Mike McKeown


7 min read

The aesthetics of your first office space (and every office space after that) are important. Mike McKeown with Gensler tells how to approach office space design:

Gensler is a global architecture, design, and planning firm with 46 offices and over 5,000 professionals. We are distinguished by an unwavering commitment to our clients’ success. Everything we design, from the innovations we imagine to the value we deliver, reflects our clients’ priorities and their opportunities for sustained success.

About Gensler

Gensler provides local focus with a global perspective. We work across 31 specialized practice areas to provide a robust interdisciplinary approach everything we do. We have over 200 professionals based in Dallas working on projects ranging from strategic consulting, corporate workplace, brand design, hospitality, mixed use, retail, lifestyle, and community spaces.

With 50 years of design excellence, here are a few things of which we are particularly proud:

  • #1 Top 100 Giants (Interior Design Magazine, 2016)
  • “America’s Most Admired Practice” (Architectural Record, 2016)
  • “Best Places to Work” (Glassdoor, 2016)
  • 100% Employee Owned
  • 85% repeat clients

All You Need To Know About Designing Your First Office

Moving into your first office is a noteworthy accomplishment. Your first office signifies success, growth, stability, and a commitment to your employees and customers. Much like any major transition, the process can be both exciting and stressful.

As you begin this journey, it is important to realize your workplace is a reflection of your company, your brand, and your culture. If designed properly, it can be one of your greatest business assets, having a positive impact on your employees, your customers, and the community at large.

So where do you begin? Here are a few suggestions to get the ball rolling:

Step 1: Hire an Experienced Design Team

Assuming you are already working with a real estate broker, the next step is to find a design team experienced with corporate and commercial office projects. The reason to partner with an experienced team is because there will be more people than you expect involved with your project, and navigating the players and the process can get tricky. Some of the players include your real estate broker, designer, contractor, subcontractors, landlord, furniture vendor, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, security, fire protection, and AV consultants, to name a few. Understanding their process, requirements, and jargon can be overwhelming. That’s where an experienced design team and project manager will be your best friend.

Step 2: Establish Your Vision and Point of View

Before we design anything for our clients, we work with them to uncover their vision and point of view. Depending on how many decision-makers are involved in your process, there will likely be different aspirational and functional goals as well as some real-world constraints that need to be taken into consideration. Building consensus on these issues as early as possible will help you and your design team prioritize goals.

It is also important to establish a shared design vocabulary. When asking clients to describe what they want from a workplace, they may throw out words such as “cool”, “modern”, “collaborative”, or “innovative”. We find these words can be vague and often have different meanings to different people. It is beneficial to work with lots of imagery during these discussions to articulate your desires more effectively.

While every project is unique, we find that some common goals include creating a workplace that is approachable, easy to manage, has flexibility to evolve with your business, and provides the right balance of spaces and technology to support people to do their best work.

Step 3: Establish Your Space Needs

Aside from building consensus on your vision, you also have to figure out exactly what needs to go into your space. And there will be more options than you think. Translating your vison into physical space is more than just figuring out how many desks or offices you need. A few things to consider:

  • How long do you intend to be in the space? A longer lease may justify a larger investment.
  • How much do you expect your workforce to grow over time? Consider planning for flexibility to minimize downtime and disruptions as your workforce grows.
  • Do you plan to allocate space hierarchically or democratically (i.e. will you assign space based on job titles or will everyone get similar space)?

Using your vision as a guide, think about how to balance out the spaces to support people in various work modes. At Gensler, our research has established that people typically work in the following five core work modes and need space to support them when they:

  • Focus: spaces to support heads down, individual work when concentration is vital.
  • Collaborate: spaces to come together to effectively solve problems as a group.
  • Learn: spaces where people can learn new skills in larger or small groups. Learning can happen either formally (e.g. training) or informally (e.g. mentorship).
  • Socialize: spaces to socialize help create more personal connections and create a stronger feeling of unity and community.
  • Recharge: spaces to relax and unwind to promote wellness and balance, helping to mitigate the buildup of stress.

Addressing these work modes can create a workplace that provides proper choice and balance to support various work styles to make you people most effective.

Step 4: Explore Design Opportunities

Once you have established your vision and space needs, your design team can begin exploring office space design opportunities. If you are still in the process of evaluating various building options, this phase can help you see the layout opportunities and constraints each building may offer. It is important not to work in a bubble at this point. Having your design team visit each potential location will inspire some of the aesthetic direction of the project. At this point your design team will begin looking into aesthetic opportunities, everything from furniture layouts, paint colors, finishes, lighting, flooring, and equipment. These options should always tie back to the initial vision and goals. A few things to consider with the aesthetic qualities of your office:

Design in 3D. A lot of people can’t read floor plans very well. Creating a 3D computer model, color renderings, or even 3D printed models can be a tremendous help to visualize how the various design elements come together. Be careful with color, materials, and signage. Some young companies are eager to put up a bunch of fun branding, paint the walls in their bold brand colors, but consider that your brand may evolve over the first couple years of your business. It is important to identify areas where color and brand signage may be most impactful, then have a plan to implement it and potentially let it evolve over time. The balance of color and signage should be thoughtful.

Consider where to get the most bang for your buck. Project budgets are often discussed in terms of cost per square foot, but that doesn’t mean the money gets spent evenly throughout the space. Consider the flow of the space and where you may want to invest more money to have the greatest impact. For instance, some clients will spend more money in the up-front, client facing areas, with nicer furniture and finishes, as well as nice work cafes and collaboration spaces outfitted with more comfortable furniture and great technology. Some of these elements should be considered up front when you establish your vision.

Tying it all Together

Design is a team sport. Therefore, when planning your future office, it is important to invest the time and focus into the process. It is nearly impossible to tell a designer “make something cool” and then have them show up later with a finished product that satisfies all your needs. The most successful projects are those that are true partnerships, where everyone is willing to roll up their sleeves and dive into the details, working together towards a common goal. In reality, your design team doesn’t design the space for you, they design it with you.

written by Mike McKeown

As Strategy Director and Regional Practice Area Leader of Gensler, Mike provides leadership to the Consulting practice across Dallas, Houston, and Austin for collaboration on new business development, ongoing client relationships, and area innovation and revenue growth.

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