So you like the color red.
For most of us, that might serve as the jump-off point for a new office design that includes lots of, well, red. Pretty nice, you think, as you stroll through your newly decorated headquarters, proud of an interior which, despite the fact that it drained your corporate coffers, makes you and maybe even your employees feel good.
It's lovely, indeed. But what does it really say about your company and the experience your customers have with it? How does it help you do your job better? And what image or message are you trying to convey? In short, how does it communicate your brand?
Those are just some of the questions you would have gotten from Robert Adam and Louis Filippo, partners since 1979 in Adam Filippo & Associates. Adam, an industrial designer by training, has spent years helping design identities for corporate clients. Filippo, also an industrial designer by training, has spent much of his time in commercial interior design.
But over the past 21 years, the two have brought their strengths to bear in building a progressive design firm which they describe more holistically as a branding boutique. Among their more notable clients: Tuscarora Inc., Mellon Bank Corp., Dick Corp. and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield.
For Adam and Filippo, designing an office space begins not with color or taste, but rather with a soul-searching identity quest that brings together internal and external customers, work space functionality and image. And that's only the beginning. Interior design becomes only part of the integrated process that ultimately creates an experience for the customers which creates satisfaction and loyalty.
You say you like red? Here's what Adam and Filippo have to say about design for design's sake vs. branding, and what you'd better be thinking about before your undertake your next corporate makeover.
SBN: How important is office design for businesses today?
Filippo: We think it not only affects people's work habits, attitudes and performance, but as everyone understands that, now that brand has entered it, it affects the relationships and attitudes you have with your customers. So it's not only what it does internally, but what it does to your customer base that visits it.
Traditionally, people were far more worried about how it affected their employees and their performance, and they were not seeing it as a retail opportunity to connect with their customers. That's where people understand brand -- to make your facility work as much to your advantage as an advertising/public relations/communication campaign that goes beyond satisfying the business's internal people needs.
What do you consider branding?
Filippo: Let me jump off with the typical things you do for a traditional facility and what you have to add to get beyond that. In doing traditional interiors, absolutely, you look at people flow and paper flow.
And you look at how the business functions on a daily basis. And you take a look at space allocations to perform each function within this business. Then you look at the interior design aspects.
You now know how people go through your facility; that's the people flow. You understand the paper flow, which is basically how it functions. You understand what this clerical person does. You understand what this research person does.
And the next step is to understand how much space they need to perform each function. Then you're developing a fabulous interior to help support that.
Adam: Brand is really the portable message you take with you about your product, your service, your building, whatever element you're talking about that allows you to sort out that element vis a vis your competition. You need to be able to take that message and pull it apart. We know we have the visual.
How do we get that message to be carried with you? Part of carrying that message with you and being able to sort it is the experience -- you have to be able to experience it. So it's really that triangle of information.
Filippo: Backing up then, if you're then going to go beyond, you cannot start where they start. You've got to back up and first understand the definition Bob talked about in differentiating yourself in the marketplace.
It's not just about, "Oh well, they're all red, yellow and orange, so we're going to be blue and orange just to look different." ... Now take an architect. All of a sudden he's sitting there and working next to a person with a master's degree in communication. He's working next to someone who has a degree in marketing and research ...
It's not about just making the thing look pretty. That's where Robert really emerged in our corporation here, defining what brand is. So now, before we get into the people flow, paper flow, space allocation and all of that, we add something that takes us beyond.
SBN: Which is?
Filippo: When you start off with first understanding Robert's definition, if I bring him to a meeting and he stands up and says this and they say, "'OK, what does that mean?" We just sometimes say, '"Let us tell you how we're going to answer that question, and we're going to first help you to find your different customer audiences. How many different ones do you have?"
So you're saying, here are all of your customer bases. Then, let's do research and understand what the values are that are important to different groups of customers. You now understand what makes all of those audiences tick.
Then, can you prioritize the difference between the clerical people, the research, the salespeople? What's their order of priority? We tell them to tell us their 10 most important things, knowing that you're probably not going to get to all 10. Now, we have defined the customer base, we understand the different values embedded within them. We have a priority list through a proprietary research model we have here to understand each of the needs.
No corporation has untold amounts of resources, so we get them to understand that they've got to focus their resources now and develop a brand and marketing strategy.
Whether you like it or not, you don't have to spend one dime, and you'll get an identity. But if you go through this, you get a chance to control what it is in the marketplace. That's the only difference: Do you want to control it or just find out one day what your identity happens to be?
Adam: Customers integrate your message whether you like it or not. That really is the essence of what we believe. If you have 5,000 in your office and you look at it and say, "I don't have to worry about them. I'm just going to be without any outsiders," well, you've got 5,000 messengers sending out something to your outside marketplace.
SBN: What if people who just say they want a nice-looking office? What do you tell them?
Adam: We tell them that may not be appropriate. We tell them there are reasons you don't do this.
Filippo: We do research and say to them that it's based on research. Traditional facilities are based on interior and architectural research. Brand-driven interiors are based on the integration of brand/marketing strategies.
Adam: The overall question is, what message are you sending? We say that all the time. What message are you sending? If somebody says, "I want to change my image so I'm going to change my office," that's actually not an impossibility.
We'd like to have a chronological flow of information. You do your diagnostics first. You end up doing your visual development. You end up creating your messages. You understand what those messages are. You apply them. Then you start to apply them to your graphics, to your interiors and to your sign systems and your PR. All of those things start to flow out.
But occasionally somebody says, "OK, I have to change my image, my building's being done today, and I have to start here." So we can start on that thing and we work backwards. We end up knowing that, if we do those fundamental things here, these are the messages that we're going to start sending out. These are the things that we think are relevant.
We're going to go work backwards and build our graphics parts to that, or we're going to build our signage to that, or we're going to start creating our PR to that, out of these different tentacles.
SBN: What do you think about design for design's sake?
Adam: We don't believe in design for design's sake.
SBN: Then why do most companies tend to separate out interior design, customer service, advertising and all of the other decisions?
Adam: They manage in silos. That's typical in business. Everyone wants to make sure all of the graphics look good and are coordinated. Then they'll have the facilities area and all of the facilities may end up being tied together. But they don't talk to one another.
Your communication department, your HR, all of those things are managed in silos. The difference is that, when you're a customer and you walk in, you end up looking at their Web site, you end up taking a look at their communication pieces, you walk into their lobby. You're taking a cross-cut right across all of those things, and they don't necessarily talk to one another.
They do, maybe, at a macro level, but a micro level, you have line people who are in charge of making things happen. They're in charge of getting that budget done, buying the right chair up front. They're looking at the chair more for its function than what kind of chair it should be. Maybe the function is ergonomic and not sitting. Maybe they need to stand more often so they need a higher chair.
Filippo: Ten years ago, how many times do you think that, when they're going to develop a facility, they have a personnel person sitting in the facility meeting, the person in charge of marketing, sales, the facility, the advertising person all sitting in the same meeting and saying, 'We're about to build a major building in Pittsburgh with a whole bunch of sub-buildings, and I want to integrate all of the most powerful messages we can give our people internally and externally. Do you think that ever happened? No.
SBN: Why do businesses continue to do things that way today?
Filippo: It's been embedded in our culture that this is the way we run businesses. This is the way we do facility programs. Today, is there a university that teaches facility/brand? Are they making architects and interior people take these things?
SBN: How does it help to understand all of that before you go into a design, as opposed to saying, simply, "I like red?"
Filippo: We're able to go back and say, wait a minute, here's the six research points. Here's your customer base -- we find out what they like, the kinds of services, environments and things they want to do, and we're basing all of those design decisions on strategy and research and design. How do you prove that red is better than blue?
Adam: I had a teacher one time who expressed that problems that looked very creative, that are really wonderfully done and look beautiful but don't solve the problem -- he called them magnificent failures because that's exactly what they were. They were magnificently done, but they didn't solve the problem. That's the basis of what we do. We solve the problem.
What is the interior supposed to do for you? What are the messages you are sending? What are the things your people have to do, you know, paper flow? How do things have to move within it? How do all of these things happen? Once we define all of these parameters, that's the problem we have to solve, and everything we do has to relate back to those.
SBN: What do you say to the person who says, "I want a decent design." Why should people care about their design?
Filippo: I'll tell you what we tell them. Look, we can develop a beautiful building for you. But isn't the most important thing in the corporation the profitability of the corporation? If profitability is what's most important, then why would you design a facility that just makes everybody happy? How does it enforce all of your marketing, brand, research and communication goals?
Adam: Simply, by being focused, it saves money. That's the issue. So why do people do it? It's actually more cost efficient.
Filippo: It goes back to understanding the customers, understanding the customer values, understanding the customer priorities, which may be different from yours, and to be able to focus them -- employees, too.
SBN: So why don't people get it?
Adam: Brand is an experience, and it takes time. It's a time-sensitive element. It's not short-term blast awareness and you're there. Because of that and because of our electronic age, hit-it-now mentality, a lot of people just don't have time to deal with it.
They don't think it's relevant. But they find out over time that it is. They need to coordinate their message.
SBN: So what is the interior, relative to that message?
Adam: It's just another vehicle for the message.
Filippo: It's just another tool.