Akvo is growing quickly. Not just in terms of the number of people, but also the number of hub offices we’re opening up around the world. So far we have six main locations where people work (there are also staff working in other settings in many more locations) and we’ve got more hubs planned for the future. With so many locations, we were finding it increasingly difficult to keep the Akvo atmosphere and style in sync in all those places.
Our office style isn’t easy to describe. Our offices in Amsterdam and London have what I would call a laid back, almost homey feel with contemporary, vintage and industrial touches. It’s that mixture of styles which gives our offices their eclectic feel. Of course there are the usual desks and meeting rooms, but often there are some fun features too. The aim is definitely not a “one size fits all solution”, but we thought it would be good if we had some universal elements that, in one way or another, are featured in all our hubs.
At the Akvo team week in December, I presented some initial ideas on hub design. I spoke about how we could make our hubs feel more like a part of Akvo, while still keeping a local sense of place and personality. This is important not only because we would like visitors to be able to find us and recognise an office as belonging to Akvo, but even more so because we want our hub teams to feel part of our wider organisation and connected with colleagues around the world. In my presentation I talked through a number of suggestions on how we could give our international offices, however large or small, the same idiosyncratic, fun and interesting Akvo atmosphere.
Above: Akvo’s Amsterdam city centre office has a strong sense of place and history, as it’s located in the old warehouse of the West India Company, built in 1642. Photo by Charlotte SoedjakAt team week I spoke about way-finding; how people find their way to our buildings, and then find our offices within them. I spoke about the overall look our offices have; how they are fun and off-beat (there is even a swing in our Amsterdam office), how there are formal and informal spaces – and what they look like. I talked about the design of our meeting rooms and things to put up on office walls. I also talked about my favourite bit of an Akvo office; how there often is a sofa, where you can sit next to a kitschy animal statue and have a good cup of coffee while reading one of the interesting books that lie around.
Top: Me working at my desk in London, with the LON location sign in the background. Photo by Mark Charmer
Many of these things need to be implemented by our local teams. However much I would like to travel the world and make our offices look fabulous, there are more efficient ways I can spend my time working at Akvo. That said, there are a few things that I can help with which can be used in all of our offices. A good start is to get our local teams set up with some Akvo artefacts and a little bit of encouragement to move things in the right direction.
Below: The new Akvo.org sign, next to the London hub webcam tiger. Photo by Mark Charmer
From March, you will find new signage in our offices. Building on the neon tube theme we started at the track day last year, I designed a set of signs showing neon light tubes and our logo. That the colours of the neon tubes are similar to the colours of our products is no coincidence of course.
Since the above-mentioned track day we are also a bit mad about letter codes. AMS, NBO and DC, as shown at the track day, are short codes for three of our office locations: Amsterdam, Nairobi and Washington DC (our other main hubs are in DEL, STO and LON, also known as Delhi, Stockholm and London). In future we would like to have illuminated marquee letter lights, featuring a location’s letter code. It not only looks great, but it sends out a message: “Hey, we might be in NBO, but there’s more going on elsewhere.” It takes a bit longer than anticipated to get these letters made so, in the meantime, we will be displaying poster versions of the letters instead.
Akvo might officially only be five years old, but we’ve seen many things happen during that time. We like to do things visually, so there are tons of pictures in our Flickr accounts all taken by different members of the team whenever something special is happening. Building on this, we’ve come up with the concept of Akvo photo walls. Each office will have one, and they will hang their favourite pictures on them – meaningful pictures, with beautiful stories behind them that they cherish and want to share.
Above: Mark Charmer at his computer in Akvo’s London office, with the photo wall behind him. Photo by Linda Leunissen
Below: Akvo product-coloured mugs. Photo by Mark Charmer
I mentioned my favourite bit of the Akvo office above – the sofa, with the kitschy figurine, a nice book and a good cup of coffee. I think that will now be even better as we will have custom made mugs in all our hubs. I’m sure they will brighten up even the shortest coffee breaks.
I’m looking forward to seeing how our teams incorporate these elements into their local spaces. Let’s all keep a look out on our Flickr streams and Twitter feeds for photos of our new hub design in action.
Linda Leunissen is Akvo’s graphic designer and illustrator.