Co.Design

3 Tips For Designing A Work Space That Embodies Your Brand

John Edson shares what he learned when LUNAR recently changed digs.

One morning three years ago, I woke up with a startling thought: LUNAR’s studio was in the wrong building. We had opened a San Francisco office in the late ’90s as an experimental annex to our headquarters in nearby Palo Alto. Over the course of a decade, the experiment not only proved successful, but San Francisco had become the center of gravity for our team. And yet, we were still living in an experimental space practically under a highway overpass outfitted with IKEA furniture. It was time to move.

Six months ago, we relocated to a new studio in San Francisco, a century-old factory in the city’s design epicenter adjacent to Potrero Hill. Like any massive change, our space search, remodel, and move wasn’t without its challenges, but now that we’ve experienced the fruits of those efforts, I can say that it’s turned out to be a huge success. It is possible to create a spectacular space that improves collaboration and productivity. Here’s the advice I give to others who are just starting the journey.

1. Express your voice.


A workspace is as much an opportunity to express who you are as a company as it is a functional place to get work done. This is an important chance to put your brand into three-dimensions, to surround yourselves with personality and character, to create some theater for your prospective employees and partners.

Be forewarned though. This kind of expression is not borne from "design thinking." This is not user-centered design that emanates from interviews of every employee or that integrates 1,000 voices. This design mandate needs to come from an individual or very small team so that it has a singular voice. This kind of creative personality comes from individual idiosyncrasy, so it cannot be a large group effort.

[A view of the office as it was—a factory]

At LUNAR, we achieved this first and foremost by picking a building with history. This could be considered cheating, but we’re not afraid to admit it. The bones of the building—the straightforward layout, the authentic materials, the south-facing natural light—made a rich and warm canvas for our vision. In fact, much of our renovation aimed to reclaim views of the brick and timber construction hidden behind an overzealous use of drywall.

To this canvas, we added only minimal features—the most prominent one being our lighted promenade, which leads visitors from the streetscape deep inside our space. Through the magic of programmable lighting sequences, the promenade welcomes you, as if the building itself is responding to a new person in the space. "I felt like I was walking down the catwalk" and "it was like getting a standing ovation" are some of the comments we’ve gotten from visitors already.

2. Embody your values.

In concert with creating a distinctive voice in the space, it’s crucial to identify the fundamentals of function: Who goes where, what goes here, how should one get there. This is where user engagement is of vital importance. In our case, we had a team that had already worked together for years, and as a result, the organization had a lot of embedded lessons that we mined for the purpose of creating a new space that would anticipate our needs.

For us and our culture, we chose to sit in an open floor plan resembling a newsroom. From the CEO to interns, we share the same sightlines. The benefit is that cross-fertilization is turbo-charged. The team shares a greater awareness about what others are doing—and it’s easier to create ad hoc channels of learning and communication that lead to better design outcomes. To counter the potential chaos, we have built plenty of conference rooms, so that everyone has access to privacy and quiet when they need it. In fact, we can easily fit the entire company into our collection of conference rooms so that everyone has access to open or private work environments whenever needed.

Another result of this collaborative design approach is our generous kitchen, where we have doubled up on microwaves, dishwashers, fridges, and sinks in order to accommodate the lunch-hour crush. Our kitchen embodies the old idea of the hearth, a welcoming place for connecting to others over the excuse of food or coffee. A delightful outcome is that meetings happen in the kitchen all day long, some planned and some accidental.

3. Build a stage, not the set.

Early on in our planning we remembered to revisit this book. It reinforced that we wanted to create a space that would evolve as we learned how to optimize it from living and working in it. I had also just experienced this effect at home and knew that we could benefit from it at work.

To create a design that could "learn," we shelved plans to build custom furniture and dividers for the individual workstations, the co-lab (our project-specific work area), and conference rooms. Not only did this save us some money at a time of some pretty big cash outlays, it’s allowing us to continuously innovate how we use the space. The building itself is delightful to be in, and the built features leave plenty of open space for the experimental layout of furniture and dividers. We’ll construct more precious furniture and fixtures once we have more clarity about our needs and preferences—and even then, we won’t build anything that can’t be upgraded, improved, reconfigured, or summarily ripped out.

Knitting these three principles together is the main design challenge, but when you keep all of these questions alive through the planning, design, and build processes, you can create a unique space that is inspirational and adaptive to the needs of your brand, culture, and work. This approach is certainly paying dividends for us at LUNAR.

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21 Comments

  • jmco

    If you need "tips" to have a work space that embodies your brand, you need to work more on your brand first!

  • Joe Gemignani

    Love it. I am a photographer and working space  has always been most important to me. Your space is wonderful for creative people, it makes the perfect environment to think and work.  Thanks for sharing.  JoeG

  • Donna at The Space Within

    What a refreshing approach to designing your space! I love that you highlight that the concept is not a democratic one but one of vision and conviction.  Congratulations on creating an environment that would be a joy to work in.

  • Sue

    Thank you for sharing!  It's great to see the thought process for the design.  Good to document the process too.

  • IDESIGNSTUDIO

    Great working space as much as we can spot it on the video. Could you share more pictures?
    I DESIGN STUDIO Team

  • Frances

    LOVE this concept! It feels so organic and free! Talk about first impressions with that entrance - enchanting!!!

  • Tim Bachman

    Nice mix of flexibility that makes the space open to new ideas and events. Welcoming the visitor as a worthy collaborator creates a warmth and welcoming space.

  • Rolando Peralta

    Awesome example. I've always been concerned about a creativity enabling workspace but I confess the branding +workspace topic was not my priority till today.
    Thank you for sharing it.
    cheers,
    @RolandoPeralta:twitter 

  • Cawker

    The first two rules should be givens for every creative workspace.  We found very quickly however that having coordinated storage for all the tools, data, and work was quickly indispensable, and since we invested in the Swiss USM Haller system, I would suggest rule n° 3:  Find a storage system that does all the rest.

  • John Edson

    Andyr26, that's what headphones and our Nooks are for.   We definitely get the need to be able to focus intensely without distraction, and the space allows for that too.

  • Michell Regenbogen

    I am inspired every time I walk through your doors! Well done creating a light and airy space where creativity can blossom.

  • Andyr26

    Turbo-charging your cross-fertilization with open sight-lines is, at times, overrated. To come up with a decent idea, less distraction from the razor scooter using hipsters, nerf wars, etc. is actually better. Co-lab spaces not withstanding, as they are never enough of them to go around.

  • John Edson

    Thanks for the comments, folks.   We did work with architects -- Shubin + Donaldson in LA on this great project.

  • JudyAlias

    I've been in this space and the entry procession and kitchen are indeed welcoming and well-used. I worry about drafts in the upcoming winter, tho; all those original steel-framed industrial windows aren't thermally broken. Soon you'll be tripping over individual space heaters and/or putting up heavy draperies...

  • Steven Leighton

    It's just OK. Nuthin special and I'd agree with Martyarose about involving an architect-- and it's still not too late.

  • Tea Silvestre, aka Word Chef

    I think it's a common mistake to NOT include your office design in the expression of your brand. As the producer of the "Is it Soup, Yet? Tastiest Small Biz Brand Awards," I can't nominate you (but your clients could: http://thewordchef.com/2011/11.... I''m thrilled to find a resource like this one I can share. Thanks!