SaaP Space as a Product

By Laurie Aznavoorian Article 114

Recently I read a book by Nir Eyal, he was the CEO of a company that places ads on Facebook and is known for his expertise in behavioural engineering that he uses to teach software designers clever tricks for developing habit-forming products. I’m not sure if he was also responsible for the algorithms used to tailor ads to users’ accounts. Mine were for adult diapers, this along with the 2016 US elections motivated me to close my account in a huff. My distaste for Facebook did not stop me from reading Eyal’s book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products which I devoured with great interest given its focus on the overlap of human science and products.  

I am not a religious person, since being married by an Armenian priest wearing embroidered slippers curling up at the toes and a matching cape with a collar that stood up like a dog cone… wait there’s more, the cape had a photo of Jesus in a plastic sleeve on the back that got me wondering (as you do during your wedding ceremony) whether he changed the photo depending on the service. That query was put to rest a few years later when the same priest christened our son wearing a different slipper/cape ensemble. The point here is, religious lore is not my forte, hence my need to turn to Google for confirmation of the 7 deadly sins; because I’m pretty sure I am disposed to at least one after reading Eyal’s book – envy.

The book proclaims the virtues of the ‘hooked model’ a methodology to create habit-forming behaviour in users via a looping cycle that consists of a trigger, an action, a variable reward, and continued investment.  Software designers use this to exploit our flawed human psychology, we get hooked because when we engage with their product it gives us a dopamine rush. Domamine is one of 20 neurotransmitters that carry messages around our bodies telling our lungs to breath, our hearts to beat, it tells us to drink water when we’re thirsty, and to play with our mobile phone 2 to 4 hours a day if you’re a light user.

Nir Eyal Hook Model

Leveraging the same neural circuitry employed in slot machines product designers encourage phones to be unlocked 150 times a day on average, 71% of us sleep with them, 75% take the phone to the loo and 66% of the world’s population shows signs of nomophobia no-mobile-phone-phobia. So why you might ask, would you be envious of designers that use persuasive technology to influence behaviour and addict people to something as habit forming as nicotine, alcohol, amphetamines and cocaine? I suppose I’m pissed that we didn’t think of it first, we are every bit as clever as software designers and have better fashion sense to boot.

The capacity for so-called “persuasive technology” to influence behaviour is only now being understood, but it is something worthwhile for architects and workplace designers to consider. Especially if you believe Hub Australia and Worktech’s latest survey that indicates a fifth of respondents said the physical office will be obsolete in the next decade. So that gives us ten years to figure out how to make ourselves relevant. While we work on our next moves, our clients will need to sort equipment and tools to support virtual space and do some hard yard with their leaders. Some surprisingly still believe they can coerce employees to return to the office full time by threatening loud unemployment to offset quiet quitting and other mutinous pandemic spawned ideas.

Last post I floated the idea that technology is now the place where work is done leaving the workplace as an enabler. Continuing on that path, if you can swallow the concept of workplace being a thing or product, then how much more of a leap is it to treat space like other products and then how much further do you need to go before applying a small bit of Eyal’s thinking in order to make spaces more sticky, attractive and worth going to – not to mention to encourage occupants to behave in the way we hope they will?

Before abandoning the idea remember when co-working became popular, we accepted the idea of SaaS – space as a service – maybe this is the SaaP decade? Please don’t misunderstand, I am NOT endorsing the adoption of nefarious mind-altering strategies, I may be envious, but have moral conviction unlike Mr. Zukerberg. This is merely a suggestion for our industry to toss around over a few beers and see where it takes us. Do that thing we are good at, think about problems and solve them.

At the University of Arizona Professor Doug Macneil introduced our first-year architecture class to Grady Gammage Auditorium which is considered to be one of the last public commissions of Frank Lloyd Wright. The building looks like a wedding cake that led the students to conclude Wright was drunk when he designed it, but Doug wanted us to pay attention to an inside balcony with a low guardrail. He suggested the height discouraged people from going close to the edge without the need for a sign, he followed this example with a photo of a wall tile pattern in a tunnel at LAX that encourages rapid movement. As if one needs a nudge to get out of LAX.

Grady Gammage

Our professor didn’t use the words nudge or choice back then, if he gave the lecture today, he would call this ‘choice architecture’. In the last decade nudging and choice has been used to varying degrees of success to encourage changes in consumer behaviour, it is built on well-established behavioural research. You see one example of this in fast food restaurants where kilojoule counts are displayed alongside the price.

Choice Architecture

The concept of deliberately encouraging individuals to do something because it is in their, or societies, best interest is also sometimes called ‘libertarian paternalism’. It’s a way of encouraging behaviour without removing freedom of choice. Unfortunately, nudging relies on sustained behavioural change, which is difficult. Humans are not rational beings even when they know what they are doing is not in their best interest. I for instance had three glasses of Pinot Noir at my friend Agustin Chevez’s book launch this week knowing it was a mistake, but I did it anyway. By the way you should read his book A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Workplace. download for free here

The way choice architecture works is it provides information about an issue, product or service with associated warnings or risks. Goals and reminders like retweets and likes are employed to increase engagement, and in some cases data or insight into habits provide the gory facts that inspire change. You might see this at the end of the week when your iPhone informs you of screen hours. Kudos to Apple for trying! In contrast Nir Eyal is against companies regulating habit-forming technology. He thinks individuals should take responsibility for their actions, but since most Tik Tok and Instagram users are 15 and can’t remember to brush their teeth it’s a weak position.

Of course, many of the examples above are technology, but I’d posit the overlap between technology, space and people’s behaviours is more important now than ever before; and through exploration of this mix, we can make ourselves more relevant. I love to use the line ‘space is a powerful tool’ with clients, I believe it, but admit we don’t leverage space to its full potential. Briefs are simplistic and omit problems that we think are not in our department such as isolation, loneliness, and a growing mental health epidemic.

I know why we do this, because we don’t have the fee to explore tangents not to mention the fact that many practices made their thinkers and experienced professionals redundant during the pandemic, replacing them with graduates to crank out Revit. Frankly, our education also doesn’t provide the skills and many of us simply don’t have the desire to do more. Face it lots of architects and designers like making pretty things and could give two stuffs about real problems. This I fear is precisely the thinking that may lead us to be replaced by AI.

Attitudes change, my parents drove around in Chicago winters with the windows rolled up, both chain-smoking their hearts out. Not one of us wore a seat belt so if my father had to slam on the brakes, I have no doubt my younger brother would have been jet propelled through a cloud of cigarette smoke into the windscreen. Parents don’t do that anymore. Another example is the tennis star Serena Williams who was endlessly pooh poohed for being too black, too bold, too strong, and too unlike svelte white European players in crisp white outfits. It may have taken decades, but at least in her retirement Serena is lauded for her work ethic, mentoring and for rattling an institution that has not kept up with the times. It’s a good lesson.

Serina Williams


Deyan, Georgiev (2022) 51+ Scary Smartphone Addiction Statistics for 2022 [Nomophobia on the Rise] Techjury

Eyal, Nir (2014) Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, Penguin

Parkin, Simon (2018) Has Dopamine Got Us Hooked On Tech? The Guardian

Haynes, Trevor (2018) Dopamine, Smartphones and You a Battel for your Time” Harvard University Graduate School of Arts & Sciences blog

Tratford, E.P. and de la Hunty, A (2021) A Gentle Nudge: Can Choice Architecture Play a Role in Retailers’ Efforts to Promote Healthier Choices?


The Digital Revolution – Digital and the Design Process, Building Belief

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.


The Ditigal Revolution – Background & Context

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.