The SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg welcomes about 3000 visitors a year – people who come to do business with SAP, be they customers or partners. Many of them react with surprise when they enter our space. When we ask them about the reason for their reaction, the answer usually is that “this doesn’t look like SAP”. “But what were you expecting?”, we ask.
The general tenor is that a large company like SAP usually welcomes their guests in a shiny modern customer center in the heart of their campus, equipped with classy wood, glass, and leather furniture. Customers are served nice appetizers and given presentations about products their host is about to sell them. Usually, the large company can provide a solution to each of its customers’ “challenges”.
The SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg is a little different.
Even getting there is difficult. There is no outside signage at the gates of the Landfried area, a former tobacco factory close to the center of Heidelberg, revealing this SAP location. Only small labels inside a brick building from the 19th century tell you that you are on the right way. When you have finally reached your destination, there is no glass door stating “come in, honored guest“. Instead, there is a simple white steel door, reminiscent of a warehouse.
Now you are entering a space that looks rather like a craftsman’s workshop: industrial wooden floors, rustic metal beams, reclaimed or improvised furniture, scratched surfaces and used leathers … is this how SAP is treating their customers?
Yes, it is.
Let me explain …
The SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg is carefully designed to create a special environment for customer interaction. This interaction, however, is not based on the old paradigm that we can upfront provide every solution to each of our customers’ problems. Rather, we want to collaborate with our customers on identifying the true needs of their end users and then create a solution that addresses these needs.
Therefore, the AppHaus is actually set up as a workshop environment where the Design & Co-Innovation Center (DCC) – the team running the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg –, other SAP stakeholders, and customers can collaborate most effectively.
The methodology we are using in this collaboration is Design Thinking, a set of values, methods, and processes, that helps identify and solve problems by approaching a given topic in a design-driven, human-centric way. Knowing that this approach might be quite challenging for people who are not used to working in a creative, iterative way and without a predefined outcome, we set up the AppHaus to support such a way of working.
But it is not (only) about using whiteboards and post-its, nor about providing Lego® bricks and funny props for project presentations. It is about providing the psychological backing for the task of being creative, human focused, and innovative.
The space needs to provide two main influencers for the co-innovation process: inspiration and permission.
The first one – inspiration – is easily explained. To help people come up with new ideas, it helps to provide them with inspiration for the creative act, be it inspirational quotes, thought provoking project examples, or just an interesting environment to let their perception wander. As a former colleague of ours used to say, “as a creative person you are a garbage collector”, you collect ideas, impressions, glances, experiences, which might seem strange at first but which one day might help you dream up the next big thing. That is how inspiration works. That is what we want to enhance with the AppHaus.
Another way to inspire people happens through storytelling. Not only did we pick a location – a former factory – which gives us a rich industrial history to draw inspiration from. We also considered inspiration when styling our room interior. The four small meeting rooms in the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg, for example, convey design values through their theming.
The “Arabian Nights” room references the legend of “one thousand and one nights” where Arabian queen Sheherazade whose use of core design values – inventiveness, creativity, and storytelling – save her from certain death. Our “Sherlock Holmes” room conveys the aspiration to listen, inquire, and base decisions on facts. Elementary!
The AppHaus also aims to grant permission. People generally restrict what they think is allowed in their current environment. You cannot sing and dance in a five star restaurant, you feel awkward turning up in a playground wearing a tuxedo. We want to convey to our guests that they have the permission to do things in a different and less formal way compared to what they are used to in their usual business environment. People are allowed to break out of their usual way of working at the AppHaus, they have the permission to change things and to interact.
For instance, we encourage a casual clothing style. which does not only make it easier to move freely and get active, but it also eliminates distance and hierarchy between project collaborators by signaling a more personal interaction. Wearing casual clothing instead of pinstriped suits allows to approach your collaborators as people, not as business partners, thereby removing – or last least reducing – the political component in project discussions.
Additionally, the AppHaus’ rough, used look implies that “this is not done”, “you are allowed to move stuff, interact with the space, shape it how it best fits your needs”. We don’t want to be your typical nice, classy customer space that says “this is done, don’t touch it!”. We want our guests to know that they are invited to write on the walls, to move tables around, and to create their own work space. This helps the visitors to feel comfortable and thus unconsciously makes them more willing to express their creativity.
Finally, we do one more thing at the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg that might have not (yet) become common in business workspaces: we let the team that is living in it to contribute to the space’s design. This is an acknowledgement of the fact that people spend more time in their office than in their own living room. When we say “contribute to the space’s design” we actually do not refer to mere design input to the interior architect. Rather, the team is allowed to select and buy furniture – within a reasonable price range –, they are even building furniture themselves.
Being able to shape the space you spend so much time in is a big boon – especially to a design team – as the physical environment has substantial impact on a person’s well being and thereby on the quality of their work.
Having said all this, we have to acknowledge that the flexibility to create your own space has a lot of implications. There has to be a different way how real estate projects are funded: you have to be able to spend small chunks of money during the iterative development of the space, instead of doing one big upfront investment that is depreciated over three to five years. Of course there are a lot of regulations concerning safety and usability that have to be taken into account, and you do need to have a team who’s members are willing and able to set up their own physical working space.
For the SAP AppHaus in Heidelberg with its clear customer facing goals, however, this different way to handle a work environment has proven to be very satisfying and successful for all involved parties!