Workplace Design in Dallas: Top Industry Execs Share Their Perspectives

Jo Staffelbach Heinz
Jo Staffelbach Heinz

A small group of global executives specializing in workspace conceptualization and interior design met this morning at Fearing’s for a candid breakfast discussion on industry trends. Attendees included Kay Sargent, vice president of architecture, design and workplace strategies at Teknion; Joan Blumenfeld of Perkins + Will New York; John Campbell of Francis Cauffman Philadelphia; Nila Leiserowitz of Gensler Los Angeles; Heidi Painchaud of B+H Toronto; and Dallas’ own Jo Staffelbach Heinz of Staffelbach.

As the experts sipped coffee and enjoyed breakfast in the airy sun room, they debated workplace design strategy, planning for the future through informed design, and current trends in the workplace conceptualization sphere. They also debated the similarities and differences between Dallas’ own workspace design market and those in other cities around the country and abroad.

The consensus regarding Dallas was that, as home to a bounty of corporate headquarters offices, law firms, and global oil and gas concerns, North Texas is a thriving example of how designers can make workspaces serve not only as a representation of a company’s brand, culture, and image, but also as a key factor in the increase of employee comfort, motivation, and overall productivity. The designers were impressed to see such a significant investment in the arts community here in Dallas, through the construction of venues such as the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Klyde Warren Park, and the Perot Museum of Science and Nature.

Staffelbach cites the investment in the arts as a key factor in enhancing Dallas’ downtown district, which she has seen evolve into a bustling and energetic cultural hub whose structures have been updated and expanded amid new construction. When asked what clients in Dallas are requesting, Staffelbach says most are hoping for an update and rebranding of their company space—something that better coincides with their individual culture, identity, and personality. Although there was much discussion about “benchmarking,” or the client inclination to mirror whatever the competition is doing in terms of design and workplace strategy, Staffelbach says that many Dallas clients ask about the competition only so they can veer in another direction and do something unique with their space.

Metrocon 2013 at Dallas Market Hall
Metrocon 2013 at Dallas Market Hall

Additionally, corporate clients here in Dallas are shifting toward more collaborative and public workspaces, as well as wellness-promoting outdoor spaces to soak up the sunshine and fresh air. This inclination toward wellness isn’t unique to Dallas, however; Painchaud says she sees this general theme all over Canada as well, with clients requesting things such as operable windows and outdoor common areas to satisfy their need for fresh air and natural light. Coinciding with this is the popular inclination toward “green” and eco-friendly design among corporate clients, though Staffelbach will tell you that Texan oil and gas companies and those specializing in fracking are a tough sell. More than ever before, these designers have seen a shift toward health, wellness and eco-consciousness, which has translated well for their design efforts.

One of the most popular trends discussed was the incorporation of interior stairwells within office environments, which designers use to promote fitness and wellbeing on behalf of client companies. Although this can be a costly undertaking for a client that doesn’t already have the hole cut for a stairwell, in the interest of fostering healthy lifestyles and in accordance with the much-repeated designer mantra “sitting is the new smoking,” the benefits outweigh the expense. Blumenfeld says she has seen companies redesign fire stairs and tweak the accompanying safety and regulatory requirements to meet this need in a more budget-friendly way.

After breakfast, the conversation moved to a classroom at the Metrocon 2013 Expo & Conference at Dallas Market Hall for a more formal panel discussion entitled, “Design is in the Details.” During this debate, the panelists discussed many of the same concepts regarding sustainability, the promotion of wellness and eco-friendliness, and collaborative workspaces, while also providing real-world case studies. They divulged the more exciting aspects of their careers—for Campbell, a creative and uninhibited palette that arrived later in his career after so-called “standards” went out the window for many clients; for Leiserowitz, a well-received workplace survey that emphasized a need for flexibility, technological optimization, and collaboration alongside promotion of wellness, which Sargent referenced as the most-quoted resource among designers as of late.

The panel discussion concluded with Staffelbach’s breakdown of the Dallas design market for a broader conference audience, during which she cited sit-to-stand desks, workplace strategizing, leveraging creativity to foster collaboration, and a focus on the people that embody and comprise a company as key motivators behind the projects she undertakes on behalf of clients. Balance, she says, is the most important element that designers have the capacity to implement within a project—and a factor that can really make a difference for a company’s overall functioning and facilities.