Interview: Ken Robbins, CEO of Response Mine Interactive

A few weeks back, we posted some images of the wonderful offices of Response Mine Interactive. Ken Robbins, CEO of the company, was nice enough to answer some questions we had about their buildout.

1. How did you go about the process of designing the new office and how long did it take?

Designing our new space was chaotic. I’d never designed an office before since we’d only been in sublet space since we opened shop in 2001. It was very exciting but daunting at the same time. I began with three general ideas:

No cubes. I had a strong desire to eliminate cubes from our environment.
Lots of wood. I am a woodworker and love hardwood floors. Once we were assigned a space designer, Herring Troy from the office building, and I learned we could use “a lot” of wood for mouldings and floors, I was very excited.

Something unusual. I started searching Flickr and Google images for things like “cool office,” “open office,” and “modern office.” This led me to some photos of BurnKit, a cool creative company that was also featured on Office Snapshots. Once I found Office Snapshots, I was in heaven and the ideas began to coalesce.

2. Were the employees of the company involved in the design process?

Yes, I definitely solicited input from the employees. I went around to key people to get their ideas on not having cubes, having an open ceiling, etc. I received a lot of feedback when I asked about how to group the employees—by department or by team. Team won out! People who worked together in teams wanted to be close to their workmates even if that put them in an area away from their department colleagues.

3. You mentioned that some of your inspiration for your new office came from Office Snapshots. Were there any particular offices that you found yourself going back to look at during your design process? Where else did you get inspiration?

I loved Burnkit mainly because of the cool desks the company had made from finish-grade OSB. OSB is typically just used as a subfloor and is never shown. There is a boarding school in Tennessee that has all of its tables made of OSB and when I saw how Burnkit used it I thought, “That’s our workstation.” I also liked eROI’s offices and especially its conference room tables.

4. Did you need to purchase any additional office furniture for your new space? If so, what brands did you choose and why?

We threw away all of the cubes we used over the years and also most of the desks. We had all of the workstations custom made out of OSB, which turned out to be fairly economical, coming in at $1,300 per 4-station installed with wire management.

The new 3-drawer file cabinets on rollers we found at Target. Our chairs are HON 5902 Comfortask meshbacks.

The conference room was very important to us because we’d never had a great conference room. Leah Peterson, our director of new client development, used to work in the home industry and introduced us to a luxury countertop maker, Craft-Art, based here in Atlanta. The owner, Ken Williamson, agreed to make a conference room table for us out of solid hickory but admonished that he “hated making legs,” so Leah and Brent, our VP of Strategic Customer Acquisition, found a metal worker to make the legs. We ended up with a 14-foot, custom-made hickory table for less than $8,000 including $1,500 of electronics A/V towers.

My own desk is a copy of a table from Crate & Barrel. The table was too big at 8-feet so I took a picture and had a cabinetmaker build a 7-foot version. I bought the wood for it on Craig’s List because I wanted it made of North Georgia barn boards.

5. It seems like you used a good amount of custom furnishings for the build-out. What was your reasoning for this, and how does it add to the aesthetics of the office?

I love having something different than what’s standard. I admire uniqueness and I think we all admire authenticity. Even though most people thought I was crazy for wanting plywood desks, they came out great and now all of the clients and visitors comment on them.

6. Have you seen a positive impact from the new design? If so, can you explain?

Everyone who visits our office is amazed at how open and “cool” it is. Even the UPS guy says he’d like to work in an office where the entryway has a pool table. More importantly, there is a cool energy to the place. People roll their chairs around to their colleagues’ desk to discuss projects. There is always a buzz of work going on. It’s kinetic and vibrant.

We did have to learn to live with the noise level. I eventually went to Premier Office Acoustics for help in installing some custom noise abatement where we basically laid down a layer of white noise. The echo off of the ceiling was a little much in the beginning but now we’re used to it and the noise management helps take off the edge.

7. How did you decide on the lighting for the office?

It took a designer to get the lighting right. Although we gutted the space to lay it out, the previous tenant had a significant amount of halogen track lights. We went with that theme instead of using fluorescents and we ended up with a great look that saved us about $2,000.

8. After having spent time and working in the office, do you feel that you made any mistakes or made choices you would not make in the future?

The one thing I would say about our furniture is that I could have definitely gone with larger desks. Initially I was concerned about the space, density and mobility. As we add more space, the next workstations will be about 3 inches deeper to give the staff more work surface.

9. What other information can you provide our readers to assist them in their future office design projects?

  • You can often make your own furniture cheaper than buying branded stuff and it will be cooler.
  • Get a designer to bring it all together. Herring Troy saved me from myself in terms of budget and costs because they gave me a range for any finishing we wanted.
  • The world is going informal. Make the office open and relaxed and I think your employees will enjoy it more.