The Launching Pad
in Delray Beach, Fla.
Gather a bunch of creative
minds together in one room for any length of time and
they’re bound to generate some good ideas. But just how innovative
those ideas are might have more to do with the room itself than
people generally admit.
The belief that the design and
aesthetics of meeting rooms actually can enhance the efficiency or
creativity of people working inside them is the driving principle
behind a number of dedicated meeting venues that now are sprouting
up across the country. Places like Blue Ocean Facilities in
Cincinnati; Catalyst Ranch (see page 4) and Thinkubator, both in Chicago; The
Launching Pad in Delray Beach, Fla.; Sparkspace in Columbus, Ohio;
and The Workshop in Louisville, Ky., all market themselves to
planners as specially designed environments conducive to
extraordinarily productive or creative meetings.
While the details differ, these venues
share basic design elements. They have high levels of visual and
tactile stimulation; bold, contrasting colors; whimsical decor;
open, flexible meeting areas; a variety of soft, comfortable
seating options; prevalent windows and natural light; and symbolic
objects such as toys, trinkets or artwork that reinforce concepts
of acceptance, risk-taking and innovation. Some venues are even
stocked with vintage furniture, intended to remind attendees of
their childhood, a period of their lives when imagination knew no
“I believe environment matters,” says
Mike Docherty, developer of The Launching Pad and CEO of Venture2
Inc., a Delray Beach, Fla.-based consulting firm that helps clients
innovate. “For companies to be more innovative, they need to be in
environments that foster creativity.” A corporate culture that
rewards originality is critical, Docherty allows, but physical
space is key, too.
In recent years, especially when it
comes to office design, corporations have started to buy into the
idea that the physical working environment can be manipulated to
give employees a boost. “There are things the built environment can
do to make the white-collar work process more effective,” asserts
Frederick Schmidt, managing principal of the Chicago-based design
firm The Environments Group, which has helped design offices for
clients such as Crate & Barrel, ESPN and Google.
Popular trends in workplace design
involve clear-cutting jungles of isolating offices and cubicles,
eliminating the physical reinforcement of bureaucratic hierarchies
and encouraging more interaction between employees. The goal is to
make the workplace more social, in hopes that even casual contact
between the right people, regardless of whether they work together
on a day-to-day basis, can spark great ideas.
But just how much can design strategies
improve off-site meeting rooms, which by definition already are
hubs for social interaction, and in which employees might spend
only a few days, or hours, each year? Can the color of the walls,
the presence of an Etch-A-Sketch or the feel of a human hand-shaped
chair actually make attendees think more creatively? And if so, can
planners, who are looking to give their attendees every possible
advantage, afford to ignore the power of design?
Breaking it down
Even skeptics must admit that the
physical environment can have a profound effect on meetings. The
basic argument goes something like this: Would you rather meet in
an overcrowded, windowless room with uncomfortable furniture and
flickering, fluorescent lights, or in an airy room on the top floor
of an office building, with expansive views, ergonomic chairs and
access to a terrace?
“If you dislike your boss or if you
dislike your job, no matter how beautiful the meeting room is,
you’re going to dislike being there,” says Schmidt. Still, he says,
the space can go a long way to positively influence the
Which design elements are most
responsible for optimizing meeting rooms? Both Schmidt and Andrew
Laing, managing director of DEGW North America, a New York
City-based corporate design firm, agree that the most important
features are functional, not aesthetic. Even the blandest of
meeting rooms could win their endorsement.
The space has to be the right size for
the group, Laing says, the configuration has to be appropriate, and
technology has to work properly and be integrated cleanly into the
design of the room. Good light and air quality are vital, Schmidt
adds, and even details like having proper space to store luggage
can make a big difference. The best meeting rooms, says Schmidt,
will feel spacious and serene. Service-related details also are
critical: clean bathrooms, good food, continually refreshed pots of
coffee and an abundance of office supplies.