By Angel Liott | Designer
Five Below is a leading retailer of on-trend, quality products, priced between $1 and $5, that appeal to young shoppers, inspiring them to let go & have fun. The company’s headquarters, referred to as WowTown, occupies three floors of a historic building in Philadelphia, with a retail store featured on the first floor. WowTown, living up to its name, enjoys a vintage industrial aesthetic and culture of fun—they have a game room, a roof bar, and interiors enhanced with brilliant colors. While shifting to a hybrid work model during the pandemic and evaluating the best options for the use of its space, Five Below chose to create a state-of-the-art classroom that would celebrate the company’s vibrant spirit and address the inequality of experience between in-office and remote participants during meetings and events. The classroom design allows all contributors to enjoy the same level of interaction—seeing and being seen at scale, hearing and being heard comparably.
Easier Said than Done
There were, of course, multiple challenges. For example, given the building’s low exposed ceilings, ensuring the superlative transmission of sound while maintaining the interior’s vintage aesthetic and original architectural features was a conundrum. However, through collaboration with acoustical, structural, and AV consultants, an excellent quality of sound was achieved with minimal modification to the original finishes, structure, and existing HVAC.
Considering the classroom itself, multiple and varied studies determined the number of users that could comfortably fit (e.g., armrests and spacing) into the new venue for a holistic, equitable experience, with easy access to seating as well as clear visual sight lines even for standing room. The classroom is curved and raked with tiered seats, as well as radiused acoustics for best sound perception. Color-coded upholstery based on brand colors identifies sight-line strength—for example, an intense blue indicates the best sight lines. A cluster of rooms around the classroom offers smaller, tailored options for more intimate hybrid meetings.
How Does it Work?
But how does the new classroom move the needle towards equity of experience between remote and in-person participants? Via strategically located screens and audio-visual technology, remote contributors are seen at scale on screen, improving eye contact and engagement with the in-person presenter and attendees for a more spontaneous relationship. In-person participants see the presenter-focused camera or the audience-focused camera, as well as a multi-camera feed with spotlighting and speaker detection capabilities. High-end audio equipment with controls and cameras ensures the cadence of listening and response times. If needed, from an AV control room, an employee can directly manipulate aspects of the classroom for efficiency and presentation effectiveness.
The state-of-the-art space is flexible and serves various formats. Local-presenter-led sessions utilize multiple screens and content sources visually accessible by both audience and presenter. Remote-presenter-led sessions appear on a large central screen with adjacent content; remote presenters and participants see up to three room-camera feeds that rely on speaker detection capabilities or preset cameras to focus on contributors or discussions of longer duration. Both stage and seating are in microphone zones that register room noise bringing remote participants into the volume of the space, maximizing bi-directional discussion capabilities, and leveling the playing field for all participants.
Using a single-screen interface, a hybrid meeting for collaboration with a group leader combines key presenters, multiple participants, meeting content, and chatting. A presenter sees the meeting content and participants as needed via a secondary spotlighted view. Speakers and microphones follow screen location. For instance, if a remote user raises a hand, the camera viewing screen will focus on that user, who is addressed by the presenter and participants as if in person. With an eye to the future, this innovative design also provides opportunities for the technology to evolve.
The Arrival Experience
To heighten the classroom arrival experience for in-person users, additional features were introduced, inspired by the design concept Pixel Perfect, based on Five Below’s colorful branding and an existing company program emphasizing that the sum is greater than the whole of its parts—as is the combination of pixels required for a perfect picture. IA revamped reception, adding lounge seating and a central hub that leads to the classroom, creating a compelling flow and sequence of spaces that welcome employees, clients, and vendors, as well as provide for all-hands meetings and events.
Complementing Five Below’s culture and hybrid work model, these design interventions pave the way for interaction, inclusion, and community crowned by the innovative classroom that creates a new level of equity between remote and in-person participants. Powerfully supporting the Five Below concept to let go & have fun, these new design features are an important part of Five Below’s success in attracting and retaining top professionals.
Designer, IA's Philadelphia Studio
Angel Liott has worked with a wide range of clients from universities to corporate to retail, hospitality, and healthcare. Her breadth of experience and innovative creativity bring a fresh, dynamic perspective to every project.