Straight Answers to Curly Questions

You’ll know it when you see it, but until then…

Friday, December 01, 2017

What is an “elegant” design?


Mark Perry, Design Director


Have you ever seen one of those incredibly ornate watches, bestudded with jewels of every size and colour, but showing the wrong time? Perhaps it simply stopped, it could have had something to do with a defect – who knows? The point being that many is the time that thousands have been spent on watches that look fabulous in every conceivable way and yet… they just don’t work. Not into the longer term anyway.

Commercial interior design can be plagued by similar problems if a holistic view of the wants, needs and function of the space is not properly considered. Just like that eye-catching timepiece that really ought to be more fondly regarded or the six-figure sportscar that spends more time at the repairers than on the road, a beautiful and effective fit out must always be more than the sum of its impressive parts. Otherwise it quickly becomes an eyesore and a costly reminder that elegance, true elegance is not reflected solely in high sheen finishes. But let’s start at the start – with the watch.

What is elegance and what to watch for?

I wouldn’t call myself an expert on timepieces in the truest sense. I would say that I have an eye for detail that allows me to understand and therefore enjoy the intricacies of a successful design. If you read my earlier piece on timeless design, you will recall that the best designs manage to stay out of your way, say all that needs to be said about your brand (no more and no less) while helping you do your best work. To help illustrate that point I like to reference three types of watches:

  • The decorative watch – in many ways, these watches are designed to make an impression, almost immediately, and sometimes from a considerable distance. Once the impression is made, quite often there’s little more to be said and perhaps even less to see. From the showpieces that keep the left hand weighed down under layers of karats to the watches that take their place on the Mount Rushmore of watchmaking brands, the decorative watch is supposed to describe the wearer but ultimately says too little and yet oftentimes, a little too much.
  • The utility watch – also appears in the form of divers’ watches, the pieces are recognised, almost singularly, for their practicality. Often multifunctional, usually quite tough and resilient across a range of external environments, expect gadgetry, multiple faces and a robust strap. Some call them “no-nonsense designs” others prefer practical and/or functional, rarely would they be described as beautiful and never elegant.
  • The Swiss watch – remarkable because by some of today’s standards it is stunningly unremarkable. Known for telling the time, it does just that whilst achieving something very interesting. This simple timepiece with its modestly proportioned watchstrap draws the admirer in, compelling one to notice the simplicity of design, while rewarding the keen observer with an insight into its intricacies. Stylish? Yes. Fashionable? Perhaps not always. Timeless functionality with features that never look out of place? Definitely.


I have often said that as commercial interior designers, we are first and foremost problem-solvers. On the face of it, that could mean we must maximise space, ensure the corporate logo appears prominently in the reception area and assign enough space to everybody and everything to perform its function. But the watch precis poses another challenge that speaks to branding. To properly address it, we need to be comfortable with the essential elements of elegance.

Three elements of elegance

“When you see it, you’ll know it.” That adage applies to a number of high value propositions. For ease of recognition, it seems appropriate to distil elegance, in commercial interior design, down to its three simplest components:

  1. Striking but simple – Potentially the simplest and yet most ambiguous descriptor for elegance. It rolls off the tongue but it’s much harder to put into words, let alone pictures, let alone design. Put simply, there’s a certain elegance that clings to a feature that almost immediately draws the eye but has a more profound effect on its surroundings than on itself. Consider the “humble”, single-jewelled necklace – striking but simple while enhances its surroundings. Those qualities can and should characterise a commercial environment fit out as and when the brand demands.
  2. Looks like it belongs – Remaining in step with design flow is important. There’s a not-so-fine line between distracting and interesting. Elegant features will both melt into the background and provide a point of focus for those that have an interest. To achieve this, the piece/element/focus must look at home. And an elegant feature that looks at home in one office, may seem like an uninvited guest in another. Elegance is something unique, not torn from a template, it’s something that enhances the experiences of the 5 senses rather than overwhelming them. Subtlety is the key, consideration is the catalyst and a deft touch should always inform the application.
  3. A clever variation on a common theme – There is nothing new under the sun and yet composers continue to create original music on the piano which only has 88 keys and the guitar with its 6 strings. The notes and chords are often familiar but it’s how the creative manipulates them, infuses them with emotion, cleverly takes the listener on a journey. As commercial interior designers, we are often working within pre-existing walls and across surfaces that will remain in place. It’s what we create within these strictures to enhance the brand and the workspace that makes all the difference.

The touches, additions and features that surreptitiously lift and transform a commercial space will not petulantly demand attention but they will draw notice. Again, subtlety and creativity are the keys to unlocking elegant design and yes, you will know it when you see it.


A measured approach makes a marked difference pt 1

Monday, November 13, 2017

How to control costs without compromising quality?


Chris Deering, Managing Director


So often, these days, project briefs come with the unwritten (or written) requirement to keep costs low and work within very tight deadlines. It makes sense because it today’s world, there is a necessity, no, an imperative, to get more done with less. Less time, less money, less resources. And while this puts a lot of commercial interior design and fit out outfits in a difficult position, it’s by no means an impossible one.

If so-called “rush jobs” with grand visions and modest budgets are becoming increasingly common in the industry, so are the means with which satisfaction, if not adoration, can be achieved. It is not always the case but experience has taught us that applying a measured approach, makes a marked difference during the beginning, middle and end of projects.

The “knock” on just knocking it all down

Taking a sledgehammer or light machinery to a fit out marked for demolition is fun. We know this because you can see the glee in contestants’ eyes on TV hits like “The Block” and others. It’s cathartic, therapeutic and a few other “ics”, to simply unleash on a wall or a floor with a devil-may-care attitude. It is especially cleansing when you know the desired endpoint (to that phase of the project) is to simply clear the way for something brand new. It feels like the ultimate win-win unless you’ve been asked to keep a very tight rein on a very tight budget.

We’re not in the business of simply taking cubicles and subdivided offices apart and rearranging the chairs and tables as one small business or regional office makes way for another. Yes, it’s important and necessary work but so is accommodating powerful brands and businesses in optimal, thoughtfully designed workspaces. That’s where our focus lies. The investment required to make this happen is usually substantial however, the expenditure scenarios look less imposing if time is taken to look at current assets and evaluating their place in the refurbished scheme. They may serve a purpose in the new environment- they may not. But we know for a fact that if they’ve been rendered unrecognisable by falling debris and the destruction wreaked by the zealous use of power tools, their future lies in the bottom of a Skip bin. No cost savings there.

Our approach when approaching a modest budget

Let be me perfectly clear before I go any further. Some things simply cannot be accomplished if the budget is unreasonably small. Time, materials and experience plus a robust methodology that ticks all the due diligence boxes comes at a cost and your branded space, centre of operations and reputation are items on which you shouldn’t cut costs.

Having said that, let me say this. There are ways and means of achieving fantastic results whilst still corralling costs as required. We always start at the end, asking, “what is it that the design needs to achieve for your business?” Beginning here allows us to build a vivid picture of how the imperatives stack up and fit together. Further consultation and investigative due diligence gives us a view of obstacles along the path to the objective. Building codes, OHS considerations, mechanical issues may be among the initial challenges. But this is normal, we expect to find things that, left unattended, will affect the effectiveness and perhaps longevity of a fit out, sooner or later.

Alright, the interior design of your proposed space is complete but you find that while you are more than comfortable with the design, the numbers have become a worry. This sometimes happens when we discover issues like the ones I mentioned previously. Or a client-side internal issue has arisen and budgets have suddenly been reduced due to unforeseen circumstances. Because of the steps we have taken to fully understand the required effect and functionality of the fit out, we can often still achieve the desired result however some elements will need to be omitted. On the other hand, there are times when existing assets within the space, in the case of a refurbishment, can be repurposed, further reducing costs. It’s not unusual for a beautiful and very expensive conference table or furniture with timeless appeal to survive a number of refurbishment or fit out projects. However, these types of savings simply cannot occur if the baby goes out with the bathwater so to speak.

This is another reason, why choosing fixtures and elements that have a timeless nature are an advantage when it comes to the inevitable refurbishment 5, 7 or 10 years down the track.

Essentially, it’s a matter of making the right choices having decided on or gained a clear understanding of the end goal. Only then can decisions be made on what stays and what goes, what helps and what hurts the perception of and budget for your new office space.


The cookie cutter versus the interior designer

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Haven’t I seen this somewhere before?


Taren Hura, Interior Designer


There’s nothing worse than knee-jerk compliance – nothing. Have you ever been left with a gnawing doubt as you leave a design meeting? What about the ones in which the designers have quickly agreed with all of your suggestions and assured you that it will be drawn up exactly as you’ve suggested. There are some that are equally quick to dismiss these misgivings with an assurance that it was an efficient meeting – far too rare a commodity these days and yet… something’s not right.

Later, you’re casting an eye over the designs and yes, it’s just as they said it would be (exactly as you’d suggested) but you are left overwhelmingly underwhelmed. Your frustrations give way to annoyance when you realise that your team has simply done as they were told/asked/directed and nothing more by an interior design novice – you. There’s nothing wrong with not being an interior designer, most people aren’t but it becomes a problem when you hire one who steadfastly refuses to push the envelope, explore and even challenge you.

You need a challenge

I’m not saying that your work isn’t fulfilling and that the task of heading up your company’s office refurbishment project as well as your normal workload isn’t enough. I mean that in many cases, people in your position will have hoped to be wowed with something you yourself had not and perhaps could not have conceived. The unhappy flipside to “well done, that’s just what I asked for”, is “hmmm, I could have done that myself”. That’s a bit overblown but to ignore this scenario is to ignore the real reason you engaged an interior designer in the first place. It’s also the reason you didn’t hire an interior “arranger” to simply fill rooms with furniture and equipment.

While you, as the client-side project lead, will of course understand your brand, what it means and how it, along with your team, should be housed, you should not be expected layout the pillars of a perfect design. A brief, yes, the design, no. Here’s what you should expect from your interior design team:

  • A challenge – by that I mean that the discussions and interactions you have with your design team should be a stimulating, two-way interaction that opens the doors to possibilities, opportunities and new thinking. It should not be a trite recap or regurgitation of your initial brief with said assurance that “we’ll take care of that for you.” Your business and your people deserve so much more than acquiescence and unquestioning obedience.
  • Unexpected solutions – you won’t have thought of everything because it’s not your job to. More often than you might believe, simple works are built on complicated solutions. This is because a request for a “wall over there and a kitchen in here” could require a series of investigations, due diligence and creative thinking to overcome unforeseen obstacles. It wouldn’t be the first time our team has come to a client explaining that we’ve found an alternate solution for the kitchen location that saves us having to spend tens of thousands of dollars on “core hole cut-outs” for example.
  • Flair/Magic/Awesomeness – let me be clear, awesome is a word that is absolutely and inappropriately overused these days, and has been for quite some time. In these busy times, we too often settle for function over form or vice versa, shrug, smile and say, “awesome”. A design that actually champions both form and function – beyond expectations – feels worthy of this decade’s favourite misnomer.
  • An enquiring mind – Inquisitiveness is often stifled by agreement and consensus. Even if, as a designer, I agree with a client’s suggestion, I like to know why because I need to know what they hope to achieve. By asking why and understanding the endpoint, my years of experience and that of my colleagues may result in a more effective way of arriving at the desired endpoint.

Obviously, this is not an extensive list but consider these as mandatory options instead of optional extras. Without them, you may just get exactly what you asked for and nothing more. Which is exactly what you’d expect from a cookie-cutter, not an experienced and innovative interior designer.


The complexities of simply managing

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Who should be in charge of our office fit out?


Chris Deering, Managing Director


“Okay, who’s got their head screwed on properly, can get things done and has a little bit of time up their sleeve? That’s who we need to manage our office fit out project.”

WARNING: This method will cause frustration, confusion and perhaps time and yes, money. But in our industry, we see it all the time. And these client-side project management appointments are by no means made with malicious intent. Nobody is trying to torpedo the project but self-sabotage is often an involuntary act – the result of simply not knowing. Knowing just how important choosing the right project manager is, to the successful completion of the fit out.

Let’s go back half a step.


How important is a new office?

In the grand scheme of things, a new office fit out can fall all the way past number 7 on a business’s commercial list of priorities. Any upper management team would be forgiven or even congratulated on prioritising objectives as follows:

1.Achieve market leadership by (name a year or date)

2.Achieve a turnover of (insert a large number here)

3.Bank profits of (input a number that’s only slightly smaller, here)

4.Cut costs to (that’s right, another number)

5.Secure business that ensures the sustainability of the business

6.Foster a culture of (insert aspirational behaviours representing the corporate ideal)

7.Boost/maintain approval and/or customer service ratings to…

8.Get our people a better office

It’s no wonder the best and brightest within a company are tasked with items one through 7. Things go pear-shaped pretty quickly if they do not receive their due attention. However, for those that agree that the look, feel and functionality of an office environment has a direct correlation to performance against that list, the successful achievement of number 8 may well be critical. Especially if:

a)Your lease has or will soon expire or

b)You can see a time in the not-too-distant future when your collective commercial efforts will be hampered by your current environment

It’s interesting that many (but not all) organisations revert to the general approach represented in the quote at the beginning of this piece.


Why can’t we just hand our brief to one of our better people?

Well, you can. And many do. And of those, a number of them actually succeed… somehow. But if it’s best practice that helps you sleep better at night, you’ll need to understand what you’re actually asking of someone who may have little or no experience in office design and construction.

Being diligent, thoughtful and hardworking will earn you kudos in many commercial situations. However, it’s very clear that a project management background is front and centre when it comes to the necessary experience and skills to chaperone an office fit out along the path to success. But there’s more than that required. (At this juncture, I will say that some companies actually have project managers on staff or contract who are perfectly suited to moving the project from brief to completion. Some - I don’t believe they are in the majority though.)


Project management essentials (the office fit out edition)

When you are casting an eye over members of your team, looking for someone to be your project’s driving force and intermediary between the design and construction company and yourselves, look for:

  • Awareness of the complexities – this is not going to be a simple task that only requires a tick sheet or gantt chart to be glanced at over afternoon tea. There will be a lot of moving parts, each with their own moving parts. That is to say, there may be up to half a dozen teams working on the project. All of them wanting to keep you informed and up to speed on the issues they are solving and the opportunities they are looking to take advantage of for you.
  • An understanding of the process – staying ahead of the game and knowing what is waiting for you around the next corner is key. It keeps you proactive, and well-placed to deal efficiently with any unexpected circumstances.
  • Comfort with authority and responsibility – your person of choice is going to want to keep things moving at a pace that will allow you to maintain business as usual. This means that when contacts from the design and construction company are looking for approvals, within reason, your project manager needs to have the authority to make calls and maintain momentum. Without this, circumstances both unforeseen and planned, may bring the project to a grinding halt while higher-ups are contacted, signatures are sought, second hand conversations are conducted. If your lease it coming to an end, these may be delays you simply cannot afford.
  • Familiarity with the language – jargon is a by-product of specialisation, that’s the way it is. However, time can be saved and misunderstandings avoided when your project manager of choice is speaking the same language as your appointed design and construction company. Here are some examples of how industry terminology differs from generally accepted definitions.
    • Mechanical – refers to air-conditioning and factors associated with it
    • Hydraulics – essentially means plumbing and its many, many complexities and sensitivities
    • Engineering – covers designs, statutory approvals, floor plate density…

Of course, the project manager does not have to be a bona fide expert in all the details but a working understanding, will most certainly be of benefit to all parties.


Where can I find the right person?

If you now realise that the client-side project management role is going require more than what your original nominee can give (after all, they may already be very busy taking care of some vital functions within your business), there are alternatives.

When clients cannot find or spare the resources to fulfil the project management role, we will actively seek and identify, for your consideration, non-partisan, qualified, client-side project managers to take on the responsibility. This works because all parties come to understand that putting your business in the best space means securing the best skillsets for the right roles.



This is not what I asked for… is it?

Friday, July 21, 2017

How can I get what I need from a “request for proposal”?


Rosemary de Lambert, General Manager

Panic, confusion, frustration. Just three typical responses to submissions/pitches/RFPs from fit out companies (or any other prospective service provider for that matter) that have little to no correlation to what you (think) requested. Instead of a salient collection of thoughts that provide confidence, a promise of clear understanding and some clues as to their suitability as a provider, there’s only the vague promise of a great result with no insight into approach and process.


If it looks too good to be true, it probably is

We have all heard that one before and to a degree it is the one common sense statement that stands between us and being completely taken in by submissions that read like fluffy advertising campaigns. Which can be unhelpful, to say the least.

But I want to be clear, advertising the positives of a service is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s absolutely necessary. Pitches that blatantly paint over the cracks (read: difficult parts), those are problems. Problems that in other circumstances, see whole weekends being swallowed up by misadventures assembling furniture and/or flatpacks because it had an “easy to assemble” or “set up in minutes” label attached. It’s hard, it can be tiring and most certainly frustrating because when that shelving unit falls over or the indoor sun-lounger collapses, you’ll tell yourself that you didn’t sign up for this. The same type of problems can and do occur in the world of commercial office fit outs.


What are you signing up for?

Okay, maybe you’re in middle management, perhaps an office manager or even a higher-up in finance and your company needs to move. Perhaps the company has outgrown its current address or, after a long lease, they need a new lease on life. Somehow, the project brief has landed on your desk and the success of a relocation, an office fit out or both, rests on your shoulders.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Where do you start? How do you start? How do you know if you’re making a good start? Should I go and get a coffee and a muffin and think about it? Why am I perspiring? These are all valid questions but the most important one is “what do we (the company) want to achieve?”

We’re taught or convinced that answering a question with a question is impolite, evasive or just plain mystifying. That’s mostly right but in this case, it’s wrong. Oftentimes, being saddled with handed a brief that seems quite straightforward but becomes more complicated with each passing moment, means it’s time to find some answers. No! It’s time to ask questions – the right questions. This is important because you are not signing up to organise the acquisition of one of the beautifully appointed office images you just flicked through via a variety of google searches. You are signing up to:

  1. add value to your company’s brand
  2. cement and/or enhance its corporate identity
  3. create an environment in which your people can do their best work
  4. keep to a budget
  5. deliver within the timelines…

That’s just the start of it and that’s what you signed up for.


And now for some good news

The success of your project will come down to just two factors. The quality of the brief you put together and the selection of the company that best understands that brief. Okay, so I have made some assumptions here.

  • All commercial fit out companies know how to safely and correctly complete a fit out
  • All commercial fit out companies have design teams on board that understand that aesthetics only get you so far and that functionality can/will/must win the day
  • All commercial fit out companies are experienced operators, well versed in everything from zoning guidelines to workplace safety imperatives
  • All commercial fit out companies are created equal

If this is the case, then we’ll proceed (with caution).


Question everything

Strong briefs are built on the foundations of strong questions and even stronger (and therefore helpful) answers. As we know, the key to finding these answers is looking in the right place and asking the right people. But let’s take half a step back and identify the most helpful initial questions that must always be asked of the people that handed you this responsibility. They are important because they form the basis of the brief you are going to deliver to the abovementioned office fit out companies.

  • What do we need to do in our new office environment? (Hint: don’t just think about outputs, think about process)
  • What do we need in our new office environment?
  • What do we want people (can also apply to different teams and functions) to feel in our new office environment?
  • Who is going to see our office, how much of our office and what do we want them to see and feel about our office… and by extension, our Company?

Another assumption: you’ve already been given timelines and budget, although budget is not always required for the initial brief, particularly if you are vetting fit out companies.

Once you have sourced the answers to these questions, you will have at your fingertips the basis of a useful brief from which (if all our wild assumptions are correct) you will receive well thought out, creative and on-brand submissions. Follow these tips and get what you asked for.


safety first, last and always

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Exactly how much is a clean safety record worth?


Nathan Foti, Project Manager


Workplace accidents impact people’s livelihoods and tragically, on occasion, life itself. Fact. The cruel irony is that a good deal of these workplace incidents that, in one way or another prove so costly, are preventable.

My role is to ensure that the projects we work on are completed in full, on time and within budget. And within the “in full” part of that statement, I include the requirement that everyone associated with that project arrives home safely, intact and hopefully in good spirits. I take personal responsibility for that outcome. As we all should.

If onsite safety is not the first and last thought of the work day for everyone associated with the construction of one of our many projects, I feel that I’ve missed something. And I embrace every practical approach and strategy available to ensure that personal safety and the wellbeing of workmates and associates onsite is front and centre.


Communication is key

Everybody that has walked the earth eventually grasps the concept that injuries are bad. They hurt, they can have a lasting and limiting effect on your life and those that care about you. They are to be avoided by any means necessary and as previously stated, for the most part, injuries at work these days are avoidable.

We have available to us, personal protective equipment and workwear specifically designed to shield vulnerable body parts from common hazards:

  • ear protection to keep industrial deafness at bay;
  • safety eyewear to shield the delicate mechanisms within and around the eye from danger; and of course
  • protective clothing specific to the functions that some team members are called upon to fulfil.

And of course, best practice, according to safety guidelines, directs our ways of working to ensure that risks are minimised if not eliminated. Are we missing anything?


Yes we are. You see, safety charts start to look a lot like wallpaper after a couple of weeks, safety videos are usually outdated and manuals, well they seem to take up a lot of room and collect a lot of dust. Sad but true. My firm belief is that regular, live-action talks with people, looking them in the eye and inviting discussion is far more effective. People tend to remember conversations. Especially if the hot topic of the day is doing a great job at work and returning home safe and sound at the end of it.

I urge everyone within our company and those with whom we have an association, to take safety seriously enough to discuss it. Talk about how to maintain it and how to keep it front of mind throughout the day. These days, more is demanded of workers in almost all business sectors and that is as true of construction as it is in commerce, retail or marketing. But there isn’t a deadline in the business world that is worth the endangerment of a worker or loss of life. That’s something worth talking about.


Safety takes pride of place

Everybody loves records. Records of achievement, I mean. Fastest athlete, highest score, tallest building, loudest whatever. The owners of those records are written into the history books and can take pride in their achievements. The interesting thing about records is that once a record has been surpassed by a person or persons, they often keep striving. Striving to push the boundaries to make an even deeper impression on the record books. I guess it’s human nature to let our curiosity keep prodding us to explore how much, how far, how many. That curiosity can also be used to keep safety top of mind.

“How many days without a lost time accident?” That’s a question that often escapes the lips of those that walk past a safety board or have a passing interest or indeed a stake in the wellbeing of employees. When people walk past a noticeboard or hear someone proclaim that it has been a thousand days or just under three years since a lost time incident of any kind, they are impressed – for a number of reasons, depending on what values they hold dear.

  • Some may be delighted and relieved that no one has had to suffer injury or an unpleasant change to their way of life.
  • Others might be relieved that a project timeline remains valid.
  • Others still, might connect with the “time is money” adage and feel a sense of relief as they cast an eye over planned expenditure.

And yes, these concerns are all valid, but for me, the number 1 reason will always be number one as far as I am concerned.

The point here is that regardless of what someone feels is important when they see that board or hear that figure, the fact is that they are very interested in seeing that number of days free of lost time incidents, increase. I’m not sure what the record for most days without a lost time incident in the world of interior project construction is, but I can say that every day, my focus is set firmly on taking another step towards it.

Exactly how much is that worth? Everything!


Space Oddity 2017

Monday, June 05, 2017

Why is the rectangular desk making a comeback?


Taren Hura, Interior Designer


There’s a big difference between having a lot of space and being able to use a lot of space.

Here in Australia we have about 24 million people spread pretty thinly over roughly 7,700,000km2. Part of the reason for this is that so much of this land mass is largely uninhabitable desert. We have come to accept this because there’s not a lot that can be done about it for the moment and what’s more, nothing really needs to be done about it either.

Not so in commercial real estate where typically, every last square metre is costing the business money. This is why, when a team expands because of additional demand, the handwringing commences over how best to use the available space and if possible, how to create a few more usable and very valuable square metres.


Ignoring the L-shape in the room

Years ago, when boxy computer monitors where measured in cubic inches (maybe), work desks needed additional space to accommodate the keyboard and the bulky screens. During those dark times, someone shed light on the benefits of an L-shaped workstation. The corners would house and hide the unsightly rear end of the monitors while the operator could still spread their wings and enjoy desktop real estate that regular desks simply couldn’t provide. The rise of the call centre really drove the popularity of the L-shape desk in the 90s, especially with the advent of the “quad pods” or groups of four operators working in their partitioned workstations. As we know, it wasn’t long afterwards that flat screens and then laptops became the norm. With them came activity-based layouts, bean bags for the Silicon Valley style vibes and hot-desks.

The point is that everything changes and continues to change which is terrific. The ways we work, think and innovate are constantly evolving which offers designers like me, endless opportunities to do likewise. And yet… and yet for some, the one thing that is clung to like an upturned table on a sinking ship, is the space hungry L-shaped desk.


The tale of the tape

So we’ve agreed that space is money. Most clients I speak to talk about space efficiency, getting their square meterage working harder for them, efficiency. I think one of the big distractors that gives the L-shape desk a “free pass”, so to speak, is that we tend to talk in terms of floor space. Tape measures are generally stretched out across the floor and floor plans themselves insist that the space underfoot is what counts. Elevating our thinking (and tape measures) to desk height would reveal that each vacant, L-shaped apex represents around 1.2m2 (the back of those old computers demand around 33cm x 36cm give or take). At first, that doesn’t sound like much and some could be forgiven for dismissing it as irrelevant. Until you apply that to a 110-seat call centre for example. Then you’re left with a 132m2 memorial to boxy computer monitors that became extinct over a decade ago.


We’re A1, OK with L-shapes

I am not calling for the abolition of L-shaped desk. Not at all. However, the idea of using rectangular work benches should not be dismissed without due consideration. There are those that routinely work with A1 and A0 print outs – designers, engineers, architects, draftspeople, artists. They will use the extra space afforded by the L-shape efficiently and effectively. But note: they will not be using it to house the nether regions of screens from a (recently) bygone era.


So why the bench?

Yes, coming back to the original question. And the answer is not simply a space issue although it is a compelling one. The changes in the way we work and what we continue to learn about how we work drives change in the workplace. Understanding that as we spend more hours per week sitting down at a monitor, discussion opens up about the effects of the sedentary work life on our lives. Enter devices like the fitbit that tell us to get up and walk around – get those steps up. More to the point, the sit/stand mechanisms work best under bench style desks, offering the chance for workers to stretch their legs and literally keep them stretched, loose and active.

Bench style workspaces within the office also offer the chance to reduce the footprint. L-shapes use more primary material for building the desk and in the case of open-plan layouts, more secondary materials for partitions are needed too. A lot to think about.

We can never know definitively, what developments are waiting for us in the future but we do know that being “future fit” means being ready to adapt to new ways of working. Now that technology and needs have evolved, the traditional, rectangular desk seems to offer more agility, providing us with more answers than questions. So, it’s not so much a comeback as a renaissance. And one that’s working.


orange is the new aggressive

Thursday, May 11, 2017

How do I get my colour schemes to work with us?

Taren Hura, Interior Designer

Colours are as complex as you want them to be. One moment you’re moving from understanding primary and secondary colours to desperately trying to remember the colours of the rainbow. Next thing you know, a client has suggested a burnt sienna feature wall opposite the kitchenette. How do you respond?

As a designer often thrown out into a blizzard of differing preferences, objections and strong suggestions, it’s vital that I stay objective and cleave to a logical approach. Logic and science are rarely welcome in a discussion on overtly subjective subjects such as colour schemes and favourite hues. But trust me, they not only belong, they are needed - desperately. Yet it is still difficult to know where to start for the uninitiated. Colour choices for commercial office fit outs are often hotly contested by emotions, predispositions and of course the corporate logo. Let’s start there.


Careful, the first step is a doozy

A lot of people would head straight to the logo when thinking about colour schemes for their workplace, particularly if they had a feature wall or two in mind. While this approach certainly has a logical line through the thinking, you may want to think again here. As always, “functionality” must be considered first. It is often thought that functionality’s role in design comes to a close the moment the location and number of workstations, data points and power outlets has been settled. Not so.

There are countless articles littering the internet on colour psychology. There is even such a thing as colour therapy but that’s for another time. The point being that the lick of paint you’re thinking of for that meeting room is going to do more than stand there passively looking attractive. The fact of the matter is, it might just do the exact opposite if you’re not careful.


This logo is making me hungry

It is not only fair, it’s absolutely accurate to suggest that some fast food companies have poured huge sums into ensuring that their marketing imagery looks good enough to eat. That goes for logos, menus boards and portraits of the glorious burgers that adorn them. They are designed with one action and one reaction in mind. To stimulate the appetite and get customers reaching for their money. They are relying, in part, on the selected colour combinations to “create the need” as toothy sales presenters everywhere might shout (with a little fist pump thrown in). That’s the power of colour psychology in action.

So, we can agree that in many cases, bright red for example, can be used to awaken hunger or provoke action or even violence. Perhaps we can also agree that a quiet study room in a library should not be painted red, just because the council to which it is aligned sports a streak of red through its logo. Imagine the carnage if the library vending machine got jammed! Similarly, white (as in hospital ward white) can evoke assurances of cleanliness, order and confidence. Again, white would be the wrong choice of dominant colour for the reception area of an avant garde creative ideas incubator - maybe.

Some examples - the following is not an exhaustive list of colours and their corresponding consequences/inferences but it does illustrate the need to handle them with care:

Black - power, elegance, death, evil, and mystery.

Light red - joy, passion, sensitivity and love.

Deep red - rage, courage, longing, malice, and danger.

Dull yellow - decay, envy and illness.

Orange – passionate, creative, loud, brash, abrasive, even aggressive

Dark blue - knowledge, power, integrity, and seriousness.

Just to complicate matters further, the suggested meanings of certain colours may vary in accordance with their use. For example a splash of black in an office by no means screams dire consequences for the visitor. The feelings evoked by certain colours are often heavily influenced by the colours with which they are combined.


Colours are also coloured by the company they keep

“Blue and green should never be seen.” Okay, there’s a starting point. However, if that was true, we’d all be shielding our eyes from landscapes featuring blues skies and yes, green grass. So again, context is key here and to establish context and work through and identify useful colour combinations, we need an element of science to guide us.

For a start, we know that some colour combinations just work well together and some, unfortunately, do not. At its most simplistic, the colour wheel splits into the three primary colours – red, yellow and blue. Rest assured, these colours can work well together. However when they are mixed to create a secondary and then a tertiary palette, selections become more complicated.

A good question to ask is, “how would we want people to respond to the colour scheme in this area and what function do they need to fulfil?” The answer should guide every other decision from here on in. From here we can combine what we know about the company and its corporate livery to decide if a feeling of warmth (excitement, creativity, desire) is required. Perhaps a cool atmosphere (calm, assured, dependable) would be more useful. Now we can look at various, established combinations that work well, generally described as complementary, split-complementary, analogous, rectangular, square and triangular.

All of which is to say that there is a system that can be relied upon that produces colours that work well together. However the key to getting these colours to work with you, instead of against your stated intent, is to be very clear on what you want these colours to say, imply or shout.



look before you lease!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

What if I haven’t considered council zoning and planning?

Chris Deering, Managing Director

Leasing a commercial space and securing a home for your family to live in are vastly different endeavours.  Regardless of how much we consider our workmates to be family and a workplace to be home, the rules (and the consequences of breaking them) are very different.  Unfortunately, many people assigned the task of searching for and finding the right commercial space for their business, fall foul of council zoning and planning.  The consequences range from inconvenience and disruption to expense and devastating interruption to business continuity.

Spotting a cavernous commercial space with sprawling views, tonnes of potential, room to grow and a budget-friendly lease is only part of the answer.  Here’s the problem.  Sometimes, not all the time but sometimes, you will find that the union between the property you are eyeing off and your business was never meant to be.  From the very beginning, council and town planners may well have assigned a specific use for the buildings and indeed the area that you are looking at.  This is where a problematic conflict may occur.  Understanding their plans is crucial to moving forward with yours.

Location, location, location?  Not really!

When sales consultancies, real estate offices and law firms see an enviable location, nestled in a purpose-built business park, appropriately zoned for general office use, I breathe a sigh of relief for them.  This is a classic case of the right business in the right “type” of location.  All things being equal, we would enter into the due diligence phase (assuming the location met the brief) feeling “realistically optimistic”.  However, there are a lot of businesses featuring “non-deskbound” jobs, involving racks of data storage, warehousing, call centres and training facilities – all of which will attract varying levels of scrutiny from town planning, private certifiers and council.  To establish a clear view of the likelihood that your plans will conform to zoning classifications you’ll need:

  • Experience – simply knowing that a site is zoned 5B for example, will not be enough.  Yes, zoning stipulates what can be done, but understanding what may not be allowed is best left to those with years of specialised experience under their belt.  Finding out about limitations and exclusions after a lease has been signed brings with it at least three types of pain: expense, time and lost expectations/relationships/reputation.
  • Recognition – Knowing who’s who in the commercial real estate zoo and what they do and for whom, is necessary for perspective and expedience.  Understanding that leasing agents are there to secure leases and solicitors will focus on contracts and conditions begs the question, “who’s looking after your interests?”  By engaging a party with expertise in both sourcing and fitting out your new space, you have someone onside with a vested interest in securing all necessary approvals.  They will be motivated to do this so that the design and construct phases of the project will likewise, progress smoothly.
  • Due diligence – This goes several steps beyond merely casting an eye over the brief, nodding enthusiastically at floor plans and making educated assumptions about the interpretations of zoning and building codes.  The thinking here has to extend to three, four, or five degrees of consequence: if the data centre goes here, where does the cooling unit go?  If the 150 seat call centre is located here, where will this huge team park their cars or is public transport a viable option?  As an RTO, have we chosen a location that is safe for the public to descend upon en masse?  These questions may just be the tip of the iceberg.

The complexity of industrial complexes

Industrial and technology parks or complexes are an attractive proposition for businesses drawn to wide open spaces and large offices all under one roof.  Typically, an opportunity might exist where warehousing and offices are offered as a package deal within an estate.  The floor space ratio might hover around 80% warehousing to 20% office space – perfect for an expanding operation.

However, with increased building size, operational scope and staffing come questions and complexities around egresses and access, workplace safety, facilities and ventilation.  All of these aspects of commercial space acquisition demand the expertise and experience to work with codes and zoning as well as working with council, town planners and private certifiers if required.

Great results can be and are achieved for clients who need to spread their commercial wings.  It’s just that the same enthusiasm for creating an environment that is both functional and brand fit is absolutely required during the research or “discovery” phase.

An open discussion on the needs of the business is always a great place to start but it’s just as important to make sure you are talking to people who know how to look after you before you take that leap.


how to look beyond "the look"

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Does an interior design need to do more than look good?

Mark Perry, Design Director

We’ve all been taught that beauty is only skin deep and that inner beauty should be cherished.  Sage advice but it raises a more important question.  How?

When presented with designs for your new office fit out, you’ll be asked to “take a look.”  Once you’ve done that, you might be tempted to blurt out that classic quality-assurance killer, “looks good”.  The frustrating thing is that beautifully drawn schematics can be deceptive to the untrained eye, even if they don’t mean to be.  Works in progress give the impression that progress is being made, as you walk through a site inspection or swipe-right through the photographic evidence of … something.  Even at the handover, you’ll look around one more time while hovering over completion documentation, pen in hand and think yes, this certainly does have a great “look”.

If looks could kill … a brand, they would

And they have.  Many times. 

Small but growing businesses have become growing concerns with growing workplace concerns, thanks to basic office design flaws.  Large organisations have had to grin and bear it or fork out for costly mid-lease refits when their original designs have not accounted for specific functional needs.  The result is more cost, a diminished culture and lost momentum.

So again, how do you know that what looks good or even great, actually works and will keep on working, before it’s too late to do anything about it?  That’s where design, real design skills that work, come into play.

And the one crucial function of design?

That’s easy.  Problem solving.  Does the design solve your problems?  Good designers look at a space and work on ways to give it the right look.  Textures, colours, spatial elements are involved and it takes real skill to tie them all together for an aesthetically pleasing result.  But magazine shoot-ready offices may not “work” for many businesses and those that work in them.

I have always maintained that it’s far better to have a client say, “this absolutely works for us” than simply “this looks great to us but … .”  The latter response means the design team hasn’t done a good enough job of asking the right questions.  Which, in turn, means the all-important answers have eluded them and the project result will be adequate at best.

So how should a design team respond to common problems cited by clients which might include:

  • Space – our team is expanding, we need more desks and another kitchen / we’re downsizing so maybe less of everything?
  • Rebranding – our logo has changed and so have we.  Funky, fun and the colour orange is where we’re at, soooo colourful carpet and beanbags?
  • Functionality – we now need to do in-house pitches and presentations, can you put a conference room right over there?

“Yes” is the wrong answer

When clients broadly describe a problem but then hastily blurt out a possible solution, it’s inappropriate to simply say, “yes, we’ll do that for you.”  A better response would be, “tell me more.  Let’s explore.  What else really matters?  What does your team look like when working optimally?”  Being able to ask the right questions leads to understanding the “why” behind the “what” - crucial to arriving at the best answer.  Arriving at the best answer allows us to provide the best solutions to all your design problems, not just the ones you can see right away.

Sure, aesthetics are vital to properly representing your brand to clients and staff. But remember that a Maclaren F1 racing car with an old VW engine mounted on the back is really just a pointy, one-seater Volkswagen bug … with a $2m price tag.  So ensuring that the interior design actually improves workflow on a number of levels, really should come as standard.

Functionality trumps aesthetics but we do both

Personally, I like to hear the whole story, understand the opportunities to make work life better, sketch some solution elements as we talk.  Firstly, understand the question, then arrive at some answers and finally ensure the solution looks great.

Interior design is a multidimensional “sudoku” and should be treated as such.  Every choice has a knock-on effect and experience, curiosity, pragmatism and imagination are key to unlocking functional, eye-catching designs that delight teams, impress clients and enhance brands.

That’s why there has to be more to design than meets the eye.