At NeoCon this year, IIDA (International Interior Design Association) presented copies of What Clients Want, the first-ever study of the client/designer relationship told from the point of view of the client, written and edited by Melissa Feldman, IIDA’s executive vice president. IIDA CEO Cheryl Durst called it “a groundbreaking account of how some C-suite executives have been able to alter their companies’ destinations through design [by] firms who got inside their corporate DNA and pushed them to be better.”
Durst is referring to companies like Autodesk, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, the Cowboys Stadium, and Facebook, which enlisted the services of Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander of Studio O+A, a husband and wife duo who have designed interiors for a roster of “techie brands” like Aol, eBay, Microsoft, and PayPal. In 2008, O+A was commissioned to consolidate Facebook’s spread of ten office buildings in Palo Alto, California, and merge them into Hewlett Packard’s former HQ. Studio O+A credits the extensive research they conduct on potential clients prior to any design work for landing the gig.
We want to learn what our clients are about and understand their sensibilities, because if our end result doesn’t reflect them, it’s not going to be successful or meaningful. Sometimes it’s just a matter of talking to the entrepreneurs…other times we observe them for a while.
So what did they learn? Facebook, with its well known, humble beginnings in a college dorm room, is not about flash or excess. The primary goal was to create a collaborative, flexible, and comfortable space for the company’s “scrappy and entrepreneurial” employees, as Facebook’s communication designer, Everett Katigbak, described them. That meant a lot of repurposing existing pieces and spaces so that “nothing is deigned as a pristine or precious moment…Overall it’s pretty raw and industrial with more of a garage or laboratory feel.” O+A responded with nooks equipped with chessboards and by converting a loading dock into a skateboard ramp.
Both Katigbak and O+A agreed that the design process went smoothly, but by the time What Clients Want was published, Facebook had already outgrown their facility and relocated to Sun Micro System’s former campus in Menlo Park. They hired Gensler for the renovation, not Studio O+A—a testament to Facebook’s hyper-evolution and obsession with “the new,” or evidence that perhaps the road to design was a little more rocky than either side will admit? Either way, it’s not included in the designer/client conversation Melissa Feldman chronicled in What Clients Want. There are thirteen more, which IIDA’s Durst said is the first in a series of limited edition books that will focus on “key vertical markets, starting with hospitality.”