Design Spaces: Tips for Fostering Creativity in Your Agency’s Office

By Alicia McVey, Chief Creative Officer of Swift

A year ago, our agency had nearly doubled in size, expanding to 120 people and two buildings. We had clearly outgrown our funky old carriage house and small content studio. With a fresh lease in hand for a 30,000 square-foot space situated just across the street, we had the chance to rehab and design a former awning factory to suit our fluid needs.

Liz Valentine & Alicia McVey

Agency co-founders Liz Valentine (CEO) and Alicia McVey (CCO) keep the mood 
light with built-in planters, resident dogs and rosé on tap.

It was incredibly exciting. And a little daunting. But we forged a fantastic partnership with a small local architecture and design firm, Beebe Skidmore, and worked hand in hand to convert the warehouse into a modern, light-saturated workspace. Creating a place that would inspire and flex with our needs was paramount.

The lessons we learned about office design and human interactivity along the way were just as valuable.


There’s (almost) no such thing as too much natural light

The first order of business was to maximize natural light. Skylights were added to the sawtooth dormers and huge swaths of windows in every part of the building, allowing light to cascade in and reach interior conference rooms and work zones. Many meeting rooms are glassed-in on one or more sides, echoing a company ethos of transparency.

Swift Central Kitchen

Swift Central Kitchen: All pathways lead to the centrally located kitchen — the 
heartbeat of any agency — equipped with kombucha on tap and a pair of 
marble-topped bars for spontaneous meet-ups.

Light turned out to be one of the space’s most notable features and the effect has been immeasurably positive. The link between daylight and creativity is well established: a recent study shows that employees who work in environments with natural elements are 15% more creative and 6% more productive and report a higher level of well-being overall (Source: Human Spaces report on the Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace).

Just be sure to install the right window films to filter direct sunlight and avoid screen glare.

The best of both worlds

Keeping the floor plan open, on one level and non-hierarchical (no individual offices) was key, and the new space also needed to accommodate a growing number of people. But if everyone was in the same vast area, it ran the risk of feeling exposed and factory-like. The solution was a balance of flexible and defined spaces: The center of the building links four distinct quadrants and is anchored by a sunken gathering space with a spiraling built-in bench. The “colony” is adaptable for agency-wide meetings, public events or just sitting and working. And being a few steps down allows you to look out over it and see into every quadrant—creating a cohesive environment.

Swift Studio Main Space: The south-facing studio is flooded with natural light 
and multiple flexible areas for construction, prep and shooting. It includes a large 
production kitchen.


Swift Southwest Lounge

Swift Southwest Lounge: Swifties and their four-legged comrades gather in one 
of several open lounges.

Consider your needs and how a flexible layout accommodates a range of purposes and different work styles. For us, it was important to have a mix of public collaborative areas and private meeting rooms of varying size. There are comfortable lounges where you can sit and work, and high white board tables and bars for those who want to stand.

All roads lead to the kitchen

In office design, “collision zones” are a good thing. You want areas that act as magnets, pulling people away from their desks and into the sphere of other colleagues they may not otherwise interact with. It’s the reason why Steve Jobs placed Pixar’s bathrooms in a central atrium: so people would serendipitously bump into each other and chat. A central open kitchen can serve the same purpose and more. Sure, it’s a place people stop to get water on their way to a meeting. But it can also become the heart of a workspace, a natural area for employees to convene over lunch or have an impromptu meeting.

Make your mark with a signature piece

Any considered office design should reflect a company’s identity, something you get to sharpen when carving out a new workspace. Choose colors, materials and motifs that evoke and enhance your brand and throw in a few standout features. In some offices, it might be a commissioned sculpture, a mural or a vertical garden.

For us, we have something old and something new. A six-foot pink, neon heart that we brought over from our previous space that symbolizes our passion for the work we do. And a slash wall in the core of the building: walls that are half black, half white on the diagonal. The design is a two-dimensional nod to the building’s roofline that carries the sharp silhouette over to the interior. Organically, it’s become a favorite backdrop for employees’ Instagram posts, further establishing it as a signature motif.

Swift Kitchen Sign

Swift Kitchen Sign: Sunlight and slab marble shine in the central kitchen, 
a popular gathering spot throughout the day.

Plants bring extra life (and attract dogs)

Like daylight, plants make people happy and also make a space feel homey and complete. Companies traditionally invest heavily in exterior landscaping but overlook incorporating plants indoors. Yet greenery, water features and other natural elements create a more tranquil, stress-reducing environment. Plants help restore rather than drain mental energy when our minds are focused on demanding tasks (Source: Human Spaces report on the Global Impact of Biophilic Design in the Workplace). Consider incorporating built-in plant installations and adding potted plants around your workspace.

Word of caution: If yours is a dog-friendly office, those lovely in-ground planters may draw extra attention from the four-legged crowd.

Swift Overton Exterior

Swift Overton Exterior: A mezzanine level and massive windows bring ample light 
and space to a renovated awning factory in Portland’s emerging Slabtown 

Keeping it simple lets people make it their own

There’s a trend toward cozy living room decor or over-the-top play zones at work, a reflection of the blurred lines between work and life perhaps. If that fits your company’s identity, go for it.

But also remember that the best design melts away and makes it easy for you to get on with what you’re doing. Ultimately, a space is just a space. It’s the people who create within it that give it character and meaning.

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