August 07, 2014

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Designer Stories is a new series aimed at celebrating today's hottest designers. The series dives into each designer'sinspirations, philosophies and experiences to learn how they create award-worthy spaces. 

To kick off our inaugural post, we're speaking with Primo Orpilla, Principal at O+A and co-founder, with Verda Alexander, of Studio O+A, a San Francisco design firm responsible for commercial environments that have changed the way we think about work and workplace. O+A's groundbreaking designs for Facebook, AOL, Microsoft, Yelp, Cisco, Open Table and many others have taken the concept of space as an embodiment of a company's values to new levels.

We asked Primo a few questions about what inspires him, how he brings his designs to life and how design can inspire creativity and collaboration in the workplace.

IdeaPaint: What inspires you and your design philosophy?

Orpilla: I've always felt that designers should take inspiration from—everything.  From high art and pop culture.  From books, from the Internet, from fashion, from nature.  Good design grows organically from the world around it, so a designer has to embrace that world in all its aspects.  I encourage our designers at O+A to see movies, go to museums, follow sports, walk around the city, read.  Designing work environments entails so many disciplines, so many kinds of knowledge and levels of sensitivity that you have to be receptive to everything that's out there.  Because our design philosophy is to make every project an expression of the client's culture and because each client is unique, you need an expansive spirit to be a designer.  You need to feel inspired every day.

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IdeaPaint: What new office designs are you most proud of and why?

Orpilla: I am proud of all our work.  I am most proud of our design staff.  I think we're doing our best work ever.  Most recently Uber has demonstrated how deeply you can weave the client's character into the fabric of a workplace.   Every detail reflects some aspect of the company's culture—the black glass lobby like the tinted glass of a limousine, the electronic booking tablets outside every meeting room, the city maps everywhere, the track in the floor so the CEO can take a walk during meetings.  It's a huge space, but there's nothing impersonal about it.  On the other hand Capital One Labs is a small space that just exudes creativity—the creativity of the people who work there.  I love it that this design lab embedded in a large corporate financial institution feels like an artist's studio.  The colors are so vibrant and the spaces so versatile.  Another recent project is Yelp.  We had a real challenge here—to create unity and warmth on multiple floors.  We did it by customizing wherever we could—hand-woven light fixtures, fluted glass doors, a reception area styled after a General Store and great communal spaces on every floor.  The result is a vertical campus, a complex array of open and private spaces where everyone feels comfortable wherever they are.  Very proud of that.

IdeaPaint: What are the top design trends that you like today?

Orpilla: Community is one.  A lot of firms are moving away from the fortress mentality, the closed shop mentality.  They're recognizing that a large, ground-floor lobby that brings in small retail or service businesses, gardens, event spaces, public art—feeds the vitality of their own operation.  Another is what I would call an appetite for the tactile.  Tech companies in particular seem to hunger for the finishes and materials that link their industry to industrial traditions of the past. I'm talking about brick, steel, reclaimed wood, raw concrete, stone.  When much of the work you do is virtual, when each day you send your work product into the cloud, there is something satisfying about retiring to a coffee bar clad in red oak and walnut or going down to another floor by way of a blackened steel staircase.  The more high tech our lives become, the more we love to put our hands (or rest our eyes) on something with real texture.  

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IdeaPaint: How can the right office design improve productivity and collaboration?

Orpilla: It's all about creating spaces that give people choices.  Not everyone works the same way and all of us work differently depending on the project and where we are in the project.  Sometimes we want to work with our colleagues out in the open, everybody talking at once.  Sometimes we need a quiet place to concentrate.  Maybe we get an idea away from our desk and want to jot it down right away—a whiteboard wall makes that possible.  Maybe we're most creative relaxing over coffee—a comfortable in-house café makes that possible.  Good office design recognizes how fluid the modern workplace is and builds all these spaces, all these options into the plan.  We don't focus on "collaboration" per se.  We focus on providing the right mix of space types for a particular client's need.

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IdeaPaint: What are the biggest mistakes companies make when starting an office redesign?

Orpilla: Companies need to think about design, not a workplace strategy. And, not including staff or employees in the design process is tough, but necessary.

IdeaPaint: What are your recommendations for working effectively with an interior design firm?

Orpilla:

  • Trust them
  • Make timely decisions
  • Try not to make changes
  • Allow time for process
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IdeaPaint: What is one word you would use to describe the office of the future?

Orpilla: Inspiring/Intuitive

About Primo Orpilla

Primo Orpilla is the award-winning co-founder, with Verda Alexander, of Studio O+A, the San Francisco design firm responsible for ground-breaking workplace designs at Facebook, AOL, Microsoft, Yelp, Levi Strauss, and many other companies.  A leader in the field of "democratic design," Orpilla's expansive, open-plan environments—which  stress sustainability, accessibility and careful coordination of function and form—have become a signature look for some of the West Coast's most forward-thinking tech innovators. Orpilla and Alexander established their firm in 1991 with an eye to bringing the agility, creativity and speed of execution then prevalent in the Bay Area's entrepreneurial economy to the offices in which that economy was being hatched.  Studio O+A's design for the new Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, received the International Interior Design Association's 2010 Northern California Honor Award and was a finalist in Frame Magazine's 2009 Great Indoors Awards in the "Concentrate and Collaborate" category.  The firm's AOL West Coast Headquarters won the 2011 FX Design Award in London for Best Workspace Environment.  Early in 2011 Contract Magazine named Primo Orpilla and Verda Alexander Designers of the Year, culminating months of recognition in the international design press.

Follow Primo Orpilla on TwitterLinkedInFacebook, Vimeo.


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