Kathryn Mitchell, director, iDEA, on how a property search propelled the workplace concept for FinTech firm Conferma.

What initially began for Manchester-based design practice iDEA - previously Intrinsic - as assisting in the property search for a new workplace HQ for FinTech company, Conferma, rapidly evolved...

Once the ideal location had been found, the facilitation and delivery of a workplace strategy framework and design solution that promoted connection, collaboration, ideas sharing, and flexibility, to suit the dynamic needs of the growing business in both the physical and virtual world, followed.

With a brief from Conferma to “connect all of us together in one simple and energised ecosystem”, the team – led by Kathryn Mitchell, set to work crafting a vibrant setting aligned to the refreshed brand and supportive of its growth plans for the future.

The result is a workplace design that’s truly reflective of Conferma and its people. Balancing innovative financial technology with human centric spaces to allow people to connect intuitively, be happy, and, ultimately contribute positively to business growth by enhancing the work-lives of everyone, the design delivers a fresh, welcoming atmosphere with natural and sustainable design and simplicity throughout.

Keen to find out more about the inspiration and material selections for this project - it features our Studio partners' products from CDUK, Autex Acoustics, and NaughtOne - we sat down with Kathryn to discuss in more detail.

Kathryn also shared the exciting news that Intrinsic has been acquired by iDEA - becoming its dedicated Manchester office. You heard it here first! Read on to find out more about Conferma’s new HQ and stay tuned for what’s next to come from iDEA’s Manchester arm.

Firstly, can you please introduce us to the concept for Conferma?

“The ambition and future growth for Conferma was clear from the onset and it was evident that their current workplace could not support their business and people going forward. We were initially appointed to support the new property search with location, functionality, design due diligence and feasibility studies of three shortlisted properties in Manchester. The team landed on Ocean House at Towers Business Park, a short distance from the existing office and a building that delivered heaps of natural light, great transport links and a community/events setting within the wider site.

“The project was fast paced, and we quickly turned up the dials to facilitate and deliver a workplace strategy framework and design solution that promoted connection, collaboration, ideas sharing and flexibility to suit their dynamic business needs in the physical and virtual world. With a natural, youthful, and welcoming-cool vibe the new workplace connects everyone together in one simple and energised ecosystem.”

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Can you talk us through your product and material selections?

"The materiality expresses human nature and confidence - key components of the Conferma voice, where everyone matters, bringing energy and a collaborative superpower to everything they do. The spaces have been arranged and designed to have a connecting flow, encouraging movement and cross-team interactions, layered throughout with natural tones and indoor-outdoor elements.

"Doing more with less and taking a holistic approach to material and product selection was our ethos. Sustainable, quality, and timeless design being the priority over current fads. The material palette delivers relaxing and healthy environments that are already having positive impacts on the wellbeing of people. Soft lighting, timber finishes, recycled materials, natural elements, textured fabrics and planting all contribute to delivering a sense of calm and optimism.

"To reinforce the energy and connection further, geometric designs, textures and colour pops reflect the Conferma values adding a subtle brand link with notions of interconnectedness, balance, and virtual card payments into the design. Moreover, the comfort and welcoming-accessible nature makes everyone feel at ease."

You delved into the purpose of the space as part of the initial design phase – can you talk us through how you went about this?

"The workplace strategy and feasibility activities ensured accommodation requirements and the final NIA was right and appropriately sized. As a studio, we we don’t underestimate the power of talking and open discussion.

"The strategic part of the project is key to unlocking the requirements and purpose, delivering tailored solutions that are personalised and reflect the heart of a company. It’s not unusual to find that the workplace processes have evolved over time and may not be efficient.

"We always listen, look to challenge, bring innovation and ideas to the table using a collaborative approach that covers a mix of engagement tools to understand the project vision through to the finer details.

"We focus on open conversations, thinking creatively, and challenging the status quo to deliver spaces that inspire, are efficient, enhance identity and values, and most importantly are good for people, the places being used and, ultimately, the planet.

"Some themes included:

  • A place for our customers and colleagues to be proud of
  • Promote & showcase our global reach and the strong brands we work with
  • The workplace atmosphere builds energy, culture & connection
  • Create opportunities for passive conversations - 5 minute chats that solve problems
  • Make Friday a ‘fun’ day to support the weekend wind-down - laughter is infectious
  • A place to collaborate, connect and feel part of something
  • Some people are happy to code on a couch."
Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

How did supporting EDI factor into your design concept?

"At its core, the workplace design created environmentally friendly, economic, and socially positive spaces for Conferma colleagues that would enhance their comfort, happiness and wellbeing, performance, and social interactions.

"The new workplace design holistically connects the interior environment, user experience, and surrounding nature all together by invigorating and enhancing the original floorplate sensitively for wellbeing, collaboration, and sustainability.

"Ergonomic, inclusive, and sensory solutions were considered throughout the scheme. The design encourages movement, flexibility, and different working postures e.g. perching, sitting, standing, playing, dancing. We curated a collection of furniture settings within their existing workplace for people to test and trial, with Humanscale being selected as a key ergonomic and sustainable partner for sit-stand desks, monitor arms and task chairs.

"Shared ways of working deliver choice and flexibility that can accommodate future growth as the business evolves without the need to acquire more space. A key principle for sustainability both during fit-out and in occupation, minimising over resourcing on fit-out materials and eliminating excessive energy and consumption in operation."

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Where did you seek your inspiration?

"Capturing our inspiration for Conferma came very easily. As a company they are trailblazing the world of FinTech payments with a team of people who are very passionate about what they do. With a fresh new brand launch and a fast-growing business they were clear on how the workspace needed to reflect their evolving needs.

"The workspace was about their people, their product and connection – bringing energy to everything they do. Our inspiration looked to balance their innovative-tech personality with a human-natural touch. The digital workflow and process is brought to life with functional spaces that encourage connection and creativity. The concept includes soft, natural elements that are welcoming, flexible in use, less corporate, and reflect a more hospitality experience."

What are the key standout features of the finished scheme?

"The joinery package really stood out in the finished scheme. Instead of building lots of walls the joinery elements added a layer of softness and interest to the environment, acting as landmark features connecting everything together.

"A primary element used throughout as cladding around the core was an Arpa laminate. It’s a soft-metallic finish that changes colour with light from an earthy green to a pink blush as you move around the space.

"Other elements include ‘scrum’ spaces to perch and huddle within the neighbourhood and a ‘tunnel’ which is purposefully darker than the rest of the space and located centrally for everyone to come together. It’s been really successful!"

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

How does colour play a role?

"The colour palette represents the refreshed Conferma brand, yet in a subtle way. We call it ‘neutral’ colour – not too bright and not too pale but enough to work harmoniously together with all the different workplace activities and moods. The surrounding site was also a strong influence of both colour and texture and creates a fantastic backdrop beyond the physical extent of the floorplate."

How has the space been received by the client/end users?

"It’s been fantastic to see how the space has been received. Conferma opened their new workplace true to style with a companywide town hall in the ‘Conferma Social’ followed by an evening bar with DJ and games.

"The finished scheme has 'wowed' the client and everyone working at Conferma, exceeding all their expectations. It goes to show how thoughtfully designed and comfortable, healthy workplaces improve wellbeing and enable people to work, to collaborate, and to be happy.

"It’s already playing a significant role in their seismic business growth and future recruitment."

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

Credit: Bevan Cockerill

What are you working on next?

"On the boards currently is a new head office workplace for a nationwide property developer alongside some interesting university projects where our understanding of space and delivering more sustainable places to work, learn and research are driving themes."