The UX of Office Interiors: A Minted Case Study
Workplace interiors are never as easy as picking color swatches, dog-earing IKEA catalogues, or making sure there are enough cushy bean bags and standing desks.
Anyone in the design bubble has always known this. Luckily, the “good design is good business” mantra has finally hit mainstream, at least in the tech context, where properly designing products for web and mobile is almost second nature. As a workplace designer I have yet to see that level of priority placed on interiors outside of the tech industry; particularly because prioritizing original art, investing in good furniture, and other matters of taste are easily perceived as excessive. But when design is approached strategically, then investing in good, simple design solutions is actually more fruitful in the big picture.
To better understand the rewards of well-designed workspaces, I find it helpful to first align with the true definition of design as a general discipline, while making some comparisons to user experience in the mobile/tech world.
Design: Not Just 'Decor'
When you think of stereotypical decor, also known as styling, you might think Marie Antoinette levels of ornamentation. These are things all designers can accomplish on the surface-level of their work, but it doesn't always require outrageous budgets.
In business, the overarching perception of design has grown beyond the sheen of fluffy “decor” and into a deeper, more integrated connection with specific objectives. Tech calls this User Experience. UX “is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product.” (Wikipedia)
In tech, UX is under the design umbrella. For web/mobile, this means designing apps and sites that don’t just look cool, but are easy to navigate with little effort so that anyone can easily get what they need from the experience. Results require lots of intimate partnership and collaboration between coders and designers.
It’s similar for interiors. Because architects traditionally take care of spatial planning, interior designers are often “handed” the space to style. But if we are part of the full-cycle process of creating a space, we are able to work closely with an architect and client in the same way that web designers work with developers. Collaboration is crucial to creating the most effectively branded space for the client’s needs, Cipher Mak at UXPin writes a sharp comparison that likens interior design to "walking into the product."
Design in this process becomes not just superficial add-on, or a budgetary afterthought. The design becomes the business, and an opportunity for it to grow in measurable ways.
Minted: An Interior UX Case Study
To clarify these thoughts, let's walk you through one of our projects. My team and I put a lot of thought into embedding strategy into our design process for corporate clients. One that stands out is Minted.
Headquartered in the financial district of San Francisco, the company stands for creativity, independence, and the meritocratic distribution of art and design for the home by an online community.
A consultation stage for getting to know the client and their objectives.
Positioning itself as a marketplace for independent creatives, the company serves both designers and buyers and streamlines a platform for them to do business. The goal was to match the cozy, do-it-yourself aesthetics of the online community and lead the employees through a metamorphosis in comfort, function, and community.
An idea stage for visualizations and storytelling about the space.
We translated this strategy into a home for Minted, setting out to create a space that acted more like a working retreat than a typical office. The vision boards and eventual plan aimed to provide a feeling of a home that powerfully expressed their branding to its community of diverse stakeholders while establishing a spatial flow that allowed Minted’s production and engineering teams to collaborate effectively.
Designing the Interior Architecture.
We focused on characterizing spaces for varied function and comfort that supported a very collaborative environment. At home you may start at your desk, then move your laptop to the couch, the kitchen table for a snack, then ultimately find yourself on the floor, stretching out. For Minted, we worked with the architects to envision and create room to work in a variety of positions. Our custom designed personal workstations are three different ergonomic heights with pinboards upholstered in Minted fabric to encourage employees to personalize their spaces. Sofas, and loungers provide community work areas along with tables, counters, and quiet rooms.
Finalizing furniture and finishings within budget.
Because Minted is a community of artists and designers, we used Minted community art to compliment the office decor. From large framed photos, shelves displaying framed greeting cards, and a wall collage of individual art cards, we surrounded the office’s inhabitants with crowdsourced creativity to connect them with their work and their users.
By incorporating very domestic elements into the design, we also ensured that folks would feel comfortable and relaxed within their environment. Walls of old books suggest a home library. A stylized fireplace uses cut logs and hundred year old reclaimed beams to evoke a dinning room feel next to a fifteen-foot table handcrafted from a single piece of Monterey Cyprus. Beautiful brass candle pots offer calming scents. A game room provides a place to rest and recharge.
The functionality of these decorative elements is simple: they achieved the branding goal quite successfully to create a meaningful destination for the employees, stakeholders, and consumers who are passionate about the Minted mission.
Construct & Install //
Working with contractors to style & finish the space.
We don't have access to specific numbers, but we observed the many employees who were moved into the space during the ongoing construction and installation phases for Minted’s two floors. As the space was built while they were using it, my team was able to make adjustments based on their behavior. By the end we had noticed a massive and visible shift in overall demeanor and ease of collaboration.
“To make a difference, therefore, architecture must not only facilitate users’ activities but also create meaningful destinations. Office design should not focus on making a better cubicle but rather on ensuring that the workplace is an environment that employees would choose freely above others—a place in which they are inspired to do their best work.” (Architect Magazine)
Don't Forget to Tell a Story
There will always be some who only see design at the surface-level; that web designers only pick out cool fonts and colors, or that I am around to caress textures and scout for unique lighting fixtures. With the rise of UX, I think more people are starting to agree that design driven by process and goals is the investment everyone needs to be making, especially in their working environments.
But that doesn’t quite mean taste and emotion are out of the equation. Styling may not solve anything on it’s own, but styling with strategy is a big part of building a successful space. Tap into the story, feelings and behaviors of your company mission and especially of your employees; not simply doing what management thinks looks good.
When we designers do our jobs right, the spaces decorate themselves.