Designing with Purpose

How Leslie Chiu and WeWork Disrupted Traditional Workplace Design

Enarche blog

At A Glance

Post Overview

  • WeWork's purpose-driven approach changed traditional workplace standards into inclusive, community-oriented spaces. 
  • By prioritizing authenticity and user-centric design, Leslie Chiu helped craft immersive brand experiences at WeWork. 
  • WeWork's paradigm-shifting design concepts redefine industry standards and expectations. 
  • Leslie Chiu's lessons from WeWork underscore the importance of agility, collaboration, and innovation in design. 
  • WeWork's legacy extends beyond physical spaces, inspiring a future of purpose-driven architecture and design. 

Introduction:

In the evolving world of architecture and design, the ability to challenge conventions and drive innovation with a clear purpose is essential—and frankly, slow in comparison to other markets. Leslie Chiu, with her extensive background in design and her tenure at WeWork, exemplifies how visionary leadership can reshape the landscape of workplace design. 

Designing with Purpose:

Leslie Chiu's journey in design spans over a decade, marked by a passion for creating immersive brand experiences. Beginning her career in high-end retail design at Arcadis (formerly CallisonRTKL), Leslie quickly realized the power of design to convey brand identity and elevate customer experience. With this realization, she began to look at design from different angles, including user experience, the needs of the brand, and what each specific space needs to accomplish with its design. This foundational experience laid the groundwork for her future endeavors at WeWork and beyond. 

WeWork: Redefining The Workplace

In 2016, Leslie embarked on a transformative chapter of her career by joining WeWork, a company poised to disrupt the traditional notion of a workplace. Once arriving, WeWork’s central purpose and Leslie’s new challenge was clear: to create workspaces that fostered collaboration, innovation, and a sense of community. While executing this purpose, Leslie assumed a pivotal role in shaping design standards that could be rolled out worldwide. 

"Interior design is primarily service-based. WeWork turned it into a product. A product that is malleable, flexible, and efficient enough to accommodate any needs.” -Leslie Chiu

 As Creative Director, Leslie was instrumental in developing a design system that could scale rapidly with the company, with one key twist: it had to be customizable and unique to each location. The resulting design standards create a layered strategy that allowed each building to add design layers that embody the region. The authenticity of each location was paramount to achieving a key aspect of WeWork’s purpose: building community. And by attempting to achieve their purpose, WeWork discovered a new way to disrupt the market.  

Executing on your brand’s purpose can help you identify new methods of setting your firm apart—but first you must define it.  


Crafting Authentic Experiences:

WeWork's clearly defined brand purpose resulted in a new design philosophy. This new direction was rooted in authenticity and a user-centric focus. By prioritizing the needs and preferences of its diverse community members, WeWork strived to curate spaces that felt inclusive, inspiring, and reflective of local culture. Leslie's commitment to authenticity extended beyond aesthetics, including the functional aspects of design to ensure optimal user experience. No longer would the workplace be a cookie-cutter template with cubicles and corner offices. The WeWork Design team curated every WeWork building to focus on community, making people feel welcome and appreciated while accommodating their needs. 


Shifting Industry Expectations:

“No one wants a sea of desks anymore,” said WeWork’s former global head of design, Ebbie Wisecarver, in 2022.  

By challenging conventional norms and embracing a more fluid, flexible approach to space utilization, WeWork set a new standard for modern workplaces. Leslie's innovative design concepts, characterized by adaptable layouts, vibrant aesthetics, and seamless integration of technology, reshaped industry expectations and sparked a paradigm shift in how work environments are perceived. 

Leslie believes that WeWork’s design, process, and purpose “shifted the mindset of what was possible in the AEC industry.” Explaining that WeWork opened the door to this new wave of workplace design."

Lessons Learned and Future Outlook:

Reflecting on her tenure at WeWork, Leslie emphasizes the importance of agility, collaboration, and innovation in this industry—with brand purpose permeating every action. She says that WeWork was able to change a lot about the design industry, “especially the public’s expectations for what their workplace could be.” 

The experience of working on a global scale taught her invaluable lessons in adaptability and resilience, skills she carries forward at her own firm, ByTheStudio. As Leslie’s firm expands, she remains committed to her purpose, pushing the boundaries of design innovation, guided by a steadfast belief in the transformative power of user-centric design principles. 

Conclusion:

The legacy of WeWork transcends its physical footprint, serving as a beacon of innovation and disruption in the architecture and design landscape. Leslie Chiu's journey exemplifies the transformative impact of visionary leadership and creative ingenuity in shaping the future of workplace design. As we navigate the ever-evolving demands of the modern office, Leslie's insights offer a roadmap for architects, designers, and industry leaders to clearly define their purpose, embrace change, challenge conventions, and design a future that is both inspiring and inclusive. 

If your firm is operating without a clearly defined purpose, do you have a clear goal that all your employees universally agree on? Is your purpose part of your culture? If you said no to any of these, download our free guide to learn how to develop your purpose and the other foundational elements of a strong brand. 

→ Free Resource: Define Your Brand Purpose
(and the Foundation of a Strong A/E Brand)
Authored by

Gabe Clark

Content Specialist

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