In your space: DDB leaves the stuffy boardroom

At the end of 2012, in an effort to step out of the stuffy boardroom atmosphere that typifies the rigid corporate world, DDB’s management team instructed the agency’s then in-house interior designer Campbell Johnson (now owner of Campbell Johnson Design) to renovate the Auckland offices and make the space more inviting to visitors.

According to Johnson, the renewal of DDB’s lease at the premises served as impetus for the team to make some changes.

“I had a team of two to three freelancers assisting me in the project, in particular Fiona Buchanan (a very talented interior designer) was a key force in helping me eventuate the design,” says Johnson.

A key tenet of any creative exploit lies in the ability to show rather than tell, and Johnson says that this was clear a motivation underpinning the redesign of the building.

“We wanted a space where clients could think more freely. It had to be different from the old boardroom feel that was stuffy and contained,” says the designer.

Nowhere is this liberal design approach more evident than on the creative floor, where you are greeted by a museum-inspired theme upon exiting the elevator.

“[Fiona and I] looked at the evolution of an idea and used the skeletal forms to give a literal interpretation of an idea evolving over time. The foyer space really celebrates the explosion of an idea as you exit the elevator, and this is then filtered throughout the floor, but obviously not as prominently,” says Johnson.    

“As an advertising agency, DDB sees itself as being dynamic and the team wanted to show this quality off in the design of the office space,” says Johnson. “What you now have is freedom of form, freedom of colour and freedom of nature.”

But while the creative aspect was important, it was also essential for the office space to retain its functionality and not impede those that were at work inside.  And for this reason, Johnson explains that the creative elements in the design of the space serve to complement the utility of the office.

This strategy is clearly evidenced in the placement of a separate brainstorming room—complete with three beanbags, a bright green carpet and a quirky illustration on the wall—alongside a more traditional open-plan office.

However, DDB’s Auckland abode is not unique when it comes to quirkiness. As company owners start to see value in engaging with customers on a more personal level, it’s becoming increasingly common to see businesses adopt a more creative approach when it comes to office design.

ASB’s recent office upgrade is a prime example of this and shows that even industries traditionally considered rigid and conservative are starting to embrace more free-flowing, open-plan office spaces conducive to collaboration not only between the business and clients but also between employees.

 In an effort to increase the sociability of the office space, Johnson says he made the controversial design decision of shifting all the coffee machines to the seventh level, where a common floor was established.

“Previously, the behaviour of the staff was very floor-centric in the sense that people stuck to their specific floors and didn’t mingle on other levels. We decided to change this.”

While Johnson admits that there was a risk of mutinous uprising due to this move, he says that the team eventually warmed to the idea and he also claims that none of the coffee machines have been move back down to the other floors thus far.

But the relocation of the caffeine fountains wasn’t the only logistical challenge that Johnson had to overcome when effecting the changes. Because the entire team was still working while the renovation was taking place, he also had shift bodies up and down the floors.

“It was a big challenge, logistically. We periodically shifted people onto other floors, forcing them to work in smaller spaces. Everyone was pretty outstanding. They all adapted to working in the smaller space pretty quickly and just got on with it.”

He also says that budget constraints meant that they had to improvise in some instances to ensure that a theme was still integrated into certain spaces.

“We initially wanted to create a living wall at the café, but budget constraints meant that we had to find and alternative solution. So instead of using real plants, we used a graphic instead. I think that this really stands as testament to how talented my team was. They took the creative idea and brought it to life within the budget.”

Staying within the budget was also made a bit easier because Johnson could rely on the illustration skills of in-house creative talent Toby Morris who did the artwork for the graphics that now adorn the walls of the office space.   


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