Why do we tell design stories the way that architects photograph designs?
I think that design accomplishments like those reported in this article and in many others like it are, indeed, to be celebrated. Moving from closed, contained, and fixed environments that consume capital and energy and that suppress organizational success to more open and sustainable environments must, surely, move people and their organizations forward in very satisfying ways. I am, however, growing more concerned about the extraordinary consistency of the design concepts – and the overlay of design and business language that accompanies them – in these transformation projects.
I am concerned because many of them appear to use a language that has been stripped of meaning. That is, many of the new environments I see published seem thin, insubstantial, imitative, disconnected, but yet use the same narrative of significant organizational and cultural transformation. I doubt that there is so much universality of objectives to make the universality of solutions universally valid.
I am concerned because even more substantial projects with true transformation intentions make me yawn. That is, I have seen this before. I have seen those glass partitions and those collaboration areas and those social settings and those colors. I am seeing a mere stylistic overlay on an era's need for thoughtful strategies in a time of great cultural and business revolution.
I am concerned because the success stories use data about the space to signal success rather than the stories about people's lives, experiences, accomplishments, capabilities, growth, and influence. That is, we nominally begin these project with a philosophy and belief that space affects the way that people perform, but we do not uncover those success stories. Instead we count seats and square footage and reductions in leases.
I am worried about a profession losing its credibility. We are now telling the stories of design much like architects photograph their designs – before the people get into them.