“Most designers really just want to do the expressive stuff”

Maximum functionality and flexibility throughout the office – with a few branded, high-impact spaces setting the mood, such as the reception area and conference rooms. These aspects top the wish lists of many clients. It’s also the reason why designers like Ashley Couch have embraced the NORNORM concept. “It allows me the freedom to focus on the areas where the client is willing to give me free rein to create something unique, reflecting their brand”. “Meanwhile, the contemporary, pared down aesthetics of NORNORM makes it a perfect base to use for the rest of the office”, she says.

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Ashley Couch is a design leader and strategist with more than fifteen years of experience in leading fast paced, agile design teams, in workplace and hospitality projects; working collaboratively with clients to co-create innovative new workplace environments, such as Streetsense and WeWork.

Have the clients’ requirements on office interiors changed since you started?

Definitely – and in many ways. Young people in particular are expecting a lot more flexibility in an office. They don’t want to be at their desks all the time, they want to be doing different things, they want to be able to work from home and they want to be able to move around—they want to stand up sometimes when they work rather than sit down. I think being able to support the different ways people want to work is quite important.

Many companies also require flexible office furniture solutions that allow them to adapt to expanding – or downsizing – their workforce. These trends have been highlighted during the pandemic.

All of these aspects fit perfectly with the NORNORM concept, since the design is based on flexibility, making it easy to update layouts, items and floor plans at any time, transforming a general working space into a meeting room, for instance. And the client won’t have to invest in new furniture solutions for the each new function of a space, as NORNORM is based on subscription, giving you the freedom to change your furniture solution at any point without any extra costs. It means that you can add or remove almost everything in your workspace without any hassle. The challenge is often that the client wants to create the maximum of impact on a fixed budget. The cost-effectiveness of NORNORM, however, makes this possible, since it enables me to be really creative in high-impact areas of the office, such as the reception and meeting rooms, creating elaborate, unique expressions for each client - within the budget.

How important do you think branding is to office design?

The best office spaces aren't just functional, clean, and attractive; they also capture something of the spirit of the company. As the world of business is constantly changing with little certainty, people have a much stronger ‘desire to belong’. This is why it will be even more important in the future that office design creates unique identities, which are reflecting the company culture and values - enabling people to identify and be proud of their workspace and the company they work for.

So once you have the bare bones of your design in place, you should also splash out on a couple of quirky touches that sets the tone of the office. The reception area, for instance, should make a great first impression and speak to the style of your brand. With NORNORM it’s easy to use one of the basic design expression to build from, depending on what kind of impression you want to create. It gives me as a designer a great deal of freedom to be even more creative. And as most designers, I really like to focus on doing the expressive stuff, the parts of the work that express the client but also me as a designer.

What factors do you need to take into account when designing an office?

The trend is that people are less and less at their desk and much more active in different places in and outside the office. Instead on their desk they are in workshops, team meetings, project work, or are collaborating with others. Clearly the standard office, which has mainly desks, cannot be the solution for these changing requirements. Therefore much more creative workplace solutions are required with a multitude of different work settings to support optimally all these new activities. There is also a trend toward unassigned workspaces to support a variety of activities, including lounge areas with smartboards for collaborative work, small breakout rooms for more private tasks or those requiring absolute concentration, desks for the head-down-get-work-done moments, etc.

It’s also important to create a sufficient amount of quiet working areas, which enable people to get away from all the hustle and bustle. Being distracted by noise is the biggest problem people face in an open plan office concept. NORNORM makes it easy ensure that both individual and group activities can be carried out within the same space - to create a bespoke furnishing solution for each workspace based on the client’s personal style, functional requirements, floor plan and workflow.

From where do you draw your inspiration?

Inspiration can come from anywhere, from nature, to man-made structures, from other office design case studies to client marketing material.

My favorite thing about designing a workplace is transforming a standard office into a vibrant inspirational space that makes people actually want to come to work.

What is the most common client request you receive regarding the spatial scheme of a workplace?

Most clients who come to me want help them to develop their workplace strategy for the future. This means I normally don’t have a brief, but develop it together with the client.

For this I do quite a lot of research. This is not only about the functional requirements, but also very much about the vision for the future and the company culture and values. Only based on this do I start developing the design concepts. A rapidly expanding company needs a flexible office with room for growth. Planning an office that can grow with your company from the start is a much easier option than moving the whole operation to a larger space every time there’s a new round of hires.

That’s another aspect of why I like using NORNORM, as the design aesthetics is based on being timeless, rather than trendy, which will make if feel contemporary even in the future.

What about the sustainability aspect?

An increasing number of clients state sustainability as one of the top priorities when setting up a new office. Sustainable solutions are not only good for the environment, they can also reduce overheads in the form of energy costs, improve the health and satisfaction of the staff, and attract customers looking to do business with likeminded brands. As workspaces go through fast changes and adapt to new ways of working, expensive quality furniture with many more years to give risk ending up as waste and in a landfill. With NORNORM, instead of throwing out perfectly good furniture to order new, you prolong the products’ lifespan by refurbishing them. When you need another setup, the furniture you no longer need is restored and comes to use in some other office. This means that you can still get that revamp, without the environmental impact. I really like the circularity thinking of the concept - increasing the lifespan of the products and minimizing waste. NORNORM is also based on creating a maximum of functionality, flexibility and impact using a minimum of pieces, which reduces overconsumption.

Can the design of an office contribute to workplace wellness?

There is a growing awareness of the importance of a good work environment. Most of us spend a third of our life at work, and to make the best out of it, it’s key that we feel good. The reduced emphasis on face time  (thanks to ICT) is also good; it gives the individual more personal control. Productivity no longer requires being in the office all the time – which means that companies could reduce office space, but this also requires flexible solutions.

I have always wanted to create something that will make people feel better, happier – and even inspired – experiences that will enhance their wellbeing. I want to design solutions that are tailor made to suit people’s needs and reflect their values. And NORNORM help me to do that.

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