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Thinking Outside The Cubicle

Thursday, March 13th, 2014

Photos by Eric Laignel

The company behind Adobe's sprawling (and eye-popping) new Utah outpost, and offices for Apple and Google, multidisciplinary design firm Rapt Studio knows a thing or two about creating innovative workplaces.  We spoke with principals David Galullo and Cory Sistrunk about what drives their work and where "the office" goes from here.

DB: How has office design changed in recent years?

David Galullo: For a while, it was enough to do a fun game room with a Ping-Pong table and paint a wall orange. There’s more honesty to the dialogue right now about why people work where they work. At the end of the day, people want to belong to something larger than themselves. Our response to that is when we design office space there has to be a meaningful connection between that employee and the culture and the brand of that company. And if we can do that, then that allows that person to show up for work every day and understand why they matter.

Other specific things are changing, too. I think we see more open environ- ments. We see less cube farms being developed. It used to be one size fits all; let’s dumb it down so it works equally badly for everyone. There’s a greater willing- ness on companies’ parts to customize and say, ‘Hey our workers need different things from workspaces.’ They can choose to sit at their desk or sit in the café or blow off steam in the afternoon and go for a bike ride.

Cory Sistrunk: It’s really that idea of choice. People will take salary cuts to be a part of something they believe in, so the design of office space can’t just be the superficial skin. It’s really got to be the backbone that’s driving all these things.

DB: Because of technology and the way we live now, some people argue we don’t need offices anymore. Why is it important that we still have these spaces? 

DG: Certain organizations have tried to push for that harder than others, but I do think there is a greater weight on space bringing people together. You can never replace the human connection of people inside of a room working something out together. If you’re looking at design itself, it’s not just what it looks like, it’s how you experience it. Giving [employees] those things that make them want to come here and feel like they can’t do it at Starbucks.

DB: How do you design offices that speak to a company’s brand and its values? 

DG: I think that’s the question. It relies on our ability to be fluid and flexible because every organization is different. Why should you matter to your customer and why should you matter to your employees?

We spend a lot of time in that discovery phase and we engage them, we empower them, and then we connect with them. A lot of design firms want to figure out what [the need] is and then go off and solve it in a vacuum, but we actually bring our clients in to make sure that we’re testing some of the things that we heard against what they think they are.

CS: We’ve found that usually uncovers much more than getting in a room and hearing, ‘Well, we want 10 conference rooms, we have 500 people, and we have a lot of parking issues.’ We want to bring the dialogue beyond just what you physically need in the space.

DB: What is the future of office design? 

DG: I think that it will continue to evolve, mainly because people who are working in offices are continually evolving. If what’s important to that employee keeps shifting, then the office obviously needs to keep shifting.

CS: With the rate of technology and apps and the rest of the ways we engage in our daily lives, we really try to look at the space as an interface. For so long it was like, well here’s the architecture: deal with it. We try to say, ‘How does the architecture respond?’

How many times are we building rooms that don’t get used because they were built in the wrong proportions, and realize that had it been three feet wider or five feet shorter, it would have been operable? So can we create a building that actually responds to the daily needs of our changing environment? It hasn’t been done yet, but it is something we’re driving toward.

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