"FIND ME A CONFERENCE ROOM WITHOUT ALL THAT GLASS."
Before I began my design career, I worked as a pharmaceutical litigation clerk at an intellectual property (IP) law firm in DC; however, I was looking to make a change to a field that wasn’t as black and white as citing case law. As I was learning more about the interior architecture and design industry, the law firm underwent a massive, multi-floor, in-place renovation. The idea of creating something from concept to build excited me, and I saw interior design as a job that would never get boring as design trends are constantly changing and technology is modernizing the industry. While I initially thought I wanted to work in hospitality design for hotels and restaurants, my experience with the law firm’s design and renovation challenges ended up sparking my interest in workplace design.
The issues with the renovation significantly stemmed from upper management’s consideration – or lack thereof - for the employees’ needs. While the renovation was modern and on-trend with the latest office designs, management did not consider the actual work of their employees, who often dealt with confidential, sensitive information. Changes that seemed minor on paper had unfavorable results for attorneys and support staff alike.
An important feature that attorneys complained about was the full-glass conference rooms, which did not provide adequate privacy for meetings regarding confidential IP information. With the largest conference rooms located right off the reception area, the concern was that employees from company X would walk past and see company Y’s patents and other privileged information on screen during a deposition. After the renovation, I spent significantly more time booking meetings, as I was constantly fielding requests to find available rooms that did not have “all that glass.”
Another big part of the renovation was the switch from solid wood office doors to wood doors with glass panels. Many attorneys did not appreciate the lack of privacy, as people were more likely to stop by their office during focused work. Similarly, there were many nursing mothers who were suddenly unable to nurse in their offices. The firm did not have a dedicated mother’s room and had only one wellness room to be shared by a couple hundred employees. Lastly, in my personal experience, I worked in a windowless room – without options for change of scenery, such as huddle or focus rooms - for four years and often wished that I had access to natural light and view of greenery were incorporated into my work environment.
My law firm experience stuck with me through graduate school, as I had firsthand experience with design challenges in my daily environment. During every project, I pictured myself as each type of user moving through the space, questioning if the space itself and selected furniture and finishes would work for that person and their needs. While it’s impossible to accommodate everyone, it is critical to consider design from many different perspectives and make decisions that will satisfy the needs for as many occupants as possible.
After graduate school, when looking for a new job, I looked for a company that emphasized strategy as part of the design process – and found OPX was a good fit for the level of care and service I wanted to provide to my clients. My coworkers understand that without input from staff, people’s work lives become more challenging, creating untold repercussions for the entire organization: whether it be through attraction and retention challenges, employee burnout, or lack of productivity, all of which can affect the bottom line. Incorporating strategy and employee feedback leads to intentional design that is both welcoming and functional for its users, and ultimately, a space that supports both the employees and the company. In a time where people are used to the comfortability of remote work, it’s more important than ever to design to their needs.
Between pitching potential projects to multiple law firms and even designing a local DC firm while at OPX, I have now come full circle in my career. My experience working at a law firm taught me many things; I am most satisfied with the drive it instilled in me to become a workplace designer and the inspiration to design functional office spaces that help employees work better.