A design for designers

Bally Design’s offices and studios on North Craig Street occupy the space of a former automobile dealership. The word “Oldsmobile” embedded in the floor tile mosaic and a long bank of glass-front offices confirm its former identity.

But the showroom these days displays models of vacuum cleaners, hand and power tools and a variety of other products that Bally Design has developed for its clients.

While the close attention paid to the details of a consumer product like an automobile might seem perfectly harmonious with the activities in an industrial design studio, the similarity between a design studio and an auto dealership might not seem so apparent. Although the original tenant’s function was starkly different from that of Bally Design’s, the space works remarkably well for the design firm, which has used it creatively and economically, with a few alterations, and molded it to its own uses.

That’s important, because the way the space fills the design firm’s functional needs is critical, says Frank Garrity, Bally Design’s president.

“It impacts every single interaction that our company has with its employees, its customers, their teams that come here to work — everything,” says Garrity. “I would put it No. 1.”

Garrity points to one example of how the office affects business. Bally’s clients’ employees often come to its offices to work on projects with designers. Officials from athletic shoe manufacturer adidas, for instance, came from all over the world to the offices last year to discuss product design issues and got a surprise.

“They were amazed at how much they could accomplish in a short time if they were all in the same room, focused on the same issues,” says Garrity.

Garrity’s own office is between the showroom and the designers’ areas. Doors in his office, which he usually leaves open, connect the two areas. It’s an arrangement he prefers because it creates an openness that allows staff members to pass through and share ideas or discuss projects in a casual manner.

The company did make some changes to improve the work areas. To create a large meeting area, a wall was eliminated between two smaller spaces. The resulting room is large enough to accommodate a couple dozen people to exchange ideas or formulate strategies.

Some ideas were cheap to implement. Panels of an inexpensive product used for sheathing in building construction were covered with fabric and attached to most of the walls to allow design team members to pin up ideas during brainstorming sessions.

“You can pin on every wall in our space,” Garrity says.

Bally even designed some of its own lighting. Light fixtures in one of the work areas were designed and fabricated by designers in-house. While they look like stylish units that would fetch a tidy sum in a specialty store, they are constructed of sheets of foam core, a few feet of guy wire and off-the-shelf commercial lighting components.

“It was a good, cheap way to get good lighting,” says Garrity.

For business owners who are contemplating a new space or a new design for their existing quarters, he suggests considering how employees and clients interact.

Says Garrity: “I would start on the work habits, how teams interact — client teams and internal teams.” How to reach: www.ballydesign.com

Ray Marano ([email protected]) is associate editor of SBN magazine.