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Determining What An End User Wants From An Office Is Now An Essential Skill For Designers

Creative office is no longer a fad. Designers have found an equilibrium between open and private space as it has matured as a design class. Now, designers are learning to better determine what an end user wants from a new office, even when the end user may not know.

Box Studios Principal Daniel Krais and Gensler Principal Eric Gannon
Box Studios principal Daniel Krais and Gensler principal Eric Gannon

In a office landscape where companies are embracing design as a mission driver, Gensler principal Eric Gannon said designers often find themselves in the position of having to decode a company's workplace culture. A designer may meet with several different executives from a client over the course of a project, each with different requirements for what they want to see in a new office.

"It's a challenge to reflect the brand accurately. Getting a collective voice in for companies in the startup phase is essential for that," Gannon said.

At this stage in creative office's evolution, BOX Studios principal Daniel Kraiss said workplace design has embraced meaningful experiences for workers. It is no longer enough to install a pool table or pingpong table in an office and attract young talent. When design is authentic and meaningful, it becomes an extension of the workplace culture.

"It's an integrated, thought-through process that needs to resonate with the organization and something the employees experience," Kraiss said.

International Interior Design Association CEO Cheryl Durst, Kelso-Burnett Executive Vice President John Ryder and Amerigo Chief of People and Enterprise Ofa Stead
International Interior Design Association CEO Cheryl Durst, Kelso-Burnett Executive Vice President John Ryder and Amerigo Chief of People and Enterprise Ofa Stead

Kelso-Burnett Executive Vice President John Ryder said getting collective design input from employees benefits management that may have an older way of thinking. This can be especially beneficial when deciding what infrastructure to incorporate into an office design. Ryder likes to see clients focused with speed of data, flexibility with service providers and an emphasis on audiovisual, lighting and lighting control, which often get written out of a budget because of budget concerns.

"Those types of things make a difference in how a space feels and how the space works for the users," Ryder said.

Amerigo Chief of People and Enterprise Ofa Stead, BOX Studios Principal Daniel Kraiss and Gensler Principal Eric Gannon
Amerigo Chief of People and Enterprise Ofa Stead, BOX Studios principal Daniel Kraiss and Gensler principal Eric Gannon

Before joining Amerigo as its chief of people and enterprise, Ofa Stead said she was never once asked about how a company could better support the workplace culture through design. When Amerigo outgrew its shared office last year, Stead partnered with Horn Design to design its new offices, in the basement of a 100-year-old West Loop building. Stead said Amerigo's office design is based on the educational company's values: candor, mentor and voyager. 

"Every time we went to make a decision that wasn't aligned with those tenets of our culture, we pulled away from it," Stead said.

Stead and Horn created a lighting scheme that transformed the basement space and added antique rugs, Sonos speakers and furniture from West Elm and CB2 to create a comfortable environment and a retention factor for Amerigo's workers.

"We do in that office what we say we're going to do for our children," Stead said. 

Merit Partners Principal Paul Fishbein, R2 Companies Managing Principal Matt Garrison, Tucker Development CEO Richard Tucker, IBT Group President Gary Pachucki and Skender Construction Vice President Clay Edwards
Merit Partners principal Paul Fishbein, R2 Cos. Managing Principal Matt Garrison, Tucker Development CEO Richard Tucker, IBT Group President Gary Pachucki and Skender Construction Vice President Clay Edwards

A building's bones go a long way toward providing the meaningful experiences companies seek in a workplace culture. Skender Construction Vice President Clay Edwards said traditional office building owners are now spending extra money to give workspaces with the exposed beams and high ceilings tenants are demanding these days. Skender chose Sterling Bay's Fulton West as its headquarters because the firm could incorporate the building's history and story into its own culture. Using what a building already provides can save developers money.

"We chose Fulton West because it was cool," Edwards said.