Every day IA helps clients to become a part of new communities in the most literal sense. Our clients put incredible amounts of thought and effort into making sure that their next location (or current location) is tailored to their specific business goals and the needs of their employees. As collaborators, one of our most important duties is to make sure that as many parties as possible benefit from this process.
Announcing a business presence to the local community is an art in and of itself that public relations experts, marketers, and human resources departments have been perfecting for decades. But advancing that relationship to the point of sharing physical spaces seems an altogether newer trend and requires new considerations beyond what the typical design process might explore. Depending on the industry, business drivers, or the culture of the businesses we work with, welcoming the community into the spaces we design can take many forms and can have a significant impact on how the space is built.
Starting Small: Harness the Local Aesthetic
Creating additional space for non-employee users is not always possible or practical. But making sure that the local aesthetic is incorporated into a space, however, is generally much more within reach and is practically required of most retail or hospitality spaces. We spoke to this theme somewhat in a blog post entitled Office Customization and Multinational Branding: Competing Forces. The reasons for designing to the local aesthetic are many, but here are the highlights:
- 1Making your space feel like home can help inspire employee ownership.
- 2It’s nearly impossible to incorporate the local look and feel authentically without making some local partners. This can serve as a wonderful tool for creating positive business relationships in the local community and investing in the local economy.
- 3Creating local office autonomy (and a feeling of friendly inter-office competition) may be a healthy part of your organization’s culture. Designing to the local aesthetic can support such efforts.
We’ve found that there are three important concepts to keep in mind when designing the neighborhood into your space:
1. Involve the End Users
“Collaboration with end users on connection to local culture always leads to a more meaningful design solution. At Rapid7’s Boston Headquarters, it was critical that the engineers Friday cocktail tradition carry on and flourish in the new space. After working with a group of end users, the end result was an activated speakeasy inspired by local venues that makes everyone feel at home. Cross pollination is achieved.” - Sara Brophy, Design Director
2. Be Authentic
“Making sure you do your research and authentically reflect the local culture on a micro level is critical because it personifies the area in which the concept was created. It can make the difference between a disengaged aesthetic and a truly custom experience.”- Lacey Johnson, Project Manager
3. Be Inclusive
"It's important to be mindful of the end goal. When you're creating a space that reflects the community, it's a disservice to everyone when you make even a small subset of people feel unwelcome. You have to speak to aesthetics or messages that the whole community supports...that lift everyone up." - Julia Dane, Designer
Invite the Community In
As anyone who has been a part of a grand opening ceremony can tell you, your physical location can be invaluable in creating a buzz for your organization at a local or regional level. But some organizations take this one step further. “At Austin’s Eastside Tech Hub, for example” begins Design Director Manuel Navarro, “the H-E-B/Favor team has hosted over 40 community events in the short time that it’s been open. The goal there is to support initiatives their employees care about and connect with the city.”
General Mills seems to have taken a similar approach, regularly hosting community-engaging events from their Minneapolis headquarters and taking opportunities to interact with local students, reinforcing their commitment to the local culture and generating future prospects. Long time IA client-partner Bacardi regularly builds in flexible event spaces that can adapt to a variety of functions, and help to welcome the community and press for promotional opportunities. Such a space was particularly necessary for Bacardi’s U.S. headquarters in Miami. Says IA Project Manager Adam Treiser, "The event area is a multi-functional space for Bacardi. We have color changing lights that wow people right off the elevator and can change to match the color of any number of Bacardi’s many brands. The warm color palette is inviting, and the room's flexibility allows the Bacardi team to create a number of different intimate areas depending on the occasion."
Dedicated Community Space
Such efforts create opportunities for Google to cultivate stronger ties with the local community and may open new tributaries to critical recruitment pools.
The QualcommThinkabit Lab originated out of the company’s San Diego headquarters, but has since evolved. Now, there are dedicated locations, such as their Virginia Tech facility, devoted entirely to STEM education.
The community space movement has partnered businesses with communities all over the world, but San Francisco, where several IA Interior Architects partner- clients, including Okta and Twitter, have dedicated physical space to local non-profits or other neighborhood initiatives, seems to be a current hotspot thanks to recent tax incentives and community involvement. Twitter, for example, has created the Twitter Neighborhood Nest, a facility that provides support to local families in need, teaches valuable tech skills, and provides childcare and other services in partnership with local non-profit Compass.
A Word on Spaces for Super Fans
IA clients recognize the need to honor their biggest fans, and it's not surprising that this has led to the design of some unique, brand-forward spaces. McCormick and Co., for example, has incorporated a small retail location into their Maryland headquarters where they give fans the opportunity to engage with their products, apparel, and brand. Similarly, McDonald’s chose to operate a fast-food location out of its Chicago headquarters. Both enterprises feature museum spaces for the ultimate super fans in their respective headquarters. When you create highly desirable consumer products like Maryland’s beloved Old Bay or the Big Mac, creating brand shrines like these can be imperative, and tie into product marketing initiatives.
Specific Skills Set the Scene
Experiential Graphic Design Studio Director Amanda Westenberg has used experiential graphic design (EGD) to bring the community into spaces on countless occasions. “Experiential graphic design connects people to place. My favorite projects are spaces designed to reflect the personalities of their users, highlighting local culture or celebrating the community’s vision and values. Visitors should feel like they’ve stepped into a physical expression of the company’s brand and that they are part of that story.”
There is no end in sight for the community space movement, especially as it is proving to be mutually beneficial for both organizations and communities. Centered on strong partnerships, authenticity, and transparency, IA Interior Architects is excited to be a part of the next iteration of this trend that ultimately aims to generate a sense of individual purpose and cultural impact that makes companies and spaces more engaging, inclusive, and human-centric.