When a company moves or expands—or just wants to reinvigorate their workforce and/or clientele—this is an opportunity to infuse their brand into their space. But defining that brand, and conveying that through design, requires more than an oversized logo opposite the elevator.
Ideally the look and feel of an office space supports what the company brand is, not the other way around. When a client wants to create a branded space, the design firm will likely challenge them with a surprisingly existential question. Who are you, as a company?
“It takes a lot of effort to really understand who they are, not just their brand and logo,” said Christina Brown, NCIDQ, LEED AP ID+C, principal, Eastlake Studio. “What are the inner workings? How do their people work together? What’s happening behind the scenes? You have to separate who they say they are and who they really are.”
When global tech firm ServiceNow created a Chicago office, they wanted to create a design based on their surroundings, connecting the company to its industrial Fulton Market neighborhood and to Chicago in general. But it’s possible to go too far with that approach.
“You don’t need to put hot dogs on the wall. People that live and work in Chicago know where they’re from,” said Kevin Kamien, AIA, NCARB, principal, Eastlake Studio. “There are smarter and more elegant ways to handle that.”
With 75 offices worldwide, ServiceNow has a strong, robust brand perspective and their own design standards that they adhere to. Built into that, however, is a flexibility that allows the Chicago office to feel different from other locations.
Exposed brick and blackened steel elements tie the office to the Fulton Market neighborhood outside, which is highly visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows and glass walls that bring in views and natural light. Other elements, such as the tic-tac-toe lighting and pebble rugs communicate ServiceNow’s playful spirit.
The main driver for a company to move into a new space or expand their existing office is growth. Building on and maintaining that growth can only be done through talent attraction and retention—which a space can support through design.
The headcount at marketing software company ActiveCampaign grew four-fold in two years. Looking for a space that offered vintage appeal and an employee-centric design, the firm took 52,000 square feet in the 100-year-old One North Dearborn.
“When we were hired by them, they had moved into a spec suite that was gray with a couple of blue painted walls,” said Brown. “They knew that was not what they wanted, but they weren’t sure how they were going to translate who they were into the space.”
Eastlake’s design preserved original crown molding and added hefty wood elements to the ceiling to recreate the feel of a timber loft office. The company’s employees share a charmingly nerdy culture, evident in the conference rooms and huddle spaces. Employees nominated names for these spaces, resulting in Winterfell, Gondor and other place names from fantasy and sci-fi movies, books and television shows. In the end, this provides a level of buy-in and ownership to those who work in the office.
When branding an office, part of the equation is the employees who spend a good portion of their lives in the space, as well as clients and other visitors. Equator, a firm that designs packaging and other materials for the food and other industries, wanted an austere environment where pieces of work that they have done can communicate their own design process to both clients and recruits.
Walking in, the white walls and empty picture frames in the vestibule certainly convey that austere ambiance. But one doesn’t have to walk too far before that changes with a sprawling mural depicting a whimsical, tentacled sea creature—a metaphor for the multiple lines of service that they provide to their clients.
“There are specific questions that we ask of our clients,” said Kamien. “Is this a visitor space or is this just for your employees? For areas of employee engagement, what are you trying to address? Camaraderie, collaboration or things that speak to your cultural values? Ultimately, it really depends on the working relationships that company has with their clients.”
Located in the historic Civic Opera Building, the Equator office contains a photo studio so they can do a lot of production in house, but they can also convey that activity to visitors seeing in-progress work. Through it all, the tattooed line art creeps along the walls, sometimes subtly, but always acting as an ever-present motif to help unify the space.
Marketing agency Pivot Design enlisted Eastlake Studio to help devise a clean workplace with a neutral palette that wouldn’t distract from the creative work that they were putting together for their own clients. The result was a rectangular floor plan with a simple circulation, shot through with polished concrete floors, exposed structural elements and eye-catching glazed partitions.
“I think spaces like this show that brand is not just about the messages on the wall and the wild colors,” said Brown. “It’s more, ‘Does this feel right with who you are as a company? What is your aesthetic? Who are your people?'”
What could have been a cold and stark design was warmed up with moments of design flourish. Wanting their work to speak for itself, Pivot put examples of their creative pieces in meeting rooms. And there are lounges filled with books and reference materials that steer the space away from a clinical or museum feel toward elegance and warmth.