Ingredient 7: Location, Location, Location

December 4, 2019 • admin

Consider these factors when determining the best location for your new innovation center.

Real estate agents are quick to remind us that when looking for a home, the decision is all about location, location, location. There are obvious reasons for this: there is nothing like an ocean view, a great school district, or a place within a great neighborhood.

Determining the right location for you and your family is a difficult decision. There are so many factors that lead you to the best location. There are also consequences to that decision that may not be anticipated. What if the perfect home and location comes with noisy neighbors and a basement prone to flooding? It isn’t until after your decision has been made that some of these unanticipated consequences of the perfect location come to light.

The same challenge comes true when planning for your organization’s innovation center. Location is one of the most important decisions in the planning process. Determining to build on-site or off-site is critical to a center’s success. What type of community connection are you looking to achieve? A center’s location ties directly to branding and story, yet the location is always decided upon prior to getting an architect involved.

Keeping your innovation center “in-house” (within your current facility) or “out of house” (a satellite location) has a serious impact of the center’s success. Below are some challenges and opportunities to consider:



  • The location is convenient. Being downstairs or down the hall makes creating an innovation center appear easier.
  • The real estate cost is low. You already own the square footage; you only need to take advantage of it. A new attitude and some small renovations spurs the creation of an innovation center.
  • Show off space: a shiny, new innovation center in house creates a show off space for all visitors to your organization.  With the new buzz of the company’s new venture all kinds of people (media, competitors, clients, potential employees, etc.) will want to come check out what you are up to.  There is no better way to show how forward thinking your organization is than with a brand new space that promotes new ideas.
  • Statement of Commitment: there is no better way to show your employees, clients, and competitors your level of commitment toward innovation than to spend hard earned capital towards a new space that challenges the status quo.


  • Isolated by security: one of the first mistakes that many organizations make is to put their new and shiny toy behind locked glass walls.  Security of new innovative ideas becomes paramount and suddenly is only accessible to a few.  Not everyone in the organization is allowed to be innovative – only those with security access.
  • Separation from tradition: being an on-site innovation center is easy to create but faces challenges of identity. Being downstairs or down the hall makes it difficult to separate from the mothership and break away from the view point that lead to the need for innovation in the first place.
  • “Cool kids only”: a flexible, hip space with the latest technology that is locked away can create a “cool kid mentality.” A space that is designed to bring people together for collaboration suddenly makes only a certain few feel comfortable.  Certain teams that are assigned to the space become territorial.
  • Animosity amongst the ranks: a new show piece filled with the cool kids may create animosity among different groups in your organization. Innovation spaces tend to focus on technology development which segregates those not involved. Your sales team, accounting group, or older staff may sense a lack of support. All the buzz and capital is focused towards a single group and space can send the wrong message to others not directly involved.



  • Creates a destination.
  • Organized independence: with an off-site location, the independence from the home office allows freedom and the chance to change culture. With this independence, planning must be in place on the reporting structure to keep this new venture organized and focused on its mission.
  • Sense of importance: an off-site location provides the opportunity for groups to be invited and explore challenges outside of their daily routine. Being invited to participate reinforces an employee’s sense of importance to the organization.
  • Work is valued: if your innovation space is expected to push the organization forward, choosing certain work to explore shows that work, and the employee doing that work, respect and value. All employees hope their work is valued by their organization and nothing says that more than being invited to share it at the new innovation center, the space that is relied upon for some of the most important work being created.
  • Extending the brand: an off-site location extends your organizations brand to the public in a new way. An alternative interface is an opportunity to become more community based and attract diverse talent from what your original culture provides.


  • Less monitoring: We all know that saying, “when the cat is away, the mice will play.” In other words, who will hold employees accountable for the work? Communication with the home office must be seamless.
  • Real estate costs: an off-site location is an additional cost from the real estate side. Now you are a tenant in someone else’s building with less control on what happens around you. There are additional risks with additional leases and vendors to handle all that comes with an off-site location.
  • Advanced integration planning: How do you create independence yet maintain culture and connectivity? Planning out the first six months of a transition is critical. How will folks travel back and forth? Are there liaisons? Will off-site employees attend all office events at the home office? There are all kinds of logistics that must be supported and planned. Don’t wait until it happens to figure it out.
  • Transition period: the first six months are critical because people are figuring how this new space works and how to work within it. Give them time and plan for limited results in the first six months. Things go wrong; they always do. An innovation center, if built for the right reasons, is a long-term investment so have some patience and provide support.

These pros and cons should be considered, but ultimately, the decision you make about the location of your center should be the one that is the most effective for your organization. Put some weight on this conversation and use this list as a guide. An innovation center is a place for forward thinking, so the choice to make one is always a good one.

Ingredient 6: Collaboration

December 3, 2019 • admin

Human interaction encourages new ideas that drive innovation.

Collaboration is a buzzword that is widely overused when we discuss innovation. Teachers want their students to be more collaborative, employers pay bonuses based upon collaborative initiatives, and corporate leaders believe that collaboration can spur effective work process. But, hasn’t there always been some form of collaborative process? As our society has matured, have we not had collaboration to support basic initiatives and propel innovation? Of course we have had collaboration in the past, or great ideas would not have been propagated. I might argue that collaboration has always been at the core of organizational success. Look to Ford Motor Company, where team processes helped to drive production capacity on the initial assembly line. These workers were clearly collaborating to assemble vehicles. However, the collaborative process is much different than the type of collaboration that we reward today.

Twenty-first century collaboration is rooted in the belief that we are better off in the long run when we put our great minds together to solve big, audacious problems. In design, architects are working to engage a diverse array of partners to consider the future of our built environment. We know that we are best when we hold a broader conversation and recognize that our buildings will be better when these larger considerations are folded into the program. Architects design benefits from collaboration, and knowing this, we seek to demonstrate the benefits of collaboration when we design environments to spur innovation.

Through our research and practice, our team has discovered that we need to support collaboration to drive innovation. Without collaborative process, the speed at which new ideas are tested is slower and what might have been an innovative concept becomes yesterday’s news. In the design of our innovation centers, we have been able to experiment with new collaboration concepts. Interestingly, we have found that the key to collaboration is to provide a variety of spatial options. Yes, you need to provide open office environments which increase visual access to process, but interestingly, private, individual space is vital to collaboration. When we are solving challenges, we need areas to come together, and then places where we can focus. These differing environments help to support an iterative process, where concepts are analyzed and then tested and fit. Collectively, we get closer to the answers we seek, and the speed is fueled by the various environments, and especially the private enclaves which foster focused, individual work.

Historically, facility managers have resisted the multiplicity of space types, in large part due to the fear that space needs may increase real estate costs. Naturally, corporations have little interest in shifting their investments towards greater rental rates, so architects and designers have had to do more within the same footprint. Our recent work innovation centers have shifted space historically dedicated to individuals towards spaces supporting collaboration. If we would have assigned 64 assignable square feet to each worker yesterday, today we limit that allocation to 36. This allows 28 assignable square feet to be added to conference rooms, casual collaborative areas, amenity space, private enclaves, and the broader public realm. Recent projects have featured phone booths, small private meeting areas, and work areas with adjacent group-work tables. Mobile users are encouraged to use each space as they see fit to collaborate, retreat to privacy, and then reconvene. Our client attest that this strategy is driving results. Quality is on the rise, and innovative results are being modelled throughout their organizations.

So, what will be next? What will drive innovation in the future and how can collaboration be encouraged? Certainly, technology will play a role in shaping our future, and advances will increase the need for new design solutions. But, we also recognize that human interaction is key and will always fuel collaborative process.

Ingredient 5: Access to Technology

December 2, 2019 • admin

There is no denying technology's role in spurring innovation. Integrating tech into work and learning spaces requires special design consideration.

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” – Albert Einstein

Technological advances generally create an emotional response from people. Some view technology as a source of evil which separates us from one another, while others view it as a method to bring people together and to help solve some of our greatest challenges. Regardless of what you believe, there is no denying that technology is not going away. It is here to stay and demands that we address its implications.

As a young boomer, I feel like I have been able to watch the progress of technology and its impact on our culture. Largely, technology has impacted the ways in which we build community, either within organizations or across vast geographies. Technology tools, beginning with the invention of the telephone, have transformed the concept of connecting and accelerated the pace of society. Information is quickly disseminated by voice or video, and we are now able to connect across distances in real time. We gain access to information, and we can see and hear colleagues in ways considered futuristic just twenty years ago.

But, technology alone does not build understanding or enrich our knowledge. We need settings to support this exchange and drive the impact of technological tools to be effective. Recently, our designers have been experimenting with embedded and fully integrated technologies, mobile equipment solutions, and technology as the message. We have found that no one solution works best. The most successful solutions typically harness a hybrid approach utilizing a wide variety of technological strategies.


When a space demands a high level of reliability to support focused activities, we will specify embedded, hard-wired systems with fiber support and user-friendly interfaces. This scenario is the most robust and often comes with a hefty price tag, but also offers the highest level of impact. The advantages of a highly sophisticated, integrated technology program are its reliability, dependability, and simplicity. Users don’t have to worry about the system, since it is set up for success. The interface is consistent and dependable. On the other hand, these systems often become embedded dinosaurs as technology advances. Due to the significant financial outlay to embed the “latest” technology, organizations often resist updates in favor of leveraging their investment.


Once again, the old standby audio/visual cart is popular. Consumers who recognize the speed with which technology advances often prioritize mobility to minimize their initial financial outlay. Savings are invested in emerging technologies as they daylight, keeping organizations on the cutting edge of technology tools. In these scenarios, we find that the space needs to be designed to accommodate technology furniture. Lighting controls are often important, since adjustments may need to be made to address the changing needs of the mobile technology tools as they come and go from spaces. Wireless connectivity is vital, and access to power and network connections are also strong considerations. These criteria may increase visual clutter in the designed environment, and be at odds with the aesthetic sensibilities of the consumer. Most often, we specify mobile technology tools in spaces where technology is supplemental to collaborative settings and serves a supporting role.


Our environment is filled with visual messages. Billboards rotate digital displays which draw our attention, storefronts pulse and glow to peek our interest, and we are bombarded with messaging on our personal devices. It is a non-stop barrage and we begin to expect these messages and miss them when we encounter spaces without visual support. Classrooms, auditoriums, lobbies, stores, sanctuaries, and hospitals are almost always augmented with screens. But, until recently, these screens have been active background noise, offering a one-way distribution of third-party information and broadcast media.

Tomorrow’s environment expands visual display beyond the box and offers opportunities for scalar interaction. Visual display will come and go to augment our interactions in a fully integrated yet virtual format, and it will seem odd that we once were bound to the confines of a fixed screen for interactive support. We see it coming, and have begun to consider the design of spaces to support these eventualities. We know the power of these technology tools, and recognize that they need to co-exist with the balance of the designed environment. If we deny the possibility, we are assured that spaces will be overpowered by the formidable power of advanced technologies.

We are called to lead the integration of these future technologies and the time is now to step forward and consider the possibilities.

Ingredient 4: Market Premium

November 25, 2019 • admin

Designers balance the goals and desires of clients against costs, schedules, and logistical challenges.

Leading organizations in their process of change is really about helping them align their expectations. Innovations centers are a large capital investment and market premium expectations to support their vision must be addressed early in the planning process. The old saying “You get what you pay for” stands true when it comes to shifting from a standard open office environment to one that supports innovation.

Let’s start with a standard office space. Most facility managers, commercial real estate brokers, or commercial contractors can spit out costing information for the build-out of a commercial office space. Many use their own experiences and history. Others utilize industry benchmark standards such as BOMA. While these resources work very well for organizations to judge costs, they really don’t know what they are getting for these benchmark numbers. What about the return on their investment? What are they getting for their money? Remember: you get what you pay for.

If increased innovation, attracting talent, and increasing speed to market is the desired return, then the standard formula for costing is of no use. There is a market premium that comes with such innovative spaces.

But why does it cost more? The short answer is that innovation centers invest greatly in their furniture and technology (FFE items). The expenses can be almost twice than that of a standard open office space. The reason for the investment is that furniture systems, access to technology, and a flexible systems infrastructure are crucial to the success of an innovation center.

BOMA costing standards state that for a class A office environment, the cost of $50.00 per square foot should be expected. This includes hard costs only (construction of walls, flooring, lighting, etc.). If FFE items (furniture, technology, etc.) are added, pricing expectations rise to $80.00 per square foot. These costs assume a standard result: acoustical ceiling systems, consistent lighting, limited HVAC control, and standard furniture system for all employees. I could go on, but you get the picture: a pretty standard office space, not one of innovation.

Our experience in creating innovation centers shows an average construction cost range of $85 – $120 per square foot. If FFE (furniture and technology) is included, the costs rise to $110 – $160 per square foot.

As mentioned previously, many of the increases in construction cost are infrastructure to support flexibility of the environment and the employees’ work process. Remember, another ingredient to crafting an innovation center is flexibility and enabling employees to report to any space to support their task, personality, and/or collaboration needs. A standard office environment is unable to address those challenges. A standard office operates under a one size fits all mentality.

Understanding the market premium that innovation centers require enables organizations to better align their expectations. Those who are truly focused on utilizing design for change, understand the investment is worth every penny and will transform their organization to better align their business for success.

Ingredient 3: Aligning Partners for Scale

November 24, 2019 • admin

A cohesive space is created through full team collaboration. By partnering with industry specialists, we ensure a high quality project.

What is a partner? The textbook definition of a partner is “a person who takes part in an undertaking with another or others, especially in a business or company with shared risks.” Shared risks: this is the key. A partner on an architectural project has some skin in the game, and is invested in the venture with the architect. Both entities share in the success, assume the risk, and care. So, partners are important and serve the function to help scale the effectiveness of design. Without partners, architects and designers often work in isolation are not able to drive innovation beyond their individual reach. Partnerships take the project from the focused and simple towards a more impactful space which can drive innovation.

At WSA Studio, the design staff seeks partnerships to design affordable, custom solutions. These projects create unique places aligned with organizational values. Partners augment the creative response and elevate the design. Often, the partners represent manufacturers of systems that are incorporated into the project. Pre-manufactured building products like modular wall systems serve as a fundamental example. DIRTT, a partner of WSA Studio’s on many projects, leads research and product development to manufacture walls which bring high quality standards and consistency to the manufacturing of their products. Our projects benefit from the sustainable manufacturing methods which DIRTT harnesses and the consistent quality of their products. The construction result is more predictable. Components arrive in the field true to dimension and fabrication is simple for the installation team. This adds to the speed of erection and easy integration of electrical and technology infrastructure. Additionally, when the owner wishes to reconfigure the space in the future, they can reuse the components to support new layouts. This partnership with DIRTT expands the flexibility of the spaces which increases collaboration and fuels client innovation.

The design of specialty lighting can add dimension to the project as well. Innovation centers demand a variety of settings for workplace choice and walls provide boundaries which limit collaboration. If walls are less than preferred, the designer needs to work to define spaces in other ways. Differences in light levels, featured light fixtures, and accent lighting can make a dramatic impact on the definition of space, and often becomes a leading tool used to elevate the design results for innovation centers. At WSA Studio, designers partner with local lighting specialists and manufacturer’s representatives to stay abreast of the latest developments in lighting design. Often, these representatives are integrated into the design process early, and help to bring definition to the direction of lighting. Lighting can also be used to compliment the integration of audio/visual components. Great lighting design really makes a difference in the design of an innovation center. Partnerships with specialists drives quality design, and can often provide a spark to improve innovative results.

These partnerships allow a small, boutique firm like WSA Studio to take on more design responsibility. Partnerships extend the expertise of our staff, and provide clients with a designed environment that often exceeds their expectations.

Ingredient 2: Cultural Identity

November 23, 2019 • admin

Cultural identity is the most important remembrance factor of something, someone, or somewhere. It’s one’s ability of self-conception and self-perception toward distinct culture. This is built through various avenues of a “brand.” Brands are everywhere and continue to be instinctively recognizable to the human mind. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and media types, and create an eternal awareness of its origins. It’s a product (physical/virtual) manufactured by a group with direct intentions to relay a specific message to others. Architecturally, space making, circulation, spatial experience, and branding are the key factors in making a space and organization’s cultural identity accessible to its employees, customers, executives, and most importantly, the targeted public.

Design is a comprehensive process of understanding a client’s brand, culture, and goals. Once we understand the program and culture, we design to not only meet but exceed expectations of the brand. It’s our responsibility as the architect to propose the brand in “built form” in ways that challenge the preconceived idea of the space and how it can assist in encouraging a brand’s growth and the various ways in which employees tell the story. An organization’s brand is as strong as the employees who activate it, so matching the design to the mission is vital to the narrative.

In conveying the narrative of The Forge by Pillar, it was important to note that the brand is both mental and physical. The brand standards are universal on a macro level including all major space components essential to spur innovation. The idea is that the space has no constraints and, subsequently, neither do their ideas. The physical space includes elements to support that: the color code supports functionality as well as the brand’s vibrancy, a sign that says “Experience” to represent new ideas, and an overall industrial tone. Although there are multiple physical spaces throughout the Midwest, the brand elements set forth in Columbus have transcended to each location.

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Conversely, Wendy’s 90 Degree Lab is a space that allows its users to disconnect from the well-known, universal Wendy’s brand and introduce a freshness. When entering the space, there are elements that mimic a typical Wendy’s restaurant, but it is infused with technology and has an openness and freedom that isn’t found in the space a burger can be ordered. The colors and the signage are universal; the 90 Degree Lab is a brand on its own merit known for its technology applications.

A cultural identity assists in defining the values of the organization. Not only is a brand recognizable from an outside perspective, a strong brand connects it employees with a “We’re in this together” type of attitude. When people feel connected to a brand and a culture, people will stick around. Why is this important in the success of an innovation center? New ideas stem from people. When people inside the spaces feel connected and confident and part of a team, they want to offer their best. A cultural identity connects space to the people and that spurs innovation.

Ingredient 1: A Flexible Approach

November 22, 2019 • admin

The way people work and learn is constantly changing. Innovative architecture should be flexible enough to make room for change.

Flexibility: It’s a buzz word and a key ingredient in a successful innovation center. The shifts at a workplace require a design to be open enough that the user group can report anywhere, whether it be a personal desk or a bean bag chair by a window. Everyone wants their space to be flexible. We hear it from our clients on almost all projects and we evaluate the merits of design response through that lens. But, honestly, what is it? What makes a space flexible and why do we need flexibility? Can things become too flexible? Does each and every space need to support flexibility? What happens if our design is not flexible?

flex-i-bil-i-ty noun

1.     The quality of bending easily without breaking.
2.     The ability to be easily modified.
3.     Willingness to change or compromise.

Architecture is an art that takes years to unfold. Consider even a small project. The timeline will take months. Major projects may take two or three years to design and two or three years to build, making it a six-year commitment to which clients commit a significant amount of capital. Given the significant investment of time, energy, and capital, doesn’t it make sense that each project should be able to absorb change and adapt to shifting functional demands over time? Sure it does. In fact, flexibility is imperative.

A flexible approach is rooted in resilience. Buildings should support shifting demands while maintaining their relevancy and supplying its user group with wiggle room in their operational processes. Designing with flexibility in mind helps achieve these goals. Designing for flexibility lets users determine how they work best. That’s the point. At PAST Innovation Lab, the design is transparent and promotes the idea that each working style has a place. A small group can sit in comfortable chairs outside a learning lab and work together. A person can sit at a table under the skylight and work alone. The space was designed for that, for flexibility in operations.

At Motorists Insurance, flexibility with privacy and sound control were thought of in depth. Prefabricated, modular interior construction can promote easy, future reconfiguration of walls and partitions. The walls should move. The conferencing in The Intersection changes based on what is asked of the space. Varying size options are offered in regard to group dynamic. The rooms are adjacent to one another with the option to open the sliding doors to combine into one or close them and partition separately. It’s a multi-functional work space that support user freedom.

Of course, functional demands will require fixed specificity for spaces supporting skilled processes, and every innovation center will include a few, but, ultimately, a successful innovation center supports flexibility. It supports the notion that an idea can and should happen anywhere inside the space, whether it be on the go or while sitting in a conference room. Without enabling flexibility, a design becomes obsolete. Only one thing is guaranteed: the things we hold dear today will change, and we certainly don’t want our architecture to become a relic of the past.

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The Point at Otterbein University is an innovation center geared towards higher education. The space, by nature, has a slightly different purpose, but the outcome is still the same: it’s driven by innovation. All of the ingredients, including this flexible approach, are transferable to innovation centers in the higher education realm.

Crafting Innovation

November 18, 2019 • admin

Innovation centers are increasingly popular in corporate and academic settings. But what does it really take to design for innovation?

INNOVATION: The act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.

“Innovation” is a broad term. Because of this, every organization defines it in their own unique way. Uncovering how an organization innovates is the real trick. Understanding how an organization innovates will enable relevancy in today’s ever-changing market place. With competition everywhere (both internally and externally), organizations and institutions are reinventing themselves to meet the demands of growing customer expectations, an increased speed to market, and the difficulty of attracting and retaining top talent. As a result, organizations are seeking to transform their culture to one that fosters innovative thinking. Innovation centers have become popular among corporations, universities, and municipalities largely out of the demand for the aptitude the space provides. These centers provide a lens for organizations to examine and explore new creative ideas. With that shift in attitude, we must explicitly question assumptions about how we create spaces for this new way of working.

The best way to understand these innovations centers is to realize they are all based on one of three core models:


  • Unique spaces for a specific user.
  • Inspired by the startup culture.
  • Open to changing existing culture to give people innovative freedom.
  • A show-off space.

Most popular of the innovation center models. Two distinct varieties within this model:

  • The Co-working labs such as Chicago’s 1871 is a popular example with small businesses and entrepreneurs looking for peer networking and resources.
  • Universities and municipalities are utilizing the public/private partnership model to advance opportunities for students and local business.

Today’s version the shop class.

  • Makerspaces are utilizing new manufacturing technologies and bringing an entirely new set of skills into the workplace. It is no longer about how to build a better crafted birdhouse; these spaces are solving new challenges with the aptitude for evolving technologies.
  • More and more we are finding hybrid environments combining these traditional models best supports innovation throughout all markets.

With all that said, our research and expertise tells us it takes a unique set of ingredients to craft innovation.

The long-held belief is that if one were to mix the characteristics of a traditional office/academic space, highly caffeinated Millennials, a gaming center, and bean bags, innovative results would follow. Unfortunately, this is just not that case. Typical office space contains a list of ingredients that make it successful, but to transform a typical environment into one that supports innovation, we have established some not-so-cut and dry ingredients.


A standard approach – There isn’t anything unique about your day to day experience.

Applied branding – It is about taste and being told what you are to care about.

Scale – The one-size-fits-all mentality. Design is based on hierarchy and accommodation.

Market expectations – Spaces become commodities. It’s all about efficiency and limited options.

A cut and dry office experience is not difficult to provide, but a space that fosters innovation must be strategically crafted. There must be a layer of insight that goes beyond the newest and latest tools and trends. There are seven proven ingredients that transform a space and its occupants from that cut and dry space and culture to one that takes an organization beyond relevancy and into innovation.

Stay tuned through the next couple of weeks as we explore each ingredient in depth in the process of crafting innovation.

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