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Alicia Visits Steelcase

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Good design is what we live for – what we strive for, as architects. We are constantly on the search to create something new, beautiful, helpful, useful, and good for our clients. A recent trip made me realize that, as a designer, there are other ways of thinking about ‘good design’ and how I can make it happen for my clients.

I was fortunate to join Interior Workplace Solutions on a trip to the Steelcase Headquarters in Grand Rapids, MN this past month. Their beautiful campus showcases all their product lines, but also tells a story about good design. The entire campus is on a constant track of reinvention and research of the workplace. Years ago, Steelcase began to deconstruct their workspaces and move teams of people so that they could monitor them and research the way they work. This was a risky, but very rewarding experiment. During the trip, myself and other designers from the Lehigh Valley met with different people at Steelcase and listened intently to how they redesigned their HQ and found themselves at a place where every employee is now working to their potential in the spaces they choose.

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Designers are great at focusing on one project and seeing all the different parts come together – from the lighting and signage, to how furniture functions within the space. The genius research team at Steelcase asked us to look at the bigger picture in design – and notice how each client has a purpose – or a brand – and that designing for that brand should encourage the behavior & culture within that company. And that designers can also be the key to help organizations discover their brand and their purpose.

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We also listened to their HR director discuss the importance of work rituals and coordination between employees and their leadership. Employees develop their individual work rituals, and the rituals that help teams work better together. These can be as small as passing through the kitchen each morning for coffee, or as big as scheduling meetings during specific times to collaborate with offices in another time zone. The leadership in a company should recognize these rituals so that they can work better together. And of course, the physical environment affects employee rituals and the way employees interact and coordinate with leadership. We could clearly see these concepts come to life at Steelcase, and recognize how we can use them to help our clients.

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The furniture throughout the campus illustrated all the ideas we discussed that day – the use of Architectural Walls to create private spaces, meeting rooms, and encourage transparency where needed… comfortable ergonomic seats for long group meetings… benching and small coves where one person could plug in their laptop and work in quiet. We toured Turnstone and Steelcase Health and learned about their most current pieces and how they can be incorporated into our designs. Technology is fully integrated into their product lines, so that customers can always find ways to connect to other people & places when they need to, and take their work with them wherever they go. The versatility of their products is amazing. It was so clear to us as we walked through the campus that employees utilized the spaces and furniture to their full capacity – and were working the way they needed to.

I most definitely have a newfound respect for Steelcase. And I look forward to helping my clients by supporting their culture, brand, and purpose… and always give them good design.

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Here I am with the other designers on the trip at the Frank Lloyd Wright Meyer May House in Grand Rapids:

Group Photo at Meyer May House