Featured Project: Saint Kate, the Arts Hotel

Brand Strategy & Positioning
Experience Design
Content Strategy
Website Design & Development

What exactly is an ‘arts hotel?’ And better yet, what is an arts hotel located in the heart of Milwaukee?

Sure, it has to function in many ways like any other hotel, but how might the arts weave through the entire experience? Could a hotel function as an arts venue? How about a platform for the local creative community? A bridge between disparate communities in the same city? One Design has spent the better part of a year exploring these questions, in the run up to the unveiling of Saint Kate, Milwaukee’s Arts Hotel.

The project has been an ongoing collaboration between One Design, Stonehill Taylor architects, and Marcus Hotels & Resorts. Our team led brand research, concept development, naming, and identity and experience design. Twelve months in, we collectively laid the groundwork for a brand new boutique property that is redefining how people experience hotels; as well as how visitors from near and far approach, celebrate, and support the arts and the spirit of the creative process.

A concept for the curious

Saint Kate—a nod to Saint Catherine, the patron saint of artists—has been designed from the ground up to celebrate all modes of artistic expression, and to serve as a platform for the Milwaukee arts community, a hub for locals, and a portal to the scene for travelers from afar.

The Saint Kate brand hinges on programming—from visual artwork to performance. It’s a living, breathing, evolving space. Far from an ordinary hotel with a static white box gallery, Saint Kate celebrates the process of creative exploration and craft. Guests—from travelers to event-goers to local makers—are encouraged to participate in the thrilling, often messy, and always unexpected process of exploration and creation. Rotating shows, programming partnerships, a formal artist-in-residence program, pop-up performances, and regular classes and workshops bring this promise to life.

Building a stage that lasts

The concept of Saint Kate was born from the community rather than the whims of the One Design team. Weeks spent in the field gave us an opportunity to have interactions and deep conversations with Milwaukeeans from all walks of life, representatives from local arts and community organizations, hospitality experts, and travelers alike—all with the goal of teasing out not only what an arts hotel could be, but what one should be in Milwaukee.

At the apex of everyone’s unique perspectives was a shared admiration for the energy present in Milwaukee’s thriving creative community, the creative process itself, and artistic expression’s power to broaden perspective and build connections between people and place.

Could Saint Kate, an arts hotel celebrating all modes of expression situated geographically at the confluence of Milwaukee’s divided communities, become a cultural and ideological bridge?

Design principles—impacting not only visual and editorial expression, but behaviors and operations—flowed from our work, creating a blueprint for the ecosystem of the hotel:

  • The hotel had to be designed to constantly evolve
  • The hotel had to champion emerging local talent as much as those established on a global stage
  • The hotel had to break down the barriers to art
  • The hotel had to celebrate diversity and contrast
  • The hotel had to provide an open-ended platform rather than mandate solutions

An invitation rather than a declaration

When it came to announcing Saint Kate, we knew that we had to avoid the typical cocktail event with a drum roll and a ‘ta-da.’ We had one shot to get it right, and getting it right meant creating a celebratory and inclusive event that not only announced the name, but functioned as formal invitation for those in the community to engage, to make the venue their own. And this was done six months before the doors opened to the public, embracing the perspective that Saint Kate was nothing without the input from the community.

Read all about the launch celebration, including a look at the formal call for Saint Kate programming proposals.

Breathing life into the brand

The Saint Kate identity balances two functions simultaneously: it’s a supportive visual framework for artistic expression, as well as a vibrant and memorable voice for the hotel itself. The typography-driven design language is the foundation for a system that can be dialed up or down as needed for appropriate and exciting solutions in any given situation.

The oval of the mark—a formal nod to printer seals, crests, and vignettes of the past— represents a frame or a lens: a window leading to a new perspective; a portal to an unexpected experience.

Saint Kate’s visual language is a study in flexibility and contrast, breathing life into a wide range of touchpoints from the guest rooms to the public space: environmental signage, collateral, gallery guides, a regular publication, hotel amenities, the website, and more are all united through a consistent thread of design expression.

The show must go on

The overall concept behind Saint Kate—a wholly unique idea that transcends what you would typically expect of a hotel—has been designed to connect with, engage, and celebrate the creative community and legacy in Milwaukee. Selfishly, the concept resonates equally with each of us on the One Design team as makers ourselves. It’s been thrilling to watch the brand come to life and embrace the platform that was created leading up to its opening to the public in summer 2019. And we’re excited to watch the experience grow and evolve over time.

Learn more and book a room at saintkatearts.com.

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One Design Company is a research-driven design and development studio. For over a decade, we’ve explored the intersection of experience and technology—where powerful brands come to life. Want to learn more? Let’s chat.

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