Industry Insight: Atul Bansal, Founder, Sheila Bird Studio
What does workspace look like right now, and how do you design for something that’s constantly in flux? The founder of Sheila Bird Studio has the answers…
Talk to us about Sheila Bird Studio. What are you known for?
At Sheila Bird Studio we design spaces, not interiors. ‘Interiors’ put us in such a narrow box. We design for people and the spaces that people spend time in. Most of our projects are loosely rolled up around places where you work.
Because of what’s happened in the world recently, that space is everything now. There’s no barrier between home, work, enjoyment – they all have to be able to do these things. The celebration of a space is about the experience that you have in it.
What we’re really good at doing is creating a space that has that unique feeling about it. We have been creating spaces for ages now, so people know who we are and what we stand for, and people also know that we don’t follow trends – we simply deliver what is needed!
How is workspace design evolving then? There’s been a lot of change over the last few years.
I think ‘workspace’ is a word that should be banned; it’s just a ‘space’. How has space evolved? In that space, you may do some work. In that space, you may do some learning. You may do some sharing, you may fall in love. In that space, you may live in it. The space that you operate in has to be mouldable, changeable, and give you what you want, as well as the employer. That’s how it’s changed. I think the workspace has gone. Now it’s just a ‘space’.
When a business approaches you or a brief comes in, what’s your process?
We Listen and talk to them. We try to understand what they’re not asking of us and why, and explore why they think they need us. I think that’s the key. We get approached by all different types of businesses, and usually, they come to us because they need help with something. Sometimes they don’t know that they need to make a fundamental change to how their business communicates with their staff!
People think we only work for the young media or creative industry, but we work for all sorts of businesses, including accountants and lawyers, who all have the same challenges. They might not be as adventurous, but the shift they ask us to make for their business is huge. We love those projects. You’re not creating something you want to photograph; you're creating something that fundamentally changes that business in a way they know they want, but don’t yet know what it is.
What keeps you motivated?
We do a lot of work for free for young businesses who can’t afford us. But you know what? Working for young people is cheaper than buying face cream. It keeps you alive. They’ve got no money, and trying to create a space with no money is hugely challenging, so you have to think outside the box. Working with those businesses is like planting trees. They become forests later on. Those businesses might grow so fast, from two employees to five to one hundred within two years, and they come back to us. They don't leave. Then we charge and they're happy to pay.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned over the course of your career?
‘It's okay to get it wrong.’ That’s really, really important. You need to get it wrong and learn from it. Sometimes it’s not your fault, and it doesn’t matter. It’s good, you’re not perfect and that’s cool.
Learn more about Sheila Bird Studio at sheilabird.com