David Pilton Hub Challenege Shilpa Bhatnagar and Anjali Ramachandran

While I am an urban planner + place brander by day, long time readers of this blog would know that I’m always seeking out interesting side projects that exercise my creative muscles in some way. So when in August, good friend Anjali Ramachandran, who works as the Head of Innovation at PHD, invited me to collaborate with her for the David Pilton Hub Challenge at NABS, I all but jumped at the opportunity.

Our entry was shortlisted as one of the finalists in the competition, but to our disappointment, we didn’t win! Anjali and I spent a lot of time in August and September working on this closely together, taking time out of our busy work commitments, and while it was hectic, it was also immense fun.  We both however thought that we should share our ideas anyway, in case they spark some new ones in other people and if they help you ideate and think about your designs (and if they do, please do let us know!).

While we worked on everything together, Anjali wore the Ad-World-Expert and Sane-Strategiser hat while I played the Crazy Designer obsessing about the little details and my rusty sketching skills. I think Anjali I worked very well together, our skills complementing each other’s and our brains working in tandem. It of course helps that we are good friends and have known each other for a long time, but it was our first experience in working together and it was super fun.

We had a redesign budget of only £1,000, which was a challenge, yes, but that made it all the more interesting!

Below is the link to our design presentation:

Click here 

We did this on Prezi (I am now deeply and irrevocably in love with it and can never go back to Powerpoint again!) and here’s an excerpt from the script to accompany the presentation, which will give you an idea of how we thought about this. 

Good design is only as good as the story behind it

We believe good design is only as good as the story behind it. This is as true for brands as for physical spaces.

Design is never just about decor, art work, or pretty colours, neither just about form and function, but a cohesive narrative of the logical thought behind it. One of the main criteria for this project was that the space must reflect the zeitgeist of the advertising industry as it is at present, and therefore, every aspect of our design reflects that narrative – the story – and in this presentation, we will take you through this story.

Advertising 2013

Historically, the advertising & media industry has been closed, walling off creativity within specific creative departments. However, we are seeing a marked change in the way agencies and brands function. Creativity is encouraged through through partnerships and crowdsourcing, and rewards innovative and progressive thinking as campaigns become more transparent with social media.

Now, while the spirit of collaboration is inherent in the very concept of co-working, our re-design of the space attempts to foster this in better ways than at present.

Besides collaboration, what is advertising in 2013?  We think a lot of it can be summed up as “BEING USEFUL”. Campaigns need to be meaningful to the customer, add tangible value to their lives, and are becoming more and more interactive and responsive.

In the same spirit, we think that this philosophy of Being Useful must extend to the physical space, in that every aspect of the design – physical or conceptual – attempts to do something tangible for the user.

So how does this translate into the space?

Being Useful means three things to us:

– Minimising Waste

– Being Multi-functional

– Being Agile

Minimising waste

Minimising waste means eliminating clutter and getting rid of inefficiencies and redundancies in the room. It also means not wasting existing resources. The walls for example – they hold up the room, yes, but why waste precious wall surface in such a small space? Our design makes better use of the walls by turning them into ideating surfaces with the use of whiteboard and chalkboard paint.


Smoothly dovetailing into this is the concept of multi-functionality. So things exist for a reason, yes, but also, ideally, for MORE THAN ONE REASON.

So if the walls do more than one thing, why leave out the ceiling? We’d like to replace the existing, slightly boring, lights with two identical trellises on each side of the room – these will not only hold up the new lighting system, but will also  become a frame to hang up, say, fairy lights for a party, or extra pendant lamps, perhaps.

In keeping with that, we’d like to introduce technology into the room, by installing a screen connected to an iPad running Panic Status Board. While the app allows the users of the room to be connected to the outside world through a customisable interface, the screen allows the users to do other things as well – when you’re not using it to mirror the app, you could use it for presentations, screen films, or just use it as an extra monitor if it comes to that.

We also use the walls for one more function: to inspire. This space is meant for creative advertising minds looking for inspiration. So we’d like to give them a little dose of it through, literally and physically, the writing on the walls! These quotes are an example of the kind of thinking we’d like to propagate:

‘If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original’ – Sir Ken Robinson

‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change’ – Charles Darwin

‘All boundaries are conventions’ – David Mitchell  

‘   ….the advertising we create really needs to be something users want to see’ – Susan Wojcicki

‘Create continuous process flow to bring problems to the surface’ –Toyota Principle

Will it get old? No.


Because that leads us to our third guiding principle of AGILITY. Which means that the space will be a highly responsive and evolving environment that will easily lend itself to the changing needs of those using the space. So if you get bored of the quotes on the wall, you can change them – because we’ll do them with erasable chalk pens.

It is also in keeping with the philosophy of agile planning that dominates the advertising industry today: planning that provides for changes in culture and society rather than plans that sit 6 or 8 months down the line when who knows what may happen in the interim. Tactical plans embody this – a strategy adopted by challenger brands like Paddy Power.

So it is with the technology bit – we are relying on iOS right now, but 2 years is a long time in technology-years and therefore we do realise that things could change. So even if the technology gets old, you still have the physical resources to continue using it in the future.

Design theme

But a collection of good ideas, if we may say so ourselves, does not make a story. To become a story, they need to be threaded together in a logical manner – to become a cohesive whole – and that is where our design theme comes in. It needs to grow from the ground up – the existing elements in the space must marry the new elements we propose in a experientially seamless, but aesthetic manner – it cannot be just a veneer.

That is how we came up with our design theme –  Industrial Chic.

Industrial Chic

Why industrial chic?

– It is characterised by a very utilitarian, back-to-basics approach

– It goes well with our guiding principles of minimum waste and multi-functionality

– It is characterised by the use of rugged materials: rough metal, bare walls, wood grain, accented by a few sleek touches like splashes of colour.

So what is Industrial Chic?

Industrial chic is current and very much on-trend. Nostalgia about Industrial Britain is all the rage in the arts these days, take the Olympics opening ceremony, Tate Britain’s 2013 Lowry exhibition, recent films and TV series such as Made In Dagenham, Call The Midwife and The Pitmen Painters and of course a general hankering after converted warehouse spaces in East London.

But industrial chic  is still classic, it doesn’t get old – because it very easily combines old rugged classics with modern statements like technology and colour. But that’s not the only thing – because it comes from a philosophy of ruggedness, it is easy to do and easy to maintain. These materials tend to be relatively cheap, so it is budget friendly. Ruggedness can also means re-purposed, so again, it is agile. And crucially, because  a bit of wear only adds to the look, it doesn’t easily get old – it is long lasting.

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