How the Office became what it is today

In commercial environments we often grapple with tough questions regarding productivity, technological integration, and (now more than ever) employee satisfaction and well being. Due to the speed of ever-changing technology, the shape of workplace environments are in a constant state of flux. The days of cookie-cutter office solutions are over if they ever really existed.

At a time where there is a constant need to move forward, we do occasionally need to look back on where we came from to get here. Not only are office changing now; but they have been doing so for the past century.

This Stylepark article provides a nice overview of commercial space history and some of the factors, individuals, and technologies that have driven the change in commercial environments.

The Client Inspiration Board

I have had two clients recently who came to their first meeting with us armed with what I’ll call an “inspiration board”. In both cases is wasn’t technically a board: one just had a digital file folder of pictures they liked. The other had a PowerPoint of pictures. I don’t know if the influence of Pinterest is to thank for this, but I love it.

To anybody whose about to become a design client, this is an excellent exercise to engage in and bring to your first meeting with any of your design team: Architects, Interiors, Engineers, everyone will love you for it.

Why is this helpful?

A picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words. There is no where that is truer than in design. First, it shows me what the client is thinking. Pictures can evoke a quality of space; the grandeur or simplicity or vivacity. I use words as carefully as I can to describe visual concepts to a client. But no matter how careful I am words can’t always express the quality of a space, color, or texture accurately. A picture is always more accurate. I can say “wingback chair” but there’s millions of them and they can look very different, just like the two examples here.

budget-classic-leather-wingback-chair-Z1qysAlex Wingback


“Modern”, by the by, is one of the worst offenders as a non-descriptive word. For many people, they say “modern” and mean “current and contemporary”, but for others including designers “modern” usually means capital M “Modern” as in the Modern movement that dovetails with International Style and Bauhaus from the early 20th century. Those are wildly different things. (For a rather accurate visual interpretation of the differences check out West Elm’s new Workspace line; their splash page lays it out in very nice visual representation)

Second it takes out the guess work. Sometimes I don’t attend the first meeting with a client and I’m asked to come, with ideas, to the second or third meeting. If I’ve been given an arsenal of pictures then I don’t have to guess what I should bring. I can make (more) educated and strategic choices that are in keeping with the pictures. This isn’t to say that I can’t get a sense of a client without pictures. I listen to what my supervisors tell me from their previous meeting, I check the client’s website and use my educated best judgement to determine what the client might respond to. But pictures speed up the process.

Get inspired, pin that picture and show us what you want. You can use a file folder, a Powerpoint, a Pinterest board, printouts and clippings old school style from magazines and kept in a folder or notebook. Whatever works for you will work for us too!

Inspiration Everywhere

“Where do you get your inspiration these days?”

This question was put to me and several other designers at a function recently. Magazines have truthfully lost some of their flair in recent years, what with the wealth of online options. Pinterest was brought up as a source, but my colleague was fishing for something fresh. The other designers and I seems to lack freshness when put on the spot. Now I think I have my answer. While both Pinterest and magazines (the slim Contract magazine getting more of my attention than the gorgeous and much fatter Interior Design) do play a role I think there’s been something even more ingrained in my psyche.

I get my inspiration on “field trips.” At one time, when I was in school and studying abroad that meant literal field trips. My Danish Institute of Study Abroad program was huge on visiting the sites of great architecture and seeing it for yourself. Even more so; they were huge on not just taking your own pictures and seeing the places with your own eyes, but drawing it for yourself. What I learned that summer and what I took away from that program changed the way I have approached design since. (I would highly recommend the program to any students). When I returned home I spent extra time to visit places related to my projects and get my feet and hands on the ground. There was a time (still in school and the year or so immediately after) where a staple of my purse was a small sketchbook.

My “field trips” now are more the spontaneous finds in my daily (and not so daily) travels. Today I don’t carry a notebook everywhere and sketch my observations, but I do have a smartphone. When I scroll through my pictures there I have a strange assortment of pictures that often include no people whatsoever. Photos of porcelain tiles, of building columns, of flower arrangements, of a cool combination of colors, of murals, of hotel room bathrooms and dozens of other things that make me happy to look at, remind me of ideas and help shape my latest projects. So I suggest to you to use your phone, not only for selfies and food shots, but to record the details of places as they inspire you.