Inside The Modern Design Office

From building a corporate culture to integrating technology in intuitive ways, here’s how three leading design firms are redefining the modern office.

tech that works (and wows)
This is something desired by most companies in the digital age, but it seems that design firms have been among the first to figure out how to integrate all of the necessary systems smoothly, and in ways that enhance productivity without interrupting the flow of the design process itself.

At Quadrangle's new office, employees can take advantage of office-wide Wi-Fi and AV support, allowing them to work anywhere in the 17,000-square-foot space, from the bench-style desking overlooking the city's skyline or the numerous glazed meeting rooms. "We have a work-anywhere technology backbone," Robbie says. "This freedom allows us to leverage the collective knowledge of our firm better." Lighting systems can be controlled remotely by smartphones and each staff member's VOIP phone and computer, conserving energy and improving lighting quality, particularly for those with low vision.

The technology found in Cannon Design's Chicago space is similarly integrated, with differing levels of technology support spread across the office's 20 different work settings. Teaming areas include projectors and whiteboards, or flat screen monitors. Magnetic wall surfaces can be written on, and include e-beam tools that enable electronic mark-ups that can be saved and shared. Employees can log onto their computers from anywhere inside or outside of the office.

"Pretty much everything is electronic, so if [an employee] is bringing a client through for the first time, they can sit down in front of a teaming area or go to the lounge, pull up a monitor, and tell a story or share insights on any given project live," says Hirons. "It really brings [technology] to a much more intuitive perspective, as opposed to it sometimes being a barrier."

Employees in Ziegler Cooper's Houston office enjoy many of the same tools, including 90-inch plasma screens and software that allows them to make live markups on drawings and images for clients hundreds or thousands of miles away. ("Our clients have gotten so comfortable with the technology they don't even come to our office," Ziegler quips.) As of last year, the firm also equips all of its new designers with iPads, allowing them to make presentations on any of the Apple TV-equipped monitors around the office.

But for all of this, perhaps one of Ziegler Cooper's most forward-thinking tech investments has been in wood. The firm invested in a laser-cut model and paint shop in its basement space, giving it the ability to create "seductive, miniature-scaled" basswood models early in the design process. According to Ziegler, it provides the firm with the ability to "bring the sculptural aspects of the design and the materiality in the renderings" to the client more quickly. It also has a way of capturing clients' imaginations in irreversible ways.

"We have won more assignments with those laser-cut minis," he says. "When you create one of those objects of desire, your clients become attached very early on to design, where you don't have to ever defend your design anymore."

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