Wayfinding and Culture Inside the Box

Work is serious business, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun, too.

When cloud storage and content management company Box (one of Fast Company’s 50 most innovative companies for 2016) moved to new headquarters in Redwood City, Calif., they asked Sky Design to develop an interior wayfinding system for the 170,000-sq.-ft. space. Sky Design delivered more than an intuitive navigation system. They also integrated a bold graphic language that translates Box’s fun, collaborative and innovative brand spirit into the physical environment.

Box has exploded since founder Aaron Levie started it in 2005 to match up against rival cloud platforms like Dropbox. The new headquarters will ultimately hold as many as 1,800 employees, in two different buildings, with more than 80 conference rooms that help foster the company’s collaborative spirit.

Helping employees find their way to the meeting spaces was a key function for the wayfinding system. Box’s previous office in Los Altos had used a conference room wayfinding system with fun and unique names as the only “address” for each room. That system was a great reflection of the company’s playful culture, but fell short of high functionality in the new space.

Box wanted to keep the fun names as part of the wayfinding system in their new space, so one of Sky Design’s main challenges was developing a system that would balance functionality with the Box culture, says Tim Huey, Sky Design’s senior designer and project manager for the Box assignment.

So the Sky Design team created an intuitive numbering system, paired with the unique room names, to help employees and visitors find their way to meet-ups. The team knew that employees would be using the stairs a lot, so they used the stair vestibules strategically: In addition to super-scaled, color-coded floor numbers and names painted on the walls, the landings feature applied-vinyl room directories so people can quickly confirm that they are on the correct level.  For those who don’t choose the stairs, fabricator Thomas Swan Sign Company also created simple room directories near the elevators.

After they step out of the stair vestibule onto the office floor, large vinyl floor graphics—which Huey calls “confidence markers” —point them toward the conference rooms. Color-coding is matched to architectural finishes and graphics, further reinforcing the wayfinding. 

Discovery, yes. Unity, not so much.

Graphic surprises await in the conference rooms themselves. Each of the rooms features a large digitally printed wall graphic that relates to the name of the room and adds interest. Sky Design created more than 90 unique wall graphics for the space (about 15,000 sq. ft. of graphics, created by AMP Printing), from Yoda to a typographic wall inspired by Chipotle, one of Box’s major clients. “Make Mom Proud” and other company values pop up frequently, while another conference room is papered in thousands of images of Twitter user avatars (another client).

“Instead of a system that would completely unify the visual language of the space, Box wanted their culture of creative thinking and solutions tailored to day-to-day challenges incorporated into the environment,” says Huey. “They’re all about being fun, collaborative, innovative and bold. The conference room graphics we designed really reflect these values, and because each one is unique, it creates a sense of discovery as you move through the space.”

In addition to the digitally printed murals, Sky Design also created three-dimensional installations for each floor, often focused around whiteboards. (When your company is all about collaborating, there are a lot of whiteboards.)

“We knew early on that there were going to be a lot of whiteboards, and not a lot of blank walls,” explains Huey. “It was a deliberate decision to have the whiteboards be incorporated into the design of the three-dimensional special installations. Each office floor has one special wall and it definitely helps act as a place-making element.”

The 3D installations (made by Antlre) include a wall of “Squishables,” nodding to the fact that many employees have stuffed animals on their desks. Their love of Nerf guns was also celebrated in a wall of the toys (“they’re painted white, kind of a peace statement,” Huey notes), again mounted around a huge whiteboard.

Rave reviews

The new space has gotten rave reviews from Box employees, even thought they lost a beloved feature of the old office—a bright yellow tube slide from the second floor to the main lobby. Although the slide was not going to be relocated to the new office, the Sky Design team found a way to incorporate it by creating a sculpture. Sliced into rings and reconstituted in a corner of the cafeteria, it’s a reminder of the fun early days and the fun new days ahead.

“The employees seem to love how lively and vibrant the office is,” says Huey, and they often Instagram pictures of themselves at work, especially in front of the wall of Squishables. Huey summarizes: “It’s all designed to be a reminder that work is also about having fun.”



Client: Box

Location: Redwood City, Calif.

Open Date: November 2015

Project Area: 170,000 sq. ft.

Design: Sky Design

Design Team: Anna Lai (design director); Tim Huey (senior designer/project manager) Michael Geary, Jill Wong (designers)

Collaborators: AECOM (architect)

Fabrication: Thomas Swan Sign Company (signage and wayfinding), AMP Printing (digital print wall graphics), Antlre (special installations fabricator), Sign Source (illuminated signage)  

Photos: Michael Geary

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