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A 'Blah' Office Can Have Serious Repercussions. Is It Time for a Redesign?

The best office designs reflect company spirit.
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From drab cubicles and cardboard curtains to game rooms and concert stages, startup offices run the gamut from bare-bones to over-the-top. But if the look doesn't jibe with your company's brand, you may be missing out on a valuable opportunity to attract investors, draw the best talent and boost employee productivity and morale.

"Communicating who you are and what your company stands for at every touchpoint is vital to creating a strong brand--and that includes the office design," says Rob Duncan, owner and creative director of global design studio Mucho, which works on everything from websites to interiors for large and small businesses.

A custom-designed space needn't be expensive. "You don't need a huge budget to make a big impact," Duncan says. "You just have to be purposeful and thoughtful about the kind of environment you create, because it has such an influence on culture, work ethic and your company's spirit."

Take a seat: Chairish's headquarters feature whimsical hand-drawn furniture illustrations, including the logo, a heart-backed take on a classic Eames chair. Photo (C) Marc Olivier Le Blan (Chairish)

After a three-month process conceiving branding for Chairish, an online furniture-consignment marketplace, the Mucho team extended the messaging into the company's 2,000-square-foot San Francisco headquarters. Mucho created whimsical hand-drawn furniture illustrations in varying sizes throughout the space and amplified-- Chairish's playful logo--a heart-backed modern chair that winks to the company's clever name--against a bright-pink accent wall. The rough-hewn drawings are edgy and beautiful, reflecting Chairish's eclectic mix of d?cor that is "gently used," rather than pristine.

"The design does a great job of communicating to our clients, customers, media and investors what it is we're about and what we care about. We really see the office as an extension of our brand," says co-founder and vice president Anna Brockway. "The nature of doing a startup is you're asking people to spend a lot of time, energy and love on whatever it is they're working on, and you need to be respectful of that and create a space that inspires."

Denise Cherry, principal and design director of San Francisco-based interiors firm Studio O+A, cites another function of effective office design. "It also helps with recruiting, which is a priority for most of our clients," she says. Her studio renovates offices for Silicon Valley's biggest names, including Facebook, Yelp, Square and Evernote. "You want to attract the best talent there is. And one of the ways to get people excited about your company is to see it when they walk in and tour the space."

O+A created the 50,000-square-foot headquarters of restaurant-reservation service OpenTable as a physical manifestation of food-centric culture. The lobby doubles as a giant, open break room, backed by a playful typographic wall of quotes culled from OpenTable's 250 San Francisco-based employees about their favorite restaurant experiences. There's even a "menu of the day" chalkboard space for impromptu ideas. "We wanted to involve all the employees so the space truly represents who they are," Cherry says. Conference rooms--with foodie names like "Food Truck" and "Buffet"--are furnished with numerous table styles, just like the eateries OpenTable represents, creating a communal atmosphere.

"One of the things that's been fun to observe since we moved in is how the design has influenced people's behavior," says senior vice president of marketing Ann Shepherd. "In our old space, there was nothing that was custom to us or fostered collaboration. But the new space reflects who we are and invites people to come together, so the thinking, innovations and connections that have been made are pretty great."