September 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Before the introduction of the Dilbertesque cubicle, American commerce was most commonly conducted in wide-open bullpen settings. The typical professional office layout featured what seemed an acre of neatly arrayed desks surrounded on the periphery by private offices for management-level “suits.”

The floor plan of a new space at Aksarben Village may evoke echoes of that rotary dial, clickety-clack-typewriter business era, but Phenomblue isn’t your granddaddy’s Mad Men agency.

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What was once considered the most impersonal of setups is turned upside down at the Omaha-based brand experience agency whose marketing and technology services have attracted such clients as Gogo, Newegg, and Bellevue University.

The old-timey bullpen philosophy has come full circle, says Phenomblue co-founder Joe Olsen, in that it is now taking on new life as an incubator for collaboration.

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“When you start a small business and have only a few employees,” Olsen explains, “everybody just naturally seems to know everything about what is going on. As you get bigger, people begin to become acutely aware that they no longer know everything, and the danger is that a silo mentality can set in. That ‘pockets of activity’ thinking is the very opposite of what made you good in the first place. This design is all about condensing the amount of personal workspace and emphasizing the amount of collaborative workspace. It’s impossible to sit out there in that big room and not overhear and be drawn into most of what’s going on around you.”

Phenomblue co-founder Joe Olsen.

Phenomblue co-founder Joe Olsen.

Innovative thinking begins at the door for the company that also has a satellite office in Los Angeles. The obtuse angles of a raw plywood wall form an anchor for what architect Jeff Dolezal calls the space’s spine-like “armature.” “It’s a vehicle to visually carry you through the space,” clarifies Dolezal, co-founder of TACKarchitects, which designed the space for Phenomblue. The armature meanders through the office—don’t look for many 90-degree angles here—rising gently to a group of huddle rooms before reaching its curvy, sloping terminus, one that to this writer conjures images of a skateboard half pipe.

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Whiteboards sprinkled throughout are some of the few floor-to-ceiling walls to be found in this open, airy office that incorporates huge garage doors for access to both the main conference room and an outdoor area that is steps away from Aksarben Village’s many live-work-play amenities. Skateboards, guitars, and other oddities hang throughout the funky Phenomblue offices. There’s even an edgy bicycle sculpture in a sprawling area dubbed the Community Space, a drop-in site for many of the firm’s clients, associates, and friends.

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Nix that. Not a bicycle sculpture after all. Just a cleverly placed, if utilitarian, bike rack that’s just one of the creative design elements that make this experiential marketing space an experience unto itself.

“Every day, I feel as though I’m walking into a work of art,” says Olsen. “It’s like a living organism that has its own personality. It reinforces with our clients why they come to us in the first place. It’s all about the experience.”

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