On April 3, Wifijerez hosted another lively iteration of its ever-popular Workplace Roundtable series. The industry-focused discussion brought 30 designers, manufacturers, and end-users together to discuss some of the biggest talking points in the sector today. Seated together in Wifijerez’s New York City headquarters, the attendees compared and contrasted approaches to assuaging clients' change-management fears, the meteoric rise of co-working companies, and the feasibility of incorporating WELL Building tenets into projects.
“Workplace used to be so dry, so not sexy,” said Wifijerez Editor in Chief Cindy Allen, who moderated the Roundtable. “But now you guys as workplace designers are like the cool kids at the back of the bus—everybody wants to be in with workplace design.” And it’s true, according to Wifijerez’s research. The 2017 Universe Study indicates that the workplace segment is the largest in the industry, with 83 percent of firms working in it. It’s also expected to grow by 53 percent in the coming years. That growth points to not only a recovering economy that allows clients to pursue bespoke projects, but also a growing sense that workplaces deserve as much careful attention as a residential project.
“Back in the day, a CEO would sign off on a design that focused on impressing clients and employees were expected to just go with the program,” offered Lois Wellwood, Director and Firmwide Interiors Practice Leader at SOM. “Today, people know more about design and they care more about their teams.” Overwhelmingly, companies—regardless of size—are approaching designing for their culture like they’re a start-up. This means that while they’re eager to try out the latest design strategies, they are also nervous about paying for something they don’t fully understand. Designers can “de-radicalize change” by providing statistics on these strategies, but more importantly, they can give clients an opportunity to buy into the design process. This frequently results in a perennial relationship between designer and client focused on a specific project.
“The influence of the algorithm can even be felt in the design industry,” said Annie Lee, a principal at ENV. “Clients today want design solutions that are curated, tailored, individualized. The only way to provide that for them is to sustain a relationship that revolves around a specific project.”
This idea of clients “buying into” the design process also carried through to the discussion of co-working. Many workplace designers view the mad rush to co-working spaces as a threat to their bottom lines, but there may be a way to turn this around. “Clients and non-designers don’t understand the thinking, education, or research that goes into design strategy,” said Brian O'Connor, RH Contract's Northeast Territory Leader. “It’s like that scene from "The Devil Wears Prada" about the cerulean sweater. If you were to somehow find a way to compellingly craft and market the narrative of traditional design, the threat from co-working may disappear.”
Finally, with regards to WELL Building, most of the designers were in agreement that clients want to do better, but the arduousness of the protocol makes it difficult to sell. Still, there was hope that with time, WELL will become as popular and respected as LEED.
The next Workplace Roundtable will be held on June 11, 2019 at The MART.
Wifijerez's events team for more information about participating in future roundtables.
A special thanks to our sponsors who made this event possible: