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How one company coupled its need for openness with a need for quality projection

Outer Circle Products of Chicago uses Audio/Visual products from United Visual"We have a little bit of a different culture here," says Bruce Mitchell, MIS Manager at Outer Circle Products of Chicago. "Ours is a very open, flat organization." Mitchell says when the company expanded its headquarters in 1997, managers chose the architecture to reflect this attitude. The conference room, for example, had to be open, with large, almost floor to ceiling windows overlooking the factory floor. Thatís important not only so meeting participants can look out, but so the workforce can look in. There are no secrets in this organization and the windows are a powerful reminder of that fact.

United overcame the challenge of a brightly lit room and many windowsDespite the advantages of this kind of culture, there are some serious drawbacks, too, at least from an a/v designerís point of view. The factory floor is brightly lit with skylights, and, because itís so open, the conference room is brightly lit as well. Bright light is the enemy of projection, and so most meeting rooms are either windowless or have room-darkening shades. Designing a projection system that would work well in sunlit conditions was an interesting challenge for United Visualís Doug Carnell, but one that he was able to meet.

A major remodeling
Outer Circle is the largest supplier of lunch boxes and soft-sided coolers in the United States, marketing under the brand names Arctic Zone and Click!Case, as well as supplying a number of other firms on an OEM basis.

The companyís staff takes a great deal of pride in their work and have a strong sense of the uniqueness of their product and of their company. So when the firmís management began to plan an enlargement and remodeling of their Chicago plant and headquarters, they decided to build something that reflected their values.

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"The idea," says Mitchell, "was to divide the work space to reflect the culture of the company. The architect was Jordan Moserówho did the Cheese Cake Factory and some other unique buildings. First, he arranged the space in neighborhoods. We have an information systems neighborhood, a finance neighborhood, a development neighborhood and so on, each with a resource center where we have color printing and production, laser printing and a copier. Meeting rooms are focused around the atrium, so that when people are meeting and working the folks in the factory can see that and the folks in the meeting can see them too. Moser used some pretty neat design elements and lines of site, so we have a building thatís exciting to be in, as well as functional. 

"The conference room is kind of the centerpiece of it all. We have the window looking in from the atrium with a clock right next to it and our informational scoreboard. Thatís where we give out all kinds of information about how weíre doing in sales and profits and announce about anything from personnel issues to daily production percentages and how they match against our goals."

Conference room and information scoreboard are the centerpiece of the production areaMitchell says the firm uses the conference room for presentations to large clients, which include buyers from the countryís largest retailers. "Obviously it was built to be the centerpiece, the focal point of information distribution and high level work in the company. When we bring clients in here, weíre bringing them to our showplace." Mitchell says they also use the room for team and executive meetings and for some small-group training. Itís available to virtually anyone in the company, from the CEO to workers on the factory floor.