A series of unfortunate events led Instrument to its new 30,000-square-foot offices in north Portland. First, there was a fire that unexpectedly broke out on the Fourth of July in 2009, prompting them to get booted from their original space that very day. So they set up shop in a former World War II airplane hangar nicknamed “The Outpost” that was cool and all, but really best used for parking airplanes and not necessarily dreaming up visual campaigns. Still, the team had nowhere else to go. “It was a company moment when everyone had to hunker down and tough it out,” says Instrument’s chief creative officer JD Hooge. But the predicament led Hooge and company CEO Justin Lewis to wonder: What if they built a new office from scratch and customized it to their specifications?
Like any good UX designer, Hooge started mapping out the new space by asking himself what would make for an ideal work environment. Lots of pressing needs were considered: Where do they put the mini teepee? Should they have a keg? A stove? An oven? The ability to blend smoothies wasn’t even a question – it was a must. “We took the best things from our warehouse space, such as the character and spirit, and the idea of a giant, open space,” says Hooge.
The result is a timber-framed office, complete with its own photo and production studio. It stands apart from the surrounding buildings, thanks to its curved apertures, which jut out from the exterior walls. The focal point of the entire space is the three-story atrium that is purposely wide open. “That forces people to have unplanned collisions throughout the day and interact with people they wouldn’t normally interact with,” says Hooge.
As the Instrument team has grown from 15 people in 2010 to its current 120-person size, the company has decided to parse out its workforce into departments of 30 to 40 people that operate as mini-agencies. This number, Hooge and Lewis believe, is the tipping point between a tight, efficient operation that feels like a family, and a sprawling network of individuals who happen to be working under the same umbrella. “Each team has their own events, off-site trips, and rituals,” says Hooge. But one thing each team is willing to share is each other. “We have a bartering system where, if one team is light on a certain element, they have access to the other teams,” says Hooge. “You have your team family, your discipline family, then the whole Instrument family.”
*Additional reporting by Dave Benton