straight answers to curly questions

not-so secret sources of interior design inspiration

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Where do ideas that work come from? Pt 1

 

Taren Hura, interior design manager

 

“Necessity is the mother of invention”.  That’s not an uncommon saying.  But “mother nature inspires wonderful office interiors”, is a rare one.  Or is it?

Let’s go back half a step and ask a curlier more expansive question – where do great interior designs come from and what will be trending over the coming months and years?  Don’t worry, I’m not going to answer with a blithe, “depends” and leave it at that although, there are some factors that need to be considered when staring into the commercial office fit out crystal ball.

Elsewhere in our collection of powerhouse group articles you’ll find various pieces on things to consider before you consider which fit out company to use.  All of them will, at some point, talk about what is needed from the chosen interior design.  What role does the space have to fulfil and for whom and why and when and how?  Clearly the answers to these questions form the basis of the functionality portion of the brief but what of aesthetics, branding, feel?  They are also, very, very important and it is this aspect that either receives too much weight or too little depending on the client.  Understanding, establishing and then bringing to life that crucial balance is all about knowing where to place that design fulcrum.  Experienced teams will know where that goes and what the tipping point will be because they know that solving problems is the key to good design and that the placement of the design fulcrum (that establishes the correct balance) is high on the real priority list.  The argument is not so much about timber over polished concrete, primary palette over secondary or L-shaped workstations over rectangular sit/stand desks.  The focus needs to be on balancing elements to create a lasting, on-brief, design solution that works.

If all these factors form the skeleton of a well-wrought design solution, again, the question remains, where does the flesh come from?  And, to the point of this article, what will it look like?  Well, here are three points thoughts to ponder.

Ideas come from you, your brand and your business

Having sorted through the questions in the previous section, a perceptive and imaginative interior designer might then look to your brand, your logo, your reputation and aspirations.  Capturing the character of a business is certainly one of the keys to successfully creating a workplace that people will enjoy and feel at home in.  However, conveying the right message to visitors and customers also has its place.

A garish reception area flowing through to the staid confines of a business that prides itself on a measured approach to long term strategy would be at odds with the character and function of the workplace environment.  However, timber and stone, for example, may add a timeless air to a tenured company that pillars its engineering community.  Likewise, a progressive tech initiative may demand openness, transparent surrounds with an eye on the future and collaborative synergies – think glass, open plan, line of sight, innovation.  Adaptability and an openminded approach to design is key here.

Ideas come from a designer’s desire to ensure the “feel fits”

There’s nothing quite like putting on an exquisitely tailored jacket.  Forget for a moment what wearing a jacket might mean to you and or the perception of you within your profession or social set and think about the look and feel.

To achieve that look and feel, the tailor will have asked several questions based on expert observations they have made.  Which colour combinations might best suit your body type and stature, evening or day wear, social or business, style and so on, which materials and textures will accentuate your “look”?  When the finished jacket settles gently over your shoulders and the fabric falls just so, you’ll realise that it fits like a glove because it was made specifically with you in mind.  It will feel just right because it is right.  And people are very comfortable with people that are comfortable in their own skin and in their workplace.  That’s the result we’re looking for and so that’s the approach we take because making people feel at home while at work, is most certainly an emerging trend.

The natural world has solved a lot of design problems

Personally, I’m inspired by nature.  Not just the majesty of sprawling vistas, mountains and the oceans but also how various biospheres work within the environment.  It’s no secret that my passion is exploring and enjoying the natural wonders on offer across Australia and many of these experiences have inspired design and functional solutions used in much of my work.

A natural sensitivity and curiosity toward the environment are valuable assets to designers and as we continue to push the envelope, creating new, never-before conceived looks and ideas, nature will always serve as a muse.  Interior designs that bring us closer to the natural world as opposed to consistently striving to create a world that distances itself from it, are often successful at drawing people to the brand.  The not-so-secret secret is that we already acknowledge that for the most part, nature works.  Bringing nature together with functional and aesthetic imperatives within commercial interior design is a welcome endeavour, one which continues to find favour with a broad array of clients.

Happily, I’m not alone in this thinking, which means that this idea will probably be an enduring one.  It’s folly to specifically, to attempt complete accuracy by outlining exact details of future trends but these ideas certainly point us towards the thinking that, I believe, will drive them.

 

discussing the road from idea to ideal office

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

What should we expect?

 

The powerhouse group project team

 

The fear of the unknown or the uncertain is often an unwanted addition to the workday, especially if that day involves responsibility for your office fit out project.  To help alleviate the anxiety that often accompanies high value, brand dependent endeavours, we put together a brief overview of what to expect when you’re expecting a beautiful office fit out.

A brief discussion

The success of this initial meeting depends heavily on one word: preparation.  Without it, the discovery phase can be quite heavy going as you, the client, try to corral disparate thoughts, needs and wants, while the fit out company you’re talking to, do their best to interpret.  It’s always best for both parties to come to this meeting prepared to discuss everything, ask anything and leave nothing left unsaid.

By the way, this is the first step along the journey to a wonderful new office, be it at a new location or a refurbishment at your existing locale.  Either way, be prepared.

Drawing on inspiration

Typically, an accomplished and experienced team will come back to you, having digested everything that was said, with some initial drawings.Images that demonstrate that you have been heard and your needs taken seriously.  Expect the beginnings of practical solutions to some of the functional challenges not met by your existing office to surface.  You will get a feel for how the layout might help alleviate bottlenecks, spatial issues and branding-related difficulties.

At this point, you will have a gauge on the approach and expertise being offered by the team tasked with transforming the environment in which you work.

Designing a home for your brand, business and people

At this point, you might expect to see beautiful renders, fabric and material samples, inspiring images, the works.And rightly so.  But don’t overlook the deeper and ultimately more important issue of solutions.  Remember, the primary role of a fit out, new or refurbished, is to solve problems.  Colours are important, so are subtle differences that might elevate bench-style desks over workstations but never lose sight of the reasons why.

Also, expect to cast an eye over some technical drawings as well.  What the eye cannot immediately pick up is most certainly just as important as what visitors, staff and clients see at first glance.Listen out for explanations relating to exits, egresses, statutory requirements in a word or two – due diligence.  If something at this point seems a little too easy, perhaps scenarios have been overlooked.  No harm in asking but an experienced team will furnish you with robust and in-depth documentation that covers everything.

Estimates, budgets and contracts

In that order.  Sign-off on initial drawings will give the experienced fit out company enough to present an estimate.  Only once the detailed drawings are done, due diligence has been taken care of and materials and so on have been agreed upon, will a budget be presented.  Once again, expect more from an experienced team.In this case more, might mean a fixed figure which automatically provides some peace of mind.

If a budget is presented before all the aforementioned activity has taken place, you may need to brace for wild variations in cost, time or both.  Remember, due diligence and robust documentation will save you pain, surprises and money.  Guaranteed.

Onsite and on your side

Here, relationships, trust, experience, expertise are all prerequisites for success in this, the most visible and impactful aspect of the project from the “client-side”.  To fully understand the importance of the relationship between the design team, project team and contractors, review our blog on how this group must work together to ensure the very best result.

So, while this is all coming together, what should you expect?  Expect constant, clear and concise updates on a regular basis, the opportunity to speak to your lead contact as and when you feel it’s necessary and be assured and reassured as your project comes to life.

All systems over to you

Upon completion you might be expecting a congratulatory note, chocolates, champagne, things of that nature.

This is not to say you won’t receive those things during handover but at the top of the list, expect to see, feel and be impressed by the innovative (but not necessarily complicated) solutions to all the challenges you faced prior to embarking on this journey.  It’s important that things not only look beautiful, but that they work just as you’d hoped, if not better than you imagined.

Aftercare

Once the streamers and the ribbons have been disposed of, the story shouldn’t end just there.  We’ve always felt that this business is not just transactional but relational.  Many of our clients have come back to us years later because they remember that we made things easy on them, were happy to offer advice and ultimately care about our legacy which was, and always will be, based on their satisfaction.

Expect nothing less on your journey between the initial idea and an ideal workplace you’ll love.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

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.


 

 

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.

 

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.