When it comes to design (and office design in particular), I spend a good portion of my day talking normally forward-thinking people out of backward-facing decisions. Recently, I spent the better part of an afternoon convincing the executive team of a sustainable technology start-up that their space did not need to be painted the same Pantone color as their logo to be considered creative. The CEO expressed concern: "How will someone know this was their office if the brand assets aren’t directly represented?"
Granted, it seems obvious in theory. Our logo is green, so the walls should also be green. But this way of thinking fails to acknowledge the most unique and important aspect of any company: the people and the culture they have created. Businesses spend countless hours reviewing resumes, interviewing candidates, and agonizing over each addition to the team; yet the space where staff will spend the bulk of their time is often designed to highlight marketing jargon or worse, not designed at all.
Successful offices aren’t about highly appointed lobbies, posters with the core values printed on them, or even the free snacks and lunches so prevalent in Silicon Valley start-ups. The best design is intrinsic. Facebook’s campus, with its art program and Analog Research Lab, encourages the company's hack culture. The Zappos offices emphasize personalization and fun, growing organically from the culture Tony Hsieh champions. (Employees have playfully decorated the executive area as a jungle with Disneyland-level detail.) Even Apple’s future spaceship-inspired Campus 2 is an expression of the brand’s clean, unabashed minimalism.
We convinced the CEO who wanted to paint his office green to highlight the innovative, research-based nature of his company's work instead. We strategically placed dashboards in the office's kitchenettes to allow employees to get excited by the research as well as promote transparency. We created interior gardens that doubled as meeting rooms and used reclaimed wood to highlight the company’s commitment to sustainability. (Full disclosure: green did make one appearance, in the company sign behind the reception area.)
When we designed the San Francisco office of Studio O+A, we avoided the stereotypically sleek architectural look and intentionally left the space, a former printing press and its adjacent apartment, a raw canvas for our designers. As a company, we value the informality and creativity that comes with thoughtfully un-designed spaces; our workspace can be anything our team wants or needs it to be. Over the years, our humble office has been transformed into a think tank, a doggy day care, a dining hall, a print shop, a library and a college lecture hall--and, oh yes, an interior design studio. Just last week, I sat down with another designer and sketched out a new layout to change the entire team workflow to allow for more centralized collaboration. This week, the conference room will transform into a war room for a design presentation given on Friday.
So how can you ensure your space is a reflection of your company’s culture? First, step back and allow all of the brilliantly creative people you hired to make the space their own. Hang up corkboards to allow employees to pin up inspirational ideas and whiteboards to facilitate brainstorming. Encourage people to move around furniture that isn’t working. Allow them the flexibility to arrange desks based on teams. Your company is more than the Pantone color of its logo. Find the character and quirks that make your business unique and let your space reflect them.