Workplace Design Must Go Beyond Fun and Games Experts Say During Interior Design’s Talk at Penn1

Move over gaming tables, employees trekking into the office today are seeking more than a round of ping pong. So what exactly do they want? Interior Design editor in chief Cindy Allen recently brought together four esteemed design professionals for a lively discussion at Penn1 in Manhattan to find out.

“The goofiness of the stuff we were trying before, I think that’s finished,” shared Jennifer Kolstad, global design and brand director at the Ford Motor Company as she sat perched atop a chair, microphone in hand. “When we are together, it’s to have meaningful connections with people and do meaningful work.”

Cindy Allen with Jennifer Kolstad and Sheryl Connelly.
Cindy Allen, center, with Jennifer Kolstad, right, and Sheryl Connelly.

Sheryl Connelly, chief futurist at Ford Motor Company, nodded in agreement and referenced the local artwork and calming vibe in Ford’s new experience center. “When I go into that space, it feels like an investment in me as an individual—there’s something that it really gives back to the employees,” she said. “If a brand wants to be seen as innovative but they don’t have the environment to match then they are stifling creativity.”

So how do architects and designers envision spaces that resonate on such a personal level for the many individuals it impacts? One idea involves thinking outside the box—literally. Kolstad established what she calls a “Think Tank” coalition comprised of people whose expertise extends beyond her own. Scientists, health and wellness experts, as well as a connection at NASA came together to discuss the impact of neurology (brain and physiology), psychology (behavior), and anthropology (culture) on the built environment.

“The Think Tank was unprecedented in terms of the scale of the group and the vastness of expertise,” Kolstad said. “We need human scientists. We will not try and answer a question without the perspective of neurologist, behavioral psychologist, and anthropologist.” This is especially important for identifying blind spots within the project, Connelly added. “The deeper the expertise, the more likely the person is going to see barriers,” she said.

9 guiding principles for the Ford Experience Center
The guiding principles for the Ford Experience Center.

Another key aspect of Kolstad’s process involves creating guiding principles, which are agreed on by all involved in bringing a space to life. With principles such as “life is movement” and “wellness as the pursuit of positives” top of mind and others for the Ford project, every design decision had to further said goals, keeping the team on track. “Let’s restate design objectives from a place of human,” urged Kolstad. “I encourage all of you to build a team like that, it really changes the perspective of your work.”

Up next, Peter Knutson, chief strategy officer at A+I, and Andy Bird, co-chief creative officer at creative agency, Le Truc/Publicis Groupe, joined Allen to discuss ways to maximize technology during the design process—especially when it comes to forming human connections, near and far.

For example, Bird showed an ad campaign for TikTok developed by his team that managed to generate unmatched engagement without showing a single TikTok video. Instead, the agency used word bubbles—just that those that captivate us via text or screen captions—to catch viewers’ eyes. It’s this kind of thinking that, similar to Kolstad’s Think Tank, needs to extend into the realm of design.

Cindy Allen with Peter Knutson and Andy Bird.
Allen with Peter Knutson, right, and Andy Bird on the steps leading up to The Landing at Penn1.

“The future of the workplace is fluid,” said Knutson. “As long as the core rationale for why we’re building a space stays in mind and we understand what designing for, we’ll always find a secondary solution to any challenge.” And solving problems is exactly what designers do best.

As Allen asserted: “When we talk about the future of workplace, that’s something that impacts every single one of us and in order to be innovative and do something different, we have to talk to each other.”

Guests on the steps at The Landing for Interior Design's Penn1 Talk.
A crowd gathered on the steps at The Landing for Interior Design’s panel about the future of workplace design.
Goil Amornvivat holds a fan that says "super fan" with Cindy Allen.
Goil Amornvivat, principal of AM/MOR Architecture, shares a playful moment with Allen.
Rebecca Moses and Cindy Allen
Rebecca Moses stopped by for the event after being in the spotlight at Interior Design’s inaugural talk at Penn1 earlier this summer.

A big thank you to our event partner, Garden on the Wall.

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