9 Steps to design an office

For the past two years, LemonWorks has designed workspaces for several organisations. From offices to stores, in every new project we learn new things with our clients and that’s why our creative process keeps on changing till today.

So, how do we design an office?

We lost count of the times people asked us that, so we decided to share a bit of our story. We know our process won’t be perfect for every case but, so far, this is what makes sense for LemonWorks and our clients. To keep it simple, we’ll show you the 9 steps we take when a new project comes to our hands.

1. Meeting the organisation

This is definitely a key step for the entire project! The more you get to know the organisation, the better the chances are of creating a tailor made project for the people that will use the space.

How do we get to know more about the organisation?

Talking with people and hearing what they have to share with us. We also like to understand the purpose of the company and what’s special about their culture.

In some cases the culture is clear the moment you get inside the workspace. In other cases, the current workspace doesn’t mirror the culture. On the second case, you can take advantage of the situation and learn really quickly what needs to be improved. If the client is thinking of creating something from scratch conversation is the better way to understand what they are looking for. We believe that talking with everyone in the company helps us to understand needs and wish lists: most times we create an experience where people can share their ideas with images, drawings and games.

2. Meeting the people

You might think that meeting the organisation is meeting the leaders that work there.

Well no, it’s not the same!

We can tell you that most of our clients are a bit reluctant to let us get in touch with the people that work with them. Most of the times when we ask about the organisation, people share what they envision and not exactly the current reality. Hopefully, the two scenarios won’t be too far from each other. Nevertheless, for the creative process, it’s important the be aware of the differences.

Our experience tells us that the best way to get to know the people it’s to be with them in the workspace. During the past year, we’ve developed some activities to facilitate individual and group sessions where we talk about daily work routines, what’s the best part of the day, what can be improved, among other topics.

This is the moment where you give people the chance to openly talk about how they feel about their work and what’s essential for them in the workspace.

Let’em go nuts! Then pick the ideas that match the company culture and work flows and keep ’em in your mind. Trust us, some of these ideas might become the highlights of the project.

3. Work with everyone

At this point, you know what people told you about the organisation and about themselves. It’s time to get your hands dirty!

Our team spends some time in the client’s offices to learn more about work dynamics. Sometimes one day is enough, but depending on company size we adjust accordingly. We take this time to observe how people work, what are their main tasks — individual work, focus work, teamwork — and what other moments happen during the day — meetings, calls, videoconferences, meal time… This allows us to check what are the joint needs of the office (sometimes, during interviews, people tend to focus solely on their team’s needs), what can be improved and what’s the natural movement of the office.

4. Get the ideas on paper

Digital sketch of a project

By now you should have enough information to start sketching: how many seats are needed, the number and size of meeting rooms, will the office have a reception or not, how big should the kitchen and lounge be… what’s the vibe we’re looking for and what materials do we want to work with.

This is the moment when we seat in our table and start exploring ideas over the office plan. Usually, we design two to three possible layouts before presenting it to the client. Although it takes more time than just developing one layout, this exercise will help to understand the potential of the space and what works better in each layout.

Also, keep in mind that the moment you present a layout to the client, he will give you new ideas and wonder what can be improved.

This is the client way of checking the logic of the layout. If you have previously explored other options you can quickly share them and let the client decided what works better. Best case scenario he will trust you to chose the best solution. We’ve had some cases where the decision of the client was clearly different from our proposal. When this happens, what we try to do is to understand the impact of the client decision in the workspace dynamic, if it has a massive negative impact (which is rarely the case) we talk to the client and explain why we would advise them to take another option into account.

Long story short: design the layout, share it with the client and improved as many times as needed.

5. Make it happen

As soon as you get to the final layout shoot some fireworks, you’ve just completed the first of three milestones!

The next one is to create the technical drawings of the project, put on the paper everything you need to make it happen: define the materials, lightning, electricity, ventilation, decorative details, furniture and whatever more you feel it’s necessary.

At this point, it’s wised to get feedback from an engineering team to make sure everything will work. The main goal is to create a document for contractors to come up with the budget and timeline for construction.

If you’re wondering about the third milestone it’s to get everything done! From construction day 1, until the final delivery, it’s important to visit the worksite and check if everything is happening according to the plans, if there are some issues to resolve (there will be!) and keep record of the upcoming deliveries from furniture to decorative items.

6. Bring people in

If you’ve ever seen a national geographic documentary about wildlife, you know that the first thing an animal does when it gets to an unknown environment is to look at every corner and make it their own.

Well, guess what? This is exactly what happens when you let people into the new office!

To facilitate the transition make sure every space is flexible enough to be changed by everyone — work areas, meeting rooms, lounge, kitchen and so on. Keep in mind that, unless there are some private offices, desks are probably the only space assigned to an individual so, give people the freedom to organize their workstation as they like.

7. Learn the space

If you have a chance, come back to the office a week or two after everyone is in, and take a minute to understand how the office is actually working.

Are people using the office as you imagined? Is there something different in the space? Maybe the sofa was moved to a new room?

After spending many hours thinking and designing every corner of the office, your first instinct will be to go there and put everything back to where you left it in the first place. Don’t!

Most of the times, what you plan is not what people do. Embrace it, and make the most of it. This is the perfect opportunity to learn how people actually live in the office and figure out why they change some stuff. The more you learn, the less likely it is that you’ll repeat the same mistakes.

8. Check for improvements

Step 7 could only take you to this question:

Is everything working fine, or is there something we need to change?

If the answer yes, then make it happen again. At this point you probably just need to adjust minor details, don’t worry.

This is also the perfect time to ask people if they have any feedback to share. Keep in mind that organisations change and so do their offices, if your work is good, the moment they consider to change the workspace your phone will probably ring again.

9. Step outside. It’s a wrap!

Take some photos and look at them when you miss the offices you designed.