Enjoyed working on this with @flaneurbanite: re-imagining a co-working space

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Over the month of September, I collaborated with urban planner, writer and good friend Shilpa Bhatnagar on a project that looked to revitalise a coworking space for the advertising industry through the NABS David Pilton Hub Challenge. Unfortunately our ideas didn’t come to fruition, but we spent so much time and energy thinking, rethinking, drawing (Shilpa!), writing and sharing ideas that it would be a shame not to let others know about it. We also really enjoyed the whole thing. Working this collaboratively on a short project like this isn’t something I’ve done for a while, and it has given me the confidence to be open to doing more such projects going forward. I’d like to thank Shilpa for all her hard work on this; her specific skills complemented mine really well and gave me an insight into how an urbanist and design expert thinks, things I’m not super-skilled at though I’m very interested in them!

Tools we used: Springpad to collect our thoughts and ideas, Prezi for the final presentation because we liked the impact the animation added to our ideas, good old email and lots of in-person meetings (there really is no substitute for face-to-face when you’re working with someone!).

Below is the text of our presentation (embedding Prezi in WordPress is a royal pain so you’re going to have to click the link). We were asked to work with a budget of £1000, which added an extra challenge. If you’re looking to redesign a coworking space, feel free to use our ideas (but do let us know about it!).

Good design is only as good as the story behind it

We believe good design is only as good as the story behind it. This is as true for brands as for physical spaces.

For us, design is not just about art work, or pretty colours, neither just about form and function, but a cohesive narrative of the logical thought behind it. One of the main criteria for this project was that the space must reflect the zeitgeist of the advertising industry as it is at present, and therefore, every aspect of our design reflects that narrative – in this presentation, we will take you through this story.

Advertising 2013

Historically, the advertising & media industry has been closed, walling off creativity within specific creative departments. However, we are seeing a marked change in the way agencies and brands function. Creativity is encouraged through through partnerships and crowdsourcing, and rewards innovative and progressive thinking as campaigns become more transparent with social media.

Now, while the spirit of collaboration is inherent in the very concept of co-working, our re-design of the space attempts to foster this in better ways than at present.

Besides collaboration, what is advertising in 2013?  We think a lot of it can be summed up as “BEING USEFUL”. Campaigns need to be meaningful to the customer, add tangible value to their lives, and are becoming more and more interactive and responsive.

In the same spirit, we think that this philosophy of Being Useful must extend to the physical space, in that every aspect of the design – physical or conceptual – attempts to do something tangible for the user.

So how does this translate into the space?

Being Useful means three things to us:

– Minimising Waste

– Being Multi-functional

– Being Agile

Minimising waste

Minimising waste means eliminating clutter and getting rid of inefficiencies and redundancies in the room. It also means not wasting existing resources. The walls for example – they hold up the room, yes, but why waste precious wall surface in such a small space? Our design makes better use of the walls by turning them into ideating surfaces with the use of whiteboard and chalkboard paint.


Smoothly dovetailing into this is the concept of multi-functionality. So things exist for a reason, yes, but also, ideally, for MORE THAN ONE REASON.

So if the walls do more than one thing, why leave out the ceiling? We’d like to replace the existing, slightly boring, lights with two identical trellises on each side of the room – these will not only hold up the new lighting system, but will also  become a frame to hang up, say, fairy lights for a party, or extra pendant lamps, perhaps.

In keeping with that, we’d like to introduce technology into the room, by installing a screen connected to an iPad running Panic Status Board. While the app allows the users of the room to be connected to the outside world through a customisable interface, the screen allows the users to do other things as well – when you’re not using it to mirror the app, you could use it for presentations, screen films, or just use it as an extra monitor if it comes to that.

We also use the walls for one more function: to inspire. This space is meant for creative advertising minds looking for inspiration. So we’d like to give them a little dose of it through, literally and physically, the writing on the walls! These quotes are an example of the kind of thinking we’d like to propagate:

‘If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original’ – Sir Ken Robinson

‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change’ – Charles Darwin

‘All boundaries are conventions’ – David Mitchell  

‘   ….the advertising we create really needs to be something users want to see’ – Susan Wojcicki

‘Create continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface’ – Toyota Principle

Will it get old? No.


Because that leads us to our third guiding principle of AGILITY. Which means that the space will be a highly responsive and evolving environment that will easily lend itself to the changing needs of those using the space. So if you get bored of the quotes on the wall, you can change them – because we’ll do them with erasable chalk pens.

It is also in keeping with the philosophy of agile planning that dominates the advertising industry today: planning that provides for changes in culture and society rather than plans that sit 6 or 8 months down the line when who knows what may happen in the interim. Tactical plans embody this – a strategy adopted by challenger brands like Paddy Power.

So it is with the technology bit – we are relying on iOS right now, but 2 years is a long time in technology-years and therefore we do realise that things could change. So even if the technology gets old, you still have the physical resources to continue using it in the future.

Design theme

But a collection of good ideas, if we may say so ourselves, does not make a story. To become a story, they need to be threaded together in a logical manner – to become a cohesive whole – and that is where our design theme comes in. It needs to grow from the ground up – the existing elements in the space must marry the new elements we propose in a experientially seamless, but aesthetic manner – it cannot be just a veneer.

That is how we came up with our design theme –  Industrial Chic.

Industrial Chic

Why industrial chic?

– It is characterised by a very utilitarian, back-to-basics approach

– It goes well with our guiding principles of minimum waste and multi-functionality

– It is characterised by the use of rugged materials: rough metal, bare walls, wood grain, accented by a few sleek touches like splashes of colour.

So what is Industrial Chic?

Industrial chic is current and very much on-trend. Nostalgia about Industrial Britain is all the rage in the arts these days, take the Olympics opening ceremony, Tate Britain’s 2013 Lowry exhibition, recent films and TV series such as Made In Dagenham, Call The Midwife and The Pitmen Painters and of course a general hankering after converted warehouse spaces in East London.

But industrial chic  is still classic, it doesn’t get old – because it very easily combines old rugged classics with modern statements like technology and colour. But that’s not the only thing – because it comes from a philosophy of ruggedness, it is easy to do and easy to maintain. These materials tend to be relatively cheap, so it is budget friendly. Ruggedness can also means re-purposed, so again, it is agile. And crucially, because  a bit of wear only adds to the look, it doesn’t easily get old – it is long lasting.

A quick note to close: this was very much a side project, and it’s an experience I’m glad I went through. Highly recommend everyone explores them when they can.

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