When Craft and Custom Meld: Welcome to the Space of Normal

Founder Nikki Kaufman guides us through the spatial layout of the earbud store

As technology advances and culture shifts, the traditional office has to adapt and transform to cater to a mobile, fluid and always connected workforce that sees life and work as intrinsically connected, craves flexibility and seeks self actualization. As work becomes more collaborative, transdisciplinary, and creative, traditional office environments are in flux and companies have the opportunity to write their own rules. PSFK has visited two of the leading creative offices to talk about the future of work.

With companies needing to be increasingly agile to quickly adhere to swiftly shifting wants and needs of customers, much is to be gained from integrating production line with retail and management staff. Tightening the bond between these traditionally separate entities allows for companies to test product implementations at a higher rate without putting too much at stake.


Normal is a custom earbud company that opened a space a few months ago in Chelsea, New York, where the managerial staff, production- and assembly line are situated behind the retail space.


Nikki Kaufman, a founding member and former Head of People and Culture at Quirky, is highly cognizant of the effect a positive company culture can have on its employees and on the resulting products. She wants to allow for the culture at Normal to create itself. Faced with the opportunity to build something new, Kaufman has been mindful of not imposing a workflow, but instead focusing on enforcing and enabling a culture to happen naturally. The subsequent workflow relies on cross-contamination from assemblers to marketers – making co-collaboration crucial. Kaufman welcomes this overlap and values an open and inclusive culture that invites everyone to share their experiences and opinions. Anyone from any department can have an idea – high or low – and that sharing is integral to Normal innovating and improving.


The Normal motto is “One Size Fits None” and that goes for their product as well as their workflow. Kaufman shares that even though the company is called Normal, its inner workings are actually the complete opposite. Because the store is the factory and the office, Normal can be extremely agile and approach their customers in a new way, rethinking their retail experience. Managerial staff can view in-store customers’ interactions from their desk and sales staff can invite customers to watch their pair of headphones be made.


This flexible division of departments strongly influences the culture and the employees. Normal mashes up departments and enable them working together – factory workers double as sales staff, and corporate and factory meet daily. With the factory workers, being able to test beta versions of headphones accompanying app updates, and enabling corporate employees to walk out onto the sales floor to ground high level company strategy, allows for a grounded and faceted approach. To keep up to speed on consumer needs and demographic, Kaufmann herself works the sales floor for an hour everyday at 5pm.


All employees are invited to participate in all meetings, which ingrains a unified and transparent culture. The young team of tight-knit employees tend to share information online but converse offline with daily meetings helping everyone to understand the lay of the land and where there needs to be a communal push forward. By having standing meetings employees tend to not hang around which increases the efficiency of the meetings as well as giving the employees a reason to leave their desk and flex their muscles.


Being such a young company, Kaufman acknowledges that no one knows the final answers – Kaufman would rather make a decision to move forward, have it fail – and being able to fix it is better than not making any decision at all. Normal encourages learning by doing and embraces failing – as long as it spurs an insight. Kaufman wants and hopes that employees aim to take ownership and be proud of the company as if it was their own. Normal aims to have fun, and hire people that want to have fun whilst building Normal.


On the topic of flexible work hours, Normal insists that family comes first. Employees might work late hours, come in weekends and hustle for a deadline, but Kaufman is adamant that family, however you might define yours, is prioritized. If that means running out a little early to pick up your dog from daycare or traveling to visit an ill grandfather, the distinction is yours. Kaufman also takes new hires out for breakfast on their first day, to talk about the culture and workflow of Normal to make sure that they feel welcomed. Onboarding is crucial for a positive initial work experience and establishing this personal relationship with the founder helps new hires feel comfortable in their new position.


The Normal space has succeeded in mimicking in the spatial layout -with big rooms, high ceilings and glass dividers- with the inside culture of the company, one which aims to meld the beauty of atmosphere and with audible enjoyment.


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