How we designed the Design Studio at Juniper Networks
Why does Juniper Networks, a 20-year-old networking company, need a design studio? Over the past years, Juniper Networks has made an investment in user experience and design. As design plays a greater role in shaping Juniper’s product offerings, we wanted a physical space to evangelize our design process and engage with other teams throughout the company. For design to thrive within an organization, not only do you need the raw talent, but you also need to develop a culture where everyone understands how UX and design adds value to the product and the business — and a good way to develop that culture is making your mark with an open and creative space.
How can an open design space help share ideas and inspire? As we evolve the space and work in it, we want the space to help us:
- Live visually so that we can showcase, refer, and share
- Co-create and discuss, debate, brainstorm, and critique together
- Inspire, showcase future ideas, and excite
- Engage and encourage executives, managers, and engineers to review together
- Educate non-designers on what we do and how we do it
- Evangelize to help us bring visibility to UX as a function within the company
Because of this, we wanted to create a space for ourselves where we can be vocal about design, be creative, and invite others into our design process.
When we got the opportunity to design our design studio, we wanted it to reflect the UX team’s eclectic interests and backgrounds. Oscar Bejarano, a Juniper UX designer, and Natasha Shimuk, a Juniper UX researcher, drove the effort forward to make it a creative space with fun, bright details that inspire.
One of the first things we thought about was how to optimize the area to create an open space. We wanted to move away from cubicles to an open desk plan. Also, we wanted a central meeting area where we could invite stakeholders to design presentations and talk shop.
We took advantage of a company-wide initiative to move toward open office spaces and looked at other team spaces for inspiration. Inspired by the Juniper marketing team’s space, Natasha says, “We were following in their footsteps, because the company was moving toward an open-desk environment and coming out of the old desk cubicle set-up.”
Very rarely is the sky the limit when it comes to budgeting for an office space and furniture. We wanted to be resourceful and conscious of adhering to the style of the existing office space. We were able to recycle under-utilized furniture from throughout the company buildings and took advantage of mixing and matching chairs, end tables, sofas, and cabinets — this helped us budget and invest in some statement decor that imbues the space with its own personality.
From the hallway, passersby often notice the large wall design and the posters. We wanted a large, recognizable mark that represents our commitment to design. In a way this was a major step for us to think about the personality and branding of the design team. We took inspiration from prominent design teams in design-driven companies like Facebook and Yahoo; likewise, as a design team, we strive to achieve a brand that reinforces the idea that Juniper is invested in design.
As we reviewed the office space as it was under construction, the space itself went through several iterations. As we soon learned, sketch to real-life doesn’t always translate well, and oftentimes viewing the actual in-progress space provides a better perspective. For example, at first we wanted to preserve a sense of personal space with higher desk dividers, but once we saw that dividers made the space feel dark and felt enclosed, we decided to opt for a more open area with shorter dividers. It was quite a jarring move from cubicles to an open office where you and your peers are completely exposed, but, as Natasha jokes, “We don’t hate each other so it turned out okay.”
As the space started to come together, it became easier to see how it would shape up. “We made it airy,” says Natasha, and a good way to do that was hanging posters up on wires from the ceiling. Suspended posters are a lightweight way to provide visual interest, and they also provide a subtle boundary to demarcate the design space.
One of the highlights of the space is the presentation area. The inspiration behind the meeting area came out of examples like Yahoo’s design space that is centered around a raised stage where guest speakers could present and share ideas.
When we worked with the company’s facilities staff and architect, they were ecstatic that we were thinking outside the box and were enthusiastic to help us work around the limited space and help us stay within the timeline and budget. We didn’t want to compromise on the presentation space and pushed for hooking up a large TV display for presentation purposes and a long table that could easily seat a group. Even though we couldn’t implement something as grand and dramatic as a raised stage and projector, it is a testament to small tweaks to a space that can encourage collaboration and co-creation.
We also wanted a place to put our designs up because we believe in transparency and an open design process. Our goal is to break down team silos — what we put up invites feedback from engineering, managers, customers, and visitors.
Along with Oscar and Natasha, Juniper visual designers Lyuba Nesteroff and Yelena Kozlova, contributed hugely to make sure we got the details right.
With these details we wanted to reflect our design philosophy: don’t design for the wrong reasons. Often a product looks good, it does the job, it’s useful, but it’s not usable. Maybe a product is hard to use, maybe it’s too complicated, or maybe you don’t trust it. Our goal at Juniper is to critically look at our products and not only make them useful, but also delightful and easy to use.
We wanted to reflect our culture of asking challenging design questions by putting up unusual posters of “uncomfortable design.”
When you look at these images, at first glance they appear sleek and to be well-designed. But on second glance, do you feel uncomfortable when you look at them? We think this is a great metaphor for the design challenges we encounter every day — a UI might look polished and clean, but does it work the way the user expects it to? More than once, passersby notice these posters and do a double-take and say out loud, “Wait a second… that’s not right…” Likewise, we constantly ask ourselves, “How is it supposed to work?” and what’s the best user experience.
After a few weeks of living in the new design studio, the philosophy of an open space started to translate into action and we noticed more collaboration among the team — designers grouped around each other’s desks to finalize mock-ups, pairs of designers and engineers worked together to make tweaks in real time, and designers congregated around whiteboards to review print outs. Also, as we used the central presentation space to review designs, other team members, managers, and engineers tended to stop by to listen in and get involved.
The Juniper UX team continues to grow and so does the space. After about a month of working in the new studio, it has become cozier as our belongings occupy the area and we have added personal touches.
Having a dedicated design space represents the increasing importance of design at Juniper. It has also inspired neighboring teams to personalize their own office spaces.
“When you make it [a space] your own, it becomes contagious, and people want to see how it can work for their group,” says Natasha.
We still get curious questions about what team we are, which only shows that we still have work to do to evangelize within the company. Nevertheless the design studio is a solid step towards visibility as an integral part of the product development process.
We are an open team and invite other Juniper employees who wear the “design” hat within their own team to find camaraderie among us at the design studio. In addition, as we grow as a design team, we hope to attract other designers to join us.