Our 7 rules of creating special commercial spaces

This blog was created to help as a guide to those thinking about relocation or refurbishment of a Head Office, or where an injection of flair and style is required.

Our 7 rules are a simple guide outlining the salient issues when designing, creating or simply re-imagining your office space so that you don’t end up with an expensive square box full of desks.

It’s important to understand that desiging an office space in a square box isn’t necessarily going to be less expensive. In fact, curved spaces can be created less expensively, consume less space and therefore have less recurring costs.

Remember this space is not just your space; it’s a space for everyone, so take care to consider each of our 7 rules as your project progresses.

Our 7 rules at a glance

Rule 1: Budget for and create a design brief before you do anything else.

Lots of people miss out on the design brief stage; it should come first, and it should be as exhaustive as you can make it in terms of time, resource and money. Why? Because the design brief phase will tell you whether it’s worth the money to relocate, or it may suggest not moving at all! If the design brief stage says you need to move, it will say what you need and how much it will cost; it will say what flair and style is needed, for whom and why; it will deal with the practicalities and the aesthetics. Most importantly it will define the costs necessary to achieve the goals. It is not worth spending money if you are not going to achieve what you are setting out to do!

Many organisations try to jump the design phase on the basis that it costs money, and missing it out is an easy way to save costs. In the same fashion, some argue that they know exactly what they can afford so they do not need a design phase to determine the budget. That is just plain wrong. If this boat is not going to float, let’s not build it, and think again. Some also argue that they do not need a design when they are just buying desks and putting them in an open plan office. Ever tried Rubik’s cube? – it looks simple until you are asked to solve it.

What am I saying here?

I’m saying that you need to budget. But you cannot budget until you have a design brief. Unfortunately, and all too often, briefs are agreed verbally – but a well-considered brief can act as a general grounding document if the project appears to be heading in the wrong direction.

Rule 1a: Write down the design brief.

And remember, the brief isn’t carved in stone; it can be adapted as you go along, as long as it’s done in collaboration with everyone involved and the new version is also written down.

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Rule 2: If you want to succeed, know your stakeholders and satisfy their needs.

Someone will have a vested interest in what you are doing. It could be your boss, your boss’s boss, your boss’s boss’s boss, however it’s unlikely to be just that. More likely it will be your boss’s boss’s shareholders!

If clients are visiting, it could be that the “Customer is King”. If you are a brand, like Apple for example, you may need to reflect strict brand requirements. Almost certainly your biggest asset (your employees) will need to work, meet and discuss in the space, often using fixed and mobile technology.

All stakeholders need to be identified and understood so that you can recognise the requirements and benefits that you need to deliver, but these are sometimes difficult or expensive to realise. They may require style and pizzazz, they may need glamour, they may need prestige, they may just need space. Most importantly, the success of the project will be judged by the stakeholders!

In other words, YOU will be judged by the stakeholders.

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Rule 3: Get yourself a CREATIVE designer/company. Check their history and see some proof before deciding.

We said in Rule 1 – design briefs are an essential part of the design process. In fact, they mark the beginning of the creative design process, helping designers to understand the project requirements they need to solve and businesses to clarify what they need from a design project. Altogether they are vital to achieve an effective design solution that fulfils the client’s requirements and objectives.

What is a design brief?

A brief is basically a set of instructions that set out what you want your designers to do, along with the objectives and parameters of the design project. It should make clear what falls within – and outside – the scope of the work. This will help the project team refer back to where they started and make sure that the design work is developing according to set objectives. It will also help determine how successful the project is when it is reviewed upon completion.

What follows is the grunt end of the design. This used to be when the graph paper came out and we made cut outs of desks and chairs – fortunately, we now have computers! A competent and creative designer and a CAD application are the basic ingredients to create a formal design.

In addition to satisfying the design brief, the formal design needs to adhere to relevant safety regulations; satisfy management needs; work technologically to make sense of why and where groups of people should be located; work out how people move through the office and so on. It is a complex document and will detail all the elements and services that will be needed – and lots of neat diagrams!

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Rule 4: Use the same proportion of curves to edges as people to objects in the space.

Commercial space is a battleground. It’s a battle between ‘roundy’ humans and ‘squarey’ objects. Humans are not square in shape, however most pieces of paper, books, desks, cupboards, and computers have a good deal of square edges and tend to end up, well squarish! If office space only needed objects, ‘squarey’ offices would be a great solution. Unfortunately, there are usually lots of humans, and not only are they ‘roundy’ they tend to move about too!

So, we have a battle between the contrasting demands of the content of our office buildings. The lazy solution is to tend towards ‘squarey’ and fit humans into it. I say lazy because it is not really a solution –  it will generally cost more, look boring, and not work, but it’s easy and requires no real skill to produce ‘squarey’ designs. ‘Roundy’ designs do take some effort because they make ‘squarey’ things fit into them, and they are often more stylish and more attractive to humans, as they are both ‘roundy’! They can be cost effective too as there are few square corners of offices that cannot be filled, so they can have a high density.

At the heart of ‘roundy’ designs is the basic element of office design – the curve. The best example of a piece of office furniture with a curve is your chair! Generally, there are lots of curves in a good chair.

To create a good design, use the curve, but not necessarily just for objects themselves, but to create space between objects. A small office with a round table could have round walls, the curves create the space.

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Rule 5: Shout about the organisation on the walls and spaces.

If we want something to fit really well, we would visit a tailor and have something bespoke made to our unique shape. The style and colour would say something about whether we are outgoing or introspective. When it comes to our organisations we can suddenly have a charisma bypass and feel that we have to be corporately dull and grey, hiding any signs of personality. Why do we do this? Is it some kind of fear that if anyone knew what the organisation was really about that they would not want to do business with it? More likely, it is probably that nobody wants their own personality leeching onto the organisation’s, after all who sets the ‘personality’ of an organisation? Is there a ‘Personality’ Director?

Well, whether it is marketing, public relations or HR, we have to find out because the office should exude the personality of the company, organisation and group of staff that work within it. It should have colour and style, it should be capable of uplifting spirits and motivating staff.

The Brand and products should be boldly broadcast from erstwhile blank walls. A positive office atmosphere needs creating, because with no drive behind it, the office will revert to blank walls and be devoid of any atmosphere at all.

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Rule 6: Look carefully at what needs storing and plan to store half of what’s left!

Everyone needs a place to put their things, in fact everyone needs lots of places to put their things! This is because (in the main), storage is a one-way process – things are stored, and after storage, they are likely to be moved to archive storage. So, the longer an organisation is in existence, the more storage exists on a per person basis.

Despite what is said, most employees do not use much of what is stored. In fact it is said that over 90% is never looked at again once put away. So how do you plan your storage requirements? Well the best method appears to be the ‘clothes in your wardrobe’ system, i.e. at home, if you do not wear an item in over a year – then you will probably never wear it again, so it can be given to a charity shop or disposed of (at least that’s what my wife tells me). Apply this principle to many items put into business storage every day and the problem is no longer significant. It never takes a year to find out what is and isn’t needed either!

The most appealing method is to have a small personal storage area for each employee, and then common storage within the office – which is reviewed and then ‘must keep’ items are moved to archive every 3 months – and can be brought back if required.

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Rule 7: Connect the real and virtual workspaces

It is a good idea to keep up to date with current best practice and new trends. Try to avoid ‘fads’ and short term fashion and concentrate on the trends that define a new approach or direction in the marketplace which benefits the user. Then look at how to incorporate these new rising trends into the current offering. A few of the most relevant current trends are detailed briefly below and should form part of a design analysis when working up suitable schemes.

Collaborative working

Collaborative working is one of the key business issues of our time. New technologies have transformed working life and a growing number of organisations recognise that successful collaboration enhances performance. In Google’s case about half of its 10,000 product development employees work in teams averaging three workers per team. Yet many organisations struggle with a poor collaborative environment.

Technology transformation

We are seeing an accelerating pace of change. Rapidly developing technology means that the PC is giving way to a myriad of different devices that capitalise on interconnectivity incorporated with cloud technology and which allow for fast synchronising of data and applications across a variety of different devices. This can be an extremely powerful tool for your organisation where your people are highly connected and technically literate, as the operational possibilities are endless.

Nomadic working

As a result of the technology transformation, employees are no longer shackled to their workstations. Where the nature of their task requires them to be mobile, current technology now supports this effectively. It is possible for your mobile employees to work effectively in the field, only visiting the office when required. This in turn has fostered a variety of interior and furniture solutions that support these nomadic workers who, typically, do not have a desk at the office when they visit. Solutions range from desking areas that they can ‘log’ into to collaborative meeting/focus areas in the facility based around meeting zones, break out areas, hotel zones or bus stops, depending on your preferred terminology.

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Final thoughts

The seven rules are designed to help steer you through the process of office moves and re-organisations – they are not exhaustive but offer a helpful guide to make your office move and your career successful.

The space needs to inspire and attract people to work at the office. It should nurture personal wellbeing and leverage organisational culture and the company’s brand. Overall, this workplace must make the most of every square metre of an organisation’s facility.

It should make the Stakeholders proud and should represent their desired image. Just because there are serious issues, make the project fun; fun to design and fun to work in. Enjoy it!