Corrections or additions?

This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the October 11, 2000

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Matching Designs to Cultures

by Pat Summers

It’s a challenge faced by every good interior designer:

Create an office environment that reflects the personality of the

company. But what happens when the company has a split personality?

That was the challenge at 1009 Lenox Drive in the Princeton Pike

Corporate

Center, headquarters of the 26-year-old Uniform Code Council and its

brand new Web-based offshoot and fully owned subsidiary, UCCnet. Both

had their offices designed by the same firm but look diametrically

different. Here is a textbook example of how the personality —

or even split personality — of a corporation can be reflected

in the design of its space.

Welcome to the offices of the Uniform Code Council Inc., a

not-for-profit,

membership organization with the mission to "take a global

leadership

role in establishing and promoting multi-industry standards for

product

identification and related electronic communications. The goal is

to enhance efficient supply chain management, thus contributing added

value to the customer." In other words, the council is the global

monitor for bar codes.

Starting in the west wing of building four at the Princeton Pike

Corporate

Center, the first door, defined by mahogany around frosted-glass

panels,

allows views of a handsome reception area: glossy marble flooring

in light squares, accented by smaller black squares; two vibrant silk

and velvet wall hangings, one in teal, the other, gold; upholstered

chairs and a table; more mahogany surrounding a corner receptionist’s

area.

UCC’s territory goes on and on for 36,000 square feet, through

offices,

meeting rooms, and a capacious, impressive training center. Via cushy

carpeting and through blues, purples, and complementary hues, together

with colorful paintings and ceramic art, it winds into the building’s

east wing — a mahogany trail.

Each office here is furnished with a U-shaped mahogany desk, complete

with laptop, a bookcase, upholstered side chairs, and, invariably,

a green exterior view. Its executive suite, including a corner office

with oriental-style carpets for CEO Thomas S. Rittenhouse, is in the

same mode, with more mahogany, plants, and "dressy" chairs

in the reception area. Seen conferring or walking around, staff

members

dress in khakis and sport shirts, in line with the every day

"business

casual" dress code. In this poshly low-key environment, which

has been compared to that of a legal firm, there’s a comfortable,

collegial atmosphere for the 55 employees.

Its training room, also UCC’s major meeting area, boasts a

podium-as-command-center,

with audio and video hook-ups, Internet connection, a ceiling mounted

LCD projector to enable projected viewing from computers, and a

retractable

screen. The art works here echo still other, equally vivid wall pieces

spotted around the rest of the complex: large paintings of bar code

symbology. Not only apropos to the business at hand, they are also

quite striking — just enough out of stylistic synch with the more

traditional art also found here to be interesting. For instance: a

big Kodak bar code on that company’s signature gold ground. Another

painting shows an RSS Composite from UCC’s "Reduced Space

Symbology,"

a new class of bar codes designed to accommodate health care products,

electrical components, meat, produce, and other variable measure

products.

(Eventually, some such symbols may fit on medicine vials and syringes,

helping to assure an accurate match of medication with patient.)

And now, take the stairs or elevator down to the first floor, for

something completely different — by design. You face the front

doors of UCCnet, a wholly owned subsidiary of UCC Inc. UCCnet is doing

for the 21st century what its parent company did in the last century:

make ubiquitous standards for the equivalent of bar codes. UCCnet

is the first open, standards-based, scalable, distributed Internet

trading community that is industry supported and sponsored (U.S. 1,

July 19).

The following scenario explains in familiar terms the relationship

between this second office and the one you just left:

You are different from your parents, and they expect and very much

want you to be. You’re proud to be related to them, you’re in regular

touch with them, but you are not the same as them. Because you do

your own thing in your own way and in your own place — which is

not far away from your parents — you want the difference between

you to be apparent from the get-go, and in every way. What to do.

. .

Clear glass, light wood, and red all around. Exciting.

Action-y. Now. That’s UCCnet, in concept and in reality. Although,

speaking semantically, the word is not the thing, here, the office

suite is the outward symbol of an attitude, an approach, a

mission. Its leaders believed that as a start-up company, UCCnet

should

have interiors reflecting its newness, its cutting-edge position.

"We were after the look and feel of something that would represent

an Internet company, even though we’re not a `dot-com,’ but a

`dot-org.’"

That’s Paul G. Benchener, whose naming as the company’s chief

operating

officer caused significant re-thinking and redesign of its premises.

Benchener says he’s especially pleased with "the whole lobby area

— the look, the color — it feels like a business and it looks

lively."

In many ways, Benchener’s role assures that he experience the best

of both worlds: the more traditional UCC environs upstairs, the more

avant garde look downstairs.

A big red, black, and swooshy logo and a non-traditional flower

arrangement

— mod, spiky and red-accented — greet whoever enters the two

large, clear-glass doors to UCCnet’s lobby area. Though just

downstairs

from the parent reception space, it is very much its own person, in

reds and blacks, tan carpeting, and warm, off-white-to-khaki hued

walls throughout. The dark top of the receptionist’s counter repeats

the swoosh shape, drawing the visitor toward a hallway that widens

as it goes, and gets punch from red cantilevered walls. And that’s

not just any red you see throughout the suite, but the organization’s

corporate, or signature, color, Pantone 185, to be precise.

"We’re creating a culture here, and from a marketing and branding

perspective, there are key characteristics we wanted to build into

everything we say and do, including the office space," says Tom

Duffy, vice president of marketing and administration. He points to

how elements such as the logo and corporate color contribute to a

comprehensive, and consistent, ID system for UCCnet. Duffy, who was

in at the beginning of what became the third and final design for

UCCnet offices, recalls how, with Benchener, designer Floss Barber,

art consultant Carol Malkin, and Clemens Construction, "we

collectively

created a design within a budget."

It started with internal talks about what the office design should

convey. Beginning with the front doors, a sense of openness was

requisite.

Given the company’s raison d’etre, both innovation and a high-tech

look and feel had to be there. Interactivity and a sense of community

were key values.

This vision went first to the board of governors, who OK’d it, giving

Benchener, Duffy and Co. their "one chance to do it right."

In six months’ time, the deed was done, and the 14 charter staff

members

with UCCnet today — most of whom relocated to be here, Duffy notes

— can be supplemented by some 20 more before even more space than

the current 16,000 square feet will be needed.

Associates’ name plates, incorporating elements of the red, black,

and white logo, including the swoosh, are mini examples of UCCnet’s

attention to detail, to consistency. Doors throughout the suite are

red — those leading into the multi-purpose room with vertical

chrome bar pulls — as are the seats on metal stools in the

associates’

cafe, where they pull up to a two-tier red counter. Offices, all on

the outside of the space, are furnished with light wood U-shaped

desks,

with rounded corners and beveled edges; their gray side chairs have

black, open-work backs. Whether they occupy interior cubicles or the

windowed offices, all associates sit in ergonomically state-of-the-art

"Aeron" chairs from Herman Miller.

The existence of cubicles, some for use by visitors, some permanently

dedicated for associates’ use, fosters the kind of work

space-flexibility

UCCnet needs. A manager who is in the office periodically, an

administrative

assistant, or even an outside consultant can move into ready work

space that’s already fitted out with standard equipment. Cubes are

bigger than usual, Duffy says, and even their wall heights — a

potential sore spot with cubicle inhabitants — were tested out

on occupants. The low initial height, aiming at openness, was raised

about a foot, for greater privacy. The offices at UCCnet were allotted

to those with need for frequent private discussions and meetings.

"We’re about as wired as you can be," Duffy says. Everyone

has cell phones, and each cube and office has dial-up access to the

Internet. Gone are individual file cabinets — always bulky and

often ugly — obviated by common storage areas that are flush with

the wall. The sense of streamlining carries over even to the light

switches, also flush, often controlling much more than just lighting.

The multi-purpose room, divisible into two sound-proof conference

spaces, is a high-tech dream that can be booked by E-mail. Large,

with one window wall and another wall that can be covered with

dry-erase

panels that slide out of sight when not needed, it’s wired for the

Internet, of course, and permits remote access and control of

everything

from lights to the Web. It’s used for brainstorming, planning,

training;

it’s a "war room" for senior managers.

Another wall displays the logos of the company’s six "trading

partners," or the Pilot Working Group: Kroger, Pepsico/Frito-Lay,

Proctor & Gamble, Ralston Purina, Supervalu, Wegmans. From these

companies

came the vision for the UCCnet concept within the grocery industry,

with expansion of its mission from there.

A range of art works contribute to the UCCnet theme.

One large, digitally-produced wall piece, shows red, molecular-looking

forms on a green ground. Meant to convey a sense of the community

and connectivity that UCCnet is all about, this was the first art

purchased for the new offices, and it hangs where there’s the most

involvement. "I thought at first it was a little too funky,"

Duffy says. "But at the end of the day, it’s fun for everybody,

even if they joke about it — or me." Seriously into culture

building, he knows the value of shared comic relief.

Other art at the UCCnet suite includes a mixed media work, a

photograph,

and acrylics on plaster — all abstract and all with at least

touches

of red, though probably not necessarily Pantone 185. Carol Malkin,

an independent art consultant and owner of Corporate Art Resources

in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, provides art work to corporate and

hospitality

venues, most recently to Philadelphia’s Ritz Carlton Hotel. She says

the works she recommended for this site all attempt to convey "a

theme of connectiveness."

In short, the UCCnet set-up is the antithesis of the "Dilbert"

cartoon strip, whose aberrant characters also inhabit cubicles,

although

that’s where any similarity ends. Same with the New Yorker cartoon

showing nine cubes in a 3-3-3- grid, with an as-yet-undiscovered

skeleton

in the very middle one. Forward-moving things are happening at UCCnet;

and the atmosphere virtually crackles. Associates are "always

going in 20 different directions," Duffy says. These include trade

shows, customer visits, and speaking engagements all over the world,

so sometimes only two or three staffers are in the office. However,

UCCnet’s trading partners, solution partners, customers, and

prospective

customers can be on site at any time, and workshops, training

sessions,

and other meetings are common.

Calling UCCnet "absolutely one of the finest clients I ever

had,"

designer Floss Barber of Philadelphia also cites the team-development

process that produced a result "not better, but different"

from the parent office suite. The UCCnet offices, home to a

not-for-profit

operation, "could not look as if they spent a lot of money on

themselves," she says, while still conveying the image a lively

new Internet company. The team had to sell not only a budget, but

also a look, to CEO Rittenhouse, whose tastes are reportedly more

conservative.

That accomplished, "value engineering" took place, dropping

costs while keeping the look. Comparatively cheap materials were used

to put UCCnet on the map for its exciting interior. Barber says the

red cantilevered walls, made of stained particle board, "added

interest and fun" where otherwise there would be just space.

Speaking with the easy assurance of a woman who knows what she’s

about,

Barber — in business for herself since 1986 — came to this

job with a wealth of recommendations, or "myriad connections,"

as she puts it. These included "the guy who invented the bar

code,"

like herself, a member of the "Drexel 100:" an elite group

of stellar graduates identified from the university’s 65,000-some

alumni. Barber, who graduated in 1975, is one of the youngest members

and one of four women in that body.

Scott Peters, New Jersey division manager for Clemens

Construction Company, in Philadelphia for 22 years, says the tenant

fit-out work his new branch did for UCCnet was its first official

job in this state. "Tom Duffy had a very strict budget, and Floss

Barber had a very unique design," he recalls, and Clemens made

it happen. Just one more example of economy: the deCoustics

(fiberglass)

panel system suspended over the doors was cheaper than dry-wall

soffits.

Based at Carnegie Executive Center, Peters’ division has since done

work for Commerce Bank, and is "just about done" with a dance

pavilion for J. Seward Johnson near Rat’s Restaurant, in Hamilton

(www.clemensconstruction.com).

Their respective websites continue the distinction-drawing between

UCC, the parent, and its lively offspring, UCCnet. The site for the

Uniform Code Council (www.uc-council.org) is comparatively black and

white in contrast to the Technicolor UCCnet site — predictably

red-accented and much more "today" looking (www.uccnet.org).

The basic UCC logo of a circle behind a reverse-ink `U,’ with an

embracing

swoosh has been colorized for UCCnet: the swoosh is red-injected,

and the `net’ is red, too. Interactive and linked to each other, both

sites have a moving `tickertape’ across the bottom of the screen,

announcing meetings and prize winners. Though individual, the two

separate web looks also reflect the company’s family relationship.

Just how difficult it is to move from being a traditional bricks and

mortar firm to creating a cyber-savvy firm can be illustrated by an

anecdote that circulated at the grand opening last summer. It seems

the brand-new president, Paul Benchener, had come straight from

Silicon

Valley, where the decor of dotcom companies veers between the

outrageous

and the merely avant garde. When he arrived the design for the new

office was ready to go.

Now Benchener does admit that his personal tastes run to the

traditional,

but when he looked at those first drawings, he knew they wouldn’t

do. He sent the design team back to the drawing board to make the

"look" of the new company more avant garde. One redesign was

offered, and once more Benchener sent it back. Still too Main Line,

he said, not enough California. On the third try, Benchener pronounced

it just right.

In the argot of business, the result is a win-win, sufficiently

dignified

for the accountants and rulemakers of the UCC, but — with those

cantilevered crimson walls — creatively edgy for the cyberspace

crowd of UCCnet.


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