How we built a creative workspace to boost the impact of our design team

#better-by-design #dbs-uxd #office

TL;DR — Building a creative workspace is one effective way of nurturing diversity, collective spirit and an energetic environment for your team. For our design team, our new creative workspace helps us showcase why good design matters.

Our team got a great start to 2019: We moved into our new office location at the DBS Digital Basecamp in Singapore. Our new space allows us to continue growing comfortably, and it’s purpose-made for the way we work, enabling us to deliver high-quality digital products and services.

But getting here has been quite a journey.

When we moved in (2014 July). It was quite a sad set-up 😭

Humble beginnings: Why we needed a Design Studio

In 2014, when we started building the first in-house design team at DBS Bank, user experience and design were new areas for the organisation. We were starting from scratch, and most people didn’t know what designers, UX researchers or writers actually did, or how to interact with us even if they wanted to.

The bank had a few typical rooms available to us—board rooms, war rooms, trading rooms, meeting rooms, focus rooms, and so on. Those rooms came with a fixed table and chair set-up that did not encourage team interaction and collaboration. So I requested to convert two typical small meeting rooms into a ‘Design Studio’. We had three important requirements:

  1. Floor-to-ceiling whiteboard (later we changed this to glass board, which was easier to keep clean ;-)
  2. Tables on wheels, chairs, and stools
  3. A big screen
In 2015, we connected two meeting rooms to make one big room for our Design Studio.

With a Design Studio, we were able to run our working processes, like design sprints and design reviews, with the wider cross-functional teams right out of that shared space. It also gave us space where we could draw to think, talk to share ideas, and get away from the typical meeting room (that no one actually likes to sit in for more than 30 minutes).

For four years, the Design Studio served as our home base where we came up with the key ideas for our digital channels and products. We used the room for everything:

  1. Design sprints
  2. Design critiques and reviews
  3. Monthly team meetings 🙌🏼
  4. Team birthday celebrations 🎂
  5. Design whiteboard sessions

Bursting at the seams

This first Design Studio could fit around 20 people, maximum. But our team kept growing, and we could no longer fit everyone inside for our monthly team meeting. We eventually had to sit outside the studio space, and the team was a little scattered. Not only that, we were located in two different offices, with our Design Studio in one and our Usability Testing Lab in the other.

But as our team grew, so did the influence and the visibility of the work we did. And in 2018, we started working on the next versions of our Design Studio and Usability Testing Lab with the team in charge of designing our offices. The goal was to create a new space purpose-built for the way we work now, and where the whole wider digital team could sit together.

We ran design sprints with cross-functional teams in our design studio

A whiteboard is the best tool for collaboration and getting everyone to visualise the same ideas.

Today: The way we work reflects our culture

After the five years spent in a temporary office, we now have a creative workspace that fits who we are and the way we work. We applied the same design principles to it as to our original Design Studio—but on a larger scale. The result is a joyful, functional space that works for all of us.

Here’s how we did it:

Get the basics right

We spend more than eight hours a day in the office, so an ergonomic desk set-up is important. We focused on the basics: Height-adjustable desks, wide-screen monitors, and chair options like a yoga ball or a cycling chair 🚴🏻‍♀️🚴🏽‍♂️.

Make space for me-time and team-time

Like most designers, we work in two different modes: Individual creation and collaborative teamwork. Our office needs to work for both.

We did some research on the pros and cons of an open office, and we focused on key fixes to make sure we could work in both modes productively. For example, we took steps to reduce noise from hallways and meeting rooms, and clustered seating into smaller groups with plants and space in between.

Maximise brightness and greenery

We made the floor plan as open as possible, maximised the amount of natural light and air flow, and added lots of real plants to the mix 🌱. The drop-ceiling was making the space feel claustrophobic, so we opted to remove it and expose the piping and vents instead.

Encourage curiosity

We wanted our office to express the curiosity of children at play, and encourage the same in our work. That’s why we chose ‘Playground’ as the theme for the new space. You can find glimpses of it across the office—like in our meeting rooms that are named after playground favourites such as Monkey Bars 🐵, Rock-Paper-Scissors, and Campfire.

Add touches of care

To finish off, we added a little lighting magic: our canteen lights up with a colourful lighting show every evening. We also provide things like weekly fresh fruit and healthy snacks, and a multi-purpose room that can be converted into a ping-pong room or a yoga studio.

At our grand opening on 8 March 2019

How you can get started building a creative workspace

If you’re just starting out building your Design Team, you might find yourself in the same situation we did five years ago—with no dedicated creative workspace. Here’s what I’d recommend you do:

  • Build an internal usability testing lab first
  • Get buy-in from your leadership for a special room dedicated to boosting creativity (i.e. a Design Studio)
  • Use those two rooms as much as possible and with as many different teams as possible. The whole wider team will experience a different workflow and interact with each other more.
  • If you are low on budget, go with function first—then improve the form over time (It took us almost five years to get a purpose-built room!).
Our old usability lab on the left (which we built with help from the former HCD team 🤝), and our new observation room and usability lab on the right.

As a design leader, putting time and effort into your space is key. A dedicated space for your team helps boost the visibility of the work you do and gives you a way to show others how design works. Ultimately, building a creative workspace can help you boost the design maturity at your company.

DBS Design

Stories from the UX design team at DBS Bank in Singapore.

DBS Design

Stories from the UX design team at DBS Bank in Singapore. And you can always visit us at home: dbsbank.design

Chooake Wongwattanasilpa

Written by

Chief Experience Officer @Bank of Singapore; former Chief Design Officer @DBS Bank; @PayPal Asia-Pacific; @Motorola Devices, @Morningstar Inc.

DBS Design

Stories from the UX design team at DBS Bank in Singapore. And you can always visit us at home: dbsbank.design

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