Talking Point

Principals Melissa Wallin and Seth Hanley of the San-Francisco based architecture and interior design firm, Design Blitz, were more than happy when Skype’s CEO, Tony Bates, called their design of its headquarters in Palo Alto, California, the standard to which all Skype offices shall be built.

The brief given to Wallin and Hanley required them to be on their toes. Skype’s primary goal for this project was to create a working environment that would differentiate it from its Bay Area competitors, like Google, Yahoo, and Yelp.

The space not only had to be a design statement in keeping with the client’s self-confessed modern and fun personality, but it had to meet specific acoustic requirements to support the company’s use of audio-visual (AV) equipment.

Meeting rooms and phone booths had to have acoustic privacy and access to AV. Offices and cubicles were not included and benching systems were in. Casual spaces were considered as important to the work process as workstation areas.

The two-year-old design firm won the project in an unusual way. “We were hired for two contracts before the actual project — need assessment in November 2009 and conceptual design in February 2010. They really liked us and hired us for the entire project in May 2010. So it was a very lucky set of circumstances for us,” said Wallin.

Design Blitz was given 12 weeks to prepare the design and necessary documents and another 12 weeks to build the 90,000 square foot office, once they had the permits in hand. The office officially opened this year.

Despite the time constraints, Wallin and Hanley undertook surveys to understand Skype’s work culture to create a design which met the company needs.

“A significant portion of their culture is built around Scrum development, or iterative idea generation and a philosophy called agile thinking, which is how the environment affects the thought process. To support Scrum, we designed a system of mobile whiteboards called Skype-Its.

These lightweight hanging whiteboards are deployed throughout the space to capture ideas as they occur. They can be easily moved and stored, and eliminates the “don’t erase this” messages that were previously a problem,” said Wallin.

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