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Designing Creative Workplaces That Communicate

Designing Creative Workplaces That Communicate

Office Environment Sends Message to Customers and Staff


Special to the Business Journal

Picture the typical American workplace. A receptionist greets people from behind a desk, while a vase of fake flowers are nearby as if to say “welcome.” In the lobby, chairs surround a coffee table with various periodicals carefully stacked on top.

Walking through a maze, individual offices or cubicles are adorned with family photographs and computer shrines of paper clip sculptures and fetish objects. Such are the signs of life and work in a busy office.

Drop an uninformed visitor into that empty office on a Sunday afternoon and ask what the company does, and the likely answer is, “I don’t know.”

That “don’t know” is a missed opportunity, said John McCulley, principal of The McCulley Group, a Solana Beach design studio intersecting interior architecture with graphics. McCulley is at the helm of a movement to make the office much more than a place where business is conducted. He believes the workplace is among the greatest communication tools a company has , a place where core values, goals, philosophies and history are communicated to everyone important to the company , employees, clients and stakeholders.

“The work environment should be a key part of the overall marketing and branding package of a company, right along with the corporate collateral and Web site,” he said.

– Communication at

All Points of Contact

“Everyone who enters should come away with something outside of nice desks, furniture and carpeting. It is imperative to communicate targeted messages and to reinforce those messages to stakeholders over and over again, at all points of contact. When you have achieved that, the office is no longer just an office. It’s a competitive advantage.”

The newest trends in work environments have put offices in the genre of three-dimensional marketing tools, enhanced by employees. Borrowing design principles from retail and museum environments, the idea is to do for work what Starbucks did for coffee , take a mundane event and turn it into an experience.

This is achieved by taking traditionally important elements of an office , interior architecture, space planning, furniture and finishes , and enhancing them using vertical as well as horizontal space.

Applying geometry helps illustrate the point. Take a 20,000 square foot office with 10-foot ceilings and calculate by volume. That’s 200,000 cubic feet in which to communicate. Methods include graphics panels, digital technology, motion graphics and multi-sensory textures, as well as audio.

“In brand environments, it’s crucial to create strategies to integrate the messages through multiple sense channels,” said Tim Girvin, principal of GIRVIN Strategic Branding & Design, a Seattle-based studio that creates branded environments for companies such as Microsoft.

– The Workplace

As an Exhibition

“Treating the office as an exhibit is an opportunity to communicate parallel to where the work is being done. The workplace becomes a stage where the people and work in it become more powerful than any piece of collateral. It becomes a reaffirmation of the values and mission of the company,” said Jeff Haack, design director of branded environments at The McCulley Group.

Campbell Mithun Advertising, formerly Phillips Ramsey, wanted to avoid the clich & #233; ad agency motif when designing their new downtown offices. Their space is unified by large pop art-like images representing their clients. A sea of red caps for WD-40, a close up of a giraffe’s neck for the San Diego Zoo, close cropped playing cards for Pala Casino, all line the walls of their offices.

“What we make in our business is on behalf of someone else,” said Gary Meads, executive vice president and managing director of Campbell Mithun. “It makes sense to use graphics characteristic of what we’re doing to help articulate who we are. It looks and feels like ‘us.”

Using appropriately chosen graphics and imagery in a workplace environment is one of the last steps in the methodical process of designing a workspace that communicates. The process should first include research to understand the current and desired culture of the company, its goals and philosophies.

It is during the research phase that the story to be communicated reveals itself, and three-dimensional representations become clearer. Essentially, the interior architecture envelops the company’s story into the design, with graphics and visual imagery as an extension of the story.

– Bringing the

Message Home

Those messages and each point at which they are communicated is an opportunity to bring your message home. Each message is an opportunity to tell the story, to educate and to create a multi-sensory experience that establishes the values-based image of the company.

History and philosophy are infused into Office Pavilion San Diego’s new 38,000-square-foot facility in Mira Mesa. The dealership includes a gallery, showroom, education center and corporate office for the company’s 40-plus employees. On the walls of the lobby is an exhibit following the timeline of Herman Miller’s history since the 1920s, and showcasing their modern furniture designs that are now considered classics. Statements, many of which came from interviews with employees, line the walls throughout the space. “Be connected.” “Be open.” “Be sustainable.” “Be economical.” “Be yourself.” And, “Design is a way of looking at and improving the world around you.”

Vicky Carlson, president of Office Pavilion San Diego, says the facility tells a story to employees and customers without words being spoken. “When I go into the lobby, there is almost always someone reading the walls. Our employees and customers know just by the feeling created in the space that they are important, that service is imperative and that history is our foundation. The return on investment has been overwhelming for both employee morale and business.”

In creating workplaces that communicate, McCulley redefines the term “return on investment” as “return on innovation.” “An organization’s most important assets walk out the door every night. The best return we can think of is having those assets enthusiastically returning every day.”

Lande is a Cardiff-based freelance writer.


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