5 Creative Workspaces in the Western U.S.

Inspiration can be found anywhere and everywhere. But for graphic designers, it helps when it’s right where you need it — at work. That’s why we scoured studios across the country to uncover some of the ones with the most creative interiors for their employees.

Each of these featured firms has a different approach to instilling inspiration into their offices: Some stick with a simple color palette, while others opt for bright, sunny hues. Some invite employees to take their work outside with patio conference rooms, while others bring the outdoors in with towering trees. There are quirky elements from phone booths to Astroturf and plenty of tongue-in-cheek artwork.

But what they all have in common is that this collection illustrates how firms can infuse their surroundings with creativity so that it naturally spills over onto the notebooks and computer screens of the designers at work there. Proof that work doesn’t always have to feel like, well, work.

Check out some of our favorite offices located throughout the Western United States. HOWdesign.com’s Creative Workspaces section is your place to see more roundups and posts about clever interiors in the future, giving you a sneak peek inside some of the most inspirational setups. Check out our roundup of 5 Creative Workspaces in the Eastern U.S., too!

Firm: Traction, San Francisco

Look and feel of the office: Brick and timber meets neo-modern.

Goal of the workspace’s design: “It was essential that we had an open space to provoke collaboration,” says CEO Adam Kleinberg. “Fifteen years ago, when our creative director, Theo Fanning, and I first worked together on a design team at another agency, we sat back-to-back in an open office configuration. We constantly challenged each other and shared ideas. The result was better work. We wanted to ensure that whatever space we were in helped inspire that same dynamic among our people.”

Favorite element of the office: Kleinberg points to the indoor trees. “It feels like you’re working in a forest.”

Workspace’s influence on creativity: “Teams have the freedom to shape their space to their liking. I showed up one morning and one of our art directors, Jon Stepping, had a drop cloth and ladders on the floor and was painting a glazed sunburst on the wall. Our developer team built out a collaboration space in the loft named it Fort Awesome—it’s like a pirate ship up there. We believe everyone at the agency should think of themselves as a creative, and our space helps inspire them to do that.”


Interested in Making Your Workspace More Creative? Get Inspired!

Read this collection of past Workspace columns, which detail unique design studios in HOW magazine.

Firm: Second Story, Portland

Look and feel of the office: Creative director David Waingarten says, “Our space combines great industrial qualities like exposed concrete and timber, with beautifully curated pockets of art and ephemera, tons of books and inspirational materials from projects past.”

Goal of the workspace’s design: “Collaboration,” Waingarten says. “Our individual workstations are fully exposed, with no walls or visual barriers, making communication fluid and easy. On one side of the studio, producers, developers, designers, and content coordinators sit in groups we affectionately call ‘pods.’ The main impression you get when you come through the door is that this is a space where people work together.”

Favorite element of the office: “The space has great high ceilings and very large windows, so lots of air and light.”

Workspace’s influence on creativity: “When you work in a space that fosters interdisciplinary communication, you’re constantly exposed to new ideas, processes, and ways of thinking just by osmosis. The result is lots of talented people who are always learning and experimenting, challenging and inspiring one another. From that, we create things that are greater than the sum of all our individual talents and specialties.”


Interested in Making Your Workspace More Creative? Get Inspired!

Read this collection of past Workspace columns, which detail unique design studios in HOW magazine.

Photography by Derick Tortorella.

Firm: Excela Creative, Los Angeles

Look and feel of the office: Excela’s creative liaison, Michael J. Henderson, says, “Our office is a sprawling mass of mid-century furniture purposefully mismatched with kitschy knick-knacks and vintage signs. The overall goal for the office was to fill it with just enough interesting pieces that it would evoke a feeling of fun and whimsy and not a feeling that we were trying too hard to have a lot of neat stuff.”

Goal of the workspace’s design: “We tried to make sure every room had it’s own feel and look, for instance, the lobby has a ‘60s Madison Avenue-inspired waiting area. The kitchen, with its artificial turf and summer day walls and ceilings, is a call to an outdoor eating area. The hallway to the restrooms has vintage prints of laxative ads adorned with ornate frames that add a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun.”

Favorite element of the office: Henderson most appreciates that the company allowed the creatives to pick out their own furniture and dress up their individual spaces. “Some chose big tanker desks, some chose more modern desks and chairs, and some just wanted a really comfortable chair. Currently everyone is in the process of designing a vinyl covering to liven up the angular partitions dividing their work areas.”

Workspace’s influence on creativity: “The office is spacious enough that people can truly work in their own cozy little area while still being able to easily communicate with everyone else around. We have ample resources to write down ideas and push our ideas as far as they can go. It’s easy to be in a good mood when you are surrounded by interesting pieces and great design.”


Interested in Making Your Workspace More Creative? Get Inspired!

Read this collection of past Workspace columns, which detail unique design studios in HOW magazine.

Firm: Off Madison Ave, Phoenix

Look and feel of the office: Modern and contemporary with industrial influences.

Goal of the workspace’s design: To inspire creativity for employees at every turn, which is why the office features New York City phone booths in the lobby, a second-story loft, a rotating art gallery and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook Phoenix.

Favorite element of the office: “We’re partial to our garage-style conference room which opens and closes with an electric garage door,” says co-owner and executive creative director Roger Hurni. “This pays tribute to how we started the business more than 13 years ago, from the garage in my home. Over the years, we have grown but never forget how the business started as two guys with a business plan.”

Workspace’s influence on creativity: “We wanted to create an office place that fosters and offers a safe place for creativity to flourish. We are really proud of our office’s layout because it does maximize creativity. By building out spaces such as mini conference rooms for impromptu meetings, our second-story loft, outdoor balcony and barbecue area, our office gives our staffers alternatives to working at their desks.”


Interested in Making Your Workspace More Creative? Get Inspired!

Read this collection of past Workspace columns, which detail unique design studios in HOW magazine.

Firm: Hybrid Design, San Francisco

Look and feel of the office: “The office not just a place you work—you live your work while there, so the space needs to be someplace where you can feel at home,” says Hybrid’s husband-and-wife founders, Brian Flynn and Dora Drimalas. “We designed the space to be inviting and pleasant to be in, since we would be there for large portion of every day.”

Goal of the workspace’s design: “The space itself needed to be simple so that it could properly contain our crazy design world within it. If the space was overdone architecturally, it would affect the atmosphere of the studio. This was an intentionally minimal palette, with very few colors and simple, modern architectural gestures. The project took three years, start to finish, but it was well worth it.”

Favorite element of the office: Drimalas points to the practical, such as the kitchen and outdoor meeting area. “It’s nice to walk away from the machine and see the sun. We all spend so much time at the office that having a space with a full kitchen and a relaxed atmosphere was important.” Flynn appreciates the building’s angled, cedar ceiling. “It just opens everything up, lets a ton of light in, and you immediately feel relaxed just walking up there.”

Workspace’s influence on creativity: “It’s really important that a space be neutral enough that it allows you to creatively go anywhere. I think an office should be part home, laboratory, art gallery, library, gym, bike shop, and—if Brian had his way—part skate park. It needs to be a space that feeds and nurtures creativity.”


Interested in Making Your Workspace More Creative? Get Inspired!

Read this collection of past Workspace columns, which detail unique design studios in HOW magazine.

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