Deconstructing the cubicle with Wagner and O’Rourke

Creative work spaces have never been the focus of business, even in the business of design. But, to the President and CEO of the design firm Huntsman, Sascha Wagner “the very language of design is changing.”

Working with companies such as YouTube, Google, PIXAR, and Disney, Huntsman is delivering spaces to companies to create empowered employees and more collaborative approaches.

Until the 1950’s all spaces had a singular function. The break room was made for coffee and the desk was made for work. By the 60’s the cubicle system had been adopted. Now spaces are direct results of the way people work, such as large communal spaces for those needing to collaborate.

With the age of smartphones and laptop computers this question arises: “if you can work anywhere, why bother coming to an office?”

The answer is simple. Because the role of the office has been fundamentally transformed and employees are drawn to the physical spaces that have meaning and can connect them with the businesses ideology, values, and purpose.

“We think about how space makes people feel,” says Wagner. “We want to make spaces that have meaning.”

To do so Huntsman follows the four values that make companies successful: productivity, engagement, choice, and wellness.


“Productivity also starts with good coffee,” says Huntsman associate Kate O’Rourke.

Although this may sound entitled, and O’Rourke says it is, it truly is a way to keep employees productive. This explains why many of Huntsman’s designs involve full-scale coffee bars.

Productivity also increases with access to daylight, good air quality, the proper tech tools, and a connection to nature. All things designed to mimic the regular individual’s enjoyment on a daily basis.

Amenities also draw people to the office. Having services such as oil changes, hair cuts, and dry cleaners, can decrease productivity loss by saving employees time on these simple tasks.


Space is one of the most powerful tools to articulate and has become one of the social backbones for engaging employees.

Large central hubs help individuals collaborative, and while some businesses have gimmicks such as slides, many are transitioning to choosing amenities based on the themes and activities the employees enjoy.

Wagner says, “play is still an important part of the office experience today.” This is leading many businesses to create fun spaces to get the creative juices flowing.

Businesses are also branding their environments and all physical elements to help their employees feel connected to the workplace.

Not only the employees, but the clients are also becoming involved. Lithium changes its lobby space to represent the brand of the clients coming in to engage them and make them feel at home.


Today’s workers perform very different tasks and are not spending their time solely in one place. This means different activities require different spaces.

Huntsman follows “activity based planning” where choices of environments are offered to empower individuals who select a space that maximizes their creativity and productivity.

Different settings for individuals and groups provide varying levels of privacy, and offer alternative work spaces for behavioral roles such as quiet areas that follow library rules. Huntsman believes offering “a la carte” workspaces enables employees to perform better in their chosen environment.


Wagner believes wellness is a life mandate and it is the most important of the four values. However, it is much broader than just a gym in the workplace.

Although places to exercise are important, it is about providing spaces to get away from the stress of the workplace. Whether this is a gym or an area for meditation and yoga, wellness spaces need to address the employee’s overall health.

Wagner believes stress-free environments contribute to the overall productivity and says, “if you’re going to do this, do it right.”

This involves spreading wellness throughout the entire workplace. Better locker rooms, mother’s and sick rooms, power treadmill desks, nap rooms, and encouraging active transportation can keep employees motivated. Even something as simple as adding some color to the fire exit can encourage employees to take the stairs.

Employees are making healthier lifestyle choices and have reduced absences as their companies partake in larger nutritional engagement. This can include cooking classes and offering healthy snacks or meals.

Lastly, healthy building materials are a strong must for healthy workspaces. Huntsman believes it is their job as designers to create spaces not to harm the occupants.  The carpets, paints, furniture, air, water, and access to daylight play a large factor in keeping overall employee wellness at a high.

Design for the Future

With an influx in virtual reality the process of design is changing and Huntsman believes they need to dive deep and beyond the quantitative processes.

A belief that spaces should be unique to the individual, clients are beginning to discover what is meaningful to them and what needs to be encompassed in their own spaces.

The biggest question Wagner asks: “how do we keep design soulful through all of this?”

Spaces need to be about human experience and break beyond the automated world. Wagner says employees need to feel something, not just feel comfortable due to the temperature.