5 People Designing for Interaction

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Chair Of The Month

Gary Miciunas of NELSON, Michael Berger of Partners by Design, Ferdinand Dimailig of Box Studios, Renae Bradshaw of HOK, and Arturo Febry of IA Interior Architects spoke to a crowd of 100 attendees at Work Design Magazine’s AIA CES-approved event, “Designing for Employee Interaction” in Chicago.

During the discussion, the panel described case studies of recent projects in which they design for interaction, and they answer four key questions about today’s workplace designs.

1. How do you determine the appropriate amount of space to boost interaction?

Ferdinand: “We used to plan for  about 250 square feet per person. Today we are seeing 100 or 150 square feet per person. That consolidation is a design driver. But ultimately it depends on what the client’s needs are. And the younger generation is making it easier. They’re coming from dorms, cafeterias, libraries, and all sorts of campus environments that they’re already used to moving around in and working from. To them, it’s natural to have a variety of spaces. Therefore, it’s easier to understand why designers and management alike are interested in devoting square footage to multi-use spaces like these.”

Michael: “The younger generation that is coming into the workforce certainly influences the design. And brokers determine that by square footage per employee. But clients want to understand what the real metrics are, and they want to keep up with the Joneses. So it’s not just the younger generation contributing to the want of multi-use spaces; clients look at utilization numbers and watch their competition. This way, they see how their allocated spaces are performing and also know if they’re ‘hip’ with the times.”

Gary: “We are working today to add space functions without blowing the metrics out of proportion. Clients need both multi-use space and to cut down on square footage. And we cannot design for collaboration without designing for concentration and community.”

2. What are some common design elements that foster interaction?

Renae: “Never underestimate breaking bread together. People come together over food or drink, which is why we’re seeing such an emphasis on hospitality-driven areas from reception to kitchens and collaboration rooms. At a very humanistic level, it’s about sharing in that experience. ”

Michael: “We are fostering interaction by spending more and more time on educating clients and their employees on how to use the new spaces. Younger generations work in spaces and collaborate differently than more established groups. So it’s about educating your client on how to utilize these collaboration spaces to get work done.”

Arturo: “We’re seeing more semi-enclosed spaces nearby collaboration areas. People can do heads-down work, then stand up and quickly walk into an area where they can have formal or informal meetings yet still have some privacy.”

3. Which kinds of cultural, technology, or business elements influence how you design for interaction?

Arturo: “You have to show clients a breadth of options and find out what the opportunities are for their new space. Maybe it’s about recruiting and retaining talent. Design isn’t just about creating space that fits a company on a tighter square footage, or even using their square footage more effectively. With a balance of individual and collaborative spaces, designing a good corporate suite is also about reflecting your brand.”

Renae: “We just had a  conversation  with a client who is ready to take their business to the next level. We learned that a recruit walked into the client’s space and immediately knew she didn’t want to be there. The space didn’t speak to her. You don’t want your space to be the negative for why young talent doesn’t join, so the space needs to reflect a strong, engaging company brand.”

Ferdinand: “Groupon is an example of an engaging company whose brand is reflected in its space. And we had to create it while they were still figuring out their brand. They were growing up, blowing up as a company.”

4. How do you measure the performance of these spaces today?

Gary: “Designing for performance is no longer a technology or design problem; it’s primarily a cultural and behavioral issue related to space-sharing strategies. There’s a lot of communication and planning that needs to happen early. Whether the client wants to be intentional or not, there will be a story told about their space. And management perspective is key here; you don’t have to look too far back to see how management has changed. Some clients are very mature now and are approaching their designs and space performance with greater knowledge, sophistication, and a more open mind.”

Renae: “Educating the end-users and getting them excited about why the space is designed a certain way can take all sorts of paths. But keeping the entire client staff involved is a key. We recently started a blog with a client to help drive the change-management process in their new workspace. We just launched this week, but it’s already proved a great venue to collect data, educate users, and get them excited about their space before they move in.”

Ferdinand: “A lot of more experienced clients have not done these newer kinds of build outs, so there’s a lot of ‘does it work, does it not work?’ conversation and education that helps us understand what performance means to them. It’s not until we walk through goals together that they see how much better they can utilize their space with the right planning and mindset.”

Gary Miciunas, NELSON

“We work to balance heads-down areas with those meant for employee gatherings. For example, work cafes might be flanked by open-office spaces. Half a space is devoted to individuals, and half to shared work space. Following this approach is atomizing the work; it’s about designing  to bring people together for interaction.

And these kinds of multi-functional interactive spaces are highly successful, not only because of the multiple semi-exposed spaces throughout a project, but also because the amount of enclosed space is increasing. We are seeing great value in both opening up an office yet keeping parts enclosed to maintain some sense of privacy. It’s a key balance in our designs.”

Michael Berger, Partners by Design

“At Braintree, there is communal space. They can bring an entire organization of 150 people into their break room, which we designed to have a good flow of space and air. The speed of adaptability is certainly changing a lot. Their space exemplifies this new way of using well-programmed, unorthodox space in multi-use ways.

A more traditional client space is United  Way of Chicago. We were able to dramatically decrease their square footage. Still, it’s a much more experienced client/end-user. They’re still learning how to use their own space. It’s day-to-day education for them.”

Ferdinand Dimailig, BOX Studios

“Groupon really did not have a brand or identity. The cat was dragged in, literally: it is their mascot that we placed in a 12’ UFO at the front of the space. They have a sand room, a tiki  hut, a dark  forest, and a fun zone where people can hang out. We created these spaces in conjunction with Groupon to help them figure out who they were as a brand — to help them grow up.

Similarly, Threadless is a young company that’s very creative. Because they’re a business full of designers, they really wanted a vanilla box from which they could create one identity. So we created skylights and repurposed the exterior, then positioned conference areas to serve as informal break areas. At that point, the client really took over to create a Threadless brand. The space provided a way for them to make their own identity.”

Renae Bradshaw, HOK

“Miller-Coors’ craft beers  division wanted to show their personality and brand but invite collaboration among staff. We added interactive hubs within close proximity to workstations; they’re right around the corner.

So they have access to huddle rooms with vertical separation, and they can write on glass. The client was actually nervous about this, so it took some getting used to. We used Idea Paint on the surfaces to encourage a lot of interaction. And we outlined a painting on the wall, which their staff is coloring in. It’s a nice way to integrate the space with change management.

We thought  “the pub” at Millers-Coors was only going to be used with their meetings, but now people want to be in their all day. Again, do not underestimate the power of beer or breaking bread together.”

Arturo Febry, IA Interior Architects

“The floor plan of the new IA Office in Chicago is very telling. All the colored areas are collaboration spaces. We have a capacity for about 75 people, with about 20 different meeting/collaboration spaces totaling about 150-160 seats combined with conference seats. Because a huge part of our industry is about furniture, we decided to go to as many furniture manufacturers as possible to make the space as diverse as possible. We chose 17 manufacturers total to help us outfit the space.

There are traditional conference room spaces and non-traditional using low tables by Steelcase or lounge seating. So they function as both formal and informal collaboration areas. Access to natural light was a big factor, so all the conference rooms have glass fronts and doors to let light in and be transparent. The staff is also using the glass walls as writable surfaces for brainstorming. We wanted to create a very welcoming environment, so we included a large community table in our reception that establishes the feel and doubles as a collaboration space.

Technology was a big factor for us, too. The tables we chose have technology built into them. The two spaces at the end have tables that are pneumatic and move up and down, and they also can function to serve one person up to seven people who collaborate in a semi-enclosed space. With areas that are enclosed, more business will get done more quickly. They become places where you can get your work done and then move away.

No one has a phone, but everyone has a headset. So they can get up and walk away from their desk to any of the open or private, semi-private areas around the office to have phone calls or meetings. There’s wifi for guests, wifi for staff, and there’s secure server connectivity. Instant connectivity to our server allows staff with laptops to unplug from their desks and be instantly and automatically connected to the network without having to log on to it. We wanted to push the collaboration space options and variety for the staff, but be able to use it for ourselves and with clients, which is what we’re doing. That’s the real success metric for us.”

Thanks to our panelists, attendees, and sponsors


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