Why brand and culture are so important to interior design

17th July 2014

At this year’s British Council for Offices annual conference, Helen Berresford was asked to debate the importance of culture when designing workplaces.

Many people focus discussions on the physical changes in offices - for example, the rise of collaborative break-out spaces and how technology is shaping working styles - so I was pleased to have an opportunity to look at the more abstract principles informing design. More specifically, how brand values and culture - when correctly interpreted by a designer - can allow organisations to attract and engage with staff, students and clients.

Where do you start when designing a workplace interior? In my experience, it’s vital to listen and make sure you understand the organisation you’re working with. For example, when working with Channel 4 – through conversations with C4’s staff– we understood that the last thing they wanted was gimmicks. No slide. No bean bags. They wanted workplaces that encapsulated the spirit of the company.

The interior design had to live up to Channel 4’s “Serious Fun” strap line. It had to be consistent with a company that took risks and tackled tough subjects. After all, this is the organisation that marketed its coverage of the 2012 Paralympics with the powerful, provocative slogan “Thanks for the warm-up”. This awareness of brand and culture was the starting point for our refurbishment of Channel 4’s London HQ. Not IT provision and not the number of desks.

Upstream ideas relating to the culture of the organisation formed the foundation of the brief we work to, whilst also having a direct impact on the physical spaces we created for Channel 4. For example, we created the ‘Basecamp’ space at C4, which was a significant area of reclaimed space on the lower ground floor. Re-using empty technical space in a lower ground floor we installed a mezzanine floor, exposed existing load bearing concrete beams, creating a new boardroom complex. Essentially, this involved establishing key meeting space in a windowless basement – not many clients would entertain this, but for Channel 4 the risk of reinterpreting this space was worth taking – and it paid off! Basecamp became an atmospheric area for focused meetings and work, and is now one of the most popular spaces in the whole building.

This idea of using culture is not just relevant for media organisations, it is also applicable to the corporate world of professional services. With clients like KPMG, it was vital to understand their ambitions and how their physical office space could help them achieve them. It is incredibly important for KMPG to attract the best and brightest staff which often involves recruiting a large numbers of graduates. When the competition for talent is fierce, workplaces can help sell the company to prospective staff.

After this abstract concept of what a workplace should do is identified, the physical shape of the office can take place. Interior spaces are not only an extension of a company’s brand but one of the most powerful ways of communicating it to staff, clients and potential recruits.

Helen Berresford RIBA

Partner, Head of ID:SR