How Place Fosters Innovation

It’s all about the need of now, as an autonomous network comes together to contribute ideas and potentially solve a need quickly together. The advantages are a breadth of perspective that’s independent of any organization combined with a free and open transfer of knowledge.

Space that works: Although heavily technology-dependent, the community model can also benefit from spaces that bring disparate people together and support the work they want to do.

By-reservation or membership spaces for today’s “co-working culture” (practicing alternative work strategies or self-employed) are laboratories to study the growing phenomenon. Initial findings suggest that a social lounge area is a welcome addition to the predictable fare of spaces for individual work and meeting rooms. A gallery for art displays or presentation space is another way to make the space less impersonal and more collaborative.



Whichever model of innovation an organization employs, the design of the space is an important driver that can improve the speed and outcomes of innovation efforts. Successful design can significantly remove barriers and support the work of the talented people that organizations rely upon to improve their innovation performance. Simply stated, the right spaces make innovation work.

Here are some principles to consider when designing spaces for innovation activities:

Make the space flexible

Innovation spaces need to be reconfigurable to support spontaneity: switches between different work modes, the dynamic flow of information, tools that come and go. In addition, organizations may require use of the space by multiple project teams, simultaneously or in sequence, which makes flexibility all the more important.

  • Consider a mix of fixed and fluid architectural elements — i.e., semi-permanent walls and movable partitions
  • Create a flexible hub for large and small group activities
  • Provide for user configurability with mobile furniture
  • Consider privacy issues by providing enclosed spaces for audio and videoconferencing

Make the space inspiring

Creating something new is fundamental to all knowledge work, and inspiration is especially important for those charged with product and service development and other areas of organizational innovation. Stimulating, engaging spaces can jump-start inspiration for teams and sustain creative thinking.

  • Provide for abundant natural lighting and views
  • Include natural elements and materials throughout the space
  • Consider color carefully in terms of its ability to excite or sooth
  • Provide settings that are casual, informal, and comfortable

Allow for artwork and meaningful objects throughout the space that can support individuals and culture.

Make the space collaborative

Innovation teams require a shared mind. Individual insights and memory need to become group learning and memory — the sooner, the better — and the history of the project needs to be readily discernable to reduce unnecessary backtracking and errors.

  • Position individual workspaces around group spaces to maximize visibility
  • Provide group areas for informal brainstorming and informal information swaps
  • Plan for extensive dialogue with digital information and intense collaborations around computers that can involve both collocated and virtual team members
  • Provide for vertical content displays with whiteboards, tackable surfaces, foam core boards, projection surfaces, etc., that allow users to actively affect and engage with information

Make the space a hard-working tool

Hard-working spaces can be just as much of a tool as anything else a team uses to innovate. By supporting all the modes of work — focusing, collaborating, learning, and socializing — every square foot of an innovation space can become an efficient workshop for new ideas.

  • Consider the wall architecture as a way to organize and display information in a way that links to group processes
  • Make sure active and stored work tools are easily accessible
  • Think of every vertical surface in terms of its potential for information displays
  • Consider layered storage that can serve double-duty by keeping materials handy and defining zones
  • Provide a responsive infrastructure that supports technologies

Make the space a reflection of culture and brand

An organization’s identity and culture provide reassuring context and meaning to innovators, and space can be a way to authentically underscore important values and processes. Reflecting brand and culture within a space is a way that design can underscore organizational support for innovation.

  • Reinforce tone and culture authentically in the design of the space, recognizing that what works for one organization doesn’t automatically work for another
  • Allow for displays of products and other collective achievements that will inspire pride and risk-taking
  • Allow for team customization and personalization to reflect ownership and identification

Make the space social

Social capital between co-creators is crucial for innovation to occur. It builds trust, especially important when teams are doing intense work. Open and relaxed areas for informal conversations are critical components for successful innovation spaces.

  • Provide convenient access to food and beverages
  • Provide comfortable lounge seating, café tables, and other furniture that invites mingling
  • Locate casual collaboration areas in close proximity to work areas so it’s easy to take a break, swap stories, etc.
  • Provide welcoming areas for guests with appropriate views into the space and work in progress

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Everyone wants more innovation, yet organizations define it differently in the context of their business processes, culture, technology, and tools. Supporting and aligning all these components can cause innovation to flourish, often in unforeseen ways within all the patterns of innovation.

Space provides places for people — both from within and outside an organization — to come together and invent new solutions for both ordinary and extraordinary challenges. As a result, design is emerging as an innovation imperative as it continues to show how hard-working spaces can reinforce and align the other organizational components that contribute to a company’s ability to invent new solutions.

As organizations work to become or remain relevant and meaningful, rethinking the workplace can support, inspire and enable innovation. In so doing, it can make a significant contribution to any organization’s current posture and future potential for success.

One square foot at a time, more and faster innovation is within every organization’s reach.

Workspring is a brand within Steelcase, existing for innovative companies to do their best work ever. We’re sharing research and insights led by teams within Steelcase on workplace and how space design can affect productivity. For the full version of the white paper on place and innovation, navigate here.

If you’re interested in learning more about Workspring, call us today to schedule a tour at 800 605 9092 or email us at

Alternative Workplace Strategies, Collaboration, Insights, Meetings, Productivity, Wellbeing