Archives for posts with tag: workplace

By Laurie Aznavoorian

Futures Rambling # 104

Last week I exercised my rights of free agency and personal empowerment by unplugging my desk from the octopus it was tethered to and rolled it across the studio to the spot previously occupied by Peter Titmuss. It took about three minutes to link to a shiny new octopus and voila, I became a member of a new team.

Since the name is less than self-explanatory, an octopus is part of BVN’s boom & octopus combination that allows each of us to re- configure our studio environment at will. All desks are on wheels and both power and data drop from fibre optic cables nestled in overhead circular booms that connect to a host, or octopus, which supports up to eight desks.

Why move desks rather than people you ask, isn’t that somewhat hypocritical coming from people known for flogging alternative working? The answer is poor performance of programs like Revit, V Ray, Rhino or Grasshopper over Wi-Fi. For those who know me and are spitting their coffee on their keyboard, no I’ve not upskilled. But there are others here who are far more talented and unburdened by technical challenges than I who’d be crippled.

For organisations like BVN, extreme flexibility opens many doors, some like enabling teams to reorganise are fantastic, others are a work in progress. For example, we’re currently drafting guidelines that clarify when and how one can roll, otherwise to quote our office manager “it would be a real shit show.” And even though you would think it unnecessary to remind architects not to park in fire exits or blocking loo doors, the guidelines will dictate exactly where you can stop rolling.

In parallel, we’ve embarking on a research project intended to track desk movement. This is critical since a successful rolling studio will inherently rely in part on human nature. We all know that just because an individual has the right to roll, doesn’t mean they will. Humans abandon privileges all the time, just look at American voting records. The psychological aspects of rolling we might explore are plentiful: what inspires one to roll while others are happy to stay still, do some people have roll phobia, is the fear of recrimination due to location real?

We also wonder whether people will learn anything from rolling. Perhaps some will become roving studio journeyman, or roll to locations where they’ll amass skills or positive behaviours via osmosis? The hypothesis could be tested on me, we can take note if I’ve become more hip sitting next to Sebastian and a wiz at photoshop, or if being in the mere vicinity of Selina encourages me to learn Revit.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds, particularly if you know anything about social contagion. I recently learned about this theory listening to an interview with Dr. Gary Slutkin, a physician and infectious disease control specialist at the University of Illinois Chicago. He knows plenty about spreading things.

He also happens to live in a city where the murder rate surpassed 1400 in July; therefore, is well placed to pursue his vocation of studying infectious disease along with his other passion, the spread of crime. Cure Violence is the program he founded that’s being rolled out across cities in the US. It marries both spheres of Slutkin’s expertise and led him to suggest the spread of violence through a community happens in the same manner as a contagious disease.

Take something nasty like Ebola, your chances of contracting the disease increases with exposure and the disease spreads quickly or slowly depending on specific factors: age, overall health and living conditions. With violence the factors are exposure to gang wars, riots or childhood abuse. The evidence that Slutkin has amassed contradicts the common belief that violent acts are random. Instead, he suggests it follows the patterns of contagion and both disease and violence cluster in time and space.

Social science has reached similar conclusions about behaviours. Attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours move through populations like infection, they spread rapidly and are often accepted uncritically. Given the human condition is a combination of both a biological and social process, and each rely on replicated instructions, you can start to see the connection. In biology a gene is reproduced, in social processes it’s a meme, or culture.

It’s called social contagion and applies to both good and bad behaviours and the concept is by no means new. In 1774 Goethe’s publication “The Sorrows of Young Werther” inspired so many people to commit suicide that both book and Werther clothing style were banned. The Werther – effect is now a synonym for media induced imitation.

Social learning theory posits we learn social memes and behaviours by directly experiencing, observing and imitating and make cognitive inferences based on our observations. Back to our studio, based on the theory of social learning and contagion it is entirely plausible that I might develop new skills because of where I sit, or at least adopt an attitude or aptitude to learn.

Of course, we must be mindful not to spread bad behaviours, the research says this can be minimised by limiting exposure or inoculating people against the effects. Currently the only really bad thing that I can think of that could infect the studio would happen at the Christmas party when the New York crowd comes over. As far as I know there is no inoculation against stupid and our colleagues do live in the same city as the Trumps and may be infected. We should be thankful to have no office in Canberra.

 

Sources:

Bushman, Brad J. PH.D, “How Violence Spreads Like a Contagious Disease” Psychology Today, May 31, 2017

Niederkrotenthaler T, Herbert A, Sonneck G.; The “Werther-effect”: Legend or Reality?” Neuropsychiatry 2007; 21(4)

Jack, B; “Goethe’s Werther and its effects – The Lancet Psychiatry”, The Lancet, April 30, 2014

Marsden, Dr. Paul, “ Memetics & Social Contagion: Two Sides of the Same Coin?” The Journal of Memetics: Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 1998 Vol 2.

Slutkin, Gary MD, “Violence is a Contagious Disease”, National Academies Press (US); 2013 Feb 6. II.9, Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207245/

“How Treating Violence As A Disease Could Help Prevent It”, Here and Now, PRI WBUR, March 22, 2017

 

 

 

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Bias and  the Complex Task of Changing Minds. (first in a two part series)

By Laurie Aznavoorian

 

Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of entering into a political debate with a person of the opposite party in today’s politically polarised world will appreciate the challenges of attempting to change a person’s beliefs, particularly when their mind is set. It is a conundrum so many of us are all too familiar with: whether we’re trying to nudge a crazy relative’s position at a holiday dinner or shifting mindsets in a professional setting. That the beliefs you’re hoping to alter are based on flawed logic, or even complete rubbish, rarely plays into the debate.

This is by no means a new phenomenon; man has contemplated epistemology: the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of knowledge, justification and the rationality of belief for a very long time. In 210a Plato defined knowledge as a ‘justified true belief’, in other words: if one’s belief is their knowledge, and they believe it to be true, it is justified.

In this discussion it’s important to appreciate knowledge and belief are two separate things. It’s easy to distinguish the difference; you can believe things that aren’t true, but you can’t know things that aren’t true. What causes us trouble is when reason enters the mix because reason is not always related to reality, and it has the power to override evidence. Imperfect reason is what causes the daft person to think their beliefs are actually the truth.

The fire is bellowed when beliefs becomes stronger than evidence, motivating a person to shut down and refuse to enter into debate. The implications are both significant and dangerous. In order for any of us to interpret reality correctly, we absolutely must be prepared to question our thoughts.

Designers face similar obstacles every day in discussions related to workplace transformation. Inevitably these lead down a path of exploring worker mobility and the need, or want to own space. The exchanges can become quite tiresome when they’re had with ‘know it all’ workplace deniers who reject the impact of change: new technologies, social expectations, economic pressures, evolved attitudes and ideas.

For deniers workplace design is simple. Provide a space for 200 people like the one they currently have, but instead of a blue carpet, bust out and innovative, go with orange. A more evolved, but equally shallow approach, comes from those willing to enter into debate only because they are itching to get into an ‘to ABW or not to ABW, that is the question’ skirmish.

During these exchanges it never seems to fail that an article proclaiming Activity Based Work as a colossal failure gets produced and waved in your face while the person spits and sputters anecdotes about living and working and how they’ve done both and know all there is to know. Even when presented with vast amounts of evidence to the contrary, data that tangibly demonstrates spaces are underutilised today and therefore a waste of money and energy, they adopt the disbelieving stare of a five year old who’s been told the tooth fairy isn’t real.

Such attitudes have an uncomfortable parallel with what is happening in politics, we’ve entered an unsettling time when facts no longer have authority and people believe what they want to believe. For some, their only motivation for conversing is to let you know you’re wrong. In the case of workplace, their message is unequivocal: take your activity based, well-being, brand communicating, and talent attracting workplaces and put them where the sun doesn’t shine.

Rather than debating ABW, or any other workplace, the focus of this conversation is impressions and how remarkably perseverant they are. It’s a phenomena that’s so rampant today that it’s been given a name, confirmation bias, which describes why people hang on to persistent beliefs that are not only false, but sometimes dangerous. The tendency for businesses to cling to information that supports their belief, while rejecting anything that doesn’t, is especially troublesome because it blinds organisations to new or underappreciated threats and halts innovation.

Futures Rambling # 100

By Laurie Aznavoorian

This is the third and final post on the Digital Revolution

Most of us are aware of the wide range of opportunities we have to capture data in the modern workplace using heat maps, sensors and the endless range of analytic tools now available. In addition companies like Johnson Controls, Siemens and Schneider Electric, to name a few, offer smart building technology and monitoring that help tenants get a clearer picture of potential energy savings and efficiency improvements. We’re spoiled with data; consequently, the larger issue today is in ensuring that what we have isn’t just data – but meaningful information that leads to greater knowledge.

The challenge is exacerbated by the fact that smart systems don’t talk to one another. The day when all the smart technologies speak the same language will be the day those interested in real time dynamic measurement and analysis can celebrate. In the meantime, keep the cork in the champagne and relish the advancements we have made. Without meaning to disparage the value these technologies bring in obtaining a snapshot of workplace efficiency, this third and final post on the impact of digital on physical office design will follow the lead of the others and focus on people, their efficiency and experience in the workplace, rather than the physical environment itself.

While smart building systems do smart things around us, most of us carry a secret digital weapon in the palm of our hand, our mobile phone, when properly outfitted it has the potential to radically increase our personal efficiency. The possibilities are even greater with new chips that enable instantaneous artificial intelligence. Combined with a digital personal assistant and an army of ‘bots’ to do our bargaining for us, our mobile can be transformed into a performance tool that has the potential to do more for an organisation than any space analytics tool. This is critical, because at the end of the day, improving personal efficiency and supporting people is why we have a workplace.

Consequently, developers like Apple, Google and Facebook have shifted their focus from personal computers to mobile devices and messaging and they’re hard at work improving the effectiveness of messaging with the goal of making it a portal for all things we do on mobile. The tech giants are no dummies, they recognise messaging is the prime means of business communication in parts of the world like India and Indonesia and in the West, there’s deep market penetration with various messaging apps like: Facebook Messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp, Kik, Line, Viber, Telegram, Slack and Hangout.

Given its breath and the amount of time we spend on our mobile, there’s a priority to humanise messaging, as well as study how digital technology affects the way we experience and convey emotion. Machine learning has the ability to ratchet up messaging with smart replies that are calibrated to the content and context of a conversation, causing them to be more natural over time. As we experience better face to face and voice to voice interactions we’ll see text based communications replaced with multimedia offerings. Emojis, GIFs and short videos have great potential to augment text and assist in expression.

A persistent issue with emails and written communications is misconstrued messages due to the limitations of typing in expressing ourselves. Following the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, recently launched apps like VidiiChat illustrate how AI can be engaged to improve our ability to get our point across. Vidii provides the option of adding high definition, full audio video to ordinary text messages and then uses the phone’s camera to scan facial expressions to analyse the recipient’s emotional response. The app issues the sender an emoji receipt to confirm the recipient enjoyed the message.

Many of these offers are larks at the moment, intended to be used to communicate with friends and family. Never the less, it isn’t hard to imagine how improving written communication and offering immediate feedback could help with common problems many organisations face today with low employee engagement scores and widespread lack of emotional intelligence among people.

Another area with the ability to improve workplace performance comes from the many voice activated personal assistants on the market today: Siri, Cortana, Alexi or Google. Now that they’re using Artificial Intelligence algorithms they’ve moved from being cute developer parlour tricks to useful tools thanks to machine learning and its ability to recognise and process speech and connect to The Internet of Things or an army of bots.

Bots are rapidly taking over for Apps as the go to method for communication on mobile devices, they’re software applications that perform repetitive tasks and their advantage is they perform them faster than you or I and they don’t complain. A common bot task is chat. Some times when you think you’re chatting with a person, you may be actually chatting with a bot, because they mimic human interaction and conversation and have a high level of intelligence with, theoretically, some capacity to learn.

There are E-commerce bots that assist us in buying goods and services. Food bots to order dinner. Content bots, Watcher bots, Workflow bots, Concierge Bots and Banking and Trading bots that provide financial services. These new business bots have crossed the divide to make our worklife more productive, particularly when working in tandem with a personal assistants like Google’s assistant Allo. Imagine messaging a colleague about a meeting and simply typing “@google” to instruct the assistant to organise inviting attendees, reserving the video conference room and ordering lunch for your meeting.

As we begin to experience the workplace differently the Digital Revolution will have an impact on the physical environment no doubt, but right now it’s busy improving the EX – employee experience. As has been mentioned in past posts, this places the onus on designers to broaden their horizons and move beyond form and function toward end to end employee experiences. And in the meantime it would serve us well to not only understand, but make interfaces and software our friends.

 

 

 

 

 

Futures Rambling # 99

By Laurie Aznavoorian

This second of three posts written for the Worktech Academy

There are many reasons it is a challenge to describe the impact of digital on physical workplace design, one is that digital is manifested more through the experiences we have in spaces than in their outward physical appearance. Another is workplace has been very slow in coming to the digital party. Other types of environments, such as retail and entertainment, were early adopters and have now advanced to a point where a seamless digital experience is all but expected.

Contributing to the sluggish uptake in workplace is our propensity to want to measure and relate what we do in the environment back to return on investment before we will commit to major works. Clearly this is easier when repeating a design that is tried and tested, not so much when we hope to implement new ideas. This highlights the critical role of belief in promoting innovative workplace design, because when it comes to challenging the status quo, clients must believe in ideas before they are willing to take a leap of faith. Of course at some point they will have no choice but to go out on a limb. It is our job to build the belief that will help them overcome fear.

Belief trumps truth every time. As designers we should never underestimate its power, for evidence of this one need not look any further than the vast amounts of workplace data that unequivocally proves the typical desk is frequently unoccupied, yet users swear hand on heart that they’re in their seat for a majority of the day. Even though the data says the opposite they believe what they believe – and that is why it’s important for us to acknowledge that beliefs do not need to be ‘true beliefs’ for people to wholeheartedly buy into them. As we’ve seen with the US election and the Brexit vote, facts are often optional in the decision making process.

Another pitfall to be avoided is short changing the critical role design plays in building belief. This begins with the development of a robust workplace strategy linking the organisation’s sustainability to the physical solutions we create. The relationship is the foundation for a rich narrative both designer and organisation can use to build broader buy in across an organisation. Finally, once a design is created it must put EX, employee experience, first surpassing pragmatic form and function to create a space that focuses on people’s experience. This is the blueprint for building belief.

Wonderfully conceived and designed spaces supported by convincing stories are an excellent start, but it still may not be enough. Fortunately we can now call on digital tools to help our clients overcome their natural aversion to taking risks. In the last post we talked about chip maker Qualcomm, one of the many working with Virtual Reality and instantaneous Artificial Intelligence. These new chips present audio and video, track eye, head and gestures and also track audio, all of this paves the way for virtual experiences that are more realistic than anything we’ve seen to date. Once relegated to the realm of video games, they’re now frequently used to enhance the design process.

Tech enthusiasts have been talking about Virtual Reality headsets since 2012, in March of 2016 the long awaited ship date of the high end consumer virtual reality headset Oculus Rift arrived and that is significant because to date there were none on the market that offered the quality an architect would require to use it as an effective design communication tools, not to mention their ability to afford it. At $1,500 USD for the headset and computer that it operates on, Rift is affordable and sophisticated and is rapidly making its way into design practices.

A second digital tool the Holograms has also moved beyond the lark stage to play a role in supporting designers. Today in Lowes, a home improvement retailer in the United States, which is neither high end nor exclusive, offers their customers the opportunity to cruse the store and use Pinterest to drop pins on products they’re interested in. Then donning a pair of Microsoft’ HoloLens goggles they can view a high definition hologram of their kitchen remodel. It would be hard to find a more powerful tool in the today’s market to help workplace designers build belief.

These technologies are quickly evolving from being follies and fads to tools of the mainstream and with their rapid development we’re quickly moving to a place where we’ll have real time dynamic immersive 3-D experiences. Products like Magic Leap, currently in development, but on the horizon, employ ‘augmented reality’ by creating realistic holograms superimposed on the field of vision. It is predicted such headsets will eventually scan our brains and transmit our thoughts, the technology will communicate a full sensory experience with emotions through thought.

When that day comes it will be much easier for us to build belief, in turn we will have greater license to explore the boundaries of innovative workplace design.

 

Futures Rambling # 98 by Laurie Aznavoorian

This is the first of three posts written for the Worktech Academy

We are on the precipice of a major turning point in human history and similar to past periods of rapid change: the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions, today’s era is driven by new technologies and processes that are forcing us to radically reorient the way we think, behave, communicate and work. Coined the ‘Digital Revolution’, the catalyst for this turning point is a combination of new technologies: robotics, advanced mobile, life sciences and artificial intelligence that are emerging onto the scene.

The intention of this series of posts is to explore what impact digital will have on physical workspace design. It is a task fraught with challenges, because while digital is all around us and impossible to ignore, it hasn’t yet made its mark on workplace. Consequently, the assignment will be approached by looking at new technologies, considering their applications in other industries and projecting possible roles they will play in workplace once they are adopted. This post will provide context, the next looks at the impact on design process and the role digital plays in building belief and the third will explore digital’s role in increasing workplace efficiency.

Sources vary, but most suggest this evolution began in the 1980’s when advancements in technology led a shift from analogue electronic and mechanical devices to technologies that enabled the consumption of media and use of business applications on mobile devices. Advancements currently in development will make the integration into workplace much more likely. While it’s still early days, the annoying creases that made digital clunky and only attractive to nerds and developers are rapidly being ironed out and it’s clearing the way for general acceptance in the population. Digital is poised to make significant changes in how we experience space and this is where it will have the greatest impact in workspace.

There are two dimensions of the current chapter in the digital revolution that are significant and underpin everything that is now possible, without them we would not see the progress we’re seeing today. Each dimension represents a part, either the quantitative or qualitative halves, of the digital equation. These dimensions are chips and burgers.

No joke, chips are critical, not those made from potatoes, but from silicon. Manufacturers like Qualcomm are currently producing versions that push mobile Graphic Processing Units, or GPU. GPU is related to the CPU we’ve all heard of, the Central Processing Unit or brains in your computer. But the important distinction is that a CPU primarily works sequentially, while a GPU is able to perform multiple straight forward duties in tandem and is therefore able to do an amazing number of computations very quickly, in fact GPU can perform 11 billion calculations in a tenth of a second.

GPU does this by employing a deep learning technique called Convolutional Neural Networking, modelled on the way the brain’s visual cortex works. CNN is a staple for all modern image recognition, we have video games to thank for it because it was gamers demanding more realistic mobile applications that accelerated its growth. The critical point to take away is that these chips not only work incredibly fast, but they do it in a mobile device which opens the door for an exciting and growing movement toward handheld artificial intelligence.

Burgers will be used to introduce the second critical dimension of the digital revolution, the concept of disintermediation; this is an economic term that simply means cutting out the middle man. Imagine a hamburger with nine beef patties and one bun. You’re probably not aware that you’re envisioning a Monster Mac, one of the many items on McDonalds’ secret menu. Frequent diners at the restaurant, who connect with other fast food aficionados using sites like #HackTheMenu, could tell you all about the Monster Mac, The McGangBang, the McKinley Mac and the Air Sea and Land Burger. The point to take away here is that McDonalds has absolutely nothing to do with the secret menu. It is the result of customers wanting an experience and a burger that is unique to them.

Now consider the impact of this line of thinking on the workplace. What if employees decided to #HackTheWorkplace by effectively cutting out facilities managers and designers from the process? It’s an idea that incites gag responses for some, but never the less something we should consider. We have all heard the term UX, user experience, which has been superseded by CX, customer experience, and as creators of workplaces it would serve us well to turn our attention to EX – the employee experience.

Fast chips embedded in every object from your fitness bracelet to your desk chair and a mobile phone powering new interfaces that bring the power of artificial intelligence to your hand held device combined with employee’s attitudes of empowerment will be the foundation for what’s to come. As designers this will mean we need to reinvent our design process and begin to consider space beyond its immediate function or physical appearance and embrace the concept of designing end-to-end experiences that merge the physical and digital worlds.

 

 

 

 

Futures Rambling # 87
By Laurie Aznavoorian

Unless you are a poetry buff you’ve probably never heard of Phillip Levine who died in February at the age of 87, he was a Pulitzer Prize winner, the US Poet laureate 2011 – 2012 and he won the National Book Award for Poetry in 1980 for the collection What Work Is. In his poetry, Levine paints vivid portraits of characters and their jobs, made richer by glimpses he offers us of inner lives, dreams, and the manner in which his characters ponder the world.

When What Work Is was first released world events fuelled Levine’s imagination: unemployment in the US hit a seven year high and America started and ended The Persian Gulf War. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait sent oil prices from $17 a barrel to $36, resulting in a recession that impacted countries around the globe. Having an appreciation of the damaged conditions of American labour provides a context to Levine’s work, which adds an important layer of appreciation.

Few would deny that provides meaning. It offers us just a little more to grasp on to when we understand the motivations behind an action. It’s an argument we frequently make to clients, although, most fortunately now recognise greater transparency of the goals behind planning and design of a new workplace leads to higher employee acceptance and less snarky behaviour during the process.

Recently I was asked to make predictions about future directions in workplace design. For me, the only way to do this was to nestle my crystal ball in context: world events, popular culture, retailing and fashion trends. These are the things that influence us. They have the ability to jump species becoming a catalyst for new initiatives in unrelated areas. The following are five themes which I believe we will see manifested in future workplace designs.

CURATED EXPERIENCES
Why wouldn’t we expect and demand highly personalised, curated work experiences in the future? This trend is already evident in other areas, for example the approach Deil tours in Amsterdam takes to writing tour guides has evolved from the traditional city guide, that in the past focused on the author, to highlighting the traveller. Interests are captured using a short personality test about lifestyle, entertainment and culture preferences to create customised tours.

Another example is The Obama’s administration’s proposal for ‘precision medicine’ that moves medical treatment from a one size fits all approach to account for individual differences in people’s genes, environments and lifestyle. Finally there is our own Australian based Youi Insurance that claims it tailors policies beyond the typical demographic information all companies request. From the online reviews the jury is still out on them.

The opportunity for curated workplace experiences will go beyond what has already been started in ABW and co-working spaces. The potential for developers, property owners and landlords to come to the party by offering new models of space acquisition and new kinds of spaces is significant.

RE-IMAGINING HOW WE WORK
Genuine innovation begins when entrepreneurs take existing concepts and reinvent them as something new, or go against the trend and create a whole new experience. We’re well down the path of redefining what work means having killed sacred cows relating to where and when we work, but there could, and should, be more to come.

We can take notes about reinvention from the three M’s: Madonna, Miley and McConaughey. Madge has been reinventing herself for a quarter of a century, Miley Cyrus’s went from Hannah Montana to wearing Band-Aid nipple pasties and Mathew McConaughey’s Mcconniassance took him from “Fool’s Gold” to “Dallas Buyers Club.” All three prove change is possible with guts and clever marketing.

Speaking of marketing, James Patterson’s self destructing limited edition book is a good example of reimagining the ordinary and Toyota’s Calling All the Heroes advertisement http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYTX_gq54p4 shows how men have evolved in an era where women are apparently their equal, the ad of course does not mention wages. Finally the The New York Times Upshot’s shows us how news can be communicated using infographics, appealing to a new generation of consumers that can’t, or won’t read a whole paragraph.

AUTHENTIC MESSAGES
“Have a nice day – would like fries with that” is fortunately a phrase that is rapidly becoming extinct, we don’t believe fake rote sales pitches anymore and are drawn to the more authentic approach companies like Aesop have taken. They train employees to personally engage with customers and forbid them to discuss mundane topics like the weather.

We’re drawn to messaging that is highly revealing and exposes the warts and all in us, a good example is the Sport England ads ‘I jiggle therefore I am’ and ‘Sweating like a pig, feeling like a fox’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN7It0CYwHg. These are brutally honest campaigns designed to convince women to exercise, even if they’re uncoordinated oafs whose body parts continue to move well after the main part of them has stopped.

CEO’s of large hotel chains argue upstarts like airbnb are not legitimate threats to their business, but interestingly admit these companies offer travellers authentic experiences by giving access to neighbourhoods where people live, rather than the tourist areas. It is also interesting to note Marriot’s new brand Moxy designed with IKEA is geared to provide authentic, affordable and communal experiences consistent with millennial traveller’s desires.

When it comes to the manifestation of this theme in the workplace there is no greater communicator of brand values and culture than space. For businesses wanting to be authentic, this is often translated into a use of materials that don’t look as polished as those we’ve used in the past and appear to be handmade, where human imperfections is a part and parcel of the appeal.

There is plenty of room to go beyond this tokenism and push for greater authenticity, perhaps by pushing the blend of what is public and private. Companies who really want to be transparent and serve their community should explore this in depth.

HEIGHTENED EXPERIENCES
One of the greater unknowns in predicting what the next generation of workplace will be comes from our limited understanding of how digital environments will impact physical space. There is no doubt we have barely explored ways the Internet of Things will steer both experience and space.

For a glimpse look at the HEXO+ drone which is the world’s first flying camera that follows and films its owner autonomously as they snowboard, motorbike or run a marathon. The HEXO+ hexacopter communicates with its user’s iOS or Android smart phone, this company raised over 1.3 million USD on Kickstarter and drones are currently retailing for under $500USD.

Starbucks, Taco Bell, Hyatt and Hilton hotel are all fine examples of using technology to improve customer’s experiences. Guests enrolled in loyalty programs now check into hotel rooms via apps and use their mobiles phones as room keys. While avoiding queues is the primary purpose of many of these apps, the Liseberg Amusement park in Sweden has employed gamification by allowing those waiting for popular rides to activate a mobile app with games they can play while they wait in line.

Workplace experiences will continue to be enhanced with similar new technologies that go beyond programmed lifts, smart lights and thermostats that we are all familiar with. Technology gives us license to push the workplace into urban space and precinct design seamlessly; blurring what is outside and around the building with what is inside the work environment.

SHARING FOR SOCIAL GOOD.
We have so much data available to us today that it begs the question, how much is too much and what’s it all for? Andrew Keen coined the term digital narcissism in his 2006 book “Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing and Disorienting Us.” He was using the term in the context of self-promotion and sharing on social networks, but it can also be applied to other types of data.

Is the data we are collecting providing real meaning or is it introspective? A trend is developing with millions of ‘post-status’ consumers who have rejected buying and having in favour of doing and creating. Perhaps data will go down the same path? As more objects are connected, clever people will imagine civic minded applications and novel approaches to deriving value from the vast amounts of data we have, coined ‘The Internet of Sharing Things’ the possibilities of using data for social good are endless.

An example is Easy Taxi, they’re one of the world’s largest taxi booking apps and they have recently partnered with Dettol to train cabbies in West Africa to diagnose and prevent the Ebola virus. Similarly the hashtag I’ll Ride With You used social media to combat Islamophobia after the Sydney siege and CrowdVoice, developed in Bahrain by civil rights activist, Es’ra Al-Shafei, relies on crowd sourced contributions to consolidate information about related social movements.

Alfa-Bank in Russia is addressing a community and personal concern when they suggest customers use fitness trackers linked to the banks services to track how much they exercise. For every step recorded by a wearable fitness tracker, funds from the customer’s existing account are transferred into a savings account, which pays a higher rate of interest than normally available.

It might be time to question whether the data we collect in the workplace from Space Utilisation Studies, surveys and sensors is as relevant as it once was; since it is mostly used to build cases for change when organizations generally already know they need change its questionable. This conundrum gives us another opportunity to raise the bar by considering how and why we collect data and creatively think about its application, hopefully devising output that is not just about proving points and is more geared to creating something meaningful to occupiers.

Sources:
LSN Global Trend Tracker
Newman, Jared; Samsung’s $100 Million Internet of Things Bet Is Even Crazier Than You Think; Fast Company
Solomon, Micah; “Millennial Customers Hate Stuffy, Gilded Luxury (But Love Authenticity)”; Forbes on line; January 23, 2015
Rowley, Melissa Jun; “The Quest for Social Justice Goes Mobile” Co.Exist, Ideas + Impact, Fast Company, February 19, 2015

Futures Rambling # 79
by Laurie Aznavoorian

The Human Research and Ethic committee overlooking a current research endeavour has once again not disappointed in making our research team jump through hoops to gain ethics approval for the upcoming data collection phase of our next research initiative. Historically, I’ve poked fun at the committee for holding projects like ours to the same standards as those that could have far more serious consequences than determining whether a desk is occupied or not.

In this case it’s warranted, our research participants will be wearing Sociometric badges and there is an understandable concern the electrical pulse from the sensor might mess with pacemakers. However, that was not the question that flummoxed us it was another, which I am embarrassed to admit we hadn’t even considered. It was about the benefit of involvement in the research to the participant.

Pretty lame given we tout ourselves as professionals who care about occupant’s experiences in the workplace! Surprisingly, or perhaps no so much, we had only articulate the benefits of the research to our clients and ourselves and hadn’t given two minutes thought to what might be in it for the guinea pig. Surely there would be something.

Fortunately a compelling answer surfaced without too much mental duress. When you think about it, it’s quite simple, who wouldn’t want to know more about the effectiveness of interactions they have with co-workers? After all, information is power, and understanding the nuances of how we interact with one another will help lay the foundation for more meaningful and productive collaborations.

The Sociometric readers we are using will provide a great amount of valuable data, but unfortunately, it will not lead to knowledge that will break the back of many serious maladies that plague the typical workplace. To be more specific, to some extent they will measure variables that will allow us to monitor behaviour, since they do not record speech, we will never really know when a colleague is being a jerk and talking behind another’s back or trashing someone in the corridor.

Shocked? That doesn’t happen in your office, not true if you subscribe to Robert Kegan’s ideas about being yourself in the workplace, he’s a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of education who believes most interactions in a ‘normal job’ have nothing to do with the real work we perform and have much more to do with a second job we have that is arse covering, looking good and hiding shortcomings.

I concur. I’ve met several people who’ve spent their entire career dedicated to this exact endeavour! Kegan maintains that even though we know covering our weaknesses, inadequacies and uncertainties is counter productive; we do it anyway and it is typical in the ‘normal’ organisation where people feel compelled to hide their less developed parts, or true self.

It makes no sense if you think about it logically, our employers hire us not because we’re perfect, but to realise the potential they see in us. After all we are human and therefore imperfect. In reality, we are not logical, so we spend enormous amounts of time everyday trying to be something, or someone were not, by putting on airs and covering our shortcomings and errors. Unfortunately, this makes us more likely to continue making the same kinds of mistakes hampering growth for each of us personally and for the companies we work for.

Patrick Lencioni lists these same exact attributes in his book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, suggesting that hiding weaknesses and covering mistakes, amongst a number of others, are indicative of organisations that lack trust, not to mention one that is standing still because it’s too timid to evolve. Lencioni supports what our Trust Research, and many others, concludes and that is a lack of trust in an organisation impacts productivity and profit, and it makes people feel downright miserable.

Our sociometric readers are not going to remedy this completely; they will record signals that will provide insight into the authenticity, honesty or sincerity of co-workers interactions. But they can’t really tell us when one employee behaves like a complete tool, in an unproductive or unprofessional manner. What they will tell us is how people interact with one another during various phases of the collaborative process and from this we can bridge the gap to infer how the environment helps or hinders it.

We will most definitely succeed in capturing insights that will inform designers and clients on the spatial attributes that support phases of the collaborative process, but going back to the Ethics Committee question, what’s is this research doing for the people? How do we help them achieve richer interactions and encourage them to be their complete self in the workplace by boldly exhibiting their passions, enthusiasm, wacky ideas and warts? How can we create a company culture, because this is not about a workplace, where employees are not ashamed to be who they are?

That is the $60,000 question, and one that is important to understanding, what Keagan describes as, our ‘new economy’. In the new economy employees seek benefits beyond a paycheck, of the old economy of salary and benefits will continue to be important, but in the ‘new economy’ employees will seek incomes that address “the psychological person”. These incomes support happiness, not in smiley face kind of way, but rather a state of happiness as an evolutionary process that comes from the Aristotelian concept of unfolding, growing and developing as a person.

This probably sounds familiar to many I’ve spoken to recently who are searching for fulfilment and happiness and not finding it at work. Undoubtedly there are a host of reasons for worker dissatisfaction, but one could be not working for a DDO, a deliberately developmental organisation. These are companies that walk the talk and go out of their way to draw employees into a process that helps them grow and become better versions of themselves.

Sign you up to work in a DDO you say? Well maybe think twice, because for most the level of openness required to promote personal growth is a little too scary a proposition. It is true, being in a workplace where there are no secrets and every conversation is an open one can lead to discomfort. Kegan gives an example of an organisation in Connecticut that records every meeting. An extreme example, but one it gives a taste of what true transparency is.

You might rightly surmise, it is not everyone’s idea of fun, but for those that do preserve, working in a DDO can be exhilarating. Some see it as an illustration of the organisation’s generosity with time and a willingness to make an investment in their future. They believe the organisation really cares about them as a person and do not see them as just a means to an end. They thrive in the organisation, would not consider working for ‘normal organisation and the company benefits from excellent results.

For others it’s too confronting and this is why many DDO’s have high turnover rates, and face it not everyone wants their co-workers to know who they really are, you never know they may be in the witness protection program or they want everyone to think they are better than what they are. Those that feel that way have many organisations to choose from that are ‘normal’

I imagine if we had wanted to record this type of information in our research we would not have been given ethics approval, because we could easily delve into people’s psychological well being, and find ourselves outside of our pay grades. Both researcher and participants could find out things they prefer not to know. Like that famous line from A Few Good Men, we think we want the truth but we can’t handle it.

Sources:
Are You the “Real You” in the Office? HBR IdeaCast 5:45 PM March 27, 2014

Russell, Joyce E.A., The importance of trusting co-workers; Australian Financial Review, April 17, 2014

Futures Rambling #78
By Laurie Aznavoorian

At a writing workshop I attended a few weeks ago the facilitator made a surprising statement; ‘Everyone thinks they are a writer’. Her comment was not directed at the ten people in the room who had toiled for years producing manuscripts, some published and others not, but to countless others who make absurd statements over glasses of Zinfandel about how they were thinking about maybe someday writing a book. The point being, there is a difference between intentions and actually doing the hard yards.

Participants of the workshop came from a number of industries: architecture, IT, public service, gambling and the sex trade (no kidding) and could relate to the comment. Because they knew watching episodes of ER or House does not qualify one to diagnoses illness, viewing CSI NY, Miami and Las Vegas provides no real knowledge of how to solve crime, and my personal favourite, selecting a paint colour or living through a kitchen remodel does not make you an architect.

There is a difference between the professional and hobbyist, that difference is that design professionals: architects, interior designers, communications, graphics and experience designers etc. do not just create something that looks good, they create designs that provide value to the end user and that is a very different outcome. Unfortunately, design professionals do a poor job of articulating what that value is in a language that is meaningful to their client and therefore deal with the negative ramifications of this shortcoming on a daily basis.

Add to this the influence of new technologies and procurement models for design services: open source, crowdsourcing, contests and competitions that take the best ideas and only pay the winner or no one at all. For most designers this is far from a sustainable business model because the time spent on the work has nothing to do with compensation. Winning or succeeding is more a factor of luck, whim of judges, or the personal preferences of people who may have questionable qualifications, or lack the experience and know how to identify a superior design solution.

Crowdsourcing is not something we come up against in architecture and interior design; never the less assuming it won’t creep into our lexicon would be at our own peril. Speak to a graphic designer and mention crowdsourced logo competitions and you’ll receive a litany of reasons why this is bad. Crowdsourcing should not be confused with outsourcing, where jobs are moved from higher to lower paying regions; the practice guarantees an equal quality of work for lower cost. Crowdsourcing combines ideas from people all over the world, qualified or not, and follows a pay on satisfaction model. It does not guarantee a similar quality of outcome.

Most industries would consider such a situation ludicrous, whether or not you like what your doctor, lawyer or accountant did, they would still be expected compensation. However, the question of payment is the least of the problems with these models, the real issues arise from the inability for the designer to capture a competent brief, interact and educate the client about the pros and cons of one solution over another. Since the average person does not really understand graphics, digital communications, interior design or the technicalities of architecture, having a professional navigate the decision making process is critical.

All good relationships are built on trust and those between client and designer are no different. Ideally, communication would be constant throughout the project and in the end the outcome would be the result of discourse and collaboration. Forgoing this opportunity for interaction is the main problem with many of the new methods for procuring design services popular today.

When we whine about the insurgence of design competitions being used to award commissions we are singing an old tune. 140 years ago The Royal Institute of British Architects began a debate on the value of design contests, and as far as I am aware, it continues to this day. On one hand it can be argued design competitions devalue the work and create a host of problems for the profession as a whole.

A number of these were identified in a 2013 exhibition at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York that addressed the hidden stories and politics behind architectural competitions. Noted were tricky ways architects broke anonymity rules and the unlikely chance of a poorly named entry proposal being a successful winner. They labelled competitions as ‘breeding grounds for clichés in architectural representation, and finally identified the real quandary, hours and hours of unpaid work generally done by interns barely earning the minimum wage if they earn a wage at all. For years the profession turned a blind eye to interns providing services for free for the opportunity to work with an internationally famous architect. Unfortunately, Obama’s executive order on the minimum wage will not change that situation in America if it still exists; it only applies to the public sector.

Considering the other side of the coin, competitions alter the course of design by bringing new movements to the fore. International competitions, in particular have broadened our notions of what is possible by calling on the creativity of architects around the globe. We would not have our own Sydney Opera House if it wasn’t for an international competition won by an outsider, and relatively unknown architect, Jorn Utzon. And moore recently if it hadn’t been for an international competition Thomas Noakes from Australia would have never won the Doritos ad competition and millions of Americans would have been denied a taste of Aussie sophistication. See for yourself it will make you proud, particularly if you’re an Aussie. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugo7Y2lRsxc

This highlights another benefit of the competition process, it allows new players to compete regardless of their prior experience in the region or project type. We saw this in the recent Flinders Street Station competition where the people’s choice award went to a team of Melbourne Uni grads: Eduardo Velasquez, Manuel Pineda and Santiago Medina. Although they didn’t win the competition, their entry got us all thinking and talking.

Of course thinking and talking does not pay the mortgage. In researching this piece I read one blog that suggested the last thing you wanted to do was win a competition, because it would signify the end of self-indulgent fantasies and force the architect to listen to clients, local politicians, health & safety certifiers and fire regulators.

The blogger was having a go at Zaha Hadid, who didn’t get a paying commission for 25 years, he claimed her reputation was “based on images, not real-life.” While it may be true that it took a long time for Hadid to warm up, something she could only have done with rich parents or some kind of supporter behind her, it’s hard to see how her work did not become more refined, some might say palatable, from the many international competitions she entered.

Hadid is the recipient of, and only woman to win The Pritzker Prize; her life’s work has been on display in the Guggenheim and she runs a practice of 350 people in London. She is 69th on the Forbes list of “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” and was named by Time as an influential thinker in the 2010 TIME 100 issue. If that is not enough, she was listed as one of the fifty best-dressed over 50s by the Guardian in 2013! Architectural competitions have been very, very, good for Zaha, and prove that when it comes to architects it’s all about flash, not cash.

Sources:
Doyle, John; “Did We Just Overlook the Next Opera House?”; The Age; January 24, 2014
Dunn, Zach; “The Real Problem With Design Contests”; The Blog of One Mighty Roar; posted January 16, 2009
Kubey, Karen; “The Competitive Hypothesis” Domusweb; posted February 13, 2013
Stevens, Gary; “How to Become a Famous Architect Without Building Anything”; Dr. Garry’s Place http://www.archsoc.com
http://www.ethicsingraphicdesign.org; Contests—who wins?; Posted on Jan 23, 2013
McKiernan, Patricia; Creative Professionals and Ethics; Graphic Artists Guild; August 7, 201

Futures Ramblings # 73

By Laurie Aznavoorian

 

It is an interesting time for Australians, following the election this weekend we have a new Prime Minister. The result will be a different middle aged white man plodding around Kirribilli House and The Lodge in Canberra in their bathrobe and Ugg boots. For most of us, a new political party at the helm signals little real, or rapid change; however, for the poor folks who service the Prime Minister it could be another story all together. 

Consider the coffee guy at Kirribilli house. You’ve finally perfected KRudds double strength, no fat, soy latte and suddenly you are responsible for producing decaffeinated soy cappuccinos with low fat chocolate sprinkles on top. It could be hair splittingly tense with great potential for disappointment. There is significant possibility it might end in tears, as is so often the case when leadership changes.

The website ‘AskMen’ targeted to the ‘better man’ with the by-line Power & Money, offers tips for people like the coffee guy who not only need to ensure they are on the ball when times change, but also have a plan for making first impressions on a new boss. The suggestions are:

  • Don’t choose sides.
  • Wait till the storm has cleared.
  • Resist brown nosing.
  • Volunteer for small tasks, because it takes time to build trust.
  • Don’t be a know it all.
  • Use the opportunity to rebuild your professional image.

 

As designers it is not unusual to be in this same unpleasant predicament. Not because leadership in our company has changed, but in our client’s. The experience can be quite traumatic, for example take Arthur Andersen. Although it’s not technically a changing of the guard, more a spontaneous combustion, the mere mention of those words in our office still has the ability to ashen faces. At the end of the day the result was the same; an amazing design up in smoke along with Enron and Andersen – sati style.

The last time I dealt with a client’s leadership transition the impact was amazingly painless. It occurred on the Telecom New Zealand project when Theresa Gattung announced her departure and handed over the reins to Dr Paul Reynolds from BT. The shift could have spelled disaster for us, but the work we did in building our accommodation and property strategy on business principles and clearly articulating our recommendations and the reasons for them, gave the strategy sticking power that lasted well after Theresa left.

We are not always so lucky. Take the saga of the CEO with strong opinions who was very involved in defining every element of the space we were designing from its look and feel down to the policies for behaviours in the new environment. When he left his successor sent us back to the drawing board. Compounding the pain of the redesign was a sneaky gut feeling the changes would result in dissolution of policies and a half measure implementation because the agreed solutions didn’t necessarily resonate with the new leader.

But let’s not focus on sad stories, there are plenty of positive anecdotes where the relationship we have with our client has helped soften the pain of the changing of the guard. One of these is Westpac; we have been working with the organisation since the mid nineties and undergone three leadership changes. I asked Peter McCamley, who has worked with them for nearly two decades what it was that held the integrity of our designs together through leadership change.

The catalyst of our success he says, comes from doing what we do; not only in a design capacity, but in our insatiable quest to dig deep and gain real understanding of the client’s business. In doing this we become the custodian of their business knowledge. For some clients, we may be their only link to history when their own people move on. We become a key part of the succession plan, the transferrers of knowledge, and the only ones who know the story of why the workplace is the way it is.  

Our success also comes from a willingness to accept there will be change with a new leader, not to mention the natural and logical evolution as the organisation responds to the times. As designers we must have a preparedness to evolve our thinking to align with a new leader’s intentions and ideas.

With Westpac we have not only weathered multiple leadership changes, but have also stood by them through the acquisition of new companies. When this occurs the organisation evolves by virtue of the influence each entity has on the other, which can also impact the work we do and the relations we have with them.

Organisations like Westpac recognise the role designers play and have accepted our offers to induct their new leaders. We communicated project time lines, explained why things are the way they are, and apprised them of the drivers for their accommodation solutions. They gained a greater understanding of the property portfolio and could then avoid making subjective judgements. Their credibility was reinforced due to a stronger connection to company history.

Often of greater impact to us is a change in the property team, particularly when we wear the organisation’s badge and play the role of chief historian. Property people have a tendency to move on when projects complete, frequently leaving us to communicate the project rationale to their successor. On the upside, together we collectively develop process, policy, standards and an approach to the effective execution of a project and that is highly transferable.

The most challenging situations can result from an intermediary shift; this is often more difficult because they are anxious to prove their own value and sometimes demonstrate that by putting us to the test, or returning the job to the market. The strength of our relationship with the client is often stronger, never the less; intermediaries are often in a position to make judgement calls on the value we bring. Since their measurements deal with cost, as opposed to adding value through effectiveness and efficiency, we frequently find our status in jeopardy. 

So what advice do we have for keeping our client relationships alive and strong enough to endure a changing of the guards? First, develop multi layered relationships within the business that extend beyond the top leaders. Hopefully some people will remain through a transition and think highly enough of us to step forward to sing our praises to the new boss. Having an insider attest to our passion, determination and value carries much more weight than self-pontificating.

We must also remember relationships are not about projects, but clients. We live and breathe them, and through our relationships, establish a very deep understanding of what makes them tick. You could say, ‘nobody’s going to love you the way we do’. On the flip side it is critical to continually demonstrate freshness by exposing our long standing clients to new ideas that might be important to them and to other projects we are working on.

It’s very dangerous to assume a client knows everything about us.  I am repeatedly flabbergasted when I chat with clients we have worked with for a long time who say “I didn’t know Geyer did strategy, or worked in tertiary education or had the capacity to do change management. Worse is when they learn this after they have given a project to someone else because they didn’t know we could help them.

Real risks to our relationships come from doing more of the same, assuming our clients are comfortable with the status quo. There is always the danger of projects gaining such momentum that we focus on the technical aspects of doing a job, rather than adding value. To remedy this we need to establish dialogues outside of the project to create a vehicle for the flow of information about what is happening in world of design and in their industry.

Similarly, we need to spice up life for our own people by considering succession. Designers get bored when they’re forced to repeat the same exercise over and over, it causes them to drink heavily and spend too much time shopping on line for shoes and skin care products that fight the advanced signs of ageing.

Try as we might, there is often little we can do once a decision has been made to throw out the baby with the bathwater. This is why we can’t wait to establish the right perceptions with a new leader. Going back to Kirribilli House, the new Prime Minister doesn’t know the coffee guy from a bar of soap. He is unaware of his ability to make a mean mocha or chai latte and may have prejudged him as a pedestrian latte flogger.

It is therefore up to Mr. Coffee to demonstrate his capability. In addition, every now and again, for good measure, he should pull out whatever the sexy lingerie equivalent is to coffee service, and surprise the PM with something new: a slice of banana bread, a chocolate raspberry muffin. Otherwise he may get passed over with the PM believing his only claim to fame is decaf latte.

Sources:

Hui, Samuel; Dealing With a New Boss; au.askmen.com

McCamley Peter, an enlightening conversation about the history of Geyer and Westpac.

Montague, Ty; If Your Leader Departs, Preserve the Company’s Story First; HBR Blog; August 7, 2013

Taylor, Bill; Are You Learning as Fast as the World Is Changing?; HBR Blog; January 26, 2012

Futures Rambling # 70

By Laurie Aznavoorian

A guy goes to his doctor and says “Doc, I’m quite unhappy with the service I have gotten from you.” 

Alarmed and somewhat taken aback, the doctor replies, “good gosh whatever for?”

The man replies “I came to you, told you I needed antibiotics, you give me these pills, I took them and I haven’t gotten any better!”

Scratching his head the doctor ponders for a moment or two, then a look of understanding envelopes his face. “Sir, you clearly have a virus; antibiotics won’t do anything for that. In fact you’ll just pass them into our water system through your urine, adding to the ever increasing and alarming drug resistant bacteria we’re currently battling.”

“Then why may I ask, did you give them to me?” asked the man.

“Well, I would have advised differently if I’d known you wanted to get well, but you said you wanted antibiotics, so that is what I gave you. “

Consider the difference between that scenario and this one: a client walks into a design practice, the designer is hopefully enlightened enough to avoid beginning his briefing session with a foolish question like, tell me what you want and instead asks what do you need to succeed? 

The client replies “We want to collaborate! It is absolutely critical to our future success” the designer nods, writes down this directive and proceeds to design the space.

In these rather simplistic scenarios, both doctor and designer should be fired. Why? Because they didn’t ask why, and they should have! Assuming a user knows how to define their problem is a mistake many professionals make, but a malady particularly endemic with designers. The oversight presents itself in professional practice daily, and I can attest after spending a day as a guest critic at one of our local university’s design schools, is rampant in academia as well.  

At the university I was exposed to many great projects featuring beautiful graphics and 3D renderings, but far too many were built on shallow or non-existent foundations. Many of the students hadn’t articulated what they were really hoping to achieve with their work. As a result they defined one problem and solved another. Being students they can be spared; unfortunately, they’re not the only ones who do this, many professional designs lack clarity, or strength they could have had, if someone had spent more time at the onset of the project articulating the problem.

Einstein once said if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution. Design solutions often fall short, not because we have done a bad design, but because we were too lazy, too stupid or too egotistically complacent to ask the right questions that will lead to a proper outline of the opportunities. And when we do ask questions, we often shy away from challenging the bone head answers we sometimes get.

Somewhere in the altruistic journey we have taken as designers to be less full of ourselves, more ‘client focused’ and ‘highly responsive’; we’ve completely lost our guts and integrity. The pendulum has swung and we’re now at a point where the process of proper exploration and briefing is mistaken as being closed minded or obstinate.  Today when a designer asks the critical question, why, they are labelled as being confronting and not very good with clients. We operate under the false belief that a good designer does what their client wants without questioning.

Unfortunately, most clients aren’t sufficiently rigorous in defining the problems they’re attempting to solve nor are they very good at articulating why those issues are important to solve in the first place. Sometimes the issues aren’t ‘the issue’ but only a manifestation or mask for the real problems they should be seeking solutions for. Without rigor we miss opportunities, waste resources, and pursue initiatives that don’t work in our best interest. We design the wrong thing right.

There is a sizeable gap we fall into that Sudhakar Lahade from Steelcase calls the ‘knowing gap’. This is the void that exists between thinking and acting and is the place where important drivers such as: knowing the real problem, knowing whether it is worth solving, knowing how you might solve it and knowing you’ve uncovered latent needs, behaviours, and desires your clients didn’t even know they had, falls.  

I can hear the rebuttals already, “but the client won’t let us engage”, “but the project manager is controlling our interaction”, “but that’s what they said they wanted.” All of these obstacles are real, as are sentiments such as the one I heard last weekend from a good friend who posed the question “shouldn’t the user get to define what they want, isn’t the user’s desire paramount?” NO I shouted.  Of course the answer was overly blunt to prove my point that a user shouldn’t get what they want if it’s unsafe, stupid, butt ugly or hasn’t been considered.

What designer would allow this to happen? Well we all do, of course in our pluckier moments we mutter under our breath, “If they just wanted us to not think, to simply draw up their half baked idea, why did they hire us in the first place?” But more often now days, we’re happy to endure insults to our craft and talent because we are so happy to have work. It is yet another horrifying manifestation of these troubling economic times. We smile and never let the user know their clothes are invisible.

I couldn’t help but channel IDEO’s process for design thinking at the university the other day. IDEO describes this as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps, they take pains to reinforce design is not simply about the final solution but three phases: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions, Ideation is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas and Implementation is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.

That last phase, implementation, is why simply saying NO as I did to my friend is as unacceptable and as much a cop out as skipping the inspiration phase! My advice to the students: good design is as much about listening and critical thinking as it is about doing. And perhaps what is most important is communicating the value of the design process and outcomes in a narrative the client can understand and that relates to their life.

Sources:

IDEO.com – about IDEO’s design thinking process

Lahade, Sudhakar;  Sharing thoughts in a highly evocative presentation at Steelcase in Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.

Spradlin, Dwayne; Are You Solving the Right Problems? Harvard Business Review, September 2012

Spradlin, Dwayne; The Power of Defining the Problem. HBR Blog, September 25, 2012