Client as collaborator: three workspaces that show what's missing in user-centric offices

Over the last ten years, the accepted mantra in office architecture has been that the industry needs to employ more user-centric design. The employee is queen: creating an environment that meets their needs – not only on a functional but also psychological and even emotional level – is key to creating a progressive, productive and ultimately profitable workplace. But there’s a vital demographic that tends to get overlooked: the client.

Often ushered into a meeting room, or sat incongruously in a breakout space, this user group don’t enter an environment attuned to helping them be creative, or even simply feel comfortable – this, despite client conversations being critical to winning new business and generating successful project outcomes. As businesses across sectors have adopted flat hierarchies, both internally and in terms of how they work with contractors, the focus on ‘client as collaborator’ rather than just customer calls for more emphasis on how these two groups interface.

In a report on innovation spaces for the Brookings Institution, authors Julie Wagner and Dan Watch highlight how ‘the “open” and collaborative nature of innovation is changing the nature of design. Research reveals that innovation is increasingly collaborative, involving two or more people during the process. Collaboration also importantly underpins “open innovation” and convergence – a trend where disparate sectors and/or disciplines come together as a means to innovate.’

Here we identify three office designs putting that don’t treat the client as second-class citizens.

 

Adapt to each guest

According to Ramon Beijen, CBRE’s creative director of workplace strategies and design says, the most fundamental piece of their new Amsterdam headquarters is what they term ‘the Client Lab’.

CBRE no longer has a meeting centre; the lab is more about co-creation, experimentation and events. As such, it’s a flexible environment – ‘everything is movable’, says Beijen – that can adapt to a client’s needs. It hosts everything from 600-person gatherings to so-called ‘creative camps’, which see CBRE team members, clients and other experts hunker down together for a predetermined period to come up with a solution to a client’s burning question. 

The lab also reflects changes in the way CBRE works with clients. Just over a year ago, the organization streamlined its design process, removing various back-and-forth stages with clients in favour of transitioning directly from concept master plan to final design. In the lab’s material showroom, clients can make on-the-spot decisions together with CBRE. ‘More often, clients are coming to us rather than vice versa,’ says Beijen. ‘And at The Core, they can have more input and more easily collaborate with us.’

Read more about the Frame Awards-winning space here.

 

Create a home away from home

Increasingly, companies like Cobild Design, an Australian construction company, want to get to know their clients in real time, to believe in their vision and match with their priorities before committing to a project. Face-to-face exchange is how Cobild gets deep with clients. To set the stage for such interaction, local studio Mim Design incorporated elements of hospitality design in Cobild’s workspace.

If a company’s ambition is to deepen interpersonal connection between company and client, the workspace is established as an important venue for exchange. Think of the difference between doing business in a beige boardroom versus in a thoughtfully-designed, sunny atrium.

To achieve a welcoming interior, Mim placed priority on material and craft. From a hand-stitched leather wall at the office entrance to stone islands in the kitchen, the spaces showcase the beauty of natural materials. An unconventional console choice rests off of the office entrance: a table-top supported by lacquered cylindrical legs.

Read more here.


Link thinkers and doers

Airy, bright and open are not adjectives typically associated with a factory. But Snøhetta’s intervention in Swarovski’s 7,000-sq-m facility near Innsbruck reflects a change of attitude in the crystal manufacture’s inner workings. Previously, collaborating designers who visited the company’s production facilities felt every aspect of the company was highly secretive, to the detriment of the creative process.

But Manufaktur – as the project is titled – was designed with institutional transparency in mind. Swarovski still has bigger, grittier factories on site, but Snøhetta’s building is a place for designers and clients to quickly see their ideas take shape as prototypes. The scheme includes a staircase that doubles as stadium-style seating during meetings, a coffee spot for social stops, and inspiration rooms that highlight what’s possible with Swarovski’s glitzy goods.

‘The Swarovski Manufaktur sets a new standard for inclusive fabrication facilities,’ said Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founding partner of Snøhetta. ‘Bringing clients, designers, artists, researchers, machine operators, technicians and the public into one space under one roof is going to change how we think about these relationships in the future.’

Read more here.

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