The Impact of Branding on the Third Place Environment

Presented by: Sarah Kibler, Lisa Waxman

Introduction Third places can be define as spaces, other than home or work, which serve as informal gathering places in communities. During the past 50 years, a decline in the number of third places has been observed across the United States (Oldenburg, 1999). At the same time, commercially and virtually staged experiences are rising in popularity, providing ever fewer localized environments in which people may gather (Crick, 2011). Research indicates spaces designed with the influence of the locale lead to positive emotional attachment for those who live within a community (Lippard, 1997). As the culture, ambiance, and “brand” of a third place evolves, it has also been suggested that these places should reflect the communities in which they are located. Purpose The purpose of this research was to determine the preferred physical features of third place environments, as well as those that contribute to the “brand”, the perceptions of that brand, and the corresponding likelihood of patronage. Method The methodology included an online survey completed by 120 millennials where respondents were asked questions regarding the physical factors of a space using the Place Attachment Model for Coffee Shops by Waxman (2006). In addition, photographs of four coffee shops including a locally owned coffee shop, a global corporate coffee shop designed to look like a local coffee shop, a regional coffee shop, and a global corporate coffee shop easily identified as such were presented to respondents in the survey. Using heat map survey technology allowed respondents to click on parts of the photographs that indicated the “branded” elements within each coffee shop. The number of clicks, as well as a color-coded heat map image was generated to identify perceived branded elements. Additional questions also identified their likelihood of patronage. Findings Sixty-seven percent of respondents reported that they visited a coffee shop on a regular basis. The most important physical features can be found in Table 1. The physical design features selected in the heat map show those that most contributed to the branding (see Figure 1). They included: Wall finishes and wall décor, the cash wrap, built-in cabinetry, furniture (selection and arrangement), lighting, and menu displays. Findings also revealed that the perceived level of brandedness had an effect on the overall perception of the space (positive or negative) as well as the likelihood of patronage. Specifically, the two most preferred coffee shops were the unique locally owned coffee shop and the easily identifiable global chain. Not surprisingly, the coffee shops viewed as having a positive brand resulted in a reported greater likelihood of patronage. Conclusion By better understanding the design features preferred in third places as well as the elements that contribute to a brand, designers will be better informed when designing similar spaces.


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  • Oldenburg, R. (1999). The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. (3rd Ed.). Washington, DC: Marlowe & Company.
  • Waxman, L. (2006). The Coffee Shop: Social and Physical Factors Influencing Place Attachment. Journal of Interior Design, 31(3), 35-53.