One of the things I enjoy most about my work is how much I learn from each project that could never be taught in design school. I recently gained valuable insight about how regional cultures and communities affect planning principles, traditions, and practices. I’m forever appreciative of the growth opportunity that I encountered, knowing that it will forever enhance my client interactions and better my understanding of cultural differences.

This new understanding emerged through working on Advance Publications national redesign [project profile]. While all 42 locations shared the same parent company, did the same work (digital and print news) and wore the same branding, some diverged greatly in mindset, outlook and perspective resulting in, what could only be described as, “cultural turn” or “territorial development”.

For example, initially, as we immersed ourselves into our client’s culture and values, we identified that it was important to “get management out of their private offices.” Beautiful, open, highly-collaborative spaces ensued. Then, something happened when we switched market locations that just as quickly drove top and mid-level management to “get back in” to their private offices.

What we didn’t understand is that regional planning and development is strongly rooted in and restricted to the cultural contexts or traits of their societies. Thus, regional planning was to be understood and practiced differently depending on the setting and cultural roots, which varied significantly across regions and countries.

One venue’s definition of “non-dedicated work spaces,” was not the same as the other. These were huge “Aha moments” for the entire interior design planning team. We learned that the language surrounding planning applications and work styles does not transcend all demographics. “Cultural variety” was a key principle for fostering a balanced development of spaces across-borders.

Despite the increased participation in the field we were stretched to maintain brand integrity while supporting teams who worked best with more defined, less open executive settings. That degree of difference was unexpected to me. It was obvious that the terms we used for “planning” were understood and practiced differently depending on location. This experience helped me to gain a stronger perspective on how workplace cultures are influenced through manifestations of history as well as people and environment.

It’s one thing to be aware of a locale’s conservative or liberal or casual or formal persona, but experiencing these traditions as facets of a single project or brand presented a profound design challenge—and an equally profound design opportunity.

Read more on designing creative spaces in the media industry in Secrets to Success in the Digital Age.workplace design secrets