Bill Lyons, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, recently joined HGA as Interiors Principal with experience in workplace and retail design. In the following, Lyons discusses the changing workplace and how businesses can envision a nimbler environment that accommodates different workstyles—from traditional to remote.
What inspired you to pursue interior architecture and design?
I always wanted to do interior architecture. I did a lot of research on my own in high school and realized that interior architecture touches all aspect of the built environment. Design elevates the human experience and our emotions in both subtle and overt ways. The idea that I could make a career of something that truly impacted people in a positive way was exciting to me.
How does your retail background influence your design approach?
I started my career in retail and branding. Retail is about visually drawing people in and getting them excited about experiencing a space. It adds a level of creativity and delight to a space. Workplace design is similar. Workplaces should create a sense of delight and get people excited about being at the office. Yet retail is also about function and guiding people through so they can find what they need. Likewise, well-designed workplaces help people accomplish their jobs and engage their senses through function and beauty.
How does architecture express a brand?
Branding is about storytelling and communicating a company’s values and ethos to its community. Interior architecture is integral to that brand experience.
I engage with clients to explore their mission, history, and goals when designing a workplace. This deep-dive helps reveal stories. For instance, when planning retail showrooms at Room & Board as an in-house designer, I cued into their branding department to create architecture that expressed a commitment to modern, American-made furniture—a value of quality craftsmanship. Likewise, for a Twin Cities advertising agency, I focused on their commitment to connections—connections between team members, clients, and the community—to create an open workplace that offered a variety of spaces to make those connections.
In each instance, the architecture supports the story of who they are. The brand gives a project its soul.
What changes are driving workplace design today?
Technology is allowing us to work anywhere in the office instead of just at a fixed workstation. The office works much harder today than previously to create a range of spatial options for different works styles and activities, from socialization to heads-down. Technology is part of a holistic workplace experience, and as technology continues to evolve the workplace will continue to evolve to support changing workstyles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the physical workplace—creating a remote workforce overnight. What should businesses do to accommodate sudden disruptions in the future?
As most people shelter in place, there will be a greater focus on assessing a balance between socialization and remote work.
Socialization and collaboration are important elements in the workplace. People thrive on socialization—that’s what creates a shared cultural experience. There will be a lot of re-examination of the long-term possibilities of how technology makes a remote workforce possible. Companies particularly will be assessing their real estate needs and how productive they can be in a remote environment. But one of the biggest questions will be how you build and maintain a shared cultural experience when more people work from home. Workplace design is a central factor in expressing that culture and brand.
If not an interior designer, what would you be?
I would love to be a visual artist and create something in a different way with my hands. Design is about uplifting, inspiring, and educating people. Whatever I do, it will always be about creating something of beauty and function.