First, I should say that the title of this article is a little bit of a misnomer. The company I am talking about is R/GA and they are historically much more than just an ad agency. They started off as a movie studio. Or at least, one of the companies that would assist movie studios when they wanted to get into the, at the time, very new world of computer graphics. They were on an Oscar winning team for their work on the 1979 movie Superman.
Once computer assisted graphics started becoming more commonplace R/GA transitioned. This was partially because of the increased competition but also because of the founder’s decree that they should always look to transition into a better industry every nine years.
The next big opportunity? Digital advertising on a new platform called the internet. They designed IBM’s website along with many other early internet adopters. This move, away from a static connection with an audience, like a movie, and towards an interactive experience like a web page opened up a whole new world of experiential design. Now they are making another pivot by taking their feedback and analytical approach to design to connected spaces.
I have always seen designers as the middle-ground between artists and engineers. They take into consideration resource constraints and strive for efficiencies while remembering that appeal is also an important design characteristic. Artists always have the impact of their creation on its audience in mind, something that builders, marketers and building managers tend to overlook.
A good designer can design anything. That is why it doesn’t surprise me that R/GA would be able to find a unique approach to placemaking. Luckily, they had a perfect test case to show their ability to create a connected space: their own headquarters. After years of having multiple offices throughout New York they decided to bring the whole team together in a single office. They rented out 100,000 square-foot-plus on two levels of a building in the Hudson Yards area of Manhattan.
Rather than immediately focusing on the nuts and bolts of an office layout, they applied their design principles by first establishing the themes that the company wanted to embody with its new physical space. They came up with four and categorized them in order of importance: connection, collaboration, inspiration and operating efficiency.
The first thing that jumps out to me is that operating efficiency is last. In the world of enterprise IoT sales this is always the first sales point. The companies that want to integrate IoT technology usually have a very different set of priorities. They see the technology as a way to support the company’s culture, not the other way around. The gains that can be made from increased productivity, collaboration and creativity can make a company’s TI spend seem inconsequential.
To show how these design concepts can come together the R/GA office is somewhat of a tour de force for thoughtfully connected spaces. The two large, adjacent floors were painstakingly connected with an open stairway. This physically connects the giant office in a way that no digital medium would ever be able to. They also installed a giant display around the entire office that constantly shows each project being worked on and the team that is working on it. The thought is that there are often crossovers between creative projects, so this is a way to try to foster possible collaborations.
To create a digital bridge between the space and the people using it, they have created an app that is both useful and inspirational. Conference rooms can be booked in the application and personalized settings are automatically shared with the room that the user is in. Inaudible sound devices have been set up in certain rooms that allow the app to bring up more information about anything that is on the display at the time.
The inspiration comes from the way the app connects to the company’s staggering 2,000 piece art collection. The art was specifically chosen from the founder’s personal collection and are all created by untrained artists who suffered a period of isolation. This commitment to artistic theme is a great example of how R/GA is brining their creative design experience to placemaking.
I have always wondered why so much of a the conversation about office design focuses on the details of the technology and not what the technology can do. R/GA is not your average office designer. They understand that the technology is only a conduit for the people and ideas that make a company successful. The future of connected spaces is about human connection, not technology. It took a creative agency like R/GA design a space that plays to emotions that drive so much of our human experience. If other companies innovating office design remember the importance of emotion, our spaces will likely be more creative and our work more fulfilling.