Facilities Planning—Part One

PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE

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A great deal of thought (and, quite often, a lot of money) will go into finding the perfect-sized space, configuring it to facilitate your work, and adding the right creature comforts to make it fun and inspiring.
Sept/Oct 2006
PROFESSIONAL PRACTICE
Facilities Planning—Part One
by Shel Perkins

It’s important for all designers to have a well-planned studio that’s clean, comfortable, and efficient. Space planning becomes an especially important issue if your company is expanding or relocating. A great deal of thought (and, quite often, a lot of money) will go into finding the perfect-sized space, configuring it to facilitate your work, and adding the right creature comforts to make it fun and inspiring.

If you have frequent on-site meetings with clients, your physical space is also an important part of your brand—the location and condition must reflect the high quality of your services. When selecting a location, you may be faced with a trade-off between price and proximity to your clients. It’s good to be close to your most important accounts. However, if their headquarters are downtown, you might not be able to afford a large enough space in their area. Rather than squeeze your staff into an expensive space that’s too small, it’s usually better to find something larger in a nearby district with more reasonable rents. You might even find an appropriate space that’s located midway between your clients and key suppliers such as printers or fabricators.

The amount of space you’re looking for will be based on your company’s head count (both full-time and part-time employees) multiplied by a certain number of square feet per person. Each industry has a standard range for this. In the design world, it’s 250 to 350 sq. ft. per employee. Design spaces tend to be large to accommodate the dynamic nature of our work. As a reference, the majority of other businesses range from 200 to 250 sq. ft. per employee. At the lowest end of the scale, there are also businesses like call centers with just 150 to 200.

Don’t be confused by this rule of thumb—it does not represent the amount of personal space given to each individual employee. The calculation includes everything: individual work areas, walkways, meeting spaces, a reception area, storage, a packing and shipping area, space for books and reference materials, restrooms, and a kitchen. Using this rule of thumb, a 2,000 sq. ft. space could comfortably fit a creative firm of six to eight people. Carved out of that total area, each personal space would be about 100 sq. ft. Just as a comparison, the typical administrative cube in a corporation is about 64 sq. ft. (8 x 8 feet), although personal space in corporations is currently on a downward trend.

If you’re making these calculations because you’re moving into a new space, be sure to leave yourself room to grow. If the new space seems too empty at the start, consider subletting a portion on a temporary basis. To keep this option open, you need to negotiate a master lease that allows you to bring in subtenants.

The next big challenge for you is to configure the space to function well. Each design firm has to find the most appropriate mix of personal, team, and public areas. There are contrasting philosophies about how to do this. At one end of the spectrum, some firms choose to do all of their work in a single, large space. An open area that’s shared by everyone is sometimes referred to as a “bullpen.” This setup encourages constant collaboration and information sharing. Employees have easy access to each other for brainstorming and feedback. It’s also inexpensive to set up. The downside is that it can be very noisy with lots of distractions.

In complete contrast, you could take a more traditional approach and set up private offices. Separate, small spaces with doors that close are much quieter. This makes them well suited to tasks that require uninterrupted concentration, such as writing. The downside is that private offices can be very isolating. They’re more expensive to build and can be difficult to modify once they’re in place. Offices take up more space (in the corporate world, they’re often 150 sq. ft.), which leaves less space available for other uses.

Most design firms opt for a combination of open and enclosed areas. Here’s what’s included in the mix:

PERSONAL SPACE
Individual designers need large desktops to spread out work, an ergonomic arrangement of computer equipment, a way to store project files and binders, and a place to tack up reference materials. There has to be easy access to scanners and printers, and a way to keep lighting and temperature at comfortable levels.

TEAM SPACE
Designers also need space to collaborate. This might include a meeting table placed at the center of a shared work area, a long wall for critiques, and maybe even a separate room dedicated to one major project or client account, where reference materials can be accumulated and work in process can be displayed. Apart from work areas, many firms also create a shared social space. This might be a lounge or, if it’s large enough, the kitchen. Shared meals can be an important part of your studio’s culture.

PUBLIC SPACE
The public face of your studio begins with the reception area. When a client arrives for a meeting, it’s important to make a positive first impression. There should be an adjacent meeting area or conference room. Even in an open-plan studio, this tends to be an enclosed space where lighting and sound levels can be controlled for presentations. It’s helpful to have a large white board for brainstorming and a narrow ledge for showing work (sometimes called a “crit rail”). In large firms, the main conference room often has its own kitchenette and bathroom. This cuts down on foot traffic through the rest of the studio and helps to protect the confidentiality of other accounts.

Next time, we’ll talk about managing the build-out process.

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