Imagine you are a banker who has just traveled from your corporate headquarters in Virginia, leaving your suit behind to attend a training seminar at the San Francisco office in the Union Square district. You arrive in a bright space with exposed ductwork, a neon yellow metal staircase, and bicycles stacked vertically up the wall. You can immediately tell you are not in a typical bank, and that this is not your normal executive training seminar.
This jolt of surprise that falls outside of a banker’s comfort zone in a financial institution is the whole point of Capital One’s new design studio. Capital One Labs is focused on creating consumer banking products and experiences that are 18 months ahead of the market.
“Typically, we conceive a space as a 3-D experience of a company’s brand,” says Primo Orpilla, principal of San Francisco–based design firm Studio O+A, which is known for designing hip startup offices—most recently for Uber, Yelp, and Giant Pixel (Contract, June 2013). In this case, the firm designed a frolic-inspiring space that would spur innovation: “It’s an indication of how corporate America is thinking these days.”
Flexible furnishings support brainstorming
To design the 3,500-square-foot space so that it could accommodate a group of 50 executives as well as teams of two to four people, Studio O+A worked with Evelyn Huang, Capital One’s senior director of design thinking and strategy. Huang had previously been in charge of the executive education program at Stanford University’s renowned Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, also known as the d.school. “We wanted an open, flexible space where Labs members could collaborate with people from other business units—where these small pop-up teams could set up,” she says. “And we also wanted to be able to teach the rest of the organization design thinking in a very experiential way.”
“We created the ultimate multipurpose room,” says Denise Cherry, Studio O+A’s design director. Similar to the d.school, furniture is designed to be moved around easily. Custom wooden tables are on casters so they can be arranged in rows or pulled apart. Exemplifying the iterative process of design thinking, the team went through 30 versions of a freestanding foam-board holder used to display Post-it notes generated during brainstorming sessions before finalizing its design. To allow small teams to carve out their own workspaces, the floor is packed with seating options. Team members can choose to sit on colorful cushions under the yellow stair or within one of the niches upholstered in Paul Smith plaid. Or they might gravitate to “The Nest,” a felt-lined nook reached via a wooden ladder.
Nontraditional colors and materials
In lieu of Capital One’s standard navy blue and brick red palette, this space features bright, saturated colors—aqua, yellow, hot pink, and lime green—that pop against the dark teal structural steel beams and polished concrete floor. As an alternative to standard acoustic panels, Tectum sound blocks, which are made of recycled jeans and look like giant blocks of ramen noodles, were painted blue and white and hung from the ceiling. To show off the framing, the wall forming the conference rooms isn’t finished with drywall. “We didn’t want the space to be too precious and finished,” Cherry says. “It’s a workshop where one can actually build something.”
Huang has seen how the Labs space has noticeably changed the way people work in just the few months since it has been open. “It’s helped to eliminate power dynamics—encouraging senior executives to work with associates—and it gets people out of their silos to work across departments,” she says. “Now that they’ve had a chance to experience it, the rest of the company is clamoring for more collaborative spaces.”
Capital One Labs
- Designer: Studio O+A
- Client: Capital One
- Where: San Francisco
- What: 3,500 square feet on one floor
- Cost/sf: Withheld at client’s request
Key Design Highlights
- Pops of neon color signal a departure from the typical corporate training space.
- Furnishings were chosen or custom-designed for movability, allowing teams to hold structured meetings or more casual brainstorming sessions.
- Several nooks throughout the space and “The Nest,” accessible by ladder, allow for some privacy while maintaining a visual connection to the rest of the office.
- Finishes were selected to create a raw and unfinished effect, which is balanced by acoustic treatments such as recycled-jeans insulation.