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The Case for Creative Workspace – the human factor in contemporary workplace design and innovation – Part I

The Case for a Creative Work Space – Part I

The human factor in contemporary workplace design and innovation

After I published my last post Defined by Design on applying design thinking to reinvent the work experience, I was intrigued as to how design thinking could play a role in enhancing the space that employees work in and what implications this might have for architects and interior designers. Some research into the topic lead me to discover that there is not much published on this, but it certainly warrants greater attention. Thus, I hope this will be a worthwhile contribution that starts some interesting conversations! It is in two parts…so watch this space for the next one. Enjoy!

Interior design and designers play a vital role in creating a physical work environment that enhances how people experience their work. Understanding what workers require to function is a given, but in order to contribute to the experience, designers need to understand how to cater to different people who work together in the same space. Human beings have an intrinsic psychological need to belong to a social system, to interact and engage with others, yet they also have a need to be independent, alone and quiet. People’s preferences vary largely dependent on their personalities and behaviours. Extroverts enjoy being around and interacting with people most of the time, whereas introverts tend to like quiet, calm spaces where they interact with only a few people. Likewise, different people think, process, communicate and interact more productively in certain environments and elements in ‘the workspace’.

Translating this understanding to how diverse groups of people work together, we come to appreciate that a combination of factors need to be taken into consideration in creating a common workspace… and it’s not that simple. Yet, where people work does matter.

A recent survey by office furniture retailer Steelcase and research firm Ipsos found that nearly 90 percent of workers around the world are less than satisfied with their work environments, primarily due to a lack of privacy. Of the 11 percent of survey respondents who were highly satisfied with their work environments, the majority (88 percent or more) said their workplaces allowed them to concentrate easily, work in teams without being interrupted, choose where to work based on their tasks, and feel a sense of belonging to the company and its culture.

Understanding how diverse groups of people respond to their work environment/s is, to say the least, challenging but should be the primary consideration interior designers focus on when working with a client to conceptualize a workspace redesign.

Applying a Human Centred Design (HCD) approach to workspace design can be helpful in identifying users’ needs and in turn inform functional and aesthetic preferences. HCD invites the opportunity for greater collaboration between the client and the design team.

Typically designers work with key decision makers in a business: business owners, a management team or those responsible for operations and facilities and maintenance management. Certainly, these teams have the experience and the responsibility to inform a brief within a given budget, and while the practical and functional aspects are without question vital, this does not mean that the requirements of the entire organisation should be omitted from the process. To this end HR, innovation, marketing, and communication strategists should be included in the client workplace design project team… as these leaders are best positioned to inform insights and requirements of the organisation and its stakeholders.

This is particularly relevant when embarking on designing a space that is conducive to creative thinking and innovation. Sure, the aesthetic can play a pivotal part in creating an attractive and stimulating workspace, but HCD can really help to interpret the user experience and needs. The added advantage of design thinking is that it enables broader participation from employees, customers, and even suppliers. Considering that this dimension adds a layer of complexity to the design process, design teams don’t need to come up with all the ideas. Not surprisingly, people from all orientations have some really good ideas and feel appreciated and engaged when asked for their opinion and contribution. This is a more inclusive approach and typically yields the best results.


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