An Interview with WeWork’s Creative Director
Worn's first encounter with We Work happened at the Wonderbread factory in Washington, DC where our first office was based. I remember being thrilled that the historic building had not been converted to yet more condos but instead into shared office space by WeWork, and in the most beautifully designed fashion we'd ever seen.
Naturally we wondered who was behind these gorgeous light fixtures and Eames furniture that we so enjoy hosting our client meetings in, so we visited WeWork's Creative Director Devin Vermeulen in New York at the Fulton location, where our New York office is now based, to find out his process and inspiration for design.
Worn: How did you get your start at WeWork?
It was actually 24 hrs. between hearing that WeWork existed and starting my job at WeWork. It was crazy. I had been working as a designer at Brooklyn Industries, and I really admired the Creative Director at the time and the mixture of art and business he was able to incorporate into his career.
Then a friend of mine used to work with WeWork’s Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Miguel said they were hiring. I thought 'this sounds so amazing, I’m totally into it.' I interviewed twice in one day and then Adam (the other Co-founder) emailed me that night around 9 and said “Can you start tomorrow?” And I did.
Worn: What’s your favorite design piece you’ve made for WeWork?
I just did an awesome wall of re-claimed wood at the Seattle location. I went on Craigslist and found an old bike for $100 and over three days I painstakingly took everything apart; every single screw, every nut. I cleaned it up, and then hung it up like it exploded on the wall. Every screw is lined up in order of how long they are, every single piece of the bike is assembled on the wall. It’s pretty awesome. That’s my current favorite.
Worn: Where do you draw inspiration from?
A lot of it came from an initially thinking about offices. People who run small businesses spend so much time at work that they’re here all the time, so the idea was, let’s make it so you’re not like ‘Oh god, when do i get out of here,’ but ‘This place is as comfortable as my apartment is and so I don’t mind just being here all the time.”
I never want anyone to feel like they cannot kick their feet up on a coffee table. It was about making you feel at ease, at home, and really comfortable in the space. At the same time, everything is very functional, you have everything you need to get your work done, you’re not missing out on any of that. Even super white minimal offices makes me feel too much like I’m in a museum; someone is going to tell me not to touch something and there’s an anxiety that comes with that. Those are beautiful but I don’t feel at home in them, so this was the vibe that we went for instead.
Worn: What has it been like to be a part of a company with such explosive growth?
I’ve had 13 or 14 desks since I’ve worked here. There’s a constant evolution of forcing ourselves to live with our own designs, figuring out what was wrong with them and then evolving with them.
It’s kind of adapt or die. We’ve gone to great lengths to find that balance between standardization and customization. We won’t ever be like TGIF Friday’s or the GAP where we’re building the same thing over and over in each city. We want each building to have it’s own vibe and character and really feel different, but at the same thing we’re doing so many buildings at once, and there are so many functional things we’ve learned where we know what works. We found a way to take those pieces that we know work and put them into a new box letting the neighborhood make it their own.
Worn: We read about WeWork coming to Ubud, Bali. How do you think about office design in such an exotic location?
One of my latest obsessions is bio-philic design. It’s this concept of the way humans connect with nature and it has a flaming presence to it. It helps inspire creativity and there’s a lot of tenants of design that embrace this. There are the easy literal ways, like just being around plants or living things, but it’s also about having patterns that aren’t repetitive and have differentiation to them. That would be the most awesome thing ever to be in an office where you could open up all the walls and be outside in a jungle. You wouldn’t even feel like you were working, you’re just like I’m just here doing cool stuff. A tree house in a jungle. Let’s do it!