Dream Office

I am in a fortunate position right now, i get to spec and build out a creative office and and assemble a new creative team.
I’ve done this a few times before and each time i learn more, the first time was 15 years ago when i was fresh out of school and the process happened organically over many years as i helped grow a company, everything was done seat of the pants since i had no experience and we were moving at the pace the company could afford. This time its a little different in that the business is 30+ years old and building a creative team is part of the growth plan as a strategic, budgeted process.

There are a bunch of current threads I’ve been following, 3d printers, culture, things going digital, etc. but they all approach each topic independently how do all those things and more come together as a cohesive integrated system? I’m just wondering if anyone has any advice/experience and would like to lend some insight and I’m happy to hear anyone’s opinions on must haves or must dos as i build this team.

Our ownership is excited about having a shop environment to show off. My background is in a traditional shop and i’d never give up my own shop… i hate to say this…but i just don’t think a traditional model shop is the best use of funds. Bandsaws, drill presses, sanders, etc. are all relatively inexpensive but a shop takes up a lot of space (more rent), custom electric and plumbing, ventilation and air handling also add up and bring up workplace safety issues and different insurance policies. Versus a modern Rapid prototyping lab, which might require some basic direct ventilation but for the most part its relatively clean and tidy and takes up less space. Some big tables and a couple 3d printers, laser cutter and maybe a small cnc mill in a closed room. I think the modern tech would also have a bigger impact on visitors who we need to impress?

I’ve got a bit of experience buying pro level rapid prototyping tools, i’ve spent a ridiculous amount of other peoples money on big boy 3d printers, cncs and all sorts of crazy software. I’ve also bought a bunch of consumer level stuff, for the past few years working as a consultant I’ve been using those consumer level machines a lot and i’ve found them to be more than “good enough” on most projects. Aside from total build volume why would i choose an objet or stratasys machine over a form labs machine or even multiple form labs machines for literally a fraction of the price?

Do we need a full traditional model shop? Do we need a $100k 3d printer or do we just use that money for other toys?
What would be in your dream office, a 27" wacom on every desk, aeron chairs, walls of whiteboard?
Open plan or private offices? Is it OK to make everyone kneel in tribute to a statue of me as they come in to work every morning?

Hey Ryan,

You’ve done this more times than me, but I’ll give you a call later to impart some learnings… but for the benefit of the forums, last time I did this it worked out pretty well. The CEO ended up calling it “the jewel of the company”… but be warned, do it too well and your space will be the source of constant tours. Pretty much anytime anyone of any level of import (mainly retail buyers) their was a substantial tour of the design center, that was accompanied by an extensive dog and pony show (get the 3d printer running, put out a bunch of sketches and mock ups on the conference table, etc) … not necessarily a bad thing, actually a good thing that we were valued, but just something to plan for.

I broke the space down into these key areas:

Design Library
Lots of shelves of books, material swatches, historical product, product references, a pin up area showing the latest design language system documentation, and a sofa and a few comfy chairs. It had 3 functions, casual meetings and work, hold all of the color and material references, cool looking show piece, you actually walked through this to get into the design center proper, it was a small space but pleasant… eventually I also got a ping pong table and full forza racing rig that lived on the periphery.

Conference Area
Giant table that sat 12 easily surrounded by pin up space and a giant projection screen. It was nice for design to have it’s own space to meet and where we could leave the latest on every project pinned up. This functioned more like a war room. It was cool though so other groups always wanted to have meetings in there. I had to institute a policy that we would share but I could boot them as needed. We also ringed this area with lots of shelves that could hold 3d prints, final models, and pre production samples… this was more for show but I think people felt good when one of their projects got to the point where it went into the show case area… just shelves.

Maker Area
Not really a shop, just a spot where you could make stuff. Consumer level 3d printer, plotter, I would have gotten one of those new consumer laser cutters, you could do some light foam sculpting, print a render out on a plotter full scale and wrap the foam with it. That kind of thing. I kept it super light and convinced the engineers to buy and maintain an Objet and we would go out of house to one of the big rapid prototype shops 12-15 times a year for anything hyper realistic. The engineering dept also had a real prototype shop so we would use that resource as much as we could.

Work Area
Goes without saying, but you need heads down space for people to crank.

Furnishings. I think the budget on furniture can swing widely. I spent all the big coin on great chairs. You got to sit in that thing all day, then cheated out on Ikea desks and shelves… because they are fine.

I commandeerde an unused industrial space in the building so the whole thing had the right level of messy, casual, start up feel. The zones I listed above were pretty soft, defined by shelving.

Pics: Michael DiTullo, design for spaces that inspire

I started with a smaller space, the company liked it, I then got us a bigger space as we expanded the team… then eventually I got to redesign the building and pick all new furniture. It was fun, but I also became the repository of all complaints about the building and as you know, no design pleases everyone…

This was the first smaller space I designed (each square on the grid is a foot)

This is the second larger space. This required a much bigger furniture plan and instructions for the GC as we moved some walls and added lighting etc…

And then this is me eventually planning out the larger building… it started to get a little crazy working out multiple floors and communicating with GCs. Eventually the Ikea furniture wasn’t cutting it and I brought in a legit contract furniture partner to help me plan out finance, sales, and op’s work areas.

EDIT: I forgot, after this phase I added on a photo/video studio to shoot, a sound mixing/recording room (very light, just prosumer gear to record decent VO’s and music for product videos), built out a showpiece listening room with a historical product display… so do this well and you will probably be doing more of it :wink:

Wow, thanks so much for sharing all of that.
It’s great to see your planning and thought process.

Right now I’m submitting my wish list for the space we need to find and what i want to put in it aside from employees.
Our corporate headquarters is actually in the Midwest and we’re building the creative office in the Northeast so while that makes it less likely that we’ll get unannounced guests it does add some challenges since we can’t borrow space or resources from any existing facilities.

no problem, I’ll email you some more stuff to help out.


I’m somewhat onboard with yo’s thoughts. Some of my .02 is below.

For the conference room, make sure it can comfortably seat everyone on the team. We recently absorbed PE into NPD and Monday morning meetings can get uncomfortable if they run long.

The shop needs what the shop needs. We have several cut and sew stations because we cut and sew. Multiple large work tables, 4’ x 8’ x 3’ tall, storage underneath. Designated storage for each designer. And in 15 years i have never been able to cost-justify a professional 3D printer. But I have a 3D print house down the street who can get me stuff the next day. We also have a shop (bandsaw, sanders, mill, etc), a mixing room (we do formulations), a “clean” manufacturing room and a finished-good storage room.

For work space, I will go against conventional designer wisdom and say there is nothing worse than open concept. It is only good if you want low productivity. If you have the space, i recommend individual offices and large hallways for impromptu meetings/collaborations. In our last buildout, the person in charge was conned by the architects to create “nooks” for impromptu meetings. They have comfy chairs, even a large monitors. They never get used in a group of 40 people. Complete waste of space.

I fall in the middle with office landscape as I believe its best to have open collaborative spaces and then areas that are somewhat private for people who need some dedicated quiet time, offer them many different ways to work, lounge seating, closed spaces, pods, desking, etc. if your budget allows. In my space I would choose sit-to-stand tables that depending on the team I might gang together. This gives much more flexibility than say a benching system.

One thing that I will add that I’ve not seen on here yet is proper lighting which in my opinion is often overlooked and many people haven’t even experienced really great lighting in a work space. Windows are great, but too much and it can cause a lot of issues. My recommendation would be to have a balance of natural light, ceiling lights with somewhat lower levels, and then desk/task and floor lamps for more control by the user. Typically, computer screens give off somewhere of around 25 footcandles. You’re going to want about a 3 to 1 contrast ratio so around 70ish foot candles on a work surface to avoid eye strain (In general). I would also add brightness, dimming, and color temp control as well as high CRI products.

Yes ‘open-plan’ can be an agony for some. IMHO, Collaboration is good, but you have to allow for personality types who need to go heads-down to focus without getting distracted by studio dramas and theatrics.

RE open space: some people hate it. We defiantly had some people struggle, and it isn’t always the one you would think. Some extroverts get too easily distracted, so introverts want to be left alone. Personally I love open offices and always absolutely hated having a private office. I worked super hard in my first corporate gig to “get that office” only to realize I hated it. This time around since I was building the team around me, I also built the office the way I liked it. It certainly took time for people to get used to having pin pong and xbox going in the background in addition to the open meeting space. Big monitors and noise cancelling headphones helped, as did a giant studio sound system that everyone could DJ to. Without the sound system on it sounded like a cacophony in there, but some music over the top smoothed a lot out. When I designed the other spaces for other teams they were different. Finance got cubes and offices, sales ops got a partially shielded desking model… in my experience no matter what 50% of the people will complain and 50% will be ok with it. The benefits of open office are defiantly not efficiency though. Some potential benefits are: seeing what everyone is doing (good for a creative director, maybe not for a designer), smaller footprint, less cost, visually looks good (if you can keep it decently neat, we had to put rules in place around that).

RE light: we had giant overhead tubes (it was previously a light industrial space) that we had switched out for daylight bulbs. When picking pentanes and reviewing samples this is important. A large bank of windows and an 18’ x 22’ roll up door (it was in SoCal, the door could be open almost all the time… which was great but had other draw backs like dust and pollen)… sometimes we shut off the overheads or shut off some of them and did desk lighting for people who preferred that.

We have an open-door culture. If you want to pop down to the CEO’s office and stick your head in, go ahead, knock yourself out. Managers have conversations with those who close their doors and/or draw their blinds (there is a lot of glass with each office, so you are fully visible).

Some offices (they tend to be on the inside corners of intersecting hallways) can be gathering places. I have seen meetings of several people while the “owner” of the office is working on their computer and not a part of the conversation of the others in the office.

Collaboration is vital in any creative space. Offices do not need to be an impediment. I think the culture can control whether walls impede collaboration. Also, our designers spend a lot of time in the shop as we are big on prototypes and not drawings. That is mostly an open space.

I would be interested to know whether people tolerate an open plan or if they thrive in an open plan.

Open v. closed: I think the data is in. People are more efficient in closed offices / cubicles. If you need to pump CAD, sketches ideas, build a model, which is 80% of a staff designer’s job, you need a space that allows you to concentrate.

On the other hand, when I designed an open office space (When I’m wrong, I say I’m wrong), I found that my team worked really well in an open environment. We were all maker types (google “maker time versus manager time”). We were all pumping CAD/sketching/building, so we left each other alone 99% of the time. So distraction wasn’t a problem.

A year later, sales was moved into our space (not my idea) and then distraction was a problem…

Old workshop v. digital build studio: I agree with your thinking Bryan. 3D printers, CNC, laster cutters are just excellent tools today. You get the precision of mass production on your prototypes. Hard to beat it. At my current gig, I’ve been thinking of going the same way. Digital tools in house, contract out the long hours of sanding to someone else:)

My only real word of wisdom: get commercial grade chairs. The Ikea ones break after a year of daily office abuse. They just aren’t made for 8 hours / 5 days a week. They are made for 2 hours / 3 days a week.

great piece on the open vs closed thing… i think the better framework is good vs bad.

thanks for all the feedback.

We literally just opened a brand new, huge, modern office/warehouse in the Midwest as the corporate HQ. It’s predominantly open space with offices for the CEO,CFO, etc. I haven’t even seen it finished yet, I’ll be working there next week.

Our owners and CEO are still coming off that project and are definitely pushing for open office. I think 90% of the companies I’ve worked with have been open office plans for their creative teams but I’ve seen a lot of people construct their own fortress of solitude in an attempt to get some privacy, myself included. I’m personally coming off of almost 5 years of consulting with no boss and no reason to leave my home office on most days so this is a going to be a big transition for me regardless of whether we have walls or not.

We absolutely want to be able to show off this space to impress any business we might want acquire, corporate buyers or future investors so there is as much importance being placed on how “cool” the space is as there is on functionality (i’m certain we’ll be able to create a good balance). This will not be custom build or even a purchase so right now i’m think i just need to keep my mind open as we look at spaces and figure out what works best for the “coolest” space we can find.

my shop budget has been approved, provided we can find a space that accommodates everything we will have all the fun modern rapid prototyping tools along with a small scale, very basic, traditional shop.


If you do go the open office route, there are some great options for add-on privacy these days. Check out what Buzzispace is doing in that arena.

thought this might be relevant :slight_smile:

Also, this circa 1994: Clipper CS-1 Cockpit Cubicle

those look great to me, i have always found ways to build my primary workspace in to a fortress of solitude.

i’m a pretty social dude and love collaboration on concept and development projects but when it comes to the tasks that can only be solved by focused work i like to just put my head down and grind until the job is done. I have a hard time tuning out nearby distractions… have you ever tried to write a pitch while an animal of a salesman makes cold calls 10 feet away from you?

I actually think more social people might have the hardest time with open offices, because we always have that “squirrel!” factor. The only way I’ve had open offices work for me personally is if they are pretty much creative discipline only. I don’t mind another designer looking over my shoulder without notice, but I don’t want someone from sales doing that.

Where Midwest are you moving? Just curious.

Odd thing happened here recently. We had these 120 degree workstations put in with vertical walls between them.

(kind of like this, but with panel walls that are 54" tall)

We had left the top unfinished for a while because we couldn’t decide what color of frosted acrylic to put in, so everyone could see the tops of peoples heads. It was loud, people complained for a while at first but got used to it. Couple weeks ago, we put in 6" tall dividers in, and suddenly…

It’s quieter. Way quieter. BUT… people are collaborating more, communicating more, working together more. It’s really odd, but it’s great. It’s a nice combination of openness and privacy, and I think people are really responding to it.

i’m not moving anywhere, i get to build the creative team around me in NJ/PA the home office has been in Wichita for 30 years and we just moved from an old converted grocery store to a brand new, shiny, ultra modern 100sf corporate headquarters and warehouse. That office is mostly open plan, a huge room of desks divided by 48" walls the top 12" of which are frosted glass.