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Banking on a Dream

Chute Gerdeman helps American Family Insurance protect the dreams of its customers in the DreamBank, a homey, tech-inspired office in Madison, Wis.

By Elianne Halbersberg

Chute Gerdeman helps American Family Insurance protect the dreams of its customers in the DreamBank, a homey, tech-inspired office in Madison, Wis.



It’s funny how much things change without us noticing. Buying insurance used to mean sitting in a stiff, uncomfortable chair in a drab office, listening to a buttoned-up agent detail complex financial instruments. These days, purchasing a policy or submitting a claim is as simple as a few button clicks; some insurance companies also have apps on the market, putting the power directly in consumers’ pockets.

The irony of all of this is that insurance, at its core, is a profoundly people-centric business. We place our faith in these companies, counting on agents to be there for us when times get tough. That’s no mere job for a computer.

For American Family Insurance (AFI), an 85-year-old company founded to sell auto insurance to farmers, it seemed like the right time to re-establish that connection, while also capitalizing on the efficiency and excitement that technology brings. And so, in October 2012, the company unveiled its new DreamBank concept, a comfortable and tech-filled space in the heart of Madison, Wis. created by retail design giant Chute Gerdeman.

The office, itself housed in a former bank, combines warm colors, the latest in technology by way of tablets and touchscreen monitors, cozy upholstered furniture and immersive themed areas, all aimed at focusing customers on their goals and ambitions. AFI agents—now known as Dream Curators—provide a hands-on, personal experience for visitors as they navigate areas such as the Discovery Dream Den, with its 65-inch touchscreen dream survey.

“One of the messages they wanted to get across was that they are on the forefront of technology, but at the same time, we were careful to not make this feel like a cold, computerized place,” says Steve Boreman, senior designer, brand communications with Chute Gerdeman.

In order to translate that message without pushing the tech-side of the equation too far, the design team designed two distinct entrances to the DreamBank. One is a more traditional office setting with a red welcome wall featuring digital frames. “It’s a very simple way of presenting a residential home kind of feel, but at the same time, because it’s digital, it sends a message that this 80-year-old company is keeping up with the times,” Boreman says.

The other entrance opens into an exhibit area that gives customers more tactile opportunities to explore and solidify their goals. Touch-screen kiosks allow visitors to access social media to share their vision, while an authentic bank vault remaining in the building has been transformed into the Dream Vault. Here, visitors can listen to testimonies from local personalities about discovering their own dreams, and can “deposit” their written aspirations into the vault. Guests can also express their hopes for the community at the Community Station and use the Key Deposit Box to drop their Dream Keys, which are retrieved by an employee and hung on a signature chandelier in the Dream Den.

According to Nicole Faccinto, senior designer, visual strategy with Chute Gerdeman, each station and exhibit was designed to re-introduce the human touch to the world of insurance.

“The displays are made to be interactive and tactile so that the agent can come alongside the customer and interact with them. This starts a dialogue. It’s not, ‘I’m trying to sell you something.’ It’s ‘We’re working on this together.’ It is this wonderful way to start a human conversation and not just have it be about sales.”

Throughout the space, residentially-inspired touches create a sense of approachability. Warm wood-look flooring and trim balance the neutral-colored walls and ceilings, while high-top seating, tables, benches and chairs in the main Gathering Space, and upholstered armchairs and an area rug in the Staging Area keep things casual.

“When you think of modern, you think of lightness and white,” says Faccinto. “We loved the white molded chairs for the Gathering Space and how well they combined with the natural wood tones of the bench and table. The irregularities of the corners married with the modern lines of the chairs. This is a special place within the location, a place where conversations happen and decisions are made.”

So far, response to the DreamBank has been overwhelmingly positive. While strategies are being developed to implement elements from the design in other AFI locations around the country, the Madison office currently stands as the central hub for AFI’s new brand push.

For Boreman, the secret to the project’s success lies in the careful combination of branding, technology and empowerment. “It’s about neighborhood. It’s about American Family being a partner and guide with you in your life. This feeling of gathering and neighborhood and friendship is a really important message, and technology moves with that message so that it doesn’t feel like an insurance company with fluorescent lighting overhead. It feels like a homey place where you can talk about personal things with an agent who’s there not only that day to help you, but also proactively to think about things you need in your future so that you can have the lifestyle you want.”


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American Family Insurance
One North Pinckney
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 286-3150





project team
Chute Gerdeman
455 South Ludlow Street
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 469-1001

Mindi Trank,
vice president,
brand & consumer strategy

David Birnbaum,
director of architecture

George Waite,
program Manager

Steve Boreman,
senior designer,
brand communications

Gretchen Ardizzone,
senior marketing manager, strategy & intelligence

Nicole Faccinto,
senior designer,
visual strategy

Katie Clements,
senior designer,
materials specialist

Steve Johnson,
senior designer,
design implementation

Kathleen Allen,
designer, brand communications

Engberg Anderson
One North Pinckney
Madison, WI 53703
(608) 250-0100

Marc Schellpfeffer, AIA

Mark A. Steele
Photography Inc.

(614) 291-0519