Space Study 003 • Olapic • New York, NY
Thomas Juncher Jensen is the founder of JIDK, an interior design firm with a penchant for creating modern workspaces. Jensen's process is as much an adherence to design standards as it is an exploration of the specific needs, wants and existing work style of his clients. The JIDK team has played an integral role in creating surroundings to reflect the maturation of start-ups innovating across a range of industries -- from indie fashion favorite, Loeffler Randall, to media powerhouse, Buzzfeed LA.
Jensen recently redesigned the NYC office of Olapic, a social platform that allows brands to weave user generated content into their online narratives. Olapic's mission of visually connecting brands with consumers is mirrored in the office's design, which allows staffers to connect and interact with their surroundings through similar visual engagement.
In our latest installment, Jensen takes us through his Olapic redesign, and gives insight on the past and future concepts of the ideal workspace.
1. What do you find most about important in designing for the workspace?
The exciting part about office design is that it affects a lot of people for a very significant amount of time. Think about how much effort went into picking your sofa at home - and then compare the time you spend in it to that spent at your desk. Office design is hugely important because it literally surrounds us most of our lives. With that in mind, we try to make offices that are productive and healthy, while also comfortable all-inclusive and ready for the inevitable changes down the line.
2. Which questions do you think are most important to ask before beginning work on a space?
The modern office is really about two things; communication and production. Look at your teams and lay out a plan for how to make both of these tasks as easy as possible for them. There may not be one model that fits everyone, so be prepared to be flexible or creative with the solutions. If you are working with a designer, tell them what you like about your current office and where it holds you back - that way we can target those things in the new space. Also make sure to talk trivialities with your landlord. The little intricacies of daily office life are important, so figuring out how to control the AC, get your favorite food delivery to your desk, and how to know when you are the last person in the building is absolutely worthwhile.
3. How did you decide to work with Visual Magnetics when designing the Olapic office?
In some ways it was an unavoidable collaboration. Olapic is positioned right in the middle of a virtual whirlwind of Instagram images, and it felt wrong to give them static pictures on the walls when their entire business revolves around such a dynamic medium. With the Visual Magnetics walls, Olapic can decorate and redecorate as simply as you swap refrigerator magnets at home, and use that flexibility to match that of Instagram and their clients. It’s intuitive and rewarding and thusly profoundly modern and aligned with what Olapic stands for.
4. What's your favorite feature in the Olapic brand design?
A lot of brands go for the black and white aesthetic, but what made Olapic’s move toward it great was that it allowed their product to really be front and center - the photos became the accent to the brand design and Visual Magnetics was intrinsic to incorporating that accent into the space - in a dynamic way that is true to the company’s identity.
5. Which elements of the Olapic brand ethos did you hope to communicate in the design?
The Olapic rebrand clarified where they are now and eliminated some legacy references. We tried to do the same in the design by providing them with crisp, mostly monochromatic designs that are energetic yet stylish. The resulting office is a more mature and focused space than the previous location - exactly like Olapic are themselves.
6. Are there any elements that you saw as must-haves for a startup's office? For a social media driven company?
The modern office is undergoing major changes, and many of these changes are coming from the startup firms’ environments and attitudes. Without saying this works for everyone, we see a clear trend and desire towards offices that are healthy, easily re-configurable, open and collaborative, and transparent.
We take the healthy aspect very seriously and employee well-being should be top priority. We always try to allocate prime window space to as many users as possible. Bring in plant features and quality ergonomic furniture and you have superseded the offices of our parents’ generation by a lightyear.
Making re-configurable spaces is difficult, but one approach is to incorporate ‘buffers’ in your design and give these buffers adaptable functions. One popular buffer is the sofa lounge area that can change into workstations when needed. Another is to create quiet rooms (libraries) or team rooms in underused meeting rooms or offices. Swapping these functions should never be so complicated that it holds the company back from laying out their space to fit the employee demands.
The open and collaborative office is by now a well known look but making it work takes a lot of communication and planning. Putting everyone on a warehouse floor and calling it a day isn’t going to work. You need creature comforts, team zoning, tons of breakout and quiet spaces, and most importantly a vision for how the office is to be used. Products like Visual Magnetics can help define ‘spaces within spaces’ and anchor functions to make this all work. It’s a puzzle, but when it gets put together right is works amazingly well. The transparency is the last part of this and mostly out of our hands - but we see the best results when the company is transparent about the whys and hows of the project. We are great at blowing out the dusty old management corridors and executive salons, but if the company doesn’t follow along, this can become just an aesthetic overlay - which does not actually propel the company or employees forward.
For a company active on social media, I would also recommend adding an extrovert feature to the office design. Once you have allocated all the spaces needed for your various employees, what is the space that signals who you are and what you do to people outside? Like a showroom window, social media can give people a glance behind the scenes, and curating that view is essential. We have done amazing canteens for companies where the food and social aspect around it is key - and that’s a great feature to show the world. In the case of Olapic, the interchangeable graphics become a feature you can interact with as a guest, and should you snap a selfie even better!
7. What role do you see dryerase playing in workspaces, and future workspace design?
It’s hard to imagine dryerase has been around since the 60s and only in recent year has come out of the frame. Just like users don’t want to be tied to the office desktop PC all day, we don’t want the whiteboards to be static wall mounted units.
Putting thoughts on the wall is such an incredibly basic human thing, and as a work and education tool that’s unlikely to change. What we’d like to see, is more flexibility in where and what you write on, so VM's walls are a welcome alternative. For example, we might design a developer area to have whiteboards on most surfaces, but that does not ensure the areas remain available when needed nor frequently used. It may quickly become stale. With the magnetic wall covering, the same wall can be decoratively wallpapered in the morning, at noon a pre-made presentation is mounted temporarily, and in the afternoon, a team session slowly fills the entire wall with whiteboard segments as they go along. That’s efficient and dynamic and frankly a lot more fun!
The future probably holds several technological upgrades to this as well, but just like we haven’t dismissed the pen for quick notes, I don’t think physically writing on the wall is likely to go away anytime soon, either.
8. What have you seen change in the years of experience you have in office design?
I think we are becoming more social in the workplace because it’s actually part of our work and not a side function to a production driven task. In many businesses communication is now the primary reason to actually meet at an office where it used to be access to the business specific tools. There is a great opportunity here to bring back this very human aspect of life - the meeting - and make it special. We may still have to split up after the meeting to perform our specialized tasks, but right here, right now we are planning how to do that best, and doing that should be as easy and fun as possible.
Maybe it’s all related to the rejection of the fast food culture and a return to things done consciously and well or a rebellion against the grind, but whatever it is, we very clearly want - even demand - office life that is fulfilling in its own right and not just means to an end. I think that’s incredible and wonderful.
9. What's your workspace like?
We definitely practice what we preach. Our office is clean and bright and the desks are all positioned close to the windows with full access to natural light. We’ve also got zero barriers between us so we can and do constantly give and ask for feedback. Being a design office, we want to keep the open and communal atmosphere you find in college studios where ideas and inspirations are shared freely. It’s an office composed of individuals, but our work is our common project and we’ve designed our office the for this purpose.
10. Any signature features in client projects and your personal space(s)?
In almost all of our projects, the big bright canteen space is present, as well as a breakout sofa lounge, and bar height casual meeting tables. Providing employees a place to meet and collaborate away from their desks feels critical to the way people work today. Creating spaces where casual meetings can take place not only facilitates this, but also lowers the requirements for dedicated meeting spaces.
We also believe the casual meeting is more time efficient than the sit-down-and put-your-laptop-on-the-conference-table meeting. Figuring out next week's schedule while you are making espressos is multitasking - and how you would do things outside of work. You don’t book a conference room to bring your friends together to plan a birthday party... you gather over something meaningful and figure it out while having a good time. Office life can’t always be like that, but it doesn’t hurt to create an atmosphere where it is at least possible.
Images by Peter Kubilus