Interior Design Aids Competitive Advantage

Introduction

For most companies, image is the first step in capturing market share. Of course, you must have real substance in your product or service to back up your image. But setting yourself apart from competitors starts with the image you project.

When executives consider image, most think of logos, marketing materials, advertising, Web sites and public relations. However, there is one element of image that often gets overlooked: the interior design of your workplace.

Interior design and decoration may not make the top 10 list of most important strategic decisions a business makes. But the impression you create through the design and layout of your workspace goes a long way toward shaping the image people have of you and your business. It also has a very real and tangible impact on the attitude of employees and how they go about getting their work done. For these reasons, it can pay real dividends to put careful thought and consideration into the overall look and feel of your workspace.

The Big Two

Effective office design incorporates a wide variety of design elements, such as lighting, space, movement and style. However, two stand out above the rest: color and placement.

Color sets the mood and tone for the whole office. It influences emotional and physical well being and how people actually work in their workspace. For example, many hospitals and physical therapy centers use lavender because it imparts healing and has a very calming effect. Banks and law firms use greens to signify prosperity and trust. In contrast, black, navy and gray are very authoritative colors. They should be used by companies that want to make a strong, bold statement.

Placement, how you place and arrange furniture, equipment and interior decorations, is also essential to creating a successful image. Like color, it plays an important role in shaping subconscious attitudes and feelings in the workplace. For example, employees tend to be more creative when they work in tandem and can play ideas off each other. Whether that translates into a modular office environment or easy access to strategy rooms or war rooms, placement should encourage team meetings and a proper balance of space.

Balance is the Key

In the corporate world, poor color management and placement are common design mistakes. However, with most companies, lack of balance represents the most serious interior design faux pas.

For example, many companies will take a nice light airy space and ruin the effect by putting large, bold pieces into it. Or, they take a dark serious space and try to go contemporary with it. As a result, the design elements work against rather than with each other, and the end result becomes a mixed message that confuses the visitor and disrupts the flow.

Balance between individual design elements is paramount. If you’re looking for a serious approach, use strong colors with bold architecture and strong furniture. This works well for lawyers, accountants and companies that want to reassure people, gain their trust and make them feel comfortable when they walk in. If you want a light, techie approach, go modern. Use clean lines with modular chrome and steel to create a very adventuresome, cutting-edge look. Regardless of the image you wish to project, make sure that all your design elements work in tandem rather than competing with each other.

Function + Form = Good Design

When evaluating individual elements, function needs to be considered as well as design. For example, when it comes to flooring, hardwood and carpet impart very different messages. Yet, the decision should not be made on design alone. Hardwood flooring has a more elegant, sophisticated look and feel, but the sound of footsteps up and down the hallways can disturb people doing their work. The sound of echoing footsteps can also intimidate people and make them feel unwelcome.

Workstations represent another area where function must coordinate with design. Does the type of work being done require people to interact and exchange ideas, or does it suggest a need for privacy and quiet? The former will benefit from a modular arrangement, whereas the latter may be better suited to a more traditional cubicle design. Again, the key is to integrate both form and function to create the ideal interior design for your business.

To determine the best look and feel for your interior workspace, ask yourself three fundamental questions

  • Who are we and how do we define ourselves as a business?
  • What image and messages are we trying to convey to our market and our customers?
  • How do we want visitors to think and feel when they enter our workspace?
    Beware of trying to pull design ideas straight from a book because you can’t get a true feel for what the design will look like in your specific environment. For example, a picture in a book has no correlation to the height of your ceiling, the location of your doors and windows, and how you want things to flow. The best designs are always tailored to your specific environment.
  • Assessing Outside HelpMany companies hire outside expertise to ensure they create the proper look and feel for their workspaces. As with any consultant or service provider, it pays to do your homework by getting several references and checking for past experience in your industry. In particular, look for three specific criteria:
  • Good listening skills. This is your business. Don’t hire anyone who comes in with a preconceived idea of what your workspace should look like. Instead, seek out a consultant who asks a lot of questions about your design goals and objectives and listens closely to your answers.
  • Diversified background. Look for someone who has worked with a variety of industries and interior decorating styles. Knowledge of your industry, or the willingness to research it, is also helpful.
  • Compatibility. Make sure the consultant has good people and communications skills, and understands what you want to accomplish. If you have a team of employees leading the interior decorating project, make sure the consultant can work well with a team.Many interior decorators specialize in one or two areas. However, ideally you want someone who has their eyes, ears and hands into several different things, such as space planning, placement, feng shui, and color management. The best consultants can integrate all these different elements into a coherent design that portrays the image you want and sends the right message to your visitors.Ultimately, interior design is all about the flow. On an almost subconscious level, you want to bring out the best in your employees and you want to feel good about your own space. Above all, you want visitors to get the right impression of your business. In a highly competitive world, anything you can do to set yourself apart from the competition will help to get more of the market share you need.Nancy Feldman is president of The Art of Placement, Inc., an interior design consulting firm based in South Florida. Her Web site is www.theartofplacement.cc . She can be reached at 561-479-2290.

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