This article is part of our June series about the future of work. Click here for more.
Corporate headquarters have long been a canvas for displaying the goals and aspirations of the businesses operating within them.
Just consider, since the mid-century, how many institutions have acquired a sculpture by Alexander Calder to stand proudly at the entrance to their offices? These giant, modern steel structures, bold in color, sent a strong message: Much like Calder’s own art, we are innovative, forward-thinking, and will continue to push our industry forward. Welcome to our future.
Fast-forward to a few years ago, when George Soros’s firm commissioned James Turrell to create a chamber for clients to inhabit as part of their visit. Surely, Soros wished to create a unique experience intended to encourage his clients to think differently and consider his unique investing perspectives.
Whether accomplished by art, artistic experience, well-designed and functional spaces, or free food, corporations communicate their values, mission, and culture through their spaces. But now the experience design of corporate space goes beyond a robust art program. At some companies, these spaces function as data-rich visual, physical, and digital experiences that reveal information about their employees, behaviors, culture, and impact of their products or services.
Even with online or application experience as major forces in the way a company represents itself to the world, do not underestimate the power of real-life, real-world experiences that unite people under one roof as a driver for brand connection, empathy, and partnership. And as brands continue to recognize the limitless potential of their own data, they can take several key steps to turn their corporate spaces into valuable expressions of their identities.
1. Go beyond interior design style, candy offerings, and operational comfort: Leverage the data/digital aspects of your company, its people, customers, products, and services. This data can be internal or external, private or public, radically variable, or reasonably static. No matter the source, a company’s data can function as a fingerprint, unique to each corporation because it is intrinsically tied to the company’s core activities. For example, in one of Deutsche Bank’s headquarters, it displays interesting visualizations that reflect the company’s unique insights on market data. Bring that to life in powerful, evergreen ways, and you will have a true representation of your company.
2. Turn your digital products into real-world experiences: As part of a visitor’s on-campus experience, there are plenty of opportunities to sit down and demonstrate the power and functionality of your products and services. If people are committing their time and effort to visit you at the epicenter of your business, among your own people, on your own turf, give them an experience that delivers a unique look into your company. Turn your digital platforms into human, interactive experiences that speak to your mission and vision. Dolby does this by running an art program in its San Francisco headquarters that displays artwork that utilizes Dolby sound as a creative input.
3. Use the complete canvas of your three-dimensional space: Most consumers, clients, and business partners of a company interface with its products and services through a digital rectangle—websites, web apps, mobile apps, desktop applications, and communications platforms. These are all incredibly powerful, functional, and efficient. But when your company has the power of its own three-dimensional architectural space at its disposal, get out of the digital rectangle and into the real world. As we did with our “Deep City” experience for Google, put your audience inside of something unique, not just in front of a bunch of digital screens on a wall.
4. Turn your workplace culture into a digital mirror: Reflect the unique aspects of your company’s history, the way people interact and work, your shared mission, their working style, etc.—and mirror that back to your own people. Uber’s data visualizations in its San Francisco headquarters are a perfect example of this, bringing to life the real-time activity of its teams and partners. It has even gone so far as to release an open-source version to help others gain insights into the company’s data ecosystem. Like a North Star, these forms can act as a reminder of your vision and collective achievements.
5. Make the environment reflective of a shared mission: If your mission is to help people, solve problems, connect people, or save people money, then create something in your corporate experience that motivates in a tangential way. For example, United Therapeutics, which makes biotech and life-saving pharma, decided to create a sustainable, net zero, energy-neutral building because it’s in line with the company’s overall mission to help people and the world. While a tangential experience, it aligns with United Therapeutics’ culture and values.
Companies have long spent a significant amount of time, money, and focus optimizing the environments for their employees, partners, and guests. These spaces, their architecture, artwork, messaging, and materials, are usually designed to demonstrate culture, collaboration, and vision. However, they can also be built to stir deeper, more resonant affinities.
When companies create experiences with emotional impact within their own walls, they can generate a lifetime of partners and employees that act as brand advocates. These experiences can help express the internal truths of the company. By leveraging digital and data to help drive those emotional connections, each environment can send a message that demonstrates their relationship to technology, innovation, and their impact on the world.