A Different View: Designing for better workplaces and communities


03 Aug, 2023

In a recent conversation with Su Lim, Global Managing Director of FreeState, she shared valuable insights into the evolving nature of work and the importance of designing for experiences that foster stronger relationships within workplaces and communities.

With a background in design, strategy and change management and a passion for improving the way we work, Lim has been instrumental in helping organisations reshape their workplaces to enhance employee engagement and well-being. Lim has been engaged in helping people and their communities reimagine and implement new possibilities for work, learning and life. She has also worked across sectors and geographies, creating strategies for organisations and providing decision support for design.

FreeState is an experience masterplanning company. For over 20 years, FreeState have worked with some of the world’s greatest brand builders, city-makers, and place activators on every aspect of the strategy, design, and activation stage of their projects. Overtime, FreeState has evolved from being experience designers into providing a whole-ecosystem of strategy, design and training.

"We believe that designing great experiences can ignite, motivate, and mobilise stronger, meaningful, and memorable relationships between organisations and their audiences," she explained, emphasising the core philosophy behind FreeState's approach. With expertise spanning digital and physical spaces, FreeState operates as part of the international design practice HASSELL, making them a nimble and knowledgeable partner for global markets.

One of the key objectives of FreeState is to ensure that the places we live, work, and play in are socially useful, as well as commercially successful. This goal has become even more relevant in the wake of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. "We need places in which to gather, form relationships, and care for one another. Focusing solely on commercial returns is unsustainable and fails to create great places, cities, and communities," Lim emphasised.

Lim's work is driven by the profound impact that work has on people's lives. Most people spend the majority of their waking hours at work. If we can align organisations with a purposeful approach to work, we can create better lives for individuals. While work experiences may vary across different sectors, Lim firmly believes in striving to make work a more joyful and fulfilling experience for all.

The landscape of work is undergoing a significant transformation, and Lim highlighted the importance of communities and precincts beyond traditional office spaces. The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the interconnectedness of various aspects of our lives, including work, community, and living environments. "We spent more time working remotely and within our communities during the pandemic. This shift has highlighted the importance of human connection and the role of community, both within and beyond the workplace."

At FreeState, the focus goes beyond isolated design elements and encompasses the holistic nature of experiences. Lim elaborated,

"Every individual involved in creating an experience, whether it's the location selection, architecture, artwork, service, or culinary aspects, contributes to shaping the overall experience." FreeState recognises the need for a collaborative approach that involves diverse stakeholders and allows for continuous improvement through iterative pilots, ultimately creating better places over time.

Lim concluded the discussion by emphasising the need for organisations to embrace ongoing change and to challenge the notion of doing things a certain way simply because that's how they have always been done. With the rapid pace of change in today's world, she stressed the importance of adopting an iterative and agile approach to keep pace with evolving needs and opportunities.

"Designing great experiences can ignite, motivate, and mobilise stronger, meaningful, and memorable relationships," summarised Su Lim, reflecting FreeState's vision for the future. Their expertise in experience master planning and commitment to creating socially useful and commercially successful places make them a valuable partner for organisations seeking to strengthen relationships with their audiences and build thriving communities.

The conversation shed light on the significance of designing experiences that go beyond physical spaces, encompassing the broader ecosystem of work, learning, and life. As we navigate the changing landscape of work, FreeState's approach serves as a blueprint for creating workplaces and communities that foster connection, purpose and fulfilment.