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Rapt Studio translates internet companies’ digital presences into physical offices

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The view from a conference room in the new Ancestry.com offices outside Salt Lake City, designed by California firm Rapt Studio.
Photo by Jeremy Bittermann

Offices have transformed in ways unimaginable to workers even a mere 10 years ago—well before words like “coworking” and “standing desk” had entered the lexicon. The cubicle, for example—long at the top of the workplace-design food chain—has in many industries gone the way of the dinosaur, the advent of the open office plan its fateful meteor.

But there has been (justifiable) backlash against the open office, too: Detractors say the lack of acoustic and visual privacy has a stifling effect not unlike, well, cubicles. Some psychologists agree.

A stairwell with suspended, light-wood treads and glass balustrades connects levels in Ancestry.com’s new headquarters outside of Salt Lake City. A lower level seating area, with space for work and impromptu gatherings, is visible below.
Photo by Jeremy Bittermann

So, what’s the solution? How do we overcome our reliance on the open-office formula while preserving some of its benefits—namely, the light, air, and sense of collaboration that a well-designed open-plan office can foster? It’s all about choice, says David Galullo, CEO and executive creative director of Rapt Studio, a California-based multidisciplinary design firm that’s recently worked with clients to establish just such a new framework.

Rapt, Gallulo says, strives to create workplaces where “there are [different] kinds of spaces ... available.” “More and more,” he goes on, “we’re seeing factual analysis that emphasizes [empowering] individual groups and personalities,” in office design. “A lot of our clients are asking ‘what does it mean to have groups that I want to collaborate but that have team members who are introverts?’”

Rapt has had a chance to answer those questions in recent projects for clients whose internet-based businesses have found themselves in need of brick-and-mortar offices: Outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, Rapt worked with Ancestry.com on new headquarters that allowed its employees—self-described “book nerds” and researchers, along with engineers and coders—to work together on the kinds of data-driven DNA and genealogical work Ancestry has garnered attention for.

In practical terms, this means a 210,000-square-foot, seven-floor HQ that includes a mix of small, private meeting spaces and offices, larger, glassed-in conference rooms, open-plan desks, a cafeteria, and assorted areas for research, reading, and off-the-cuff gatherings.

“We try to find the common denominator for any space with multiple teams,” explains Gallulo, “—in this case, it was data driving relationships, instead of calling out their differences—and design a space that reminds them, no matter what piece of the pie they’re in, that ultimately it’s about sharing information with people.”

“A big open office with no relief is not a good thing,” he adds.

A mix of work spaces helps give Ancestry employees a range of places to research, read, and gather.
Photo by Jeremy Bittermann
Inside Blink, Inc.’s Newport Beach, California, space. The check-in desk sits stands in front of an angled wood screen that doubles as a divider between the entry and the rest of the studio.
Photo courtesy Rapt Studio

Translating a company’s digital presence into a physical one has been core to some of Rapt’s most recent work. Their approach for something that could skew esoteric? “For us, it’s multidimensional: the people who make up the backbone of the company don’t always add up to a ‘tech company,’” says Gallulo. The goal is to figure out what will work, not provide the kinds of stereotypical “tech company” design moves we’ve come to expect.

Rapt took a similar tack with a much smaller project in Newport Beach, California, for Blink, Inc., a company aiming to modernize the portrait studio (remember those?) experience. While the office is ascetically minimal, it’s clearly been designed, in that there’s a simple, well-considered space for everything from check-in to storage to, of course, an actual photo studio. The black-and-white look was, Gallulo says, inspired by cameras themselves, with Rapt drawing on something tangible and three-dimensional to link it to the more abstract idea of digital photography.

In the end, it’s about providing for the needs of the client, whatever those needs may be. “We’re designing an experience, not a space,” waxes Gallulo. Standards in office design will just have to keep up.

Outside the new Blink, Inc. space in Newport Beach, California.
Photo courtesy Rapt Studio