blog

Straight Answers to Curly Questions

Building relationships for beautiful fit outs

Friday, August 17, 2018

How do I know if everyone’s on the same page?

 

Nathan Foti and Taren Hura

 

Confidence comes from trust.  A simple statement and one that applies to every aspect of a project.  Particularly, commercial office interior projects.  Even more so, if that office is where you and your team are going to spend the majority of your working lives for the life of your lease.  What many people don’t realise, apart from the actual depth of planning required, is that success hinges on a lot more than the due diligence and design.

Oftentimes, we are wowed by the potential that leaps off the pages as an interior designer or even an architect draws your eye to various points of interests.  With every emotive word spoken and flourish of the hand/cursor/pencil, the fit out seems to come to life, fulfilling your aspirations and seeming oh-so-real.  As fabrics, timbers, lighting features are approved, the relief is palpable.  And yet… nothing has been built yet.  If we’re being harsh, the client has secured a cache of very valuable and (hopefully) comprehensive documents and nothing else.

This is where the story ends for many architects and designers that are not part of a project team that gladly takes responsibility for end-to-end project management.  There’s a natural disconnect that occurs between architects/designers who work independently of project managers who, in turn, may or may not hand off to builders they may only have heard of – or not.

One more reason to go with one integrated team

When there is an established, long-term relationship in play between the project team and the building contractors, your fit out project is at an advantage.  Leverage a long-term relationship between the designer, project management and contractors and the seeds of confidence are sewn.

At Powerhouse Group, relationships with our hand-picked suppliers and contractors have stood the test time.  Okay, the numbers will tell you that we’ve completed well over 1,000 projects during our three decades in the industry.  But those numbers, and the numbers that other teams can no doubt share, don’t necessarily speak to the experience of working with a truly integrated entity.

To explain: confidence is contagious and because we have enjoyed successful working relationships with our contractors for up to 22 years, the rare but precious commodity called trust, allows us to focus on your experiences.  We can truly communicate with clients, update them more regularly and with total transparency because we know what has happened, what is happening and what will happen into the short, medium and longer term.  All this based on having worked with people we know and those that successfully dedicate themselves to meeting the exacting Powerhouse Group standards.

Interior design, management and construction teams working as one

Easier said than done but a lot easier than you’d think when all parties are on the same team.  With the project team working so closely (both proximally and conceptually) with both the interior designers and contractors, efficiencies, expertise and experience are optimised.

There’s a freedom in solving problems with our designs, knowing that our project team will have no problems bringing those solutions to life with the team we’ve assembled and relied upon for so long.”  Taren Hura, senior interior designer on the team’s source of confidence

Like all great solutions, our process for ensuring that our contractors perform like an extension of our Powerhouse Group team is a simple one.  We focus on:

  • Setting expectations – from the beginning, our mission demanded dedication to quality, service and the client.  Pretty straightforward but that’s the Powerhouse way of working - transparency, trust and ultimately, performance that produces outstanding results and yes, we love it.
  • Two-way consultation – in other companies and industries, trades are often told what to do and how to do it, hounded and watched like hawks, suspicion and worry fuelling speculation as to the quality of the final result.   Our trades know us and know what’s required.They know how to achieve what our design team has created and do so in the most efficient and expert manner.  All of this is due to our ability to talk openly and honestly about how best to achieve a wonderful result together.
  • Examining inputs regardless of the source – everyone gets a say because everyone on our team and our team of contractors are bona fide experts in their trade.  When they speak, we listen and vice versa.  Our clients benefit immeasurably from this and that’s what brings us back to the idea of confidence and trust.

These three points alone allow us the confidence to eagerly embrace accountability, which reduces the pressure and stress on our clients.

 

Accountability counts

Everything centres around the success of the clients’ projects, that’s common sense.  However, we also take into account the clients’ experience.

An office fit out is a journey and as many will know, there are comfortable journeys, bearable journeys and ones that will be forever remembered by the clients as simply harrowing.  The last two are usually a by-product of a disconnected team, still feeling their way around protocols and ways of working that may be foreign to them.  It’s a shame.  In those cases, the project may well eventually be delivered and some of those that work in the office may be none-the-wiser. But that’s not the picture of success that we envisage.  The quality and longevity of our professional relationships insulate us, the client and the project against such uncertainty.

We happily hold ourselves accountable not just in terms of the eventual look and feel of the new office but the service we are able to provide and the comfort in which our valued clients arrive safely at their destination.  That is, a workplace they love.

 

Engaged vs Energised

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Are office interiors designed to tip the scales in your favour?

 

Powerhouse Group interior design team

 

Two buzzwords, one commercial office fit out, something has to give.  Or does it?  Let’s go back half a step.  Throughout a number of industries and commercial entities you’ll hear people talk about having an engaged team, engaged staff, perhaps, on the right day, week or month, you might encounter a “fully engaged” team, individual or business unit.  Since most of us are comfortable that being engaged in your work, the project or pursuit of outcomes is a good thing, most of us would similarly give the nod to an engaging workplace environment that kept teams engaged.

But what does it mean to be engaged and more importantly, what does a commercial office fit out need to feature, in order to engage people and keep them engaged?

Obviously, a lot of this has to do with syntax and yes, there is a bit of wordplay at work.  If engaged means to be busy and focused, great, that sounds like a recipe for momentary, workplace nirvana.  But as a business, as a workplace, how do we turn an office into a destination?  Somewhere that people will eagerly return again and again to do their best work and feel good about it?

Energy keeps you engaged

Well as mentioned, “engaged” suggests “focused, in the moment, on task etc”.  But without being energised, can one really be expected to give all they have or all that’s necessary again and again?  The work itself, plus the conditions and benefits, would establish and secure a degree of engagement but the built environment can often fuel, aid and maintain ongoing engagement.  In other words an energising environment.

And so, we arrive at a discussion on what sort of environment would be considered energising.  When asked by clients for an engaging or energising environment, we start by leading a discussion that zeroes in on:

  • The business – what is it that you do and how does your built office environment contribute to or enable your efforts?
  • The purpose – why does your business need the space that it uses?
  • Key roles – the people that will occupy the space, what do they work on, what works on/for them and why?
  • Core functionality – what does this space have to achieve vs what would you like it to achieve?

Without this information, it would be pointless moving onto location (tenant advisory) and design discussions.  Pointless.

 

Your new workplace can be both

Good team members will stay engaged with tasks that form part of their core duties – for as long as they can, but you know what else engages people at work?  Frustration, overcoming obstacles that shouldn’t be there in the first place, work arounds, ad hoc temporary solutions, double-handling – all negative aspects of work that slow productivity by redirecting positive energy into non-core/profitable pursuits.  Conversely, achieving goals, seeing progress, making breakthroughs actually create energy.

Many of us have witnessed, heard about or indeed been part of a built work environment that sucks the life from employees.  The law of diminishing returns has become part of the culture and yet the people stay engaged with the task(s) at hand – because they have to – there’s not a lot of energy there.  Debilitating.

As successful interior designers, keeping our eyes and designs firmly fixed on enabling better performance by solving problems through inspired, brand-fit design is imperative.  Removing impediments to high performance through thoughtful design, actually allows teams to create and perpetuate energy.  And like apathy, fatigue, burn-out and dissatisfaction with environments that simply don’t work, energy, positive energy is contagious.  Again, the work that drives your commercial enterprise must drive the engagement but a fit out, wherein form and function meet and work together, can be both engaging and energising.

Generally speaking, briefs that feature basic functionality, location and, in some cases, colour palette requirements are often given to us and we feel, returning with commercial interior designs that engage and energise, should also be a given.  It shouldn’t have to be a choice between one or the other.  You, your team and the wider business deserve both.

 

 

Rows of fluoro's shed light on lost productivity

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

What is the latest on lighting?

Mark Perry, design director

To be fair, that’s not the extent of fluorescent lighting’s usefulness in the workplace.  And before I go any further, it should be noted that in some circumstances, rows of fluorescent lighting may absolutely be the best solution in a workplace but as a default choice, well let’s just say interior designers can and should do better by their clients.

One of the problems is that return briefs are often dominated (and in many cases, rightly so) by furniture selections, choice of materials, space allocation, colours, form and function – all critical to the effectiveness of the office fit out design.  Lighting is sometimes an afterthought except to say, “natural light is good and should be maximised.”  Agreed.  But before we get to the flouro’s versus LED’s versus downlight debate, let’s first define ‘natural light’.

What is natural light and how can we get some?

Firstly, let’s understand what natural light isn’t.  There was a time when bathing an office area (let’s use call centres as an example) with bright, white light for the duration of the work day and beyond was an acceptable substitution for sunlight.  Understanding that every square metre of a 100-seat call centre or even a 400m2, CBD, creative hub can’t always be bathed in natural lighting pouring in from floor to ceiling windows, alternatives have been put to good use since the 1950s.  These alternatives include the aforementioned, elevated legions of flouro’s, banks of the humble heat-emitting, halogen globe and… that’s about it.  The advantage was that every detail, spot or mark on a page, screen or person’s face was easily identifiable to the naked (and by now, sore and watering) eye.  As a handy enabler of sleep deprivation, these light sources were ideal however, productivity and quality of work life suffered.

In an attempt to alleviate this suffering and return key personnel to the land of the living from the land of migraines, eye-strain, moodiness, mid-afternoon lethargy and the like, downlights, dimmers and skylights, where possible, were introduced.

But that was then (80s and 90s) and this is now.  We’re about two decades into the 21st century so it should come as no surprise that we are thinking differently, exploring new notions and arriving at interesting sources of inspiration.  In terms of natural light, that means contemplating more deeply the original and most reliable source of light as far as the known environment is concerned – the sun.  The very embodiment and definition of natural light has sat by patiently for countless millennia, waiting for interior designers to arrive at the conclusion that since man has effectively and productively adapted to the sun, any replication of its life-giving rays could/should help create an ideal office environment.  I do see the problem though.  We can’t bottle sunshine, not yet anyway.  We can however, replicate the sun’s effect in the built commercial business environment if we properly recognise what we’re looking at.

Have you seen the light… changing?

From what you’ve already read here and from what you’ve doubtless come to understand about office lighting through experience or from the garnered experiences of others, some hasty and harmful assumptions can be made.  There are many but here are just three culprits for consideration:

1. People will stay awake and alert longer if their work is bathed in bright light – just like the sunshine outside.

2. Only moody people become moody at work.It has nothing to do with the lights.

3. The relatively low running costs of banks of commercial fluorescent lighting will benefit the bottom line regardless of the crippling cost of buying “Visine” eyedrops by the pallet-load.

Not to make light of them (moving on… rapidly), but these assumptions have not crippled industries, led the masses to ruin or humbled economies.  They have however, made things more difficult than they need to be for those that would spend 6-10 office-bound hours per day trying to maintain or increase productivity.

To be clear, being bathed in white light for hours and hours on end is not helping.  Working under various shades, intensities and hues of light is.

How do we know this?  Because we as humans have been doing just that since man first set about the task of being productive.  Perhaps, that explanation is a bit blithe, but the alternative explanation and more comprehensive explanations includes terms like photoreceptor cells and intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglia so… blithe it is.

Further, we know that circadian rhythms, the natural biological rhythms of our human bodies that predetermine the secretion of serotonin, melatonin, testosterone etc, take their cue from the detection of changes in light colour and intensity.  This is why blanketing staff in white light or yellow light or orange light for hours at a time will do nothing in and of itself to increase productivity.  Working with and within the dynamic spectrum and patterns of light that our bodies have been programmed to excel in, is the natural solution.

Having the contacts on hand and the vision to incorporate these solutions into workplace interior designs as a stand alone answer or as part of a hybrid solution is part and parcel of the modern designers creative and practical arsenal.  Each client and their respective set of circumstances demands the deployment of various combinations of critical and creative thinking and lighting options are proving every bit as important to productivity as space planning and materials.

As interior design professionals we are tasked with conceiving and creating workplace environments that allow you, our clients, to achieve more and fulfil your brand’s promise.  We need to think about what works for the individual and collective alike.  This is never an easy proposition but staying on top of research, innovations and developments within and outside of our field helps us to think about and address solutions.

Remember, lighting (fluorescent or otherwise) may not be the problem with productivity but it can be part of the answer.  Naturally.

 

 

Should we stay or should we go?

Monday, June 11, 2018

 

How do you arrive at the best decision for you?

Chris Deering, managing director

Rosemary de Lambert, general manager

There’s always room for panic.  This rings true when it first occurs to you that a lease expiry is looming just around the corner.  Has it really been 7 years already, you might ask.  “Nearly”, replies the letter from your landlord or agent.  Reading further into the letter will tell you if a new lease is in the offing, whether you’re going to have to find a new home for your business or whether the rent will be dramatically increased (no, it never decreases and yes, dramatic increases usually mean you’ll be moving on).  There are a number of things to think about though and here are just 4 to get you thinking about heading for greener pastures or staying put.

How has your current space served you and your business?

Here’s a hint.  If this question causes an almost involuntary pursing of the lips and a shrug of the shoulders, followed by an, “aw yeah?” or “it’s fine”, think again.  When something is right, when the layout, design, branding and aesthetics have come together to help the business’s team “punch above it’s weight” in terms of efficiency and productivity, you’re literally in a great space.  If you have reservations.  If there are things you have long since learned to put up with, there is a very real opportunity to make some changes for the better.

The problem is that commercial office space leases are usually reasonably lengthy affairs.  Yes, some range in the vicinity of 3-5 years but 7-10 may be closer to what we would call typical – particularly in the 800-3000m2 CBD or business park scenarios we’ve dealt with over the past 27+ years.  During the duration of that lease, you can get used to a lot of things – even integrate them into a new way of working.  That’s not always for the best.  It’s not surprising when wasted space, slightly smaller-than-needed kitchens and lack of storage space become “just one of those things”.  In reality, these are things that should be considered on a regular basis however, many tenants simply get over it and get on with it.  Often, and in varying degrees, to their detriment.

What does your market and/or your business look like in the near future?

There are of course many examples of businesses flourishing in harmonious surrounds: all is well with the commercial office fit out and how it envelopes and enhances productivity.  This is music to our ears and to the ears of any skilled interior design professional.  But every silver cloud has a dark lining (not necessarily true by the way).  The danger here is that while enjoying this workplace nirvana, business can tend to lose sight of what’s next, what lies beyond the horizon.  Not necessarily in terms of trends in the marketplace, competitor activity and the like.  No, more along the lines of how any and all of those fluctuations and possibilities might alter the requirements of their physical workplace.

An upswing in market position, supply and demand or unforeseen opportunities may point to growth in terms of both business activity, the number of staff, pieces of equipment or storage.  Of course, these developments don’t always spring out at you from around the next corner without warning.  It is worth reminding yourself however, that 10, 7 or even just 5 years is a very long time in commercial enterprise and organisations alike.

Setting aside commercial soothsayers and futurists, it may be quite difficult, if not impossible to predict what will happen in your company’s field of endeavour half a decade or more down the track.  But what a forward thinking commercial interior designer can do is make provision for flexibility and adaptability within your current workplace.

Does your current space or even your current landlord, offer the scope and flexibility to adapt to changing demands?  Could you add 10 more operators to your call centre?  Could co-working or meeting areas be created if needed?  What happens if right-sizing three years from now meant decreasing team numbers but demanded more hot desks?

All things to consider.

Are we happy with the adjusted terms being offered?

More often than not, a new lease will mean a rent hike in one form or another.  After occupying a space for a number of years, it has to be expected.  However, thinking about the previous two questions in depth, and in relation to commercial considerations, the new asking arrangement may seem palatable if not agreeable.  Conversely, you may find that too much is being asked in terms of rent, terms of use and other factors.

It’s wonderful when you happen to see eye to eye with the landlord and have maybe even built a long-lasting, mutually-beneficial relationship and understanding but…

If not, what can/do we do?

This may not be the end of the line for your business and your current location.  You may want it to be, you might be very comfortable with moving to those greener pastures mentioned earlier but it doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion.And here’s more potentially good news.  There really is such a thing as a “Stay Go” analysis or feasibility study which is part of a broader service – tenant advisory – that clarifies and shapes rational thinking so an informed, savvy decision can be made.In short, our tenant advisory services ensure that you are first in, the best address, for your business and its core functions.

The advantage of independent tenant advisory services

That’s only part of the tenant advisory picture.  This service involves working with you to fully understand your needs now and into the future as well as consulting with owners, landlords and or agents to get what you need.  Our independent service ensures that our clients have the option of renegotiated terms or solid, documented evidence to suggest that the right location for them is waiting for them elsewhere.  That’s how you’ll know whether to stay or go - so don’t panic.

 

 

Character versus Caricature

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

How fine is the design line between too much and too little?

Powerhouse Group design team

 

Just don’t ruin it.  That’s a familiar refrain heard by amateur artists, chefs, writers and designers of all ages.  It’s an admonition not to take things too far.However, as discussed in a previous article by Taren Hura, a good interior designer, a designer worth their salt, will indeed take a brief and see it as a useful starting point rather than a final set of instructions.  It was said that if your designer can add nothing to your own suggestions, maybe you need another designer.

But where do you go when, as either a client or interior designer, your creativity and zeal for the brand begins to get the better of you.  Frenzied, free-form brainstorming, if left unchecked, can create a jungle of corporate mahogany and brass or a morass of beanbags and “funky” astro-turf floor coverings.  Only then do you realise you’ve overstretched the imagination and you’ll be hard pressed to find your way back.  Rather than characterising your brand and bringing it to life in your workplace, you’ve caricaturised your commercial entity, mortally wounding your brand’s credibility.  It’s a very real danger with seemingly innocuous origins.

The effect of cause and effect

When constructing a business plan or commercial strategy piece, savvy leaders with an entrepreneurial bent will draw a straight line between the starting point and the end goal, marking off milestones along the way.  Deviations are eliminated or at the very least minimised because the idea is to reach the goal while minimising costs.  Again, focusing on the achievement of the goal is key.

So, keeping the following few questions and, importantly, the corresponding answers in mind can keep the designer, the project manager and client on track and on the same page.

  1. What should our brand convey to the target audience (be they external/internal stakeholders, customer/clients etc)?
  2. What does the office fit out need to do in terms of form and functionality to help our people accomplish this?
  3. What are the structural, physical impediments within a workplace that could negatively impact our effective/pursuit of our goals?

 

This is a reasonable start to a rudimentary marketing plan but in terms of office fit outs, these questions can act like bumper bars in a bowling alley, preventing your design from drifting off line and dragging your brand into the gutter.It happens… often… we’ve seen it.

Aside from being a bit loose about the tie-in between brand and workplace form and function, another more emotive threat lurks just beneath the surface.Personal preferences.  Truthfully preferences are both necessary and omnipresent. Fighting this basic truth puts you on a hiding to nothing however, to assess the value of those preferences through the prism of brand imperatives is, well, imperative.Statements and thoughts to recognise as “unhelpful to dangerous” include:

  • We promote openness and a flat organisational structure but managers should have mezzanine level, private offices
  • We’re a progressive company with a sunny outlook, selling fun products but dark timber and rich leather is a must have
  • Fund security and our hard-earned reputation as conservative money managers has built an impressive legacy but we feel convinced that arcade games, fusbol tables and beanbags might just modernise our clients’ experience

It is often said that the word “but” also means, “ignore everything that was just said and listen to what I’m about to say…”  Dangerous, if the business’s corporate brand/identity was being discussed.

Obviously, these are exaggerated scenarios, however real-world variations of these themes do exist.  The danger is that designers, clients and project managers will see an opportunity to please, appease and secure a quick sign-off.  A sign-off that may well do a disservice to the brand.

Finally, becoming infatuated with an aspect or area of a design in isolation from the overall effect can lead to incongruous results: the reception area is a triumph but somehow seems at odds with the adjoining open plan contact centre; the atria clash with the meeting rooms; instead of a thematic flow from offices through to breakout areas everything seems to… clash.

Again, how was the overall fit out supposed to enable the client (and associated employees) to further their collective progress towards the organisational goals.  A fit out that achieves this in both form and functionality will inevitably add to the character of the enterprise.  Less than that navigates the ship dangerously close to the rocky shores of design caricature.

 

 

A measured approach makes a marked difference pt 2

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

What goes into, behind and underneath a great interior design?

Chris Deering, managing director

 

The fruits of our interior design labours and the actual delivery phase of project management receive all the headlines and rightly so.  The visible elements of an interior design for a commercial office fit out should be aesthetically pleasing, tactile and confirm to those that interact with it, all the attributes of your company.  But there is so much more to a project than the final presentation.

The fact is that we are going to create an environment within a pre-existing structure.  In other words, a client’s optimised workplace that addresses all aesthetic, functional and brand requirements will be made to fit within predetermined dimensions.  Dimensions that were present and literally set in concrete perhaps decades before the client’s arrival on the scene.  That area could be a modest office fit out of around 400m2 in the CBD or something more expansive, say 3000m2 over two floors in an outlaying business park.

In all cases, the handover day will arrive and it will be our pleasure to show the key members of the client group around their brand new office fit out.  We enjoy this part of the process immensely as visions are realised and the hand drawn sketches, rendered over a coffee during our initial exchange of ideas and briefs are fondly remembered.  But as we walk through the comfortable ambience of an air conditioned, office, reception, foyer or boardroom, occasionally, I’ll pause and remember what we went through to ensure the sustainable practicality of a particular aspect of the fit out.  It’s likely we had to address and overcome issues such as:

  • Cooling and accessibility to the data room for proper care and maintenance
  • Sourcing fresh air for the mechanical (air conditioning) systems
  • Increasing the density of floor plates to adequately accommodate increased loads

There are so many aspects, items and issues that demand serious thought and planning beyond the “look and feel”.  Many of them fall into three categories:

  • 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…

You can help yourself to more detail on this in my article on project management from back in November last year.

If these walls could talk…

It is safe to say that behind every major feature or purpose-built interior structure that looks very much at home in your new office fit out, has been the subject of intense discussion, investigation and sometimes, negotiation.  As a matter of course, we, as a project team, routinely consider and deal with statutory approvals, issues concerning water loops and cooling towers, people ratios and access and much more.It can be time-consuming and challenging but it is necessary and save money, effort and face in the long run.

But it’s not so much a case of understanding what will work but more pointedly, how it will work.  This is why we favour a measured approach that includes, inspections, investigations and due diligence that goes beyond a cursory glance around the site, tape measure and sketch pad in hand.  To us, a measured approach means that well before drawings, boards and concepts are compiled, we can identify solutions that will allow us to construct the brand-fit office fit out your company requires to help achieve your goals and do your best work.

As we see it, there is simply no other way to ensure that the environment we create for you can remain pristine, attractive and functional for the life of the lease or until the time comes to thoughtfully refurbish the workplace.  There’s always more to a wonderful workplace design than meets the eye – the difference-maker is the experience, expertise, problem solving and planning that goes into it before you ever set foot inside.

 

 

Losing your way with wayfinding

Friday, December 15, 2017

Can arrows point to branding catastrophes?

Powerhouse Group design team

 

When your stunning office fit out is finally finished and ready to reveal, there are few better feelings than being wowed by the design as you’re shown around your new home away from home.  It’s amazing!

The lead designer, account manager or maybe even one of the directors will casually point out an exquisitely crafted feature here or a miracle of ergonomics over there.  Everything will flow as seamlessly as the descriptions that trip effortlessly from the lips of your tour guide.  In the hands of a skilful office fit out orator, a showing of even the most labyrinthine call centres will seem as familiar to you as your own home.  Access pads are punched as directions are reeled off, “there’s your office, second from the left, the bullpen, data centre entry beyond the second kitchen and breakout area, GM’s office is around this corner and past the fourth meeting room on your left.  “Got it”, you affirm confidently as you match your guide stride for stride and smile for smile from ear to ear.

After the aroma of sparkling wine and incense has been spirited away by near noiseless extractor fans, you might want to place yourself in the shoes of the tour guide, just to ensure that all goes well on Monday at the big reveal.

Is this a bad sign?

The problem isn’t so much that you couldn’t find your way around.  After all, you have the design docs and furthermore the signage is quite clear and conspicuous only… you wish it wasn’t.  Why?  Because the signs pointing the way to the amenities, the breakout rooms and/or the boardroom are jarringly out of step with your brand.  How did you not see this before now?  It’s not so much that that the corporate palette is wrong (it’s fine) but the choice of font, style, language and visual cues all miss the mark – significantly.

You didn’t notice it at the time because you were quite rightly concerned about the how the overall office fit out came together.  Did they remember the additional baffling to afford senior management the privacy they would need?  Yes.  Is the kitchen all you could have hoped for your 105 co-workers? Check. Did the mural in the foyer complement the reception area’s central theme of modernity and warmth as requested?  Yes, all of it is as you hoped as you gleefully followed your host from ornate pillar to cleverly positioned post, completely overlooking the slightly off-brand signage.

We see this a lot, but it doesn’t always register right away.  The recognition of subpar signage usually manifests itself in the form of furrowed brows, double takes or, more commonly, a subconscious dissatisfaction with certain areas of the workplace even though, on the face of it, nothing at all seems wrong.  These are all bad signs caused by “wayfinding” being treated as an afterthought, a footnote, a hastily cobbled together addendum as opposed to an opportunity to imbue every aspect of the workplace with your brand’s best attributes.

Why wayfinding warrants more work

Once you’ve inhabited a workplace for a certain period of time, and the duration varies from person to person, you know where everything is.  You arrive at purpose-built projects rooms on time, you present yourself promptly to the boardroom, expertly navigating the high-end tech – you are a study in unconscious competence, as are your colleagues.  You don’t need the wayfinding devices.

The problem is that those valued clients, engaged stakeholders and impressionable visitors tend to notice wayfinding because they need to.  Whether they are waiting for a contact to emerge from behind the reception area to welcome them to the inner sanctum or trailing an HR assistant to an interview room, these things get noticed and make an impression – good, bad or indifferent.

Bad wayfinding or signage of any sort might include:

  • Hastily prepared print outs fresh from the office printer displaying room names and arrows pointing the way
  • Overly ornate, archaic or extravagant filigree dominating signage in a fastmoving, progressive tech hub
  • Tech heavy solutions to directional challenges that merely require clear and concise instruction in keeping with a brand that spruiks simplicity
  • A convoluted, hard-to-follow muddle of arrows and icons
  • Staid and well-worn wayfinders that seem bloodless and dry against the conflicting office-based branding of an innovative hub or creative agency.

Remedial actions, particularly the necessary ones, are not always easy to execute.  Far better to incorporate the solutions into the planning than to retrofit them.  A solid return brief, will most certainly address wayfinding and the correct approach will also consider how best to assimilate the solutions with the brand.  A certain consistency of theme is found across most office fit outs and the ones that prove to be a cut above the rest are also those that find a way to incorporate all functional requirements under the carefully conceived umbrella of branding.

That’s the way to do it.

 

 

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 carats 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.

Simple.


 

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.

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.

 

some looks never go out of style

Saturday, April 08, 2017

What is a "timeless" design?

Mark Perry, Design Director

The Pyramids, the Colosseum and Stonehenge are three of the more common responses when asked to cite examples of truly timeless design.  These answers are not ridiculous.  Believe it or not, they all contain design elements that could and should be incorporated in any fit out brief that has “timeless” underlined, in quotes and italicised.  While the term might feel a little generic, almost something you’d blurt out when nothing else comes to mind, in the case of commercial interiors, it implies so much more than merely lasting the life of the lease.

If you truly do want an office fit out that draws hoarse, gasps of admiration from those with a classical bent, you’ll be pleased to know that you can.  However, first we should properly define “timeless”, just to be sure that we’re all talking about the same thing.  Then we can talk about how a timeless design can be achieved and what goes into achieving this sought after look.  But first things first.

Timeless is not for everyone

A lot of design based decisions are made without properly seeking answers to questions around brand fit, functionality and target client/stakeholder/team.  Product and services need to be considered as well, in order to get a firm grip on the important difference between “timeless” and “retro” or even “throwback”.

Burgers.  Not just delicious but also made for sale and mass consumption in burger restaurants, bars, kiosks and cafés.  So when modern Burger restaurant “A” chooses to hearken back to say, the 1950s or 60s by utilising a classic Americana décor complete with juke boxes, some would say their look is timeless.  It isn’t.  Major hamburger vendors have only been around since the early 20th century, reaching mainstream popularity and acceptance in the 50s.  So retro yes, timeless no.  Retro tends to speak to a particular fashion or a look specific to and easily identifiable with a defined era.  Timelessness features elements that could well find themselves at home in any era.  Exposed timber beams, stone floors, exposed brickwork – you might expect to see these featured throughout the decades and centuries.

Why timeless

Brands that want to convey trust and/or strength may opt for a “timeless” look.  Something that communicates the longevity of their legacy and assure clients, current and future, that they intend to be around for quite some time to come.  Banks, insurance companies, the finance sector and government buildings may all look to establish a timeless feel.  Keep in mind though, it’s not all about the outward appearance of the building.

What is the timeless design look all about?

For a fit out in the CBD of a relatively young urban centre, ancient buildings may be a scarcity.  However, timeless elements are not and their inclusion will influence the perception of the space.  Not so much to convince the visitor or employee that they have stepped back in time, but simply to allude to the qualities of perhaps a bygone era.  Five tips for achieving this:

  • Simplicity is the key here.  Uncluttered.  Functional items do exactly what they look like they should do.  The relationship between the people that work in this environment and the office itself, is an uncomplicated one.
  • Natural elements, it could be argued, have been around almost since time began.  Certainly, recorded history tells us that there has always been stone, wood, metals and earth.  Making use of one or all of these elements certainly go a long way to establishing a foundation of timelessness.
  • Durable elements.  See above but also hear this: timeless not only speaks to a bygone era or fixtures that never go out of style.  Timeless also means built to last.  Bone china document holders may look particularly striking and impactful but you’d need to set aside a significant budget for replacements.
  • A touch of history.  Be it decorative jugs, an item of old world furniture, a fitting or installation of some kind, elements that incorporate design history confer a sense of gravitas and as mentioned previously, longevity and strength.
  • Easy to clean.  Three words that have featured on design briefs for thousands of years.  As humans with constantly evolving preferences, wants and whims, we gravitate towards lower maintenance solutions so that activities higher up on the to-do lists can be prioritised.  It sounds simplistic but a fit out that is easy to clean is far more attractive than one that comes with a thick dossier of cleaning and maintenance requirements.

The most important question to ask is, how best do I properly represent my client’s brand while advancing their ability to improve work processes, culture and productivity?  That’s the age old question and the right solutions never go out of style.