Next Frontier

Smith Group focuses on delivering innovative workplace environments.  After several years of working as an interior architect surrounded by the high-rise buildings and high-power corporate types in Chicago, it’s no surprise that Angie Lee knows a thing or two about corporate and commercial workplace design. 

A vice president at Smith Group – one of the largest architecture, engineering, interiors and planning firms in the United States – Lee has developed a good understanding of the impact of good design on corporate America.  Lee joined Smith Group in August 2007 when the firm purchased AREA Design, the firm she had founded and operated since 2005. Although AREA’s revenues reached more than $1.23 million in just two years, Lee says there was always opportunity to advance. 

Around the same time that AREA was reveling in its success, Smith Group was looking for opportunities in its Chicago market to gain new commercial and corporate clientele.  “Part of the move was to truly focus on the design and planning strategies for corporate and commercial clients with the focus in workplace design,” according to Lee.  The acquisition also provided Smith Group the chance to strengthen the firm’s national workplace practice by expanding the workplace studio at its Chicago office. 

Client Variety

Smith Group provides architecture, engineering, interiors and planning services, focusing on client markets such as the science and technology, learning, healthcare and workplace market sectors. These market sectors are operated as studios within the 10 offices nationwide.  “Angie is a proven leader who quickly led AREA Design to become one of Chicago’s fastest-growing designers of innovative workplace environments,” said Andy Vazzano, managing director of Smith Group’s Chicago office, in a statement.  “Her strong personal presence and analytical style has built key relationships with Fortune 500 companies, financial institutions, trading firms, pharmaceutical companies and professional services firms.”

All of AREA Design’s clients made the move to SmithGroup, along with its seven-member staff.  Clients include The HON Company, DDB Chicago and Exelon Corp. Workplace design is emphasized at the firm’s nine other locations, allowing the new studio to share resources, ideas, trends and ideas company wide. 

Designed to Inspire

The firm’s mantra is to design projects and spaces that inspire and increase the productivity and well being of the end-user. Much like an investigative journalist works, Smith Group says it first researches how its client operates, as well as their needs and wants. Tools as commonplace as the Internet are helping the firm research prospective and current clients.  “Research is such a huge part of business development,” Lee says. “Even before a project, we need to know everything that we can about a business, SmithGroup’s mantra is to design spaces thatinspire and increase the productivity and well being of the end-user. The firm has relationships with several Fortune 500 companies. 


Different Strokes

Take a look around your workplace.Is it occupied by multiple generations? If so, do the layout, technology and even the décor reflect those generations’ expectations? As the demographic shift occurs in the workplace in coming years, employers will be challenged with creating workplaces that make employees feel valued and keep them productive.

Many will look to the interior design industry for guidance.  As expectations of the workplace shift with the generations, the interior design industry is also evolving to address these changes, says Edward Varias, an interior design instructor with The Art Institute of California at Orange County. Furniture & Interiors recently connected with Varias to discuss the changing landscape of interior design, its function in the workplace and how employers can adjust.

Furniture & Interiors: How are companies today accommodating the various workplace needs of a multi-generational work force?

Edward Varias:  Today’s workplace caters to the new multigenerational workforce by using more flexible furnishings, such as open workplaces instead of enclosed cubicles, ergonomic chairs, colors that pop and unique materials and lighting throughout the work environment. The new generation prefers a more open space for functionality, flexibility, comfort and a more up-to-date, aesthetically pleasing workplace.  

FI: How do workplace needs and wants of Generation X and Y differ from older generations? 

EV: The older generation preferred to have their own compartments so cubicles became popular.Today’s generation is more flexible and prefers to have open work surfaces and visual communication with their coworkers. 

FI: How can design positively impact the workflow in a corporate environment? 

EV: Interior designers can help plan teaming zones – open workspaces set aside especially for team projects. These areas facilitate team involvement and are easily adaptable to different projects. 

FI: What do you anticipate will be the next trend in workplace interiors?

EV:  I anticipate more companies will begin to incorporate the idea of flexible work stations. hotelling stations that are open and have a lounge-like feel can be ideal for employees who are rarely in the office, such as telecommuters, or visitors from other office locations.

FI: How can businesses use interior design to recruit and retain employees? 

EV:  In the same way that upscale hotels and spas entice guests through aesthetically pleasing rooms and lounge areas. The work-space can play a large role in the decision making process and therefore should portray an enjoyable environment that people want to inhabit and spend time in. For the younger generation, this means fun colors, unique materials and cool furniture.