5 office designs in TV/Film that portray realistic working environments and trends.
The office design in Mad Men, although doesn’t portray realistic working environments quite so typically of trends now, does go a long way to showing how cyclical some design trends can be. The design of these spaces was all about the details, and this was not only in terms of the beautifully sourced furniture pieces but also the realistic portrayal of desk spaces with cabling and lamps with wires – not often shown in film/TV but very much an issue as designers we face with each new scheme, how do we make the necessary evils nothing but a second or even third thought to the daily users. The answer to this as shown in Mad Men is to create stunning interiors with pieces throughout that draw the eye elsewhere. The workspace design in Mad Men was created with heavy collaboration from Herman Miller, a company that speer headed the office design industry for creative professionals after World War II with an ethos that the office could be just like the home, saying ‘An office isn’t just an office. It’s a conference room, a living room, and a library too.’ Which led to a trend in furnishings that were simplistic, stylish and with clean lines, so not to overly complicate themselves for such a multi functional environment. This is depicted in Mad Men throughout each series and brings it back to cyclical design trends – more recently this ethos has been adopted again after a few decades perhaps of focussing on the office being just that, trends are now leaning far more towards offices being like homes, however, the difference from the 1960’s style of Mad Men is that this is adopted in an open plan environment, rather than just hierarchical offices of executives as this show is based on, a sign of progression from then to now. The office design in Mad Men is largely based on the accessories used to set the scenes, the lamps, the artwork, the rugs, cushions and drapery, all set with a backdrop of muted colour tones in pastels, mustard and aqua adjacent to bold prints – this type of layering again is representative of how we dress our homes and more recently how office interior design is leaning with clients wanting more leg work in sourcing pieces uniquely for them to represent their personality and their brand.
The office design in Suits is a stereotypical American legal style workspace. The design has a hierarchical nature in that the perimeter of the building is taken up by offices of partners and those of which in the corner offices are the managing partners with their names ‘on the door,’ a sign of their importance being in the larger offices with the best views over the city. Another point on the design of the corner offices specifically is they usually don’t follow the style of the rest of the office, more often than not these offices are individually designed with a separate budget by the partners and so reflect the person that occupies the office, rather than just representing the firm. These offices will also be large enough for meeting spaces, both relaxed and more formal so to give the space a multi function and to reiterate the importance of the occupier to the visitor, whether it is a client that needs to see this stature for reassurance or a legal team on the other side of a case perhaps to intimidate – this is all achieved through the office interior design. This is then backed up by the large areas in front of these offices for the legal secretaries – typically with very large desks and private, lone spaces away from open plan. Workspaces of this type usually have the meeting rooms in close proximity to the offices also, purely for the convenience of the partners and again utilising the window space to show off the views – another boast through office design of the position the firm holds. There is an open plan space within this office and that is for the associates that come in to the firm at the bottom of the ladder and so to generate a feel of competition and excitement these are put in the centre of the space in a sort of open plan pool – a polar opposite feel to that of the calm, sophistication of the offices and large reception area, an office type and style that reiterates the difference between atmosphere in open plan spaces and cellular spaces across the board of office interiors and industries.
A relatively recent addition to our screens was ‘the intern’ based on a member of the older generation re-joining the wonderful world of work. This put a lot of emphasis on the office in the actual film, not only because the content of the film is loosely based around work but also to add in a cultural juxtaposition portraying a baby boomer in a heavily millennial workspace. The office itself is everything a designer or design enthusiast would expect from a modern, tech savvy, collaborative workspace. The office is open plan based, inclusive of the management and each desk is equipped with the technology required to run an online business. The actual aesthetic of the space also portrays this atmosphere with very simplistic design features – something that some companies will invest a lot of money to achieve, when sometimes, it is more about finding the correct building and working with the basics of that space. The Intern office building itself was an old warehouse space and so had the large crittal style windows, concrete floors, brickwork, exposed structure and high ceilings – add to this some design staples such as slouchy lounge seating, collaboration benches, the humanscale liberty chair, Hans J. Wegner Wishbone chair, the Philippe Starck Ghost chair and a quirky bicycle to get from one side to the other, and you’ve got an office space that millennials will flock to. Additionally, quite typically of a fashion based company, whether online or not, a very minimal colour pallet has been introduced, so not to lean too much towards a certain style and therefore risk being out of style as fashion trends so often change, utilising mostly black and white with a few hints of natural wood – in film this is likely so the backdrop is noticeable but not too prominent, but actually in workspace terms makes for a realistic portrayal.
The Office (UK)
It would be terribly one sided to keep referencing high budget, ‘ideal client’ office interior design and so TV programme The Office (UK) comes in to play…as a sort of ‘what not to do’. There have been many studies of office interior design and how important it is when effecting the health, well being and productivity of a workforce – a theory that has been proven time and time again by successful high profile companies with track records in high levels of staff retention, competitive graduate schemes and a reduction in work stress related illness. ‘The Office’ might not be representative of the typical company, and certainly doesn’t represent the majority of companies now in London for example, but these types of offices are still going a long way to making it abundantly clear that commercial interior design is an important element for any company to consider. The Office has a cell style space, even in open plan, with prefabricated walls, or an ‘off white’ colour scheme with dull carpeting, no breakout zones, rows of desks and cramped meeting spaces, although hugely cost effective initially in real terms, will effect the productivity of staff, which will cost any company far more in the long run – as the programme shows (although this is the purpose, for comical effect – the term ‘it’s funny because it’s true’ comes to mind!) So, to flip it on it’s side and talk about what this office doesn’t have, but should, quite simply aren’t even spaces that take up a huge square footage if this is not something a company has the luxury of having….which not all do, and this is important also to point out we learn from this TV programme – not all companies are the likes of Google, King or ASOS. In smaller offices it is even more important to use the space efficiently, fitting in the clients required brief while still cleverly designing in spaces that can enhance the wellbeing of the teams surrounding. This can be done with finishes also, adding colour, changing the lighting, white desking, carpet features, and even small breakout areas evenly spaced out where possible to give individuals a chance to move away from their desks so to gain a well needed break, hydration and perspective so to go back to their work with a boost of energy and be more productive. The office interior design in The Office does portray a realistic working environment for some and emphasises the difference designers can make on an individuals daily life, mentality and health.
The Good Wife
Lastly, although a second typically portrayed American Law firm office interior design, a later series in The Good Wife does suggest a shift in even this style of office design that has been so prominent for so many decades due to baby boomers having a less collaborative nature and respecting the level of privacy cellular office floors provide. Similar then to Suits the initial office layout has perimeter offices throughout with corner offices individually styled by managerial level partners with multifunctional meeting space and a private space for secretaries directly outside. Also similarly a central pool of junior team members and a large library for more focussed quiet working – giving flexibility to teams.
The later series of the programme however moves more so in to the new law firm created with a majority of founding members being of the millennial generation and so were less inclined to fit in to the mould of a typical law firm – this was largely portrayed in the series through the office design and was referenced several times so to emphasise that point. The new office can even be compared to that of ‘The Intern’ as discussed earlier, an old warehouse was chosen as the setting for a decreased rent (very similar to the trend we are seeing currently where city prices in London for example are increasing, and so companies are expanding their search horizons to surrounding areas to the city such as Shoreditch, Camden and Bermondsey – areas with far more industrial style warehouses) This again was a space that boasted brick walls, warehouse style windows, an industrial lift and exposed features, with layering on top of this of dark furniture and industrial style lighting – giving the sense of a modern, edgy office space that can be seen as the ‘new wave’ in law offices, a realistic illustration of how office design is moving forward as generations alter and companies that these law firms would consider clients also adapt and progress. Referencing the old adage ‘Dress for the job you want, not the job you have’ the same theory can be used for interior design.