us to ensure we always have an authentic approach to expressing what our clients represent.


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