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Case study: Colors and ergonomics for GM

The head of Europa Design talks about the thinking behind the firm’s design for a shared services center.

The first thing visitors see when entering General Motors’ shared service center office in Budapest is the striking and smoothly contoured reception desk in stark, glossy white, set against a deep-blue backdrop that holds the company logo. Here we are introduced to a linear color scheme and the concepts that each color represents, including “future”, “revolution”, “emotion”, “innovation”, and “creation”, among others. These lines of color literally tie the space together, like a kind of subway map that runs through the entire length of the office on both horizontal and vertical surfaces.

General Motors opened its SSC in Budapest’s Váci Corners building in May, with a design created by Ottó Feuertag and his team at Europa Design. This 1,200 sqm space provides a vibrant and innovative work place for 101 GM employees, and is quite unlike its previous base in Budaörs, in southern Budapest. Feuertag says that the most challenging part of planning the space was not selling bold concepts to satisfy the customer, but rather figuring out the possibilities, given the space he had to work with.

Although the SSC was new, GM has been in Hungary since the early 1990s, when it began producing Opel cars at its plant in Szentgotthárd. The winning design concept for its Váci út offices was the fourth in a series presented to the firm. GM approached Europa Design to do the job on the basis of the firm’s work for Avis Budget Group. According to Feuertag, the client came to the table with some very specific goals in mind. GM wanted the space to be modern and open to encourage collaborative working relationships between colleagues, a common trend in modern offices even in Hungary, says Feuertag.

Emphasis on ergonomics

Given that the open concept often creates unwanted noise, the acoustics were also an important consideration, and noise was reduced through the use of acoustic buffers on the ceiling, sealed private phone booths and specially designed furniture that could wrap around its user. But sound is only one of the many ergonomic factors in an office environment. This branch of science, which examines a person’s efficiency in a given work environment also takes into consideration lighting, air quality, humidity levels and, above all, seating.

The break out areas at GM apply the principles of ergonomics that Feuertag is constantly emphasizing when he discusses design: Seating arrangements come in various shapes and sizes from unusually delicate stools, to rocking chairs, to couches, to beanbag chairs, offering the user options, and also taking into account good posture.

The color scheme begun in the lobby also plays a significant role here, and patches of color help differentiate the different zones within the collaborative areas. “We created islands on the carpeting, each with its own color scheme to represent the different phases in the historical development of General Motors’ more than 100-year history,” says Feuertag. The blocks of color also extend into the various spaces of the office, sometimes running in thin lines along the floor coverings and up onto the walls of the work areas.

“An interesting visual element is the parallel between the history of General Motors and the technical and scientific discoveries in Hungary over the past 100 years. This gives Hungarians and out-of-country guests an overview of both of these histories,” explains Feuertag, who notes that the project came in on budget, and was finished in one-and-a-half years.