Many buildings on Microsoft’s Redmond Town Center campus felt warm and welcoming, reflecting Microsoft’s global brand guidelines and human-centered design approach, but the lobby of Building 5 didn’t—yet. Microsoft approached our design team needing to elevate this lobby to the level of other spaces on campus; on top of these baseline considerations, their lobby redesign faced real spatial and budgetary constraints. But Microsoft’s team was just as up to these challenges as we were. Working creatively (and efficiently) with them, we began by understanding their users’ needs.
Walking the buildings of Redmond Town Center, we asked questions to understand who uses which spaces, what they need, what they care about: What roles should a front desk serve? What feedback do people have after a given experience? What’s missing, and what’s unnecessary? Every building in Redmond Town Center reflects different functions and serves different needs. By pairing Microsoft’s user insights and brand guidelines with our own onsite discoveries, we learned who needed what out of Building 5’s lobby, their circulation patterns and destinations, and how we might incorporate practical functions like security and accessibility into the background design.
For example: While still serving as a secure checkpoint, the reception desk should feel more like furniture than a barrier. Accordingly, we designed this desk to be compact and unimposing, with custom millwork and accent colors that are reminiscent of a barcode.
This secondary accent feature, a pattern subtle yet expressed over two stories, draws visitors’ eyes up the wall behind the desk, over the wood feature and across the windows, sparking movement with a single large gesture. It also connects with our other innovative design feature, created with found objects: A series of bookshelves of chess pieces and clocks, the sum of which spell out “empower”—an essential belief of Microsoft—in binary code. It’s the sort of thing a programmer might instantly recognize. And it’s a meaningful and utterly appropriate expression of Microsoft’s brand values that we couldn’t’ve discovered without their team’s contributions.
Yet here, too, empowerment is more than a stated value. We literally built it into the lobby redesign. As an expression of universal design principles, scaling down the size of the desk freed up space and let us incorporate an ADA-accessible approach that feels intentional, not an afterthought. People of all abilities can have a similar experience in this newly redesigned lobby.
By incorporating materials in an intentional, strategic way, we designed such large gestures that communicate meaning efficiently and affordably. What was dark and uninviting is now a bright, welcoming, and highly functional experience, transformed through our team’s resourcefulness and respect for universal design principles.