JetBlue Office Consolidation is About Making Brand Identity Visible and Tangible

HLW writer Colette Taber sat down with Senior Designer Jennifer Haney to talk about her work on the JetBlue Headquarters facility in Long Island City, New York. Jennifer joined the HLW interiors group in 2007. More recently, she worked in-house at a large financial services company providing design services for 250 branches. Now, again working directly for HLW, she reminisced about one of her favorite HLW projects. As Project Designer for the JetBlue Headquarters, completed in April 2012, Jennifer helped create a concept and spatial design that reflects the culture and core values of the often unconventional, self-appointed “value airline.” She described a highly collaborative process with the client, as well as a strong desire to bring the office spaces in sync with the airline’s deeply branded operational components.


CT: How do you see the JetBlue egalitarian mindset informing the design process, which, of course, culminated in the branch office consolidation and the new 200,000 sf, three-story headquarters?

JH: It’s important to start at the beginning. The move to the Brewster Building in Long Island City was a significant change involving two and half expansive floor plates. The previous Forest Hills location consisted of eleven small floor plates, which encouraged a hierarchical, vertically stacked organization. JetBlue’s previous space reinforced a perceived hierarchy and limited cross-pollination of information between groups. The initial discovery process was a crucial project phase, because it informed the design and helped determine how we could eliminate just such perceptions of a hierarchical order, in addition to increasing face-to-face communication among employees and supporting a team-based work environment. “Crew members” (JetBlue’s preferred term for employees) didn’t have this in Forest Hills or at the other two branch locations, which were part of the consolidation. So, you see, the office environment was at complete odds with the nonhierarchical, collaborative approach of the JetBlue work culture. This was the challenge we had to address first and foremost.

CT: An extensive client needs analysis was conducted?

JH: At the beginning of the project, we conducted a multi-day discovery process with the client, defining and analyzing the needs, goals and vision for the project. These sessions formed the basis for all design decisions, but we received feedback from the client at every stage of the process, including change management and post-occupancy. We listened to and learned from crew members which groups need adjacencies in order to reinforce specific synergies between the various groups. The initial planning strategy was born from this information, and the continuous feedback we received from crew members throughout the project reinforced the big ideas and takeaways from the discovery sessions. The process also encouraged crew members to own the project and ultimately their new headquarters.

CT: How so?

JH: Just one example of many, almost every group wanted to be adjacent to the executive leadership team, or ELT. Our solution was to locate ELT next to the staircase by reception, which made leadership accessible to all employees. This choice also eliminated any perceived hierarchical ranking based on the location of workstations and offices. The stair creates a vertical connection point and a conversation hub around “The Wing,” which is a three-story sculpture that rises through both internal stairs. In addition, the stairs serve to connect crew members with the ELT and other key groups positioned along this main vertical artery, wherever direct adjacencies were not possible. “The Wing” is backlit and incorporates multiple LED televisions along the full vertical height. Its multi-media elements, including live feeds of the latest social, advertising, and flight information, connect people on a more abstract level with the JetBlue culture and operations. Crew members feel more connected with ELT and each other, and, therefore, feel the values ingrained in the JetBlue culture.

CT: The company brand identity, as encompassed in the JetBlue five core values (safety, caring, integrity, fun and passion), is visible in large-scale graphics on walls and as part of distraction banding on the various glazed elements. In your opinion, where are each of these values most apparent?

JH: As I shared, JetBlue was perhaps most concerned about the lack of visible brand identity associated with their previous facilities. HLW was given the clear directive to create a welcoming work environment—and one where the company’s values are apparent from the moment you walk into the building. The open plan with its abundance of natural light and the new emphasis on informal collaborative spaces speak to the inherent respect and, therefore, integrity JetBlue’s leadership assigns to the work its crew members do day-in and day-out. I think for crew members this translates into a focus on safety and caring. Also, the innovative surfaces and graphics, which were the result of a close collaboration between HLW and the JetBlue branding group, certainly bolster all of the core values.

CT: Any final thoughts?

JH: Yes, sort of a follow-up from your last question… The new JetBlue Headquarters is definitely a fun environment. You can’t help but smile and feel joyful and nostalgic about the modish references to Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal.

CT: You mean T5 where JetBlue now has its JFK operations?

JH: Yes, the original historic component, Saarinen’s Trans World Flight Center, was a huge influence on the Long Island City headquarters design. Saarinen wanted to give travelers the feeling of flight before actually experiencing flight. When you walk into the JetBlue headquarters, you experience a similar sensation. Now, crew members working in JetBlue offices can have the same experience as their operational counterparts. And, it is exactly this close connection between the office design and operations that permits this connection with the entire dynamic JetBlue organization on multiple levels. All the company’s core values are represented—safety, caring, integrity, passion and, as I said, so much fun!