For Aoife Cahill, architecture and design are more than just professions or hobbies, they are part of her core being. “There was a point in architecture school where our tutors explained that everything we do is a reflection of not only the university but the practice of architecture itself, and I very quickly embodied that,” recalls Cahill, who now leads the workplace planning and design team at California-based software firm ServiceNow. “I became an architect through and through. Everything that I did, everything I read, everything that I spoke, everything—was architecture-based.”
Cahill has even developed a reflexive habit of looking up at the ceiling corners of every room she enters to appreciate or critique the details. “I’m a nightmare to bring to a fancy restaurant or hotel!” she says with a laugh.
According to the designer, there wasn’t exactly a defining event or point in time where her fascination with architecture and design began; it was more or less a series of affirmations surrounding an already budding interest that solidified her desire to pursue them academically and professionally. “I knew I wanted to be a designer after I realized that I didn’t want to be anything else,” Cahill explains.
“As [I traveled], I started to develop the habit of taking photos of the details of buildings or windows and all the different wallpapers and furniture because I was so fascinated with how they got things to look so nice.”
One of the more poignant experiences for her occurred while she took a sabbatical year to travel the world. “As I went from country to country, I started to develop the habit of taking photos of the details of buildings or windows and all the different wallpapers and furniture because I was so fascinated with how they got things to look so nice,” Cahill remembers.
Looking back on that experience now, she believes that all of the photos and breathtaking moments simply perpetuated an interest that she knew had always been there. “The only aha! moment I had was when I realized that I could make a career out of this—that I could get paid to just be me,” she says.
Now, in her current role at ServiceNow, Cahill not only is employed to do what she lives and breathes but she also gets to satisfy another personal lifelong motivator: helping others. “I get to create spaces where other people can shine,” she says. “I love studying the physical workplace. And at ServiceNow, there is a huge push for good design and creating environments where people can feel comfortable and complete their best work,” she explains.
As a part of the workplace planning and design team, Cahill’s work is twofold. “One part of our job is the design of our spaces, while the other is staying current with the growth of the company,” she says. To Cahill, though it is her career, it doesn’t feel like work. “We have an awesome job, and we truly do have so much fun,” she says proudly.
In addition to being able to carry out work that she genuinely enjoys and believes in, Cahill also firmly aligns with some of the missions and attitudes that ServiceNow’s leadership embodies. “ServiceNow has a real desire to learn, and we are so lucky to have management that is willing to invest in understanding how we work and use our spaces,” she adds.
In line with this attitude towards a better understanding of how ServiceNow employees utilize their workspaces, Cahill and her team have run a series of studies collecting data on employee work space interaction to learn how they can best optimize space and resources for future growth. Unfortunately, with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this initiative has been placed on hold, but Cahill doesn’t necessarily see it as a halt on progress.
“I get to create spaces where other people can shine. I love studying the physical workplace. And at ServiceNow, there is a huge push for good design and creating environments where people can feel comfortable and complete their best work.”
“As designers often do, we have just had to go back to the drawing board. We have to ask from the other side of the table, ‘What would you want to receive from a client that would make your life easier?’ We are doing this to try to create a space with maximum flexibility which won’t require a construction project every time there is growth,” she explains.
She doesn’t just desire utility from the space though—Cahill wants the space to be personalized. “We need a space where they can walk new hires through where they have this immediate feeling of ‘Yes, I want to be here,’ a space that truly embodies ServiceNow’s culture.”
Though there have been some challenges, mainly with timing and unprecedented events, Cahill believes that her past experiences at both eBay and PayPal have fully prepared her for the design work at hand. “eBay was the best experience of my professional career,” she concedes. “I got to create things and actually watch them perform. That experience, where you could watch people make the choices and gauge where you could be most effective, was truly revolutionary. It’s what got me to where I am today.”