MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Filtering by Tag: Design strategy

A design "program" is a distracting, useless, and potentially destructive tool

I'd propose that we seriously consider and promote the development and application of lessons-learned from "user experience" professionals (the new industrial designers) who are transforming the world and infiltrating our practice domain. Projects might be made richer and more satisfying for everyone if the "program" were augmented by, for example, "experience maps" that shift the focus and attention of the entire team to the daily lives of the occupants and visitors to the facilities. Maybe then we could move from being measured by "errors and omissions" to measuring the rewards of "engagement." Maybe then, we can shift from seeking the diminishing returns of cheaper design to at least avoiding the erosion from cheapened experience.

Read More

What is "workplace" design?

Among our offerings to clients through our consulting practice is a bundle of services under the heading of “Workplace.” Among our friends and others who look at our portfolio of great workspaces is a general perception that these are “corporate interiors” services – selecting and specifying finishes and furniture for spaces designed by project architects. While this is descriptive of a portion of what we do, it is a substantial understatement of the services we perform and the value we bring to clients. I thought I’d offer, then, a brief primer on “workplace” design by telling a story about a current client.

The client’s strategic context

Our client works in one of the most dynamic and unpredictable businesses of our time. Delivering health care insurance and other services to its customers, the company operates in a context that is at the top of the national agenda. The national political discourse, the state of the economy, demographic trends, lifestyle trends and other factors generate an uncertain, unpredictable, and highly dynamic set of conditions for business performance.

Looking into the mysteries of the future, this company has set a strategic direction to define its future purpose and performance, and shape its evolution from a claims processing business to a health and lifestyle consulting business.

It has now also formulated a set of initiatives intended to attract customers and grow the business. These initiatives have influence on the company’s entire corporate culture and specific impacts on its organizational design, its human resources policies and practices, its information technology systems in both operations and customer-facing domains, and its business processes.

The company has also generated an initiative for the design of new workspaces wherever it works. This program is influenced by the other operational initiatives, and is also recognized as having a significant potential impact o the success and benefits of those other projects.

Strategy Design – Design Strategy

In a recent letter to the company’s employees, the COO clearly signaled the importance of the design of the workplace to the performance of the company by defining the goals for the workspace initiative.

He explained that the design initiative would play a “vital role” in the success of the company and enable everyone who worked there to live its brand attributes every day. He defined these goals for the design –

▪          Shape the corporate culture ▪          Secure the brand’s sustainability for future generations ▪          Stimulate creativity and collaboration ▪          Improve the ability to provide the highest quality of customer service

So that is the beginning framework for a “workplace” project – linking the  business’s strategy design to our design strategy and developing a workspace that enhances the quality and benefits of the company’s work.

Let’s take a quick look at how we’ve embraced this mission and what we’ve been up to so far. This might give you a better understanding of what “workplace” projects are all about.

Brand Repositioning

As we entered the project, the company had just complete a “brand repositioning” initiative. This was a first step in shaping their strategies for success in this dynamic business context. This involved an exploration of the potential needs of their customers and developing a deep understanding of their experiences as they sought resolution of their healthcare objectives.

With the insight that the customer experience is driven by the employee experience, the brand repositioning defined key differentiating behaviors of the company’s employees and the impacts they would have on customer experience.

Employee experience

We’ve long believed that the leading organizations of the future will be the ones who “own” the experience of work. That is, as business success increasingly demands innovation in processes, services and products, there is an increasing competition for the top talent necessary to deliver innovation. Attracting those people increasingly means providing the contexts where top talent can engage with others inside and outside the organization and experience the pleasure of accomplishing great things.

We were therefore pleased to enter the discussion with the company’s leadership around this subject of employee “behaviors.” We began to speculate on the working experiences that could be associated with those behavioral objectives and, in turn, the characteristics of the working environments that would provide those experiences and nurture those behaviors.

Design principles

Workplace design has long been characterized by a very limited “lexicon” of form. Dilbert was the perfect outgrowth of the corporate workplace typology in which two forms – offices and high-walled cubicles – defined the nature of work and the culture of companies. Almost all of our clients come to us knowing nothing other than this lexicon, and expecting only a stylistic variant on that tired theme.

It was therefore very important for us to help our client visualize other possibilities and to have other goals for the design of their next workspaces. We formulated a set of “Design Principles” that made a direct linkage between their brand differentiators and the innovative concepts we might propose. These principles allow us to move into a much more robust engagement with the client and a much richer conversation about design, experience and performance.

Design vocabulary

The Design Principles then had two influences, backwards and forwards in the process – they began to influence our client’s development of “company values” aligned with the brand and strategic initiatives, and they informed our development of a “Design Vocabulary” for the project.

The Design Vocabulary consists of a number of concepts for “work settings” including all physical and infrastructural components of the environment in which people would work. This has helped us bring an largely new approach to workplace design and policies for the company.

We are developing concepts around teams, not individuals; around work activities, not titles; and around a future state for the company, not current conditions.

Prototype templates

Among the challenges given us by the leadership of the company was to develop a design that could be implemented wherever they were and wherever they would go. This, of course, is both about place and also about time – how to design in a way that would be relevant over the next 10-20 years of the company’s development and growth.

The Design Vocabulary was a core component of this approach. The settings are team platforms that can be plugged in or pulled out of any specific project as the scale or organizational mix required.

We then tested this approach through the development of prototypical “templates.” These were illustrations of the application of the work settings to both “greenfield” and specific local contexts. We tested alternative floor configurations, alternative scales of occupancy and alternative mixes of organizational functions as a way of “proving” the relevance of the Design Vocabulary, its authenticity to the Design Principles,  and how it would affect employee experience and deliver on the goals of the initiative.

The developed concepts will then form a set of workspace design guidelines that can be adapted to the specific conditions of location and time. We are now about to start the implementation of the design for a phased development of the company’s 1,000 person headquarters.

Turning point

This is now a significant turning point in the initiative. Up to now, the company’s strategy has been influencing our design strategy. As the company begins to occupy its new workspaces however, it will be our designs that influence the successful accomplishment of the company’s strategies.

Our workspace designs will affect the experiences of the employees, in turn affecting their behaviors and, through their interactions with customers and development of new and innovative solutions, affecting the experiences of customers and the success of the company.

Stay tuned.

I hope this story-in-progress gives you a better understanding of what “workplace” strategy and design is all about.

Remember a couple of core ideas as you look around and talk with your own clients and friends –

Work looks different now – The technologies we use, the ways that we work, the challenges we face all beg for a radically different approach to the design of the spaces and places where we work.

It’s about the experience, stupid – The leading organizations of the future will be the ones who “own” the experience of working – top talent will choose where they go and who they work with based on how the organization provides the innovative resources of place and space to nurture differential purpose and achievement.

How the design of the workplace affects innovation goals

This is a brief article, but with some good data, on the significance of the work environment for leading innovative companies. [Cushman & Wakefield / CoreNet Global Release CRE Innovation Study | Corporate Real Estate.]

According to the survey, firms intent on producing industry-leading innovation need to adopt collaborative physical work environments that encourage appropriate levels of risk-taking and that are supported with adequate levels of technology.  These important factors must be built into the fabric of the workplace in a holistic manner in order to achieve meaningful results.

How the design of the workplace affects the achievement of innovation goals

4 approaches to slowing things down in order to get out front

4 approaches to slowing things down in order to get out front

Weeknotes, May 26, 2012

Yet again this week, considerations about being “ahead” of our clients were in our thinking. This is a relatively complex place to be.

Being ahead of our clients is a condition of being ready to propose concepts and solutions before they have come to an awareness or comprehension of the information that they need in order to make good decisions.

Being ahead of our clients is also an issue of envisioning the concepts and solutions that we are confident will be greatly helpful to them in their enterprise, while they may not yet be ready to accept the “risk” of investing in concepts that leap over the intervening decades of development in workspace thinking since their last workplace design project.

They are typically constrained by a variety of factors – low confidence in making a bold move, perceptions of politics in the organization that may imply risk in bringing new ideas forward, lack of exposure or familiarity with the benefits that could be captured from available concepts and potentials, and other factors. Most of these, it seems, arise from having spent too long in one place managing an existing set of resources without having contact with a world of workplace management thinking and workspace design insight that has moved place-making rapidly forward.

We, however, are generally unconstrained as we enter the situation. We have been working for decades on similar issues. We bring to the current context a cumulative set of investigation, speculation, experimentation, innovation and implementation derived from a succession of clients from a spectrum of domains and with diverse challenges and objectives. This body of experience makes us eager to apply what we’ve learned to each new project.

The challenge, then, is how to reconcile these two very different states of readiness. How do we avoid, as we begin to understand our client’s mindset, adjusting our approach to aim only for the middle or getting stuck in the middle because we must produce while our client learns? How do we, realizing we’ll be unable to achieve the excitement and satisfactions from delivering an advanced concept, avoid disappointment and disinterest in the current context? How does our client avoid disappointment and disillusionment with the eventual realization, on moving in, that they could have aimed further out, should have been carried further out by their designers?

Slowing the process to get out front – 4 approaches

There may be other approaches that can help resolve this dilemma, but here are four to think about and test –

What has your experience been? Have you used these approaches and have they been successful? What other approaches would you suggest? Let us know in the comments, or by email.

Slow the conversation to enrich the solution – In most of our experience, the design team comes to a much more satisfying solution if our client has engaged a creative “consulting” team first. The biggest barrier to breakthrough results is a poorly defined problem. And a poorly defined problem is typically a facilities problem – deliver so much square feet of space for this many people at this budget for this fee in this time. None of that problem definition says anything about what you are trying to do as an organization as you strive to bring value to the world. Start by engaging a curious team who want to know more about your company, your culture, your purpose, and how you are different. Engage a team that is especially interested in your perception of the behaviors of your staff that represent your leadership goals, and the experiences you think they should have that will engage them in achieving your purposes. Develop, and rigorously apply, a set of guiding principles and success metrics – The goal of your project is not to be “on time and on budget.” Goals and objectives like that mean that the project team is working only for themselves. Instead, prepare and present a briefing on the mission of your organization, the values it holds dear, the purpose it fulfills for its customers, and the challenges it faces. Then engage your design team in an extended discussion around those subjects and ask them to generate a set of guiding principles that will lead them to measurable solutions targeted to advance your organization’s purpose. Generate and test a good range of alternative concepts – Allocate sufficient resources inside and outside the organization to explore alternatives. Alternative concepts can help to more rigorously define the problem, significantly clarify intentions and develop metrics that matter, engage more in the process and uncover latent or politically hidden problems that restrain organizational performance, and develop solutions that are more creative and more innovative and that return much more for the investment about to be made. Build a network of inputs around outcomes – I believe that, among the most important disciplines of those who seek to serve their organizational purposes better, one is to build a rich network with others who have done, or who themselves are in the midst of, a workspace transformation project. There can be rich rewards in asking tough questions about what the workspace is intended to do, what link there is between those purposes and what was designed, and what now is taking place in the organization as a result. I have been especially surprised that, in more than two decades of practice, I have never heard of a potential client calling one of references, inviting him or her out to lunch, and asking about how their organization is performing as a result of our work.


As a postscript, there is, in all of this, the inherent problem of corporate purchasing. Inherent in projects solicited by an RFP and awarded through competing proposals are faults of trust and speed. The people who will ultimately occupy the spaces we design will have been, usually, poorly served by an internal function that uses a process that squeezes resources for everybody engaged in the process. The spareness of resource allocation demanded by the procurement process means a speed in execution that, in turn, means that users will not be engaged in the discovery and design process, facility managers will be unable to change direction or enrich the planning and design process as their awareness of the mis-aimed intentions of the RFP become revealed, and we as designers will be unable to do much more than speculate about the real organizational purpose and goal and apply a templated solution and cross our fingers in hopes of the best for all.

Moving design from object to system

Well, again, the workload has slowed down my ability to get things written and out there. So, as before, I'll post a few morsels from other places while I get back to a normal schedule.

First of these is this reflection from Helen Walters, who works with Doblin. She was digging around in their archives and found a great article by Jay Doblin on the "Seven Levels of Design." I hope she doesn't mind a substantial quote here –

...In it, he lays out how the changing levels of design give different opportunities to innovate, and uses the redesign of a gas pump as an example. Check this out:

  • LEVEL 1: The designer accepts the pump’s performance but shortens and cleans up its form.
  • LEVEL 2: Performance improvements are made. Either money, gallonage, or fillip can be punched directly. Inserted credit card automatically bills the customer.
  • LEVEL 3: Changes the basic mechanism. The station is like a parking lot where hoses are pulled from trap doors below ground. All the controls are on the nozzle.
  • LEVEL 4: Involves products which are outside the company’s control. No liquid fuel is pumped; pressurized cartridges are inserted into the car. One cartridge fits all cars (like sealed beam headlamps), a one-price sale.
  • LEVEL 5: The service performed is changed; there are no more gas stations. Fuel cartridges are bought anywhere, like beer.
  • LEVEL 6: The service is eliminated; cars never need refueling, they run indefinitely on atomic power.
  • LEVEL 7: Transportation is eliminated; all human contact is by telecommunications.

So, apart from making me wish I’d had the chance to meet Jay, what does this mean? Well, it means that 35 years ago, designers were thinking about increasing their scope from object to system, about how to elevate themselves from beyond providing the superficial aesthetic appeal of a product to considering its strategic consequences, even its point of existence. And honestly I think it’s telling and somewhat depressing that we’re still struggling with this whole discussion today.

Thanks, Helen!

The dream setup – getting to a workplace design that supports the way work is done

If you haven't already checked it out, The Setup is a great little site, answering the question of what people use to get things done.

Although a bit on the geeky side, I always find its entries to be an excellent reflection on the workspace. Each of its posts is a single person answering a stock set of questions about who the person is and what they do, what hardware and software they use to do their work, and what their dream setup would be.

In a bit of a delightful mashup today, I found this description of a dream setup below and the [unconnected] photo above.

Someday perhaps I will go around carrying only a book, a change of clothes, a pen, a water bottle, a folding umbrella, and a little capsule that turns into my livelihood when opened. Rollable hi-res screen and keyboard, tiny computer the size of a cell phone or smaller but as light as a pen, with high-speed satellite connectivity anywhere on the globe. In this world, my sleeping bag, pad and windproof hammock weigh only a pound put together. For half of the year I travel the world, alone and with companions, with a small bag slung over my shoulder like Kwai Chang Caine. We sleep outdoors, travel on trains, and a few days of the week sit some place cozy and create beautiful software or solve interesting problems that improve the world.

I had just finished a programming and design workshop today with a client concerned about "going too far" in providing a significantly lighter and more agile environment for its staff, despite a strategic imperative to change its culture, its organizational design, and its operating processes, and to leverage that change to recruit top global talent in service to a mission to improve the world.

Some of what I believe to be the biggest barriers to change in organizations are the organizations that provide the places where the enterprise does its work. The reflective model of The Setup might be a good tool to use to understand the defining workspace interests of the emerging generation of creative and innovative people.

Getting out of groupthink and into pursuing opportunities

There has been a lot of conversation in recent days about the form of the office and how to design it for those who work in it. This is enormously interesting to me because this conversation, like many others in culture, politics and business, is an exciting signal of the search for real innovation and of a desire for a revolution in the way we provide the places and spaces where we do the things we do.

Argument and revolution

The “conversation” that I reference is the point and counterpoint in recent debates about which way is best – the old comfortable way or a recent newly proposed and tested way. A round of confirming and contradicting commentary was recently evoked by Susan Cain's article in the New York Times. While trying to make a case for consideration of the closeting needs of introverts, she broadly bashed the new, open workplace as a product of "groupthink" in its pejorative connotation. Using the same term in almost the same week, Jonah Lehrer referenced the incredible volume of creative product emerging from the famous Building 20 at MIT, "one of the most creative environments of all time," generally credited to the informal interactions happening between people of different backgrounds and interests. And Alison Arlieff weighed in with the groupthink that collaborative spaces aren't all they're cracked up to be. Closed office vs. open office.

The “revolution” that I reference is my belief that a third form with a new language will emerge. This third form will have immediate credibility in the forehead-slapping “of course” mode and will make both of the currently debated forms artifacts in a rapidly receding history.

Getting out of groupthink – New forms will be generated from a new lexicon

I propose that the current arguments are nostalgic and a bit arrogant. They are arguments of an estate that recognizes it has lost its case but does not yet know where to turn. And they are arguments of a self-appointed enlightened who believe that the right way is the way they proposed to counter the old way but is now being uncovered as having had insufficient rigor, and that now has piles of data bias making a great case against it.

I think that the core issue we are now confronting arises from the loss of meaning of familiar terms like “office” and “workplace” and, even, “work.” “Office” is a term left over in the slow evolution from industrialization and carried the implications of production and supervision in its form. Attendance, for example, was a key characteristic of its managerial mode. “Workplace” implied a single setting, the place where work was done, the place that was separate from the other stuff we did, the place that was defined by time, location and character. “Work” was something separate from “life” and disregarded the reality that, even in the old mold, one defined the quality of the other.

In almost every meaningful, productive, and rewarding context now, these terms are antique.

“Work” certainly has changed dramatically from the dreary and dreaded stuff we did for “the man.” Most of what we call work, the valuable stuff, is creative in some form. Most of what we do is self-defined or collaboratively determined with a team oriented to a goal that is more frequently something defined by them and not by a manager.

There is no single “workplace” any more because we do what we do in multiple physical settings and multiple virtual settings, as well. Time, also, is no longer a limiter in what we do. We carry huge amounts of information on tiny devices everywhere we go, and we connect with our networks anywhere we are. In an odd inversion, we may find solitude and focus sitting with our headphones on in a public cafe and, when we are ready for socializing our ideas and learning from others, we go to the office.

The office best serves as a place for connecting with a network of knowledge and resources to get purposeful stuff done. The productive social buzz and innovative activity that now takes place there is called “distraction” and blamed on an “open” office by those who claim a value of “focus” to name whatever it is that they do behind their six-foot tall cubicle walls. They are missing the reality that entitled square footage for playing computerized solitaire never had, and now certainly no longer has, value. They miss that the work that is valuable is not the consumption of time but the generation of new ideas and approaches with a team of other highly motivated people. Those people, when they need focus, find a place for focus. Otherwise, the buzz of collaborative activity is the visible manifestation of the generation of value for the world.

Pursuing opportunities

Arguing about which of the existing ways of designing a workplace is wasteful. It is a form of the groupthink that the debaters debate. Work is no longer done in one place, and the office is no longer one thing.

Reflecting on what we do, and how we really do it, and then generating, testing and developing new environments for the activities and behaviors of work is productive and valuable.

As Kevin Kelly says, "Don't solve problems; pursue opportunities."

The office as an App, redux

David Galbraith offers an interesting vision for the transformation of thinking about and designing houses. My interest is less in the specifics of his design, but more in the consideration of this approach to almost any space where we live or work.

We continuously accept a lexicon of form – “living room,” “dining room,” “office” – that no longer appropriately serves the way that we live. We accept these forms and functions because they may be the only choices the market makes available to us, or because of social norms that we feel we cannot challenge or do not know how to challenge, or because they are imposed upon us by another authority.

Considering how what we do would be expressed in a web app offers a context for insights into how work and life could flow better and satisfy more.

The web apps we select to download or use are those that are well designed both in visual and functional character. We appreciate mostly those that are agile in character, that reduce complexity, that are light in system demands, that have a simple logic at points of decision, that flow well. We appreciate those that provide, when we want or need it, a link to augmenting or amplifying information or features. We choose the ones we like because of the quality of the experiences we have with them, which are mostly engaging and efficient.

I don’t recall that we’ve had a client who has approached us with an initial and core request to provide a better experience. Most typically, the language that accompanies the commission is an oblique goal metric like reduced square feet per person that occludes the real goal of the organization to become more engaging for the people who do its work and more effective in achieving its purpose.

Many of the tools and techniques our profession has attempted to use to move our client’s language into experiential considerations work only where experience is the business – in retail and hospitality contexts, for example. Clients in corporate, scientific, or institutional domains typically squirm at the imprecision of an experiential parameter.

Why do  people who carefully choose and use web apps use an entirely different language and criteria when commissioning the places and spaces where they live and work? Why is more thinking and emotion invested in an app that costs next to nothing, but nothing of similar critical thinking applied to the experiences in the spaces that cost millions? Could the use of the Web App metaphor be a more effective tool in transforming thinking, perceptions and investments?

(See also The Office as an App, part one)

Ghost innovation

Ghost innovation

This is part of a map plotting various planned but unbuilt subway lines in New York City. Reading it unveils an understanding of past strategies, plans, and objectives that became abandoned due to budget constraints, maintenance priorities and other demands that diverted and then buried the vision. Reading it inspires an imagination of the world that could have been, of a society that might have developed differently, of connections that might have had value but were lost through an inability to efficiently and effectively connect.

Stranded innovation

It reminded me of a recent client, a major consumer products manufacturer and marketer who held what they called a "stranded innovation fair." It was their belief that, regardless of the circumstances for the loss of attention to or development of these innovations with our application, they might have real value in other contexts, times, combinations or applications. The more that people in the company were aware of these ghost innovations and technologies, the greater would be the potential of their eventual application and productivity.

Hidden talent

In a similar context, some companies are experimenting with rich profiles of the people in their organizations and utilizing certain social media applications to promote those profiles to others in the enterprise. There are people in most organizations with valuable skills and capabilities that are overlooked in the usual day-to-day of operations, or who may have some special skill buried deeper in a resume and unexploited in their current job description or project assignments. By circulating those profiles or using other means to communicate them, these organizations are better able to match the right people with the right projects, achieve goals more efficiently, and gain competitive advantage through otherwise overlooked internal skills and talents.

How can the design of the workspace contribute?

Imagine the potential that lies inside of an organization that is for many reasons consistently overlooked. More interestingly, imagine the power of an organization that has the insight to look back, or look deeper, or promote ghost innovations differently.

Technology may be the more powerful tool for uncovering and developing ghost innovation, but imagine the potential of a more social workplace, as well. How much of knowledge and potential, of skills and innovations, are lost each day due to the inability of people to connect efficiently, to observe others, to understand weak signals, to join a conversation with others.

In their book on the organization and architecture of innovation, Allen and Henn point to the power of work spaces designed in way to support our awareness of others and to increase the potential for our connections with each other.

We think this is the defining challenge for our time.

How can the design of the workspace contribute?

Think big – Grand visions are connected visions. They illustrate for others a path to future development and value, and tend to garner greater support. Even if the final accomplishment falls short, the grand vision leaves "remnants of foresight" that provide others a way to interpret and extend intentions and uncover latent value at the appropriate times.

Redesign the organization before redesigning the workspace – The traditional lexicon of the corporation – organizational charts and individual job descriptions – do not describe the way that work is really done today. If you believe that teamwork and collaboration are the key to higher organizational performance (and they are) then design the organization around those attributes. That redesign will generate a new lexicon of organizational form that the planners and designers of the workspace can leverage for high performance through great work experiences.

Make visible the artifacts and activities of network connections and collaboration – As with the organization, the workspace has to speak to teamwork if collaborative cultures are to flourish. The traditional lexicon of the workspace, like that of org charts and job descriptions, perpetuates forms that are about individuals and managerial controls. The creative workspace is an open and networked space, where team activity and process flows are visible, and adaptable and agile to the dynamics of projects.

If there is any single rule that guides our work for organizations seeking enhanced performance and higher levels of innovation, it is this – Make it visible.

Things we've noticed

How. And why. Not what.

This is a very nice piece on enjoying the "how" and "why" in the process of answering a challenging question rather than rushing to the "what," the answer.

The process of answering a question should be a voyage of discovery, a journey during which you learn something, and one where you enjoy yourself in the process.

The essay made me think about the invisible processes in business, and also how the places of businesses are not designed around the how and why. If the design and planning of workspaces made clearer the purposes of the enterprise, and if the processes people and teams used to get to the what were more transparent and observable, would an organization learn more, create more valuable knowledge, and achieve more?

What innovators share

Somewhat related to the above is this review in the Ottawa Business Journal of a recent book on the "innovator's DNA." The review reflects on the power of "the five whys" while also noting the five distinguishing characteristics of successful innovators.

associating, observing, questioning, experimenting and networking

We'd found our way this week, in the midst of our own annual strategic planning, to a discussion about the uniqueness of the places and spaces where innovation seems most successful. As I carry the images of those spaces, I'm making a resolution to shape our design mission – our client's "program" or "design brief" for their corporate workspace – into a form that links workspace concepts to these 5 attributes.

That is, since most of our clients are engaged in a search for how to generate and support a more entrepreneurial culture, I intend to test a change of the lexicon of workplace design from conventional descriptors of corporate organization and function ("accounting") and conventional workplace form ("conference room") to new terms reflecting these innovation behavior attributes.

I expect that radical transformations in design processes and concepts will emerge.

Augmented reality

There are many things to enjoy and reflect on in this proposal of trends for 2012 from the Smithsonian here and here.

I expect I'll come back to the list for further exploration and comment, since I stopped almost immediately at the first subject, augmented reality.

In a recent project, we found transformative approaches to design through our slogan of "augment, amplify, activate." A client had a new workspace designed by others, but then found it experientially flat. It satisfied the organizations, functions and facility metrics of the enterprise, but did nothing to change their culture and performance, which was the purpose of the project in the first place. Our slogan was a motivator to the occupiers and the designers to explore conceptual modifications to support behavioral change and development.

This sense of "augmentation" seems like a rich territory for exploration in design. A while back I had speculated on "the autoupdating workspace." And more recently, a colleague raised a question about augmented reality which made me think in entirely different terms about the "productivity" of both the principal artifact of our service, digital "drawings," and the activities that take place in the spaces and places we design. I've become increasingly interested in how to build layers on top of our digital design information and capture digital information from the physical spaces we design.

The Race Against the Machine

Related to the above, I've just finished reading Race Against the Machine, and am now both tremendously excited as well as terribly frightened.

The motivation for me is to begin to imagine the role of the workspace in assuring the race with the machine. Finding a strengthening signal in the requests we are getting from clients, there is an accelerating realization that space supports enterprise sustainability, but this is increasingly tied to the changes in the way we work together because of the extraordinary acceleration of technology.

We are now attracted to, and attractive to, clients whose enterprise is shaped around technologies that, yes, automate creativity. These enterprises are now, or soon will be, seeking spatial solutions well beyond the most advanced corporate real estate solutions.

The Singularity

And, of course, this.

Focus groups

I am not sure about this, but can't stop thinking about it. That is, is Facebook a relevant a valuable data source for workspace design? It seems so logical to "crowdsource" criteria and concepts for a satisfying and uniquely productive work do we best do it?

...and, in case you were wondering

Why humans have chins

Makers of virtual meeting spaces make them in face-to-face space

Perhaps relevant to our last post is this delightful interview by Adam Richardson that I found in a guest blog at the Harvard Business Review. Citrix, the makers of GoToMeeting, have a new collaboration space where the leading work in their innovation process is done. It is fascinating how the makers of virtual work spaces develop their process in carefully considered face-to-face space.

It is not a "crappy" space, and this is how they describe its benefits:

Opening the design collaboration space was a big milestone on our design thinking journey. It's already played a key role in fostering a more collaborative culture that involves less over-the-wall processes, fewer silos, more and earlier collaboration, and better integration of design into the product development process.

We needed to create a shift in behaviors, and realized this would be best achieved by having people live the change, not just being told about it. The space facilitates this.

Perhaps most significantly, it seems to lie at that upper quadrant of my not-yet-finished diagram in our last post. That upper quadrant is where I speculate that "signature" form but "occupy the workplace" space can generate high performance and engagement.

The interior design is quite minimal. The "beauty" of the space comes from the work that happens inside it: sketches, flow charts, Post-Its full of blue-sky ideas, new product concepts from raw idea to real formation. The space was intentionally left not-too-perfect, so people are encouraged to manipulate it, not be precious about it. It's intended to serve as a canvas for creative thinking. It's also very flexible and can quickly change from working studio to lecture room.

It seems also to fit some speculation we were developing about "auto-updating" space.

Like all good design, iteration is part of the process. We have discovered that we do need a better system for engaging remote participants and better ways for capturing brainstorming and meeting notes in real time, so that others can see them later. This is something we are investigating for our next "release" in 2012.

Richardson's interview is packed with information. I found at least 10 principles for a workplace designed for innovation –

  1. Align the design with your mission – with the "why" and not just the "what" of your business
  2. Relevance to all disciplines supports multidisciplinary work better
  3. Recognize that space shapes the behaviors you want
  4. Your space is an indicator of the authenticity of your purpose
  5. Agile and adaptable space is more valuable than CRE-regulated space
  6. Anytime space supports creativity better than assigned and scheduled space
  7. Casual space supports sharing and trust better
  8. Authentic space recruits
  9. Learn from others and engage users on your design team
  10. Good design strategy reinforces good strategy design

Let me know your thoughts on the article, and your own experience.

Why the "office" no longer matters

Metropolis mag had this article today on Going Paperless in med schools. The Yale School of Medicine is giving each of its student an iPad to use in classroom and clinic. They will simultaneously eliminate all paper materials, which have burdened the institution with cost of more than $100,000 per year.

The article reflected on the potential impact on the traditional image of the bookbag toting student. I think the real impact of moves like this will not, however, be on the campus but on the workplace.

After huge numbers of university students spend the next couple of years without paper class materials, they will emerge into and finally fully transform the workplace. Their methods of working, communicating, collaborating and achieving will mean that they will approach the conventional workspace with a look of critical curiosity, wondering what this strange construct called the "modern" office is all about.

What I find especially significant here is that every day major investments are being made by corporations and institutions in workspaces that are losing value at an increasing rate. Designed for individuals processing paperwork, they are already irrelevant to how work is done today.

Those misplaced investments remove employees from access to the resources that really matter, and rob the people who work there of potential to grow their capabilities and contribute greater value to the purpose and achievements of their organizations.

It is shocking that corporate leaders do not recognize and kill this waste, especially in an economy that needs sustainable resource utilization.

It is shocking that everything about work has changed but very little of the workplace has.

How can criteria for ranking the world's 10 most livable cities inform other places?

Monocle magazine periodically publishes city rankings. Reflecting on the way to developing a list of the world's 10 most livable cities, Tyler Brule came up with an unexpected list of criteria (presented here). The introduction to his column in the Financial Times offers the context –

Sometime between writing last week’s column and settling down to tap out today’s I had a slight change of heart about the essential ingredients regarding quality of life. While cities get high marks if they have low crime rates, good public schools, smooth-running buses, trams and subways, and if they offer a healthy climate for starting up a small business, my daily holiday regime on the coast of Tuscany had me questioning whether there should be simpler measures to judge whether a city is delightfully liveable.

On Brule's "simple measures" list are things such as sufficient water pressure to get a good blast in the shower, great orange juice, public seating, and good windows.

It is very rare, it seems, that we reflect on the simple things that can improve our own environments and those we design for others. Most frequently, the dominant criteria are abstract metrics imposed by the providers of space rather than the experiential metrics of those who live and work in the spaces we design.

Consider Brule's point of view, your daily regime when in your favorite vacation spot – How can these experiences overcome your typical demands of the workplace and influence a different approach to its design?

10 ideas for better design competitions that inform better projects, too

Competitions, never sufficiently resourced, demand an energy and focus that is distinct from normal project processes. We produce creative and innovative ideas and use critical and spare methods to present them in a very compressed time. Why we do not use such effective processes in the normal course of our work.

Read More

The Meredith Workplace Attraction Curve

I propose that a significant increase in the performance of people and value in corporate real estate could be captured and delivered through a more customizable workplace. There are many models around to illustrate how personal activation, amplification or augmentation of provided platforms yields high levels of satisfaction and performance enhancements. Simple examples include the phone in your pocket. Over time, you have explored and tested various “apps” to get your device to be just right for you and what you want to achieve. The device not only looks the way you want it to, but has functionality and features that you selected and the data that use use more frequently. The apps you chose also enhance the way you interact with other people, other systems, and the physical world. Your device, through its customization, is more useful, attractive and valuable to you.

The place where you work probably has very little of these benefits. The workplace is a place of constraint, not of augmentation. Standards and benchmarks for the planning of the workplace define generalized patterns related to positions rather than roles, and to organizations rather than activities. My workstation is a compromise of size, configuration, technology, location, comfort, etc. I have a sense that if I were provided less, but then able to pull up certain physical and technological “apps,” I’d be more satisfied and effective.

Hence, this graph, the Meredith Workplace Attraction Curve, as a representation of a theory and opportunity for exploration and development. I propose that the workplace defined by others has rapidly diminishing return. A workplace that is designed by its users can deliver accelerating returns to people and place.

Push platforms and diminishing returns

“Push platforms” are the kinds of workplaces as designed and delivered conventionally, typically by Corporate Real Estate. One of the defining characteristics of this type of workplace is its diminishing acceptance as more and more people participate in it.

“Distraction” is the almost universal claim representing an underlying fault in the design and delivery of this kind of workplace. The demand for freedom from distraction comes from the inadequacy of the physical workplace to support effectiveness, and is a claim that begs separation – walls, doors, mobility.

At a certain point, the internal separation reduces the meaning and purpose of being in a workplace. Where alternatives are available, people will choose them as preferable to their purposes, and bail out of the provided workplace. This selection is the manifestation and fulfillment of policy that values space reduction over worker potential.

Pull platforms and increasing returns

Pull platforms” are new types of workplaces we’ve referenced before and have these characteristics –

  • A “plug-and-play” nature designed for the convenience of its users, rather than its providers
  • Modularity, that is, with components that are both self sustaining and compatible for connection with others
  • Flexibility, able to respond to otherwise unanticipated needs of its users and participants
  • Agility and adaptability, with features that allow it to support and capture increasing returns
  • Evolutionary with the potential for its value to be enhanced by the improvisation, experimentation and improvements generated by its users
  • Environmental richness, providing intrinsic rewards to those who are committed to its use and contribute to its value

This type of workplace, inherently attractive to those who seek higher levels of contribution and performance, has an increasing value curve. The more that customization to purpose satisfies personal and organizational effectiveness, the more people are attracted to it. The more people who are attracted to it, the greater the points of connection of the social network of work and the higher probability of growth in personal and organizational potential as a result.

The tipping points

Distraction in the push platforms is a function of scale and proportion – too many people in a space reduces its effectiveness and causes “evaporative cooling.”

However, "distraction" in pull platforms occurs when there are too few people engaged. The intentional collaboration and synergies cannot take place until a critical mass catalyzes an energy and a corresponding acceleration in value as more people connect to the network and in the working space.