Companies all over the world are producing the next generation of products using leading edge technology. An increasing rate and quantity of companies are implementing Innovation Centers and demo display areas within the workplace to ignite innovation and connections with their customers and employees. These innovation centers not only show the status of projects to prospective customers, but also show the depth and breadth of a company’s offerings, supporting goals of increasing the bottom line with speed to market and being identified as the leader in their market sector. In these spaces, digital communications like AR, VR, touch screens, robotics, moving parts and white boards are used to help the client visualize what the end product will look like through an immersive experience.
Engaging the Customer
Innovation Centers become a direct link to customers and the public; they act as an inviting marketing tool that encourages customers to connect and be part of the product development process. Often the Innovation Center doubles as a hospitality area, acting as the face of the company and welcoming clients with a hotel lounge feeling. Focused on the visitor experience, Rockwell Automation’s (RA) Customer Experience Center (CEC) provides informal breakout spaces that were intentionally located adjacent to meeting rooms. These zones give customers the ability to briefly regroup and digest new information or retreat into enclaves to answer emails and phone calls between presentations. A centrally located curved glass panel semi-enclosed room acts as a main teaching space within the large open demo area, separated but still visually connected to the center with custom-built interactive stations surrounding it. The entire CEC is equipped with multi-screen displays showcasing product demonstrations. One of the major tenets of Rockwell Automation is to expand human possibility; their new Electric Vehicle Innovation Center (EVIC) in the heart of Silicon Valley, does exactly this through the way customers are able to see product development in real time.
Inspiring the Employee
Many times, Innovation Centers are not just for clients, but also a benefit for employees: a space where internal personnel can glimpse into future development as well as connect with each other in the present. Regardless of position within the organization, innovation centers, living labs, and demo display areas within a suite give employees the feeling of being part of the action that is happening, by bringing together people who typically might not cross paths. Both of Rockwell Automation’s Innovation Centers [Milwaukee, WI + San Jose, CA,] bring in nature, daylight and transparency for an enhanced employee experience while empowering employees with a choice of where they can work. When asked about the space, John Miles (Global Business Leader – Electric Vehicle & Battery) said, “RA employees who have direct interactions with customers at the EVIC use these enclaves all the time and appreciate that they are within the space.” Another prime example, a Global Building Technology’s Engineering Suite, emerged from the “Living Lab” concept and gives employees insight into the company’s technology in action: work within a space alongside products that are simultaneously being developed. In this work space, employees can view facility energy usage in real-time via their own smart technology. With specific data points throughout the living lab tracked and displayed on internal monitors, employees are immersed in measuring efficiencies such as how much energy is being saved.
Evolving with the Brand
As they celebrate a company’s brand and vision, it is critical for Innovation Centers to look ahead to the future of design. Companies must think of future function: how will the space morph over time as the company evolves? How will it incorporate flexibility and the capability to communicate via multiple formats? How will technology will impact the future? Given the nature of change and pace of technology, companies need the agility to support the ever-evolving display of products. EUA designed a Global Building Technology Firm’s Engineering Suite demo display area to include modular shelving that can be removed and neatly hidden within cabinets below, sized specifically to fit the shelves. This gives the firm the ability to display content via several forms of media, whether it be actual products and hardware or digital imagery. Recessed brackets hold removable shelves and monitors, surface-concealed electrical outlets provide convenient access, and drawers blended into the wall alleviate clutter such as markers and remotes. Discreet millwork solutions such as taller hospitality counters allow for items like coffee and dishes to be tucked out of view. Consciously designed details like these contribute to a seamless experience.
Innovation Centers are essentially a trifecta for companies – inspiring existing clients, showcasing brand and innovation, and engaging employees in molding the future of the organization. Companies investing in these forward-looking spaces are seeing quick returns, with some locations booked far into the future - “The gates have been flooded. The space is booked out in advance, sometimes months out,” said Miles - creating a backlog of requests from customers to see the innovative techniques that propel their organization ahead of the rest. With a multi-faceted role as Architect and Interior Designer, I love to get to the heart of how design has the power to shape the brand experience. How does your company have the potential to shape the customer and employee experience through design?
Jen Singson, AIA, NCARB