Having won the coveted job of designing Google’s offices, Angela Ferguson, CEO of futurespace, shares what it’s like working with the best and why design matters in the workplace.
What was it like designing offices for Google?
Google’s offices are pretty world-renowned and it’s not explicit, but there’s a list of things you have to include. So you need a fish tank, the sleeping pods, a meditation room, the library or quiet space.
They kept saying, “It has to be Googly” but it was hard to define exactly what that is and get our heads around where they were coming from. They told us they were geeky, but they were not Apple, they’re not cool. They said, “We’re geeky and nerdy and we’re proud of that.”
We won Google through a competitive tendering process against another nine top design firms in Sydney. It was a fairly intensive, rigorous process. I think we won it in the end because we were able to talk at their level and did manage to appeal to their “Googliness”, which is what got us over the line.
It was a real breakthrough client for us because it gave us a bit of recognition. People sat up in the industry and took notice of us.
How and why do our workplace spaces influence our working lives? Why is workplace design important?
The physical environments we inhabit have an enormous impact on our sense of wellbeing, our ability to engage in what we are doing and our emotional experience of an event or situation. We may not be fully cognisant of this influence, yet it exists and is extremely powerful.
Workplace design is important for many reasons. The short answer is that many of us spend so much time there! More than ever we are under pressure to perform and to be productive, yet many of our workplaces are not designed to support this. Too many workplaces are uninspiring, disempowering and do not provide enough variety of spaces for people to be able to perform.
Many of our workplaces do collaboration very well, but what about quiet, private spaces? The drive for open plan workplace environments has predominantly been driven by the desire for reduced real estate costs. However, the focus for any new workplace should be on people – after all, they are what make most businesses what they are.
What is futurespace like, what is its philosophy?
We are really about adding value to people’s lives through design of intelligent environments. It’s not just about fashion, it’s about how we improve someone’s life.
When we work for the client, it’s about providing a response to their brief and what’s going to match what they want as an organisation. So it’s about adding value to not only our clients’ lives, but to their team’s as well.
Why did you want to work in interior design?
I grew up in country Victoria and remember playing on building sites with my brothers and sister. We would walk through the studwork and figure out what room goes where and whether we’d design it this way or that way.
But I didn’t go straight to university from school. I did an art and design foundation course for two years and then I worked in advertising for a couple of years. By that point I was in my early twenties and I was searching for meaning and authenticity in my life.
I remember walking home one night from my day-job thinking, “What is it that really matters to me? What’s important in my life?”
I realised it had always been passionate about space – the environment around me. Not on an architectural scale, but on a more intimate interior scale. It’s always been about security, safety and having a connection to the outdoors. My values in life were really aligned with what interior design was all about.
What do you define as success?
It’s as simple as being happy and healthy. Part of being happy is doing what I love. I’m ambitious and sometimes I think if I didn’t have my son, I would work all the time because I just love it. He’s the only thing that stops me from working 24/7.
What advice do you have for others wanting to create a successful career?
Do what you love. It should absolutely be about following your heart and doing what you love, because all you need will follow from that. If you are authentic and do something that means something to you, being able to make a living out of that will just evolve.
What are the values that drive your work?
The values that drive my work are authenticity, sustainability and beauty; I believe 100 per cent in the transformative impact that intelligent design can have on every aspect world around us; I had a fairly modest upbringing and I think that has translated into a desire for less waste, better quality and lean over excess; aesthetics and creativity are at the core of who I am – they feed my soul.
Angela Ferguson studied a Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design, graduating from RMIT in 1998.
This story was first published in the career issue of the RMIT Alumni Magazine.