A Design for Life

Dominic Horridge | 04 February 2015

Manchester, you might have noticed, had a pretty big year in office lettings in 2014, with over 1.3 million sq ft of deals. OBI’s office agency team worked on a lot of those deals, and our building consultancy team is working on taking clients from signing a deal through to actually taking up residence in a spanking new office space.

A busy market is great news – nothing excites us more than the opportunity to design and fit out fantastic new workspaces. We’ve shown what we can do pretty well over the last few years, with a Mixology Interiors Award, picked up in December for the £2m design and fit-out of AO.com’s new offices, rounding off 2014 nicely.

The great benefit of what we call the ‘OBI difference’ is the way our services dovetail, we’re constantly working over in the office how we can deliver for our clients – building consultancy work and office agency are perfectly in tune with each other’s thinking, without the need to even pick up a phone.

We’ve found over the last year or so that as business principals make their big property decisions, they’re increasingly concerned about putting their people first – whether it’s a new grade A office in prime territory, or a refurbished Victorian warehouse, giving people somewhere special is the key.

With that in mind, what might happen over the coming months and years? Design is an ever-evolving field, with new products and ideas coming to the fore all the time.


Well, that’s a bit strong – but things are definitely changing. Dutch design studio RAAAF and visual artist Barbara Visser last year created ‘The End of Sitting’ at an Amsterdam gallery, essentially a room of sloping floors and angled blocks with people typing, reading, and talking in a variety of leaning, lying and sitting poses – not a desk or chair in sight. Here in Manchester, we know top CEOs who are experimenting with working standing up for an hour or two a day – it has huge fitness benefits. And even in financial services, firms are now committing as much space and money to soft furnished areas as their desking. Offices still need them of course – but as part of a bigger picture.


People know by now the office has to say something about their business, but you’d be surprised how often people get it wrong. You need to ask yourself ‘why?’ about each aspect. Which papers, magazines or books should you have in reception? Could you try a bit harder on sourcing good artwork or photography? Can you work your branding into the colour scheme? Colours are important in providing atmosphere and potentially underpinning the brand. Be bold, but not garish. This doesn’t just apply to those on the move – a change of palette can be a relatively inexpensive way to breathe new life into your office.


A good tip for any business is to use the surroundings and atmosphere of where you are, both internally and externally. If you’re in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, a po-faced set-up’s not for you, and neither should firms moving there order the most bog-standard furniture – you’ll attract people by your location, so don’t ruin the good work. The best offices will continue to be those that make period or new features work the best for them and say something real about where they are and who they’re home to.


It’s well established now we’re a more mobile workforce – and for big companies the ‘third space’ of coffee shops, drop-in offices and such like mean savings as you don’t need to allocate a desk per person. But, and this is an area that will only grow, it’s increasingly possible to blend your tech into your office environment, whether it be docking stations, screens or speakers fitting into desks, chairs or storage space. It all helps your workspace achieve the clean, uncluttered look and a sense of professional purpose. Technology is growing in importance, but shrinking in visibility.

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