Dubai-based interior designers discuss the latest trends and challenges in office design

16 Feb 2020

At a recent roundtable held by OFIS and its key office furniture partner Steelcase, Dubai-based interior designers and industry professionals came together to discuss the latest trends and insights affecting the realms of the workspace and office design.

Titled "New work. New Rules", key stakeholders from the local design community shared their expertise on how design can empower agility and resilience at work as well as the everyday challenges they're facing while delivering fast-paced projects across the Middle East region.

The panel included: Laila Al-Yousuf, design director at SAY Studio, Yullianna Porter, head of workplace design at JLL MENA, Paul Ludlam, director, project & development services at JLL MENA, Kathryn Athreya, managing director at Roar, Amber Peters, senior interior designer at Bluehaus Group, Adriana Graur, associate design director at DWP, Zoe Burnett, senior interior designer at RSP, Hani Asfour, dean of Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, Alessandro Centrone, Steelcase product marketing VP, Hasan Alharbi, regional director at Steelcase, Claudia Rus, workplace design consultant at Steelcase, and Gianni Sharrouf, general manager at OFIS.

Alessandro Centrone of Steelcase shared with the participants the latest insights and learnings from Steelcase's global client base.

He explained that organizations find it more challenging to plan for the future with all the uncertainties - political, economic, and technological - surrounding them. As these organizations need to continue to invest in real estate and building suitable environments for their teams to perform, the pressure grows on the entire supply chain: from architects and designers to project managers to furniture manufacturers and local dealers.

"An average lifespan of an office is now reduced, so it will be interesting to see how this shift further affects the design and real estate industry as well as our manufacturing process," explained Centrone.

Yullianna Porter of JLL described the clients in the market as "reactive," making the last-minute decisions about projects, which often forces the designers to offer products and solutions with shorter lead times or that are already available on the market.

"However, the clients are still expecting the same responses, speed, and quality of work, despite the shorter lead times," added Yullianna.

On the other hand, Adriana Graur of DWP, believes that designers have the responsibility to educate the clients to make the right decisions for their projects.

 “Our role as designers is to help clients successfully achieve their business goals, even if we have to fight such battles with them with unrealistic timelines and budgets,” she said.

Commenting on the current market, design director at SAY Studio, Laila Al Yousuf, noticed that big corporates are now choosing home-grown boutique design firms over large and global design practices due to their agility.

Agile working is becoming more than a buzzword, but the norm for teams across the world, including interior design practices. This comes as no surprise considering that Millennials now comprise half of the global workforce and will make up almost 75% of the workforce by 2025, according to statistics.

"Generation changes are now driving a more holistic approach to office design. The younger generations are pushing for more collaborative spaces that will allow them flexibility at work," added Laila.

JLL's project director Paul Ludlam agreed that younger generations are no longer bound to their desks, describing an everyday work scenario at JLL's office in Dubai: "They don't want to work the same way Yullianna and I work. We love to sit at our desks while they want to be flexible and work from all over the place or a coffee shop," said Paul. 

As the largest office furniture manufacturer in the world, Steelcase has been at the forefront of reimagining the workplace and helping teams achieve more while having a much better experience at work. Looking at their extensive client database, Centrone shared with a panel that more than 50% of purchasing decision-makers are now coming from HR departments.

According to him, human resource managers are becoming more aware that the human-centered office spaces are not only supporting current employees but also attracting new talent.

Bluehaus' senior interior designer, Amber Peters, also noticed a positive shift in clients' approach when it comes to the overall employee wellbeing.

"We're noticing that the clients are now more educated and pushing the boundaries for wellness concepts. A few years ago, designers were the ones proposing such concepts but the clients are now driving a more holistic approach to workplace design. They want spaces where their employees can work and collaborate but also relax and rejuvenate," explained Amber.


From one's bedroom to a full-fledged design studio in d3, Roar design firm, headed by Pallavi Dean, has recently undergone an extensive office refurbishment, addressing the needs of its staff.

Kathryn Athreya of Roar commented: "We worked very closely with workplace psychologist to better understand the needs of our design team and what kind of office environment they want for themselves. They work so hard on multiple projects so it was crucial to give them space that supports their privacy and needs to work alone and in teams. We often meditate together in the morning and people are encouraged to have power naps. It became part of our company culture."

However, Roar's managing director noticed that "flexible working hours can often disrupt collaboration processes." She continued: "In our office, everyone still comes and goes as they want, but we've established block hours when we asked everyone to be in the office so they can work as a team."

From closed cubicles to open-plan offices, so what's next in office design? Zoe Burnett of RSP explained how co-working spaces, such as WeWork, are not only revolutionizing the way people work but also affecting other sectors, especially hospitality.

Burnett commented: "Collaborative spaces are no longer limited to office environments. We see workspace designs now emerging within the hospitality sector. Due to technology, people are nowadays taking work with them and are always switched on. Office furniture is now evolving to be used  in many different commercial spaces."

Having spent years designing commercial spaces before joining the newly established Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, Hani Asfour shared his thoughts about the importance of creating multiple zones within a workspace that can support different work scenarios.

"It's important to create a sense of diversity with multiple settings in an office by creating episodes of delight and allowing people to move freely within their office spaces."

Being a Steelcase dealer and a trusted partner in the UAE, Gianni Sharrouf of OFIS engaged in a discussion to better understand how furniture dealers can support their projects more efficiently.

"For more than three decades, OFIS has been working hand-in-hand with many architects and designers, helping them find the right solutions for the spaces they design, together with our core partners such as Steelcase. We must have continuous dialogues with our local design community so we can better understand the challenges they're currently facing and be more agile in our approach and services that we offer," explained Sharrouf.

The participants also discussed the main drivers of new space requirements and how is that evolving with Generations Y and Z becoming a predominant workforce. The panel looked at the client involvement in the process, pressures on timelines and delivery, and challenges both furniture manufacturers and designers are facing when it comes to cost vs. quality.

The event took place at ESAG Design Hub in Dubai Design District. 


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