How the office lobby speaks volumes

 —  Article by Emmet Pierce
modern office lobby
Image credit: Shutterstock

Walk into an office building for the first time and it takes just a few seconds to form a first impression.

Although the importance of office lobbies often is underestimated, a properly designed reception and waiting area sends out a powerful message about a company’s identity, products and services.

Lobbies are effective branding tools, says Vicki Eickelberger, Managing Director at Big Red Rooster, part of JLL. “It is the first moment of the brand relationship,” she says. “It is that sense of arrival and expectation. You are setting expectations for future interaction.”

Practical and pleasing

A well-designed lobby welcomes visitors and guides them to the next stage of their journey, she explains. The use of décor, color schemes, furnishings, and ambient music should blend to communicate an immersive expression of the brand.

Photo montages, for example, establish a sense of time and place in the lobby of Boston’s 53 State Street office building. The images reflect the building’s place in Boston’s history. At Salesforce’s San Francisco headquarters, visitors are greeted by a 106-foot-long video screen wall. The wall engages guests by displaying a rotating range of images including gently cascading waterfalls and tropical rainforests.

Indeed, multi-media assets displaying appropriate content can provide a distraction for visitors waiting for their hosts to meet them. Equally industry or in-house magazines or leaflets can help to communicate more information about the company’s strengths and reinforce their image.

Yet everything, including security screening areas, should tie in with the overall design. “Security is crucial to ensuring workforce safety, but we need to make sure it is integrated into the design so it isn’t a glaring afterthought,” Eickelberger says.Creating successful designs

While there are many approaches to designing lobbies, it’s about working with the space available to create something memorable without being overwhelming.

Using indoor and outdoor areas to create a pleasing sense of open space is the strategy at the One Rogers Street office building, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. An adjoining courtyard functions as a lobby extension, creating an open area illuminated by color and light.

The Hongkou Soho, a 29-story mixed-use building in urban Shanghai, uses its lobby to provide relief from the bustle of the city. Undulating aluminium louvers cover the ceiling and a wall, calling to mind calm ocean waves.

Yet receiving visitors is just one of the functions of today’s lobbies. In larger buildings, they’re often places where employees meet to socialize during breaks and eat lunch – often purchased from in-house facilities. The lobby for retailer Primark’s Dublin headquarters, for example, includes a large café and bar.

“In some places there is an intermingling of associates working and visitors getting ready to head off to meetings,” Eickelberger says. “That creates sense of connectivity which helps to reinforce a positive and vibrant brand image.”

Avoiding the common pitfalls

Not all lobbies are successful branding tools. It’s a mistake to have cluttered reception areas that communicate company disorganization. It’s also important that guests know where to check in when they enter lobbies. If the layout is confusing, it doesn’t make a good impression on visitors.

Many lobbies employ overt forms of messaging, such as using oversized company logos as wall décor. Eickelberger says such displays may not appeal to visitors. She prefers a subtle approach: “Messages should be integrated seamlessly into the design. It is everything the visitor sees, smells, touches, and hears.”

The design of lobby areas is therefore, a key area for companies to consider during a refit or a new build out. “People overlook that real estate is a platform for brand expression,” Eickelberger says. “It’s not an easy task to get it right but the successful ones communicate a positive company identity and that can make a big difference in making a favorable impression on clients, visitors and employees walking into the office each morning.”

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