Have you ever wondered if there’s some sort of system behind the design of innovative companies’ workspaces? Well, let’s try to find out…
From IDEO's Munich office to Zaha Hadid's Innovation Tower
I visited 18 organizations from the creative sector, around the world, to take a look at their workspaces. These are the places I went:
- IDEO in Munich
- Zoku Coworking Space in Amsterdam
- Parsons School of Design in New York
- SAP’s Innovation Center and AppHouse in Berlin and Potsdam
- Zaha Hadid’s Innovation Tower in Hong Kong
- MHP Porsche Digital Innovation Lab in Berlin
- Steelcase LINC in Munich
- SAIC in Chicago
- and a couple of more exciting innovation workspaces
Of course, no place looked exactly alike, but there were some underlying patterns that appeared over and over again. Let’s look at a few examples in more detail:
Zoku Coworking space in Amsterdam.
The airy architecture of Zoku coworking and co-living hotel provides large windows overlooking Amsterdam’s skyline. The floor plan with its many quirky angles provides interesting vistas across rooms. And the obligatory table football can be used as a meeting table, when needed.This is one of my favorite coworking spaces.
Zaha Hadid’s Innovation Tower.
The building houses the design school of PolyU in Hong Kong. It is curvy – inside and outside. This creates many inspiring views across rooms and floors. But the iconic building, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects, also attracts students from all over the world. Check out the PolyU Innovation Tower Website.
IDEO Office in Munich.
The open plan office space of IDEO Munich is spread over several levels. This creates interesting perspectives and views across departments, allows eye-contact, but at the same time does not feel like a huge hallway. There are enough niches for casual chats and privacy.
MHP Porsche Digital Lab
The MHP office is located in an industrial setting near the Spree river in Berlin. The architecture itself is inspiring. But also the interior provides different seat variations for different types of work, and a rough “Palette”-style furniture line that resembles the “garage” spirit of the dot-com boom.
One aspect that many of the creative organizations had in common was a specific way to express their innovation culture. Many rooms had names, for example, the “Innovation Think Tank” at PolyU (A). Creative mindsets and mission statements were displayed as posters or sketches (B, C, E), as well as examples of success stories (D, G). Rough furniture (F) and graffiti paintings (H) signaled an invitation to experiment.
Visual stimulation was deliberately provided by many organizations in different ways: Windows of various sizes and heights provided varying views and corresponding surprises (A). Transparent walls between rooms and work zones allowed eye-contact between co-workers (B, C).
Other sensual stimulation was achieved through spatial light regulation (D) or haptic surfaces (F). Views to the exterior allowed to gaze into the distance (G). And finally, also the ambient sound of busy coworkers provided a good balance of background noise to trigger a creative flow.
Many of the visited organizations made use of the space as a knowledge processor, for example to provide information in the form of material swatches, gadgets, and books (A, B, F, I). Also, writable walls and tables (C, D, H) could be found in many companies. Lounge areas allowed for the exchange of tacit knowledge between people (G, H).
The possibility to collaborate with other creative people, or to work alone while being in company, was provided by most of the visited organizations in some form. I found coworking desks and small standing tables in hallways (A, C, I), as well as kitchen or lunch facilities that allowed also meeting people from other departments (B, G).
But the social dimension also needed to be controlled and limited at some point, for example when working in focused mode. For this purpose, many organizations had installed some sort of shielded high-back furniture (D) or even hoods at the individual work stations (F).
Being able to switch the environment from one activity to another was visible in many organizations. For example, a meeting table could also be used as a table football table (B), and seat rows for plenary sessions could be stowed away in foldable shelves (G).
In many cases, the infrastructure was deliberately designed to facilitate specific (creative) work processes. For example, two chairs at one computer allowed collaborative pair-programming (A), and visible tools (D) and a supply store on-site (C) enabled prototyping of ideas.
Card set of 49 design principles
Through a systematic analysis of 1000+ pictures, I identified 49 design principles that appeared in most of the 18 visited organizations.
For example “the high seat”, which suggests to elevate seating areas to create some kind of lookout, was found in several organizations. Or the “writable walls” allowed spontaneous note-taking anywhere in the office – apparently an important feature of a creative workspace.
Each identified design principle is pictured on one of the 49 cards. Each card also provides scientific explanations. And there are also cross references between cards to indicate which ones would work well together. Let’s take a look at one exemplary card:
Card 08 / High Seat
Elevated seats provide an overview of the surrounding activities, allow eye-contact at the same level with passers-by, and create interesting views. Pictured is the example of seat rows in the entrance hall of TU Delft.
Card 08 / High Seat
On the reverse side of each card, I provide additional information, such as actionable advice, a tangible example, scientific explanations, and cross-links to other pattern cards.
Pattern Matrix Overview
Part of the card set is a matrix overview of all patterns. This matrix can be used to identify which pattern would be appropriate for what context.
Complete Card Set of 49 Patterns
The card set of all 49 patterns is currently in the process of being produced and will be available soon for purchase. Please sign up for the mailing list to be the first informed when it becomes available.
Many organizations from the creative sector do follow similar patterns when it comes to designing their workspaces. I collected a total of 49 of such patterns from my analysis of 18 creative companies. You can use these patterns to analyze and design your own workspace for maximum creativity support.
If you are interested in my “Card Set of Creative Space Patterns”, please subscribe to my mailing list. You will be among the first to be informed when it is available. And if you like this post, please share… it would make my day.