With this post, we continue building on lessons learned and ideas generated from our recent visit to HUB385 in Zagreb, Croatia through a Peer-to-Peer grant from European Creative Hubs Network and The British Council. Previously, we focused on what we learned about building community. Now, we focus on what we learned about incorporating the identity we want into the design of our space.
The first thing one notices when walking into HUB385 is how they designed their space to increase member flexibility and encourage engagement. They offer a variety of configurations, from spacious open floor areas and meeting rooms, to walled offices perfect for small teams. While HUB385 enjoys a much larger space overall than our Beta Bar on the coast of Montenegro, there are principles that translate well to any size when designing shared work spaces.
A survey of coworking spaces in our region, including HUB385, quickly reveals that identity is an essential trait, perhaps even more so than the floor plan or services offered. Identity grows organically from a combination of the vision we communicate and the members we attract. While members come and go, and their needs will constantly change, it is vital to maintain a consistent identity while listening and responding to members’ needs.
HUB385 state their identity succinctly on their site. They are “the home of young developers, makers, creatives and entrepreneurs in Zagreb, Croatia.”
We promote innovation, collaboration and knowledge-sharing. Together with a community of world experts we host tech events, workshops, meetups and hackathons focused on new technologies that solve real problems and promote better living.
This identity is reinforced and communicated everywhere one looks at HUB385, from the learning workshop events for all ages offered through their Academy, to the cleverly and comfortably arranged open floorplan, and the fully stocked hardware lab, worthy of even the most hardcore geek, such as myself. After just three days in their midst, I found myself dusting off project ideas I had shelved long ago. Hmmm… maybe they’re more possible than I thought! I just needed the right environment to get the creative juices flowing again.I returned home with a fresh focus on nurturing that innovative and creative spirit I had experienced. I wanted it for myself, and for our members! A key value for me has long been collaboration. It has almost become a virtue. It permeates much of what I do, both professionally and personally. Our identity at Beta Bar is defined in three key words: collaboration, community and sustainability. Simply hoping that this identity will be established when people occupy the same workspace is naive. The design of our space must facilitate the identity we want from the beginning. We want a sustainable community that collaborates – “watercooler chats”, making new friends and business partners, sharing knowledge, sparking new ideas and helping each other make those ideas achievable – this is the identity we envision for Beta Bar!
We came away from our time at HUB385 with three principles to guide the incorporation of our identity in our design.
#1. BE OPEN.
Just like many homes are centered around their kitchens, we noticed a similar phenomenon at HUB385, especially later in the afternoon. If the kitchen area is comfortable, such as has bar stools and perhaps a couch nearby to have a casual meeting or work on your laptop, it encourages people to leave their desks from time to time and sit in the communal area.The open floorplan areas were also beautiful in their simplicity. The design and configuration are crucial as there is a fine balance between community interaction and personal space. Long banquet style tables are a good option. They work well for individuals, and are also comfortable enough to strike up a conversation and collaborate.Balance is key. Make sure the communal and open areas that encourage interaction are separated from those individual workspaces where people may want a quieter environment to help them focus on the task at hand.
#2. BE FLEXIBLE.
Flexibility means that we can utilize every inch for coworking and host events in the same room on any given day. Foldable chairs, or chairs on rollers, and easy-to-rearrange work surfaces are a great place to start. Plentiful electrical outlets are also a must!
#3. BE INSPIRED.
We sat down with a local artist, Srdja Dragović, and communicated our vision to him using our key words: collaboration, community and sustainability. What he came up with for our walls (and ceilings) was amazing! We’ll even have the words themselves stenciled in both English and Montenegrin (our local language) in a unique spot on the underside of our spiral staircase in our common meeting area for all to see and ponder.
Another way to inspire our members is to provide ample space to write down creative ideas and communicate thoughts to each other. One of the most tangible benefits from our visit to HUB385 happened as Luka, the managing director, was showing us around on the first day. He pointed out that several of the meeting rooms had walls treated with paint or lacquer to make the surface writeable, like a whiteboard. I think I remember seeing some painted chalkboard-like surfaces as well. I mentioned that I would really like to do something similar at our space as well. Luka immediately put me in touch with his contact at Escreo in Bulgaria (very close to us in Montenegro!). Escreo responded before the end of the day, and we started looking at their product offerings. Nothing facilitates spontaneous creativity like a whole wall that functions as a whiteboard! I mean, who hasn’t dreamed of writing on walls without getting in trouble since the earliest days of their childhood, right? I envision many great ideas being sketched out on our walls.
Finally, a word about the other core component of our identity, sustainability. It’s hard work to be sustainable. When we started to design our space, we wanted to follow the lean startup model. We began by asking our potential community members what they thought our MVP should be. We asked HUB385 the same question. They provided fast Wi-Fi, desks and chairs, plenty of workspace with meeting rooms, kitchens, Skype rooms and little cubby holes for storage of personal items. Members are free to bring in anything else to help them work better. The members take ownership of the space, and in return, HUB385 doesn’t carry the burden of catering to each individual need.