Design for Innovation


03 February 2016 - TIM HAWK

Don’t you love going on vacation? It doesn’t matter if it’s a short time away or a long, distant journey, the act of getting away from normal is somehow re-invigorating. At its foundation, vacation is so rewarding for the busy 21st century American simply because it provides a break, but I have often wondered if there is more scientific reason which might suggest that getting away can actually provide a creative perspective, renewed energy, and a clearer mind. Adam Galinsky, professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University sites research which supports this theory.

“Galinsky’s research with William Maddux, a professor at the business school INSEAD has found that traveling abroad makes people have a more nuanced understanding of themselves, while at the same time they also have a better sense of who they are.” Time, May 24, 2011.

So, vacation can indeed provide a refreshing experience and propel individuals to act, think, and perform their job duties with more creativity. Can even a few days away from your normal work experience provide a similar effect? We think so. As we explore the seeds of innovation in workplace design at WSA Studio, we have found that an idea incubator that is created as a destination place can have a significant impact on an employee’s contributions to process innovation.

The destination needs to be away from the standard workplace, preferably in a remote location. The destination needs to be designed to contrast with the organization’s typical workplace environment. The destination needs to provide a memorable experience.

A special, unique, and memorable place

Cardinal Health, number 26 on the Fortune 500 list in 2015, came to WSA Studio with the idea of creating a business technology innovation center, Fuse, in a retail space on the edge of Dublin, Ohio. Cardinal had leased approximately 12,000 SF in a strip shopping center less than a mile from their world headquarters facility.

The existing Cardinal Headquarters is considered “Class A” space by real estate professionals and was designed by leading workplace specialists at NBBJ, Perkins + Will and OHM Advisors in a series of phases over a fifteen-year time frame. Why on earth would Cardinal want to displace people from their top-notch, state-of-the-art facility to a simple strip shopping center adjacent to retail stores, restaurants, and a branch bank?

They were interested in creating a destination to gather corporate players in a fresh and creative environment. DISTANCE and difference were at the heart of their concept.

The existing corporate office is a very typical compilation of individual workstations, private offices, closed conference rooms, with adjacent collaborative space. Designed primarily to promote the efficient production, the corporate headquarters supports linear processes, individual tasks, and day-to-day functions. The corporate headquarters is, well, corporate.

Executives at Cardinal wanted to establish Fuse as a place where innovation would be rewarded and valued. Teams are encouraged to take risks and solve problems. Employees who work at Fuse tackle the design, development, and delivery of technology-enabled services and software to help healthcare providers improve the safety and efficiency of patient care.

“Everything about the space, including its custom-designed entryway sculpture, is intentionally designed to remind employees and visitors alike that when they walk through the door, we want both their right and left brain engaged. We want employees to leave their job titles, business units and silos behind so they can focus on solving customer problems.” Brent Stutz, Senior Vice President, Commercial Technologies, Pharmaceutical Segment, Cardinal Health. See more HERE.

At the heart of the design is the “sub-hub”: a large, centralized gathering area anchored by large tables which serve multiple functions daily. Employees eat lunch at this location, they take breaks, collaborate, and hold impromptu meetings (often called scrums). The sub-hub promotes equivalent access to all participants in an atmosphere where creative collisions are encouraged. Hierarchy is stripped at the sub-hub and employees feel physically and emotionally free to consider, share, and explore creative solutions to typical challenges. Adjacent spaces all envelop the sub-hub which functionally reinforces its position as the design’s hearth, heart, and center point. In order to emphasize the importance of the sub-hub, designers at WSA Studio crafted a stylized, curving ceiling soffit directly above the space which makes the sub-hub have three-dimensional spatial impact. The sub-hub flooring, tables, and soffit are painted white to provide additional contrast in juxtaposition to the darker surrounding environment. The sub-hub makes a bold design statement through its start simplicity, contrasting color and shape, and centralized location. Fuse visitors are instantly transformed on a mini-vacation from the individualized, linear, corporate environment of the home office.

Wouldn’t you want to work at a place where you can take a short vacation periodically? Refreshing. Invigorating. Memorable. The designed environment at Fuse plants the seeds of innovation for this global leader in health care services.