The Office of the Future: Cultural Shifts as Drivers of Design Strategy

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Chair of the Month

Cheryl Durst
Cheryl Durst
An exceptional communicator, innovator, and visionary leader, Cheryl S. Durst has spurred progress, driven change, and encouraged the expansion of the interior design industry. As the Executive Vice President and CEO of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), Cheryl is committed to achieving broad recognition for the value of design and its significant role in society. With a wide-ranging, highly engaged cohort of expert members across 58 countries, Cheryl oversees the strategic direction of IIDA, setting an agenda that leads the industry in creating community, advancing advocacy, and continuing decades of work toward equity. Cheryl is a member of the International WELL Building Institute Governance Council; as well as a Trustee for Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the New York School of Interior Design. She has been referred to by Interior Design magazine as “an ambassador for innovation and expansion, and a visionary strategist.” Cheryl was inducted into the prestigious Interior Design Hall of Fame in 2016 as the recipient of its first- ever Leadership Award. She is the first African American woman to be inducted into the industry’s Hall of Fame. A lifelong knowledge enthusiast and voracious reader who has considered librarian, astronaut, and journalist as potential careers, Cheryl never walks away from meeting someone without gleaning a bit of their story — a talent she currently employs on her monthly podcast, The Skill Set, which focuses on the intangible skills that make us good at what we do.

In a world that is fast-paced, unpredictable, and demanding, the modern office should be designed to become a place of unexpected refuge.

The office is a story that is told through design. When crafted well, the workspace is an aesthetic and tangible narrative of a company’s goals, culture, branding, community, and the ways in which that company meets its employees’ needs and caters to their work ethics.

Take, for example, the Gensler-designed IIDA Headquarters office in the heart of downtown Chicago. The firm made a conscious decision to place work stations directly along the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Chicago River. Taking in the panoramic, iconic views throughout the work day is a welcome respite for IIDA employees; but this design choice is only one small part of IIDA’s overarching mission to practice connection to place, people, and purpose through an understanding of strategic design.

The culture and demographics of offices today are changing, and workplace design is changing in tandem. We want the places we work, create, and innovate in to align with our personal and professional values, and we want to see our practice represented through design, from the reception area to the meeting spaces. When we are actively engaged by a space, we are hard-wired to be more attentive, productive, and creative. So, how can designers keep up with the demands and requirements of the office of the future? And what exactly are those demands?

Successful contemporary workspaces are empathetic to the human condition and can support recruitment and retention, encourage community and collaboration, and meet specific branding goals. When we design for all of these necessities, we should always remember three critical frameworks: the community, the mind, and the body.


When we say human-centric design, we are typically referring to design that meets the needs of a unique ecosystem of individuals, workers, and stakeholders. Often human-centric really suggests community-centric, which requires designers to consider the many facets of a specific community and how its members utilize spaces together and separately.

Good design promotes engagement and collaboration within a professional community, thus driving productivity, company loyalty, and overall employee satisfaction. Building for a community means taking the extra step to do critical research, crowdsource information, hold open forums and Q&A sessions, and make evidence-based design choices. It also means purposefully reflecting on a company’s internal culture and the role it plays in the day-to-day.

J.C. Architecture, Logistic Republic Automation Warehouse: Between Machine, Between Human – Photo by: Kuomin Lee, courtesy of J.C. Architecture

The Logistic Republic Automation Warehouse in New Taipei City, Taiwan, designed by Taiwanese firm J.C Architecture, is a strong example of this design philosophy. The firm took on the challenge of designing for a contemporary and urban logistics facility company involved in sustainability and smart technology. The company’s unique cultural mission required an equally unique space: one that could fully display the mechanical functions and products of the company while still making the people working there feel considered and accommodated.

The solution was to design central meeting areas throughout the industrial spaces, allowing for better collaboration and communication and showcasing the human factor of warehouse culture. The project’s distinct point of view and seamless integration of workspace and warehouse earned J.C. Architecture the Best of Competition award in the 2018 IIDA Global Excellence Awards, which honor originality and innovation in the creation of contemporary interior spaces.

By considering and incorporating the needs of the professional community at Logistic Republic Automation, the designers were able to build a dynamic and supportive workspace for all.

Wilson Sporting Goods’ new downtown Chicago headquarters, designed by Gensler, also makes an effort to highlight the legacy brand’s unique corporate culture and sense of community. Check out WDM’s profile of the new space here! The space pays tribute to the employees’ genuine love for sports with moments of design whimsy, from the golf tee wall to the LED Wilson logo at the front door, and allows for energetic collaboration through work “neighborhoods” delineated by sport focus and comfortable break-out areas.


Designing for human work and thinking patterns is not always straightforward and requires designers to take on a “no size fits all” mentality. When a workplace delivers on catering to a full spectrum of behaviors, it means stronger professional partnerships, more creativity, and better use of the workday. Designers should start thinking like workplace psychologists in order to leverage human cognition and elevate the experience of being in an office.

Using the human mind as a design strategy may result in a workspace that has an open floor plan but features private workstations, or a space with both office hierarchies and community areas where employees can bring their laptops. It can even mean accommodating working from home through strategically-placed audiovisual components. Design has the ability to make or break a work experience, so it is important that an office is reflective of the many ways people learn, work, create, and thrive.

HKS Architects, Elsley House Design Studio – Photo by: Kristen McCluski, courtesy of HKS, Inc.

In HKS Architects’ London Headquarters, the Elsley House, modern studio culture meets a spectrum of work and behavioral patterns. The workspace, designed by HKS to commemorate 10 years in London, is a flexible environment, offering workshop areas, both private and coworking spaces, studio-inspired meeting rooms, and even an art gallery. This office’s design solution enables HKS employees to operate in their preferred work style while celebrating both formal and informal connectivity, artistry, and educational moments. For it’s unique approach to knowledge-centric work design, and sleek yet unpretentious look and feel, the Elsley House Design Studio was named a winner in the 2018 IIDA Global Excellence Awards.

Designing for behavior and knowledge styles isn’t just a matter of productivity: it’s about bringing workplace demographics into the future. Organizations that are able to successfully accommodate different kinds of thinking patterns by way of dynamic office design solutions are often able to easier diversify their staff and meet inclusive goals. Walgreen Co., for example, is using their plan for a new headquarters in downtown Chicago as a way to attract younger employees by offering a sleek, reimagined workspace that will align with Walgreen’s streamlined brand experience.


In addition to accounting for behavior, knowledge patterns, and other human cognitive frameworks, designers have begun concentrating more closely on the specific needs of the human body when building for the workplace. The wellness movement and a recent push to create public and corporate spaces that promote and retain health and well-being is making us reconsider how our bodies move and exist during the workday.

Companies are seeking out different workplace design elements that promote wellness and accommodate to the needs of a working body. Offering ergonomic furniture, providing access to nutrition and exercise, and maximizing the basic comfort levels of all employees in an office is all part of understanding that being at work has a significant impact on our lives. And after all, shouldn’t the place we spend eight hours a day in be safe and comfortable?

New workplace design standards are also allowing designers to explore making professional offices feel more like hospitality environments. Firms are strategizing how to make employee’s lives easier on a daily basis, from including grocery stores and laundry rooms into workplace layouts to adding fitness centers and spas. By focusing on the human body and its interactions with the surrounding environments, we will be able to achieve a balance between workplace design and physical demands.

Drawing Design Consultant Co. Ltd, Heaven for Staff, Sina Staff Home – Photo by: Zhang Jing, courtesy of DRAWING DESIGN CONSULTANT CO., LTD.

“Heaven for Staff,” the headquarters of SINA Corporation in Beijing, China is an example of a company considering their employees’ physical and emotional states within their workplace configuration. Designed by Drawing Design Consultant Co. Ltd, the 32,300-square-foot facility accommodating over 6,000 employees offers many specialized areas where staff members can reenergize, take breaks, maintain healthy lifestyle choices and self-care rituals, or tend to non-professional needs. These areas include exercise spaces and studio, classrooms, coffee shops, a bookstore, and a beauty salon. The project is an optimal example of how a workspace can meet employees in the sometimes gray area between work and life. It was named a winner in the 2018 IIDA Best of Asian Pacific Awards, which recognize creativity and design excellence in interior projects in the Asian-Pacific region.

As we head into another exciting decade of design, the question designers and corporations should ask themselves is, “Why are people coming to the office in the first place?” With so many moves being made to establish working from home or working on the go a standard reality, designers are tasked with creating worthwhile office experiences. In a world that is fast-paced, unpredictable, and demanding, the modern office should be designed to become a place of unexpected refuge, where passion is ignited, business accomplished, and community established.

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