Tag Archives: culture

On the hunt for #InnovativeSpaces – A new book is coming soon…!

Can the spaces around us really make us more creative?
Can the spaces around us really make us more creative?

It’s official: we’ve been commissioned by Nesta to get digging deep into scientific evidence, chat to as many people who will lend us their time and scout out some examples – both great successes and epic failures – of working environments that have been designed to support creativity and innovation.

The goal? To establish whether there really is any robust evidence to support the idea that we are a product of our surroundings; that the spaces in which we spend most of our waking hours go some way to enabling our best creative work.

More information on the project can be found on Nesta’s website, but in a nutshell, we need help!  We need help finding great books, research and papers to read, help to find clever people who know a bit about creative culture, innovation, workplace design, the future of work, collaboration, socio-technological trends…and of course some great (and not-so-great) places that illustrate the point.

If you have any leads or thoughts, please get in touch or leave a comment below.

We’ll post our progress as we go!

Moo: “The office maketh the company”

Tucked away behind a grey carpark in the heart of Shoreditch, just off London’s “Silicon Roundabout”, a large, industrial-looking building houses a business card printing company with a bright difference.

I approach the London HQ of Moo, the planet’s fastest-growing print company, and rather than being disheartened by the heavy glass door, I’m greeted with a vinyl sticker saying “Ah, push it – push it real good!”.  With a bounce in my stride and Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s 1998 hit jiggling through my brain, I enter a kaleidoscope of colour – a pantone parade that welcomes me into “the place where they love to print”.

Friendly, humorous communication from the moment you arrive at Moo’s HQ communicates the brand’s values and company culture
Friendly, humorous communication from the moment you arrive at Moo’s HQ communicates the brand’s values and company culture

After a few false starts, Moo kicked into life in 2006 when Founder and CEO Richard Moross realised that he needed to re-brand and find people “better than him” to help build the company.  Now at 230 people and still growing, Moo has three offices in the UK and US, with more plans for expansion.  The company has taken the standard business card and created a new way of sharing information about ourselves in a distinctive, fun and personal way.

Moo’s minicards have been dubbed “the Web 2.0 handshake” and have become a favourite with people in the tech space as well as with designers and anyone keen to share their business or personal information in a visual and creative way.  Products include the unique minicards, high quality “Luxe” cards and stickers – and every one is personalisable.

Moo’s unique mini-cards used here to introduce the Moo team
Moo’s unique mini-cards used here to introduce the Moo team

Putting great design first is at the heart of everything Moo does, and it’s important that the brand values cascade from products and services through to everyone who works there.  These values provide a constant as the culture evolves and include consistency of quality as well as the friendly Moo personality.

“Our brand values are explicit and guide the way everyone should be thinking; the cultural values are more implicit”, says Moross.  So it is the actions of people at Moo – as well as their environment – that serve to remind people what the company is all about.

This is something that becomes increasingly important as the company continues to grow.  As it’s no longer practical to go out to lunch together every Friday as it was when there were 10 people in the business, lunch is now brought in and Moross makes an extra effort to sit near someone different.

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The free-food kitchen features an echo of the colour-filled repeating boxes from reception

For Moo, the service and products they provide is inextricably linked with their culture, and the environment plays a crucial role,  Moross explains, “In my view the environment is incredibly important.  It sets the tone for how our thinking is guided”.

By paying attention to the space – whether the furniture, lights or even the small turns of phrases you’ll see in basic communications such as how to use the loos or meeting rooms – it tells a story of what is valued and how people should behave.  In a similar way to the clothes that people wear, the way the space is dressed is an expression of what the company is about.

“They say the suit maketh the man, I think the office maketh the company”, Richard Moross, Founder & CEO of Moo

Visual wit abounds at Moo's London offices - even the sign for the men's loos exudes a sense of fun
Visual wit abounds at Moo’s London offices – even the sign for the men’s loos exudes a sense of fun

Moross is a believer in the “Broken Windows Theory” (made popular by Mayor Giuliani when he literally cleaned up New York City in the 1980s – and saw an unprecedented drop in serious and violent crime.  The theory argues that in effect, if a place looks un-cared for or misused, then it invites further bad behaviour and a downward spiral of crime ensues.  Moross expands on this: “I think the opposite is also true: if you create an environment that feels creative or looks creative or is comfortable then hopefully you’ll get a different result to an environment that is not conducive to that.” 

Home of great design

So how do you go about creating a place where great design happens and people care about quality whilst also feeling relaxed and at home?  Moo enlisted the help of Trifle Creative to help them bring the brand and culture to life, whilst balancing personality and order, creativity and practicality, function and form.

No two meeting rooms are the same at Moo.  Sofas and rug by Floorstory create a relaxed vibe
No two meeting rooms are the same at Moo. Sofas and rug by Floorstory create a relaxed vibe

Moross wanted to reinforce Moo’s relaxed culture without dropping into a “mish-mash” and at the same time reflect its passion for design and quality.

The “Wonderwall” is a wall with multi-colured cubbies painstakingly painted to exact pantone references by Trifle and some Moo volunteers
The “Wonderwall” is a wall with multi-colured cubbies painstakingly painted to exact pantone references by Trifle and some Moo volunteers

The challenge for Moo (as with anyone) is what to prioritise.  “We could have decided to spend £1m here, but then if it’s too finished, too perfect then that also sends the wrong message”.  A good example of using their smarts when it comes to spending: trunking across the building was quoted as being £20,000 to complete, leaving unsightly boxing – and even more to hide the pipes into the walls.  The then CTO said he would look for alternative solutions and found that washing machine tubing could do the job for almost a tenth of the price – and with a result that looks far better.

Delightful Earworms

One of the founding principles of Moo was born of included the need to create something distinctive.  The first ever minicard borrowed principles from phenomena like Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, where the opening lines of the music are built on an irregular 7/8, 8/8 structure. It jars your memory, and the result is an “earworm”,  that sticks and replays over and over again in your head.  It is this purposeful difference that Moo sought to emulate.

Having an irregular shape to the card – something that was not a business card, not a postcard, but something that allowed people just to share a small amount of information about themselves, and with the ability to personalize every card – created something memorable that jolts people out of their regular patterns and creates a moment of delight.

Moo’s offices are reassuringly urban, industrial spaces –  happy home to “Big Moo” (the print machines) – that speak to you in a fun, friendly tone of voice and that tell stories about what people value with attention to the little details that are delightful and memorable.  In fact, as I leave, I find myself humming “Can’t get Moo out of my head…”

The Moo logo created with fabric butterflies by one of the Moo team
The Moo logo created with fabric butterflies by one of the Moo team

Growing up but staying Innocent: Interview with John Durham

Innocent Drinks has gained a reputation not only for healthy, great-tasting smoothies, juices and “Veg Pots”; it is a company that is also known for its relaxed yet buzzy working environment, fitted out with quirky touches and Astroturf for carpet.

For the majority of the last 12 years, Innocent operated from the ironically named “Fruit Towers” – a series of one-storey light industrial units that were knocked together as the company grew and required more space. Further growth and a desire to create a space that reflects the company’s life stage – more ‘grown up’, but still youthful – prompted a move to new premises in the Canal Building at Portobello Dock. The move took place over Easter weekend in April 2011, when 200 people moved from a 17,000-square-feet bungalow overlooking a carpark to a four-storey building almost double the size overlooking a pretty West London canal.

Kursty Groves caught up with John Durham, Head of IT and Environment at Innocent, to find out how people are settling in.

KG: Can you explain the rationale behind the move — over and above creating more space for the company to grow into?

We want it to be natural and authentic and still have space for things to change and grow with the people who ‘live’ here. We very consciously said to people: “This is your building – make it your own”.

JD: Up until now we’ve kind of grown as and when we need to, almost spontaneously, expanding by renovating an adjacent unit on the old light industrial estate. But this move involved signing a ten-year lease – which is a real statement about the company’s commitment to the future. Taking on this building included appointing architects Stiff & Trevillion to remove a significant part of the first floor to create a double height communal space overlooking the canal basin, which forms the heart of the workspace. I think this says quite a lot about us [Innocent] taking on a different challenge – we can do things ‘properly’ – there is space built in under the floors to run cabling and insulation in the roof, unlike our old building, for example. We’re really pleased with our desks too. Luckily our neighbour is lighting and furniture design company, Tom Dixon, who created their first commercial desk system for us using low-energy materials. They are simple yet elegant slab benches, which give us the flexibility to spread out or squeeze up as we grow. We now also have more consistency – there are no ‘bad’ desks – everyone is better off, regardless of how much actual desk space they have.

KG: There can often be a fine line to tread between creating spaces that are ‘nicer’ – better designed, newer, etc – and retaining a feeling that people can feel at home. One of the great facets of the old building was how relaxed everyone was in the workspace. How did you approach that challenge?

JD: We were very aware of that. We deliberately did enough to the new building that people felt it was ‘finished’ and had some sense of purpose about it, but not heavily ‘themed’. We want it to be natural and authentic and still have space for things to change and grow with the people who ‘live’ here. We very consciously said to people: “This is your building – make it your own”. In reality, however, it took six weeks to really feel it. It took about two weeks for people to come down to communal areas and start using them regularly. I think that people felt the need to be at desks more [in the first few weeks], getting to know their areas and their new neighbours. Then gradually they started to explore the communal spaces, next the quiet space and eventually all the nooks and crannies.

KG: That must have been interesting (and nerve-wracking) to watch! It takes quite some confidence to sit back and wait to see how people interact with a new space without heading straight in to try to ‘fix’ things immediately.

JD: It was actually a great piece of advice from one of our landlord’s tenants that saw us through: “Don’t change anything for 3 months to avoid knee jerk reactions”. And it worked. When you think about it, it makes so much sense: when something new gets scratched for the first time, everyone then relaxes.

KG: What were some of the space ‘principles’ you used in this new building?

JD: 1. Dial down the space on desk floors to keep community space – the communal space can become the hub and where people interact more.

2. If you have natural light and healthy products/materials you can work more closely together with your colleagues

3. On every work desk floor there is space to move away from desks to make a cuppa, and there are also private spaces – space to hide. It was really important for us to create a balance of different types of spaces so that people can work anywhere and feel comfortable to be themselves.

KG: When you look back at your last building, what are the main things that you would say worked well in the space?

JD: 1. The double-height communal space. That is where we held our Monday morning meetings, informal meetings, people would sit and have food, it was a great place for catching up. I think one of the key reasons it worked was because it was very fluid – not over-designed with some clever wall that you pull back in a static way

2. The big kitchen in middle of office worked incredibly well. It was a thoroughfare and the noise from the buzz of chatter in the kitchen would move out into the workspaces in a good way – it was not hidden away. People would make tracks through the kitchen en route to their desk every day.

3. Although our former office was open plan, there was a mezzanine that broke up the view and created little pockets where small communities would form. It wasn’t just a sea of open space.

KG: What would you say didn’t work so well in the last office?

JD: 1. Privacy: In the old building, there was really nowhere you can be on your own. I guess when that is the case you feel as if you’re always ‘on show’ and it’s difficult to really be yourself. We now have lots of opportunities for people to find privacy – more than just a ‘quiet room’.

2. Meetings: Our former workspace was great for impromptu, informal encounters, but more structured, formal meetings weren’t really well-catered for. Here we’ve made sure that our meeting room bookings system works really well we’ve focussed more on the way things work – the things you can’t see but make all the difference.

3. Environment: The last building was a light industrial unit – it had no insulation. We’ve moved into a building that has a good environmental rating – a much lower impact. That makes us very happy! Also, about a third of the people in the old office found it difficult to work because it was too noisy, so the individual working floors in the new space seek to address that. However, now it’s sometimes a little quiet! We’re working on getting the balance right between getting ‘head-down’ work done and connecting with others.

KG: I see you’ve kept the Astroturf ‘carpet’, which has become almost like a trademark of your workspace – and copied by many. Was it inevitable that you’d have Astroturf in the new building or did you consider other options? How did you make sure that it wasn’t just a token head-nod to the old office and that it really ‘fits’ here?

JD: The Astroturf is really interesting – it has really helped our office reflect values – if you know Innocent then when you come into our offices you see things you’d expect to see: Oak, glass, grass, etc. The notion that there is grass on floor fits with stuff growing, it’s all ‘natural’. But importantly, it’s also incredibly practical. We don’t have expensive tastes here – lots of things are nice and simple. And everything else in the environment follows that way of thinking: nicely done, simple and not flashy. Nothing contradicts the grass on the ground

In fact, the reality was that we weren’t wedded to the Astroturf – we did look at lots of other options for the flooring, but then we looked at the merits of Astroturf: it’s (very) cheap, doesn’t need replacing for 10 years, which is better for environment, and it acoustic properties are great – it absorbs a lots of sound, especially compared with wood or concrete floors. One of the things we were conscious about was ensuring that the grass runs throughout the workspaces – not just for the place where you ‘have fun’.

KG: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with the move?

JD: We sweated a lot about choosing the site. It’s just 2.8 miles away from our old office. We did a postcode analysis to find out who would be affected most or least and found with this site that the move was not dramatically different for most people.

We were very aware from the start that, even though the move team was really excited about the new building that any change can be difficult for some, and needs to be communicated well.  Very few people like change when they’re not in control; it can create a lot of angst if not managed well. So right at the start of engagement around the move we created an email address: “ournewhome” where people could send ideas and we asked each team to elect team champion to provide 2-way communication. We also created special storage space for people, as the new building brought with it more ‘clear desks and a new way of managing personal and professional filing.

KG: …And the biggest successes?

JD: I can honestly say that we don’t have the “Sunday night feeling”! This is a place that people really enjoy getting up on a Monday morning and coming to.

We’re starting to see some of that spontaneity that was so great at our last workspace come into this building. Tonight, we’re having a BBQ on the terrace because it’s been a sunny week, for example.

I love that those things are possible and easy. For me, one of the things I’m most proud of is that we have created an environment that people flourish in and respond to. I love seeing people dotted round having meetings, moving around, lots of interactions BECAUSE of the way we’ve designed it.

KG: Finally, what are your plans and hopes for the future?

JD: I hope that as we grow as a business, the building grows and changes with us – that it becomes the place that supports the growth and new ideas for our business – rather than limiting us.

When I look back at the last building – the second generation of Innocent – so much good stuff happened there. It was the place where it all happened – from Fruitstock to This Water to Veg Pots.

I’m excited that this building is going to be the canvas for the next chapter of Innocent.

For more on the thinking behind Innocent’s unique workspaces see my Enviable Workplace blog post: http://enviableworkplace.com/growing-up-but-staying-innocent/