Your Mission on Display: Why Good Office Design Matters

Winners of the first-ever Association Real Estate Awards share thoughts behind their unique office designs and how good design can help embody an organization’s mission.

Good office design, like any creative endeavor, requires thought.

It reminds everyone when you walk in the front door why we’re here and who we work for.

“If you just build your office space out and you put a bunch of your board members on the wall, you’re sort of doing the as-expected installation in your space,” said Tom Fulcher, executive vice president at commercial real estate firm Studley, cosponsor of the Association Real Estate Awards with ASAE Business Services.

Winners of the awards, announced this month, were not only recognized for creativity but for how well their office space reflected their organization’s mission—an important factor for associations.

“For associations and nonprofits, I think the reason that people are there, for many people, is really a sense of the mission,” Fulcher said. “They’re not necessarily there to collect a paycheck. They’re there because it is important to them.”

So, it’s important that when people walk into an organization’s office, the design supports that, he added. “Your enthusiasm is on the walls. It’s in the lobby. It’s in the conference rooms. It’s everywhere.”

As soon as you step off the elevator at the offices of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association in Bethesda, Maryland, you can catch a glimpse of the association’s passion and mission through its glass lobby doors, where a 1955 Nash Metropolitan automobile serves as the reception desk.

The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association’s reception desk

Jaw-dropping—that’s the response AAIA gets from most visitors when they see the lobby, said Susan Medick, chief financial and operations officer at AAIA, one of the award winners.

“It reminds everyone when you walk in the front door why we’re here and who we work for,” Medick said. “We’re lucky that we do a lot of stuff with automobiles and auto parts, so there are a lot of fun things to make the space fun and exciting, and it kind of puts you in a good mood.”

AAIA redid its office about 10 years ago when President and CEO Kathleen Schmatz wanted to create a unique space different from any other business. “She wanted to make sure that anybody who came to our office knew what we did and who we represented,” Medick said.

Besides the car desk, which was Schmatz’s brain child, AAIA tries to carry the car theme throughout the office with artwork composed of auto parts and bucket seats for visitors in the lobby. The association’s mail and break rooms also feature punched metal—the kind you would find in an auto repair shop—to create an automotive feel.

While designing an office space might seem easy for the International Interior Design Association, another award winner, it also might be a challenge given whom the association represents. How do you choose what type of design or which designers to showcase?

“Our members do a wide range of work from commercial to retail to hospitality, and [our designer] really focused on having our space bring out those elements of the different areas of specialty design,” Cheryl Durst, IIDA executive vice president and CEO said. “Rather than looking at individual designers we looked at vertical markets and specialties that they serve as professional designers.”

International Interior Design Association’s library area

The goal wasn’t to be trendy either, Durst said. Having signed a 15-year lease on its office space, the association knew it had to incorporate timeless design elements. “We’ve got some classic pieces,” Durst said. “Some very classic post-modern pieces from the 1920s and the 1930s that are instantly recognizable to designers.”

Functionality was also top of mind when IIDA was designing its office. Not only is the space LEED Gold certified, but it was designed to provide staff with a comfortable working environment.

“We have an open office,” Durst said. “Everyone has access to day lighting. Everyone has controllability of the airflow in their space, so it’s effective from an efficiency standpoint and effective from a human-connection-to-the-workplace standpoint.”

Looking into redesigning your office space? Durst suggested talking with an interior design professional about the process and also talking with members, staff, and key stakeholders about what they want the space to embody.

“You want to know how the space will feel and how the space will function,” she said. “It can’t just look good, it has to work well also.”

Visit ASAE’s Flickr page to see more photos of the winners, including the National Confectioners Association, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers.

How does your association incorporate its mission into its office space design? Let us know in the comments.

A series of X-ray photographs at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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