Corrections or additions?
This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the October 11, 2000
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Matching Designs to Cultures
by Pat Summers
It’s a challenge faced by every good interior designer:
Create an office environment that reflects the personality of the
company. But what happens when the company has a split personality?
That was the challenge at 1009 Lenox Drive in the Princeton Pike
Center, headquarters of the 26-year-old Uniform Code Council and its
brand new Web-based offshoot and fully owned subsidiary, UCCnet. Both
had their offices designed by the same firm but look diametrically
different. Here is a textbook example of how the personality —
or even split personality — of a corporation can be reflected
in the design of its space.
Welcome to the offices of the Uniform Code Council Inc., a
membership organization with the mission to "take a global
role in establishing and promoting multi-industry standards for
identification and related electronic communications. The goal is
to enhance efficient supply chain management, thus contributing added
value to the customer." In other words, the council is the global
monitor for bar codes.
Starting in the west wing of building four at the Princeton Pike
Center, the first door, defined by mahogany around frosted-glass
allows views of a handsome reception area: glossy marble flooring
in light squares, accented by smaller black squares; two vibrant silk
and velvet wall hangings, one in teal, the other, gold; upholstered
chairs and a table; more mahogany surrounding a corner receptionist’s
UCC’s territory goes on and on for 36,000 square feet, through
meeting rooms, and a capacious, impressive training center. Via cushy
carpeting and through blues, purples, and complementary hues, together
with colorful paintings and ceramic art, it winds into the building’s
east wing — a mahogany trail.
Each office here is furnished with a U-shaped mahogany desk, complete
with laptop, a bookcase, upholstered side chairs, and, invariably,
a green exterior view. Its executive suite, including a corner office
with oriental-style carpets for CEO Thomas S. Rittenhouse, is in the
same mode, with more mahogany, plants, and "dressy" chairs
in the reception area. Seen conferring or walking around, staff
dress in khakis and sport shirts, in line with the every day
casual" dress code. In this poshly low-key environment, which
has been compared to that of a legal firm, there’s a comfortable,
collegial atmosphere for the 55 employees.
Its training room, also UCC’s major meeting area, boasts a
with audio and video hook-ups, Internet connection, a ceiling mounted
LCD projector to enable projected viewing from computers, and a
screen. The art works here echo still other, equally vivid wall pieces
spotted around the rest of the complex: large paintings of bar code
symbology. Not only apropos to the business at hand, they are also
quite striking — just enough out of stylistic synch with the more
traditional art also found here to be interesting. For instance: a
big Kodak bar code on that company’s signature gold ground. Another
painting shows an RSS Composite from UCC’s "Reduced Space
a new class of bar codes designed to accommodate health care products,
electrical components, meat, produce, and other variable measure
(Eventually, some such symbols may fit on medicine vials and syringes,
helping to assure an accurate match of medication with patient.)
And now, take the stairs or elevator down to the first floor, for
something completely different — by design. You face the front
doors of UCCnet, a wholly owned subsidiary of UCC Inc. UCCnet is doing
for the 21st century what its parent company did in the last century:
make ubiquitous standards for the equivalent of bar codes. UCCnet
is the first open, standards-based, scalable, distributed Internet
trading community that is industry supported and sponsored (U.S. 1,
The following scenario explains in familiar terms the relationship
between this second office and the one you just left:
You are different from your parents, and they expect and very much
want you to be. You’re proud to be related to them, you’re in regular
touch with them, but you are not the same as them. Because you do
your own thing in your own way and in your own place — which is
not far away from your parents — you want the difference between
you to be apparent from the get-go, and in every way. What to do.
Clear glass, light wood, and red all around. Exciting.
Action-y. Now. That’s UCCnet, in concept and in reality. Although,
speaking semantically, the word is not the thing, here, the office
suite is the outward symbol of an attitude, an approach, a
mission. Its leaders believed that as a start-up company, UCCnet
have interiors reflecting its newness, its cutting-edge position.
"We were after the look and feel of something that would represent
an Internet company, even though we’re not a `dot-com,’ but a
That’s Paul G. Benchener, whose naming as the company’s chief
officer caused significant re-thinking and redesign of its premises.
Benchener says he’s especially pleased with "the whole lobby area
— the look, the color — it feels like a business and it looks
In many ways, Benchener’s role assures that he experience the best
of both worlds: the more traditional UCC environs upstairs, the more
avant garde look downstairs.
A big red, black, and swooshy logo and a non-traditional flower
— mod, spiky and red-accented — greet whoever enters the two
large, clear-glass doors to UCCnet’s lobby area. Though just
from the parent reception space, it is very much its own person, in
reds and blacks, tan carpeting, and warm, off-white-to-khaki hued
walls throughout. The dark top of the receptionist’s counter repeats
the swoosh shape, drawing the visitor toward a hallway that widens
as it goes, and gets punch from red cantilevered walls. And that’s
not just any red you see throughout the suite, but the organization’s
corporate, or signature, color, Pantone 185, to be precise.
"We’re creating a culture here, and from a marketing and branding
perspective, there are key characteristics we wanted to build into
everything we say and do, including the office space," says Tom
Duffy, vice president of marketing and administration. He points to
how elements such as the logo and corporate color contribute to a
comprehensive, and consistent, ID system for UCCnet. Duffy, who was
in at the beginning of what became the third and final design for
UCCnet offices, recalls how, with Benchener, designer Floss Barber,
art consultant Carol Malkin, and Clemens Construction, "we
created a design within a budget."
It started with internal talks about what the office design should
convey. Beginning with the front doors, a sense of openness was
Given the company’s raison d’etre, both innovation and a high-tech
look and feel had to be there. Interactivity and a sense of community
were key values.
This vision went first to the board of governors, who OK’d it, giving
Benchener, Duffy and Co. their "one chance to do it right."
In six months’ time, the deed was done, and the 14 charter staff
with UCCnet today — most of whom relocated to be here, Duffy notes
— can be supplemented by some 20 more before even more space than
the current 16,000 square feet will be needed.
Associates’ name plates, incorporating elements of the red, black,
and white logo, including the swoosh, are mini examples of UCCnet’s
attention to detail, to consistency. Doors throughout the suite are
red — those leading into the multi-purpose room with vertical
chrome bar pulls — as are the seats on metal stools in the
cafe, where they pull up to a two-tier red counter. Offices, all on
the outside of the space, are furnished with light wood U-shaped
with rounded corners and beveled edges; their gray side chairs have
black, open-work backs. Whether they occupy interior cubicles or the
windowed offices, all associates sit in ergonomically state-of-the-art
"Aeron" chairs from Herman Miller.
The existence of cubicles, some for use by visitors, some permanently
dedicated for associates’ use, fosters the kind of work
UCCnet needs. A manager who is in the office periodically, an
assistant, or even an outside consultant can move into ready work
space that’s already fitted out with standard equipment. Cubes are
bigger than usual, Duffy says, and even their wall heights — a
potential sore spot with cubicle inhabitants — were tested out
on occupants. The low initial height, aiming at openness, was raised
about a foot, for greater privacy. The offices at UCCnet were allotted
to those with need for frequent private discussions and meetings.
"We’re about as wired as you can be," Duffy says. Everyone
has cell phones, and each cube and office has dial-up access to the
Internet. Gone are individual file cabinets — always bulky and
often ugly — obviated by common storage areas that are flush with
the wall. The sense of streamlining carries over even to the light
switches, also flush, often controlling much more than just lighting.
The multi-purpose room, divisible into two sound-proof conference
spaces, is a high-tech dream that can be booked by E-mail. Large,
with one window wall and another wall that can be covered with
panels that slide out of sight when not needed, it’s wired for the
Internet, of course, and permits remote access and control of
from lights to the Web. It’s used for brainstorming, planning,
it’s a "war room" for senior managers.
Another wall displays the logos of the company’s six "trading
partners," or the Pilot Working Group: Kroger, Pepsico/Frito-Lay,
Proctor & Gamble, Ralston Purina, Supervalu, Wegmans. From these
came the vision for the UCCnet concept within the grocery industry,
with expansion of its mission from there.
A range of art works contribute to the UCCnet theme.
One large, digitally-produced wall piece, shows red, molecular-looking
forms on a green ground. Meant to convey a sense of the community
and connectivity that UCCnet is all about, this was the first art
purchased for the new offices, and it hangs where there’s the most
involvement. "I thought at first it was a little too funky,"
Duffy says. "But at the end of the day, it’s fun for everybody,
even if they joke about it — or me." Seriously into culture
building, he knows the value of shared comic relief.
Other art at the UCCnet suite includes a mixed media work, a
and acrylics on plaster — all abstract and all with at least
of red, though probably not necessarily Pantone 185. Carol Malkin,
an independent art consultant and owner of Corporate Art Resources
in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, provides art work to corporate and
venues, most recently to Philadelphia’s Ritz Carlton Hotel. She says
the works she recommended for this site all attempt to convey "a
theme of connectiveness."
In short, the UCCnet set-up is the antithesis of the "Dilbert"
cartoon strip, whose aberrant characters also inhabit cubicles,
that’s where any similarity ends. Same with the New Yorker cartoon
showing nine cubes in a 3-3-3- grid, with an as-yet-undiscovered
in the very middle one. Forward-moving things are happening at UCCnet;
and the atmosphere virtually crackles. Associates are "always
going in 20 different directions," Duffy says. These include trade
shows, customer visits, and speaking engagements all over the world,
so sometimes only two or three staffers are in the office. However,
UCCnet’s trading partners, solution partners, customers, and
customers can be on site at any time, and workshops, training
and other meetings are common.
Calling UCCnet "absolutely one of the finest clients I ever
designer Floss Barber of Philadelphia also cites the team-development
process that produced a result "not better, but different"
from the parent office suite. The UCCnet offices, home to a
operation, "could not look as if they spent a lot of money on
themselves," she says, while still conveying the image a lively
new Internet company. The team had to sell not only a budget, but
also a look, to CEO Rittenhouse, whose tastes are reportedly more
That accomplished, "value engineering" took place, dropping
costs while keeping the look. Comparatively cheap materials were used
to put UCCnet on the map for its exciting interior. Barber says the
red cantilevered walls, made of stained particle board, "added
interest and fun" where otherwise there would be just space.
Speaking with the easy assurance of a woman who knows what she’s
Barber — in business for herself since 1986 — came to this
job with a wealth of recommendations, or "myriad connections,"
as she puts it. These included "the guy who invented the bar
like herself, a member of the "Drexel 100:" an elite group
of stellar graduates identified from the university’s 65,000-some
alumni. Barber, who graduated in 1975, is one of the youngest members
and one of four women in that body.
Scott Peters, New Jersey division manager for Clemens
Construction Company, in Philadelphia for 22 years, says the tenant
fit-out work his new branch did for UCCnet was its first official
job in this state. "Tom Duffy had a very strict budget, and Floss
Barber had a very unique design," he recalls, and Clemens made
it happen. Just one more example of economy: the deCoustics
panel system suspended over the doors was cheaper than dry-wall
Based at Carnegie Executive Center, Peters’ division has since done
work for Commerce Bank, and is "just about done" with a dance
pavilion for J. Seward Johnson near Rat’s Restaurant, in Hamilton
Their respective websites continue the distinction-drawing between
UCC, the parent, and its lively offspring, UCCnet. The site for the
Uniform Code Council (www.uc-council.org) is comparatively black and
white in contrast to the Technicolor UCCnet site — predictably
red-accented and much more "today" looking (www.uccnet.org).
The basic UCC logo of a circle behind a reverse-ink `U,’ with an
swoosh has been colorized for UCCnet: the swoosh is red-injected,
and the `net’ is red, too. Interactive and linked to each other, both
sites have a moving `tickertape’ across the bottom of the screen,
announcing meetings and prize winners. Though individual, the two
separate web looks also reflect the company’s family relationship.
Just how difficult it is to move from being a traditional bricks and
mortar firm to creating a cyber-savvy firm can be illustrated by an
anecdote that circulated at the grand opening last summer. It seems
the brand-new president, Paul Benchener, had come straight from
Valley, where the decor of dotcom companies veers between the
and the merely avant garde. When he arrived the design for the new
office was ready to go.
Now Benchener does admit that his personal tastes run to the
but when he looked at those first drawings, he knew they wouldn’t
do. He sent the design team back to the drawing board to make the
"look" of the new company more avant garde. One redesign was
offered, and once more Benchener sent it back. Still too Main Line,
he said, not enough California. On the third try, Benchener pronounced
it just right.
In the argot of business, the result is a win-win, sufficiently
for the accountants and rulemakers of the UCC, but — with those
cantilevered crimson walls — creatively edgy for the cyberspace
crowd of UCCnet.
Corrections or additions?
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