Spreading the Peanut Butter

October 05, 2017

Operation Butter is now complete.

We are a company of creatives and designing a new space for/with them was an exciting and daunting task. The teams from Epstein Uhen Architecture (EUA), Ideal Builders and the Emmons Business Interiors (EBI) were wonderful partners in making our very specific and often unorthodox ideas a beautiful reality.

As consultants and designers, we know all too well what it’s like to balance competing ideas like, “make it look amazing, but don’t spend too much money or time on it.” Working within parameters and criteria makes designers happy because they are forced to be creative in how they achieve their vision. Our design problem for Operation Butter was to “design a space that we will be proud to show our clients, supports the working styles and needs of our business, and stays within the budget.” In order to make sure we focused our budget on areas that made a difference, we used a “spreading the peanut butter” analogy. We only have so much peanut butter and can’t spread it everywhere in the office so we had to choose the areas that made the most impact for our clients and our staff. We're all moved in and excited to show you around!

Welcome to Design Concepts!

The reception area creates an important first impression and we hoped the peanut butter we spread around this area allows Millie, our fabulous administrative assistant, to greet you properly. Her previous desk hid her from view. No longer. Behind her desk is an art installation of laser-etched panels showing some of our past products so you know you are in a product design studio. You will also see a butcher paper roll with a custom message drawn especially for you on the wall next to it.

If you are waiting for someone on our team, you can grab a cup of coffee or perch at the standing-height table while you check your phone. If you arrived early and want to work for a while, Millie will show you to the Hub where you can grab a snack or set up camp on our soft chairs and modern walnut farm tables. You can also stand up at the café tables or plop down and plug into the comfy cube-like furniture under the stairs.

In the Hub, we designed an installation to honor our Madison roots as well as our office in San Francisco. An amagraph (set of zig-zag panels) creates one image from one side of the sculpture and a second image from the opposite side. You see the blue San Francisco ocean and topographic map as you enter the hub. As you walk towards the studio the image switches to the green map of Madison’s topographic surfaces. 

We hope you enjoy the tour…

We shake hands or hug in the Hub, depending on how much we have worked together (or if you are a “hugger” or not). It’s cool, we get it. Before we sit down in one of the beautifully lit conference rooms and fill the metal walls with drawings and Post-Its with you, we’ll take you on a tour of our new space!

From the Hub, you can see the Project Rooms (all named after cheeses) where teams work together on long-term projects, but aren’t too far away from the central meeting place of the Hub when they need a break. The Human Factors Lab is on your right. It's where we can mock up operating room settings and test products and experiences for our clients as part of our prototyping process through the one-way glass. 

We also have the Virtual Research Lab, where our Design Research team can conduct interviews with subjects through Skype or other video conferencing programs. If you follow me down the stairs, I can show you our fully-equipped Prototype Shop and point out the seven different types of prototypes our specialists design and build below. Around the corner from the shop stairs is our Engineering Lab where both mechanical and electrical engineers work to test and build parts for their projects. 

We’ll pass our FDM and rapid prototyping machines in there. Back out to the felt wall, you can peak through to the Studio space to see our design, research and engineering teams hard at work (but not enough to risk confidentiality for our clients, of course). At the end of the wall there is a large system of shelving where we can walk through any of the products or case studies displayed there before going back to one of the conference rooms to chat.

Working style neighborhoods

As Dave Franchino, our president, often says, “Our people are the most important part of our business.” The Operation Butter team knew we needed to make our new space a fun and comfortable place to work for the people who spend the most time there.  

As in every office environment, some people need light-filled, active places to collaborate and some need dark, quiet spaces to concentrate. However, we can’t all have private or semi-private offices where we control the light, noise and furniture individually. Open office plans are a necessity when it comes to providing enough workspace in the square-footage available. 

We learned some lessons in two rounds of previous furniture installations to cut down on the negatives of the open office — noise, visual clutter, traffic, long back-to-back-to-back stretches of desks, etc. We also learned about Activity-Based Design, which focuses on providing multiple zones that are nearby so people can quickly access the type of work environment they need for different tasks. In this type of design, the same type of workstation doesn’t have to do everything for everyone.

Placed around the open office there are quiet rooms, conference rooms and team spaces scattered throughout. These areas are accessible for the quiet, heads-down or collaborative work that isn’t possible at workstations. The small amount of private offices we needed are located toward the inside of the building instead of along the window walls. This allows more natural light to get through to the individual workstations as well as the private offices, instead of giving “the corner-office view to only a few.”

As consultants and designers, we know what it’s like to balance competing ideas like, “Make it look amazing, but don’t spend too much money or time on it.”

We grouped our workstations into smaller zones so they no longer create long hallways or the “school bus seating” of looking at the back of everyone’s head. The workstation clusters are in different zones of the building, too. Some of these “neighborhoods” are brightly lit and open, some are darker and away from the walkways. Some are in the middle of the activity and some are in between bookshelves, creating a cozy, quiet place. We didn’t require teams to sit together, making it possible for people to choose their space based upon their individual work style and environmental needs first. 

The Tree House

The Hub is where we can grab coffee, have quick meetings with our clients, chat with folks in the project rooms and get away from our desks to work when we need a change of scenery. The Tree House is our own private clubhouse, where we let loose, be loud and make a mess because company doesn’t come up there unless you know the secret password.

The Tree House is where our kitchen is, with patio access and a ping-pong table for some highly competitive downtime. The game area has a garage door so the colorful language doesn’t interrupt meetings being held below. We have a small room called The Parlor, where moms can pump comfortably or someone can grab a quick nap or have some quiet yoga time during the day. 

We made the difficult compromise of spanning three floors to meet our wants and needs. Our Prototype Shop needed to be on the ground floor, but the office space available was either on the second, which doesn’t have windows along the back wall, or the third floor, which has access to the patio. EUA, our architecture partner, and Stone House, the developer, were very supportive of our big idea to build the Tree House on a small part of the third floor so most of the office could be closer to the shop. They designed two sets of monumental stairs open to below so we’re visually connected. Another design element connecting the space is a cleverly patterned wood system that goes up to the Tree House, over the Hub and down to the Shop. It connects all of the areas of our space and begins over Millie’s desk in the reception area. 

We located the Hub’s coffee bar and snack area closest to the stairs to the Shop. Some trades-offs we worked through when planning the space included the break-room, which is a bit further away from the shop, and we have two areas for lunch set-up Millie has to attend to. We hope the central Hub space will work well and everyone will enjoy the extra steps on their step-counters when they reach for the snacks. We also hope we gave prototype development manager Jason Splan and his team a naturally lit, comfortable place to work with an enclosed wood shop to cut down on the dust and compressor noise as well as a new paint booth and access to the street for deliveries.

Value engineering

We made a few other trade-offs along the way to “value engineer” areas in order to meet our budget. Our architects created a beautiful vision, flow and did a great job of giving us what we wanted. Ideal Builders did an amazing job executing all of these fun ideas for us and helping us choose where to spread the peanut butter on thick and where we could reduce cost by going a little thinner.

The EBI team helped us spread the peanut butter with some beautiful furniture and material choices, but only ones we could fit into our budget. We have a mixture of dark and light woods. A lot of “raw” or “authentic” elements like natural wood, concrete and metal mixed with our fantastic modern-looking carpet and textile choices. Some more modern looking pieces are located in the Hub and Reception area. Some more industrial or less unique pieces are in the Tree House and Studio spaces.

Ideal Builders also helped us prototype a new design for our constant need for pin-up boards and writing surfaces. We worked together to create some portable sheet-metal panels that attach to metal pipes hung from our ceilings around the office. These writable magnet boards can be easily moved from a desk to a conference room and back throughout the day. We are still prototyping these boards and look forward to seeing how we use and improve them.

We made a lot of tough choices to try to meet all of our parameters and budget. I’m anxious to discover what decisions will stick and which ones will evolve into Butter 2.0 environments as we use the spaces and get used to our new home. All of the design teams and building partners were wonderful and we thank them for their hard work and guidance through this challenging process.

We are so proud of our new home and we can’t wait to show you around!