- Designer Corner
Making Our Space: An Interview with Sara Smyth
Sara Smyth is a Senior Designer with Environments at Work (EAW). She is responsible for implementing all aspects of the design process; from working through design intent, specifications, and finishes to creating furniture drawings and layouts required for installation. Sara is also LEED Green Associate certified. And, yes, she’s a super star! Here is her story…
Finding the Right Fit
The company excitedly huddles around the newly posted seating plan, and we all understand the complicated process of how it was developed. Environments at Work Senior Designer, Sara Smyth sits back and watches the reactions on her coworkers faces. Will they approve? Sara and her team have just spent the last few months designing a ‘new’ workspace intended to serve two purposes – as a showroom and as a working office. With all of the different design elements that had to be considered, how would the new space be received?
To effectively complete the project, Sara had to weigh in the wants and needs of her co-workers while still sticking to her overall design intent. Sara has been involved in many large, complex projects, but it’s a different story when designing your own work space – the place where YOU will work every day!
Did she see some smiles? Yes, the employees (her co-workers) were happy! The culmination of her team’s hard work had, in fact, paid off. With all of the decisions surrounding furniture selection, layout considerations, drawings, and the installation now complete, this is what Sara has to say about the project:
What was the overall design intent for the new office space at Environments at Work?
Sara: We wanted to re-create a new, fresh space that incorporated our company’s culture into the design. We wanted it to be fun, but sophisticated, with invigorating colors and new design elements. As a working showroom, our aim was to highlight the many ways we work by providing everyone with a space to call their own – we chose not to “hot-desk”. The average size workstation is an efficient 5’x6′. To balance it off, we chose to increase the amount of open, collaborative break out areas and enclosed private spaces.
What do you want the customer’s experience to be at the Environments at Work showroom?
Sara: We want our clients to walk into the space and feel the positive energy throughout the space. The space needs to tell a good story about our culture and brand, but it also needs to show our clients that we understand and deal with the same issues they do within their office design. Like any company, we are constantly growing and changing, so we need to have a space and furniture that allows us to do so. An adaptable, flexible space is a surefire solution allowing our space to change as business needs change; making tweaks here and there instead of undertaking a complete redesign is always more efficient and cost effective.
“A room should start a conversation before people actually start exchanging words” – Barry Dixon, interior designer
How were you able to incorporate all the employees requests into your design without sacrificing your design intent?
Sara: We’re all about idea sharing! We started the process by meeting with each department to discuss their overall needs so everyone would have the opportunity to voice their opinions and requests. We were there to listen, while at the same time setting the stage for realistic expectations. A consistent message was that employees wanted a brighter, lighter space and more collaborative work areas.
What challenges did you run into and how were they overcome?
Sara: While we were gaining fun collaborative spaces people were losing private workspace. The new workstations were going to be smaller. The idea was that everyone had to make some sacrifice in their personal workspace, which initially caused some hesitation. However, once they saw the design plan laid out and understood all the break out spaces that were being designed for them most fully embraced the new vision. People seem to use all of the spaces in the office now since they have more options of where to work and meet.
It was also a difficult task to create a design using the same square footage, but fitting more people into it – planning for future growth. To incorporate more seats into our design we used a lot of different product lines, many with smaller footprints. This also helped showcase the many great offerings we have access to.
Using a variety of different product lines and incorporating different work styles into our design challenged us to keep everything consistent. We had to be sure that all the products and finishes we were choosing fit into our design solution and overall feeling of the space.
“Design is not just what it looks and feels like. Design is how it works” – Steve Jobs
What product are you most excited to have integrated into the office design?
Sara: The Lovi Trees from ICF look amazing. They really provide a great pop of color and are a new, fun design element. I also am looking forward to the Lowenstein products we have chosen. They add that residential feel to the space – there’s no place like home. The BuzziSpace Falls pieces are going to be great too! With an open office everyone appreciates the added privacy that these elements will provide. Personally, I am most excited for my new Vitra tool box. Each designer will have one of these at their desks to keep their most important tools organized and within reach…a one stop shop.
What trends have you been seeing for office space designs?
Sara: Here are some trends…
- Movement and Wellness. A continued trend is the request of height adjustability within the workstation. People like to have that flexibility within their workstation. Haworth’s height adjustable tables were a great addition to the design, as well as Humanscale’s Quick Stand Lite.
- Residential Vibe. Another trend is incorporating residential type features to the office environment – creating spaces that offer a level of comfort. Lowenstein has some great products that we used to help achieve that feel within our space.
- Supporting Solitude. With an open office space there is less privacy, which is contributing to a gain in popularity of small private spaces. We added an additional phone room and a new wellness room, as well as design features. BuzziSpace Falls & ICF Lovi Trees help add privacy. Our continued use of sound masking helps keep noise levels in check too.
- Tapping into Technology. The technology trends continue to be based on accessibility. People want to be able to work anywhere at any time, and they need power, so the ancillary products and work tables throughout the space are powered. We used the Chargespot product in some common areas so people can wirelessly charge their phones. We incorporated Raised Access Flooring to easily run power, cabling and ventilation under the floor. Information sharing is another trend I saw in the technology area. Using the Bluescape product we’re able to collaborate with clients and internally to provide the best product and services possible.
What recommendations would you give to other designers starting out the process of recreating/designing an existing office space?
Sara: “Bold communication” with all decision makers and end-users is key. Listen to what they want and be open and honest with what you are able to provide them. It is important for both sides to make some compromises for the good of the project. There is a certain amount of negotiating that has to happen up front. Once the decisions have been made you have to stand by them and know that they were made to please the majority. The reality is not everyone is always going to be happy, but you try your best to make that happen!