Behavior By Design: Two Schools Of Thought

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People have evolved to read subtle cues in our environments. Funky art, ample light, access to nature, and museum-quality art indicate to clients that this is not your typical law firm.

“Buildings are easy – some steel, some concrete, some glass… but, then you add people…”  — Jim Donnelly, Principal Emeritus, BHDP


For the past two decades, organizations have embraced a community-oriented approach to workplace design. Conventional offices from the 1960s to the dawn of the Millennium placed a premium on the periphery of the building, while people labored their entire careers in the dark recesses of conditioned boxes for a sliver of light they could call their own. These architectural designs reinforced rigid, hierarchical cultures that were ill prepared for the pace of the future. In the 21st century, as market disruption toppled many industry titans, the demise of corporate America’s old business model was replaced with a demand for community, innovation, and speed. Today, workspaces reflect these ideals—open, unstructured, and airy, on the one hand, and dense, noisy, and distracting on the other. Open space or closed? Collaborative or private? Extroverted or Introverted? As Donnelly suggests, buildings are easy. People? Not so much.

Two schools of thought

If spaces truly shape or, at a minimum, reinforce human behavior, then it should be possible to design work environments to achieve a set of predetermined outcomes. To accomplish that goal, two schools of thinking have emerged in the design and delivery of the contemporary workplace: 1) tell them what they get, or 2) let them choose what they want. Both schools have embraced leadership engagement, employee input, and the application of change management practices to ease the population as it moves from the present tense into an unpredictable future.

With “tell them what they get,” the hope is to achieve alignment with the company. Design is delivered by edict where the end-users don’t participate. It is a remnant of the corporate world’s hierarchical past. The other option of “let them choose what they want” seeks engagement in pursuit of user insight and is indicative of the communal present. Here the design team embraces input but tends to resolve the problem of competing preference by creating “activity settings” in which to work. Exceptional design can emerge from both.

Human neuroscience and the way people behave is a product of millions of years of evolution in natural habitats.

There’s a problem though. The first school tends to be authoritarian and rigid. It gets what it expects and no more. The second is egalitarian, capricious, and susceptible to consensus rather than innovation. It seeks stasis in its own flawed way. Both schools of thought have developed in response to the problem at hand: designing places for people to work. There are those who work together and those who work solo, but the fact remains that both groups will reside under the same roof. This is the heart of the issue. Each employee comes with a set of preferences. Preferences set against a series of options determine choices. Choices made repeatedly result in a set of conditioned, predictable behaviors.


Behavioral economists suggest that people have two cognitive systems for selecting a preference. The first system is highly aware and rational. It is employed when uncertainty prevails and weighing the options seems like the wisest choice. Choosing which college to attend would use this method. System number two is what one might call the well-worn road, sticking with what is comfortable and familiar. This is used to decide routine actions like what to eat for breakfast. It is this system that determines most behavior.

Technology impacts behavior, which impacts design

With the rise of global commerce and mobile technology, the problem has become more complex. In the office of the past, one’s immediate surroundings dictated their environment and resulting behavior. Now, many employees interact with associates they’ll never meet. They’re also given glimpses of places they’ll never see in person. This influence by the external environment has shifted the nature of behavior insofar as it is a function of attitudes, actions, and experiences. Becoming aware of what else is out there instigates behavior that reflects this expanded awareness. In the last article many of these forces were explored, including shifts in communication patterns, labor markets, organizational structures, and delivery processes. This article turns inward and embraces people for what they are—emotional beings trying to rationalize choices that are often economically irrational.

Architects and economists

Architects and economists alike have tried their hands at predicting human behavior by using models under given sets of conditions. In the architectural sense, models are abstractions of physical conditions that assume away the imperfections and intolerances of practical consideration. The benefit of architectural models is that they allow for rapid exploration of options. The downfall is that models reduce the greatest variable—people—to immobile plastic figurines. Similarly, economic models underestimate the variability of their populations. People within economic models are set to operate in their best self-interest to maximize their own utility. If that term “utility” seems confusing, it is by design. It reduces the diversity of human preference to a generic, plastic figure.

Over the last forty years, however, a new school of economic thinking has emerged: behavioral economics. Lead by Daniel Kahneman and, more recently, Nobel prizewinner Richard Thaler, these industrial pioneers have embraced the irrational aspects of human decision-making. It seems people aren’t the predictable models of behavior one might think. It suggests that a third school of thought may fill in the cavernous gap between “tell them what they get,” and “give them what they want.”


Since the brain has both passive and active modes, spaces can communicate intent using a variety of suggestions – some more literal than others.

Homer Simpson and the path of least resistance

Behavioral economics takes people for what they are: human beings. Sometimes they are rational actors who consider the short- and long-term ramifications of each option available to them and then act accordingly. However, this is rare. Instead, people trust their instincts and experiences as they navigate the world. Human behaviors are often equated to being a function of people’s actions and attitudes. The reality is it’s more complicated than that. People also hold a certain set of expectations and rely on their own experiences to guide their decision-making. They do this to reduce the degree of uncertainty in their lives because it makes things easier and more predictable. Generally speaking, people like easy. Thaler and Sunstein characterize this sort of behavior by using Homer Simpson as the mascot for short-term gratification. In other words, the path of least resistance seems to become the popular choice.

Also, predictability is boring and not always ideal. Instead, many constantly seek out novel experiences to augment those immediately available. Reading books, watching movies, chatting with strangers, or surfing the Internet provide experiences that expand the set of options available. In the past, novelty came at a premium. But in today’s on-demand world, it’s basically free and much easier to access.

Design for people

Being collectively aware of what is possible elsewhere has put pressure on what is expected from the practicalities of the workplace. In the here and now, “predictable” and “novel” undeniably are at odds with one another. As people’s behavior becomes increasingly difficult to predict, designing for behavior becomes more challenging. Office workers are more aware of the options available to them and might act differently tomorrow as a result. It throws “design by edict” right out the window. It’s the responsibility of workplace designers to narrow the options to those that will sustain individuals and organizations alike, consistently and durably. Fortunately, there’s a third option of “suggest what they might do.” Don’t tell them what they want and don’t flood them with options. Instead, nudge them in a predetermined direction.

The first step to delivering on behavioral change is providing people with a wider range of options. The second step is suggesting how those options might meet different needs, and encouraging people to take advantage of them accordingly.

From the evolving discipline of behavioral economic thought, a litany of terms has emerged to describe the way that well-intentioned designers, planners, policy-makers, business people, and politicians might nudge human behavior in a particular direction. Sometimes, it’s called “choice architecture.” Other times, the practice is referred to as “libertarian paternalism.” Regardless, the premise is that designers can use subtle design cues to influence human behavior in a predetermined direction.

The new alternative

Within the context of workplace design, behavioral economics presents an alternative to the two prevailing modes of design: by decree in the first and by committee in the second. It acknowledges that people will behave in irrational ways that might be to the detriment of themselves, others, and the organization. In response, it takes people for the unpredictable human beings they are, and endeavors to limit the set of choices at hand to enable people to act in the interest of both themselves and the organization.


Originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Workplace Analytics: How To Mine Big Data To Add Organizational Value

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For corporate real estate and facility management professionals, workplace analytics help identify the best use for space for the organization to operate effectively.


Workplace Analytics

These are complex times for corporate real estate and facility management professionals. Continually advancing technology produces a massive amount of data, but a nagging question remains: Is all of it being mined for the optimal benefit of the organization’s facilities? At a conceptual level, corporate real estate and facility management data focuses on the measurement of people activity within a workspace, but that function barely scratches the surface. The rise of workplace analytics provides corporate real estate and facility management professionals with an invaluable tool for calculating the best use of space for the business to operate at maximum effectiveness. The challenge is that many corporations are reluctant to commit to the use of sophisticated workplace analytics. While the reasons vary, they leave corporate real estate and facility management specialists on the sidelines and in a state of what some of them refer to as “intrigue.”

One reason is management’s apprehension about investing in applications that, in some cases, may be viewed by personnel as an invasion of privacy and a litigation threat. An example is the deployment of sensors throughout the workspace to provide data on how busy a particular area has been, who has worked there, for how long, and when the space is inactive. Management should be most concerned about the latter. Yet, unless corporate real estate and facility management personnel are provided with analytics to ferret out and apply the most relevant data, the corporation is wasting one of its valuable assets and, in some cases, losing money on workspace that could be used more effectively.

Emerging Technologies

The traditional role of the corporate real estate or facility management professional has been to manage the organization or corporation’s real estate portfolios because real estate was considered a fixed cost or, at best, a depreciating asset. Unwittingly, organizations acted on the inaccurate premise that physical space, once established, was unchangeable in terms of costs. One reason may have been the low-tech measurement of space usage — for example, clipboard-carrying individuals who counted people in and out of the space. Eventually, the counting process progressed somewhat with the use of badge swipes and infrared technology. Also, companies began relying on programs such as Outlook, which were an improvement but presented their own limitations. In this case, ease of use and capabilities were either unavailable or not updated. Outlook was also found to be time consuming — something technology is supposed to alleviate.

Technology in general and analytics, in particular, are playing a major role in the changing attitudes of corporate real estate and facility management professionals and their understanding optimal space use. Development of sophisticated analytical programs spurred a corporate real estate and facility management teams to put greater emphasis on crafting strategic planning for best use of the organization’s assets. Among the first to recognize the importance of analytical programs were logistics and banking organizations, which have access to enormous amounts of data. In these high-transaction environments, numbers crunching and the resulting data are applied to decision making, such as credit and risk management and cost analysis that includes operational efficiency and inventory control.

It did not take long for the power of analytics to be applied to the domain of corporate real estate and facility management and change the focus of workspace usage from perception to reality. Instead of low-tech measurement, corporate real estate and facility management professionals with access to workplace analytical platforms can tap into concrete data. This real-world information shows how each space or asset performs. In turn, it enables management to make sound programming decisions.

From Place-Based to People-Based Analytics

The development of place-based analytics is important in the corporate real estate and facility management environment. That’s because it clearly defines how space is utilized at a particular time. Just as important, the data provides corporate real estate and facility management with an accurate picture of where people are and when they use or require a particular space. Also, place-based becomes people-based when the analytics reveal patterns and trends in the way people meet with each other. Here, organizations can rely on integrated platforms with practically limitless potential. One example is the capability to promptly and efficiently facilitate meetings in terms of location, space availability, timeliness, and occupancy.

The unnecessary expense of time that had been required to allocate the proper space for the work to function is unacceptable. Workspace is a strategic asset that requires cost-efficiency for maximum functionality. A seemingly simple desire to select a suite of spaces to support meetings may be costing the company unnecessarily without data analytics to justify the decision. A better alternative is to focus on agile strategies that leverage the right amount of space for each purpose. It’s data-based analytical programming for the best usage of space as warranted.

Understanding the Benefits of Workplace Analytics

The advantage of a sophisticated analytical platform is its presentation of several approaches to collecting and analyzing data. One of the most effective in the context of maximizing the use of space is the placement of sensors throughout the office environment. The sensors collect data, which is transmitted to a network and subsequently to a massive database in the form of a veritable warehouse of information consisting of millions of data points. A second database performs calculations on, tabulates, and processes the data. From there, processed bits and bytes, in volumes too large for human comprehension, move to a web-based analytics platform.

The vital difference is immediacy. Instead of dealing with data usage that is compiled over a lengthy time period, sometimes several months, the sensors record and send data minute by minute, ensuring a decision-making process based on current information.

Key metrics, along with dynamic visualization tools, such as charts and graphs created through the software platform, take the volume of information and condense it. In this way a corporate real estate or facility management expert can either make or recommend decisions to management supported by the data.

Much of this data focus revolves around the Building Internet of Things (IoT), the collective terminology applied to sensors, software, and other items of connectivity for the exchange of data waiting to be harnessed. In a 2016 report, Deloitte Consulting noted that “the CRE industry is perhaps uniquely positioned to implement the technology using IoT-enabled building management systems to make building performance more efficient and … sensor-generated data to enhance building user experience.” In the same report, Deloitte projects the compound growth rate of nearly 79 percent in the use worldwide of IoT sensor deployments by CRE, amounting to 1.2 billion by the year 2020.

The value of CRE data is a “game-changer” in facilities management. Now organizations can optimize their portfolios through platforms unavailable only a few years ago. Previously inaccessible data helps organizations arrive at more informed conclusions — for example, when to consolidate and when to promote a different strategy for a specific site. It is a unique, if not revolutionary, way to analyze how work flows through a space and how usage of that space may impact operating costs and return on investment.

Another important benefit of place-based analytics is the positive impact on the workforce. Leveraging data from the sensors and other Building IoT components improves employee satisfaction and retention. Users report productivity improvement in the workplace environment.

One example is a large consumer-products company in the Southeast that was planning to invest in an addition to its global headquarters to complement a full-scale renovation of the existing space. The company focused on usage patterns of its collaboration spaces, believing that increasing and enhancing the experience of collaborating with colleagues would contribute to both increased employee engagement and enhanced business results. Following installation of remote monitoring devices in all of the dedicated collaboration spaces and collection of 16.5 million data points, an analytical software application determined that people were meeting in smaller groups and many of the larger spaces were never fully utilized. Ultimately, place-based analytics enabled right-sizing and rebalancing the facility for optimal interactions.

3 Concerns About Data Analytics

Data analytics are value drivers for efficient and cost-effective use of workspace and personnel on a daily basis. Yet some organizations are reluctant to adopt and leverage this technology, especially those with medium or smaller-sized companies as clients. Usually their apprehension is based on one or more of the following concerns:

Concern #1: Analytics are too expensive.

If there is one constant about technology, it is that costs decline with each advance or refinement regardless of the application. Business Insider, in an article on this very subject, concluded “as technology gets more advanced, prices drop and products get better.” The only exceptions according to the publication are “cable, satellite TV and radio service.”

Concern #2: Leadership will not buy in to the value proposition.

Here again, the data shows analytics are value drivers capable of significantly reducing operating costs and increasing ROI. To prove the point, corporate real estate and facility management professionals need only access their search engines for numerous case studies of successful corporate and commercial use of workplace analytics.

Concern #3: Employees fear an analytics-based Big Brother surveillance.

Of the three fears, this one requires the most up-front explanation prior to initiation. Nothing can be more damaging to morale and retention rates than a perception that the company uses analytics to spy on personnel. A clearly-defined system of data governance along with collaborative discussions with employees may help ease those concerns.

To achieve optimal results, corporate management needs to work closely with its corporate real estate and facility management specialists on the issue of costs versus ROI. Equally important is to ensure those professionals, whether in-house or outsourced, have the background and training to fully navigate and leverage the data. It is incumbent upon the company to develop comprehensive policies on usage and data management and to stay on point to accomplish desired outcomes.

Data analytics are a vital tool for assessing the value and best use of office space. Data-based results present a clear picture detailing cost-effectiveness, optimal use of workplace and personnel and, of course, the ROI for making these changes a reality.

Informed Decisions

Workplace analytics are the foundation for corporate real estate and facility management credibility with findings and analysis to help executive management make informed decisions on every aspect of office space. Maintaining and profiting from an agile office capable of adjusting with minimal cost and effort are no longer futuristic visionary possibilities. Thanks to sophisticated programs and their ability to leverage the data, they are realities that merit serious consideration.

It may not be accurate to simply conclude that analytics have changed the traditional office environment. Instead, it is more likely that analytics are bringing an end to the traditional workplace as we know it.


Originally published in FacilitiesNet.


Future Forward Visions

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Future of Work


Future of Work

Picturing the workplace of the future has always been part of the facility manager’s job, but it’s never been more challenging than it is today. Technology that affects the workplace is advancing at a rapid pace—sometimes reflecting changes in society, sometimes actually driving those changes. With employment patterns evolving as well, there’s no guarantee that today’s state-of-the-art workplace will still be relevant five, 10 or 15 years from now.

An innovative partnership between the University of Cincinnati, BHDP Architecture and several other businesses is endeavoring to meet this challenge through “The Future of Work”—a series of “studio” type classes for students majoring in architecture, sociology, engineering, and design. Creative thinking is a key requirement for these college students, who are just starting to enter the workplace.

No one wants to design grand plans for office buildings that soon will be obsolete. “The Future of Work” is a fresh way to tackle that issue while focusing on the people who’ll work in those buildings, not just the structures themselves.

Designing for the future poses a conundrum for organizations and architects. For example, how many office plans used to prioritize tech features such as Wi-Fi or technology-centric rooms? Now, however, it’s the norm. Additionally, designers must think about how to create smart facilities that provide information, connect people, support the Internet of Things, and eventually support virtual and augmented reality applications.

The University of Cincinnati students were urged to create visions of the future, then design workplaces responding to specific aspects of those visions. The result: Thought-provoking projects that just might jump-start facilities managers’ creative ideas about the future.

An open-ended approach

This year’s spring semester architecture studio was the fifth in the “Future of Work” series. It drew impetus from Frank Lloyd Wright’s statement that the architect must be a “prophet” of sorts.

Why involve college students in such a lofty endeavor? At this stage, they are relatively free of bias about workplace design. Yet all 16 students in this class were seniors who’ve already had job experience in several workplace environments through the University of Cincinnati’s cooperative education program. Also, creative problem-solving is an integral part of training for all architecture students.

Topics were not assigned. Rather, an open-ended approach allowed students to tackle subjects in which they have a passionate personal interest. The program aimed to balance brainstorming with real-world observation. For example, students toured several Cincinnati-area workplaces representing a range of approaches, including a technology analytics company, a bank with a forward-looking innovation center, several sites with co-working environments, and a brewery whose innovative workspace includes a conference and meeting area.

Working in two-person teams, students pursued topics ranging from the quotidian details of workplace life, to climate change, and to global trends such as employee displacement and urban reinvention. Here are some highlights (with quotations from their presentations):


New ways of thinking about design

Envisioning tomorrow’s workplaces was an eye-opening experience for the students who eventually will be designing and working in them.

Shoshanna Sidell, 21, saw her exploration of the superblock system as a way to accommodate urban populations. “My idea of working within a superblock system incorporates well with the idea of developing the growth of cities,” she said, and would “foster a sharing culture in a walkable urban space.”

For Jonah Pruitt, 21, an interest in adaptive reuse had its roots in childhood memories of helping his family remodel a 100-year-old house. He sees the process of adapting existing buildings for new uses as providing a sense of solidarity with their surrounding communities—an alternative to the process of displacement that is a concern in many urban areas around the world. “Workplaces of the future will need to be flexible and agile, while maintaining the trust and goodwill of communities where they are located to ensure the best quality of life,” he said.

Evan Schlenk, 22, was interested in long-distance communication strategies that would work for a solar generating farm and offices for a major energy company. “My proposal reorganizes a traditional office around an augmented reality hub,” he said. “This hub allows for 3-D interaction between designers and engineers located in different offices. It allows for collaboration traditionally reserved for face-to-face interaction to take place between people working remotely.”

Srimoyee Sinha, 21, wanted to address the monotony of the typical workspace, and at the same time encourage collaboration. Her brainstorm was movable pods—on casters so they roll around. “When the need of collaboration arises, one can just move their pod to attach themselves to the person or persons they are trying to collaborate with,” she said.

Hannah Johnson, 22, delved into ideas for using technology to bring people together, rather than isolate them. “Overall the experience has been different from anything I have done so far in my school career,” she said. “Trying to plan for the future, you begin to realize that everyone has a different idea of what the future could be. It is a matter of taking pieces of several ideas to really get an idea of what the future could be.”

Takeaway Considerations

While students’ ideas varied widely, several themes emerged as primary topics for the future of work.

The human experience of work—and life—is a central concern for designers and is continually evolving. Workplaces of the future should include “technology-free” spaces to provide comfort and allow for the occasional disconnection from an overly connected world and more opportunities for stimuli provided by the natural world. These spaces should be considered especially for work that requires concentration as well as team collaboration that is focused on innovation and problem-solving.

Tactics for adaptability, always vital to business success, will become even more important amid rapid changes in technology and society. Another key trend already coming into play involves changing modes and patterns of transportation. These will require new solutions for design, security, collaboration and connectivity.

Trends such as mergers and acquisitions, as well as disruptive technologies and companies, spotlight the need for effective strategies as businesses grow, shrink, adapt and change at a quicker, dizzying pace.

Worksite technology increasingly will be immersive, with a mesh between the virtual and physical worlds. Example: A white-box workspace can be augmented with colors and patterns to suit the individual, or become a framework for walking through a virtual world.

Companies will need to become ever more concerned with societal trends and the communities in which they reside, becoming leaders and agents of change. The need for support amenities will remain constant; however, there will be a shift toward supporting an entire community, not just a single organization.

Adaptive reuse issues will be particularly relevant in urban areas where there are underutilized buildings and space, said Michael Rogovin, a University of Cincinnati adjunct professor and “Future of Work” instructor. It will be important to ask whether it is possible to adapt existing structures instead of building new ones.

Facility managers will have to balance the usual concerns about cost with the need to be concierges of sorts, focused on creating experiences and opportunities that promote productivity.  Efficiency and effectiveness must be balanced with both employee and customer experience. The current thinking of dollars spent per square foot of office space needs to shift to dollars spent per employee, with a focus on intelligent, intentional design that creates diversity and sense of place.

For instance, considering circadian lighting might seem esoteric, and installing live greenery might add to maintenance tasks. But the impact on people’s work experience should not be underestimated, even though maintaining these types of systems is more complicated for a facility manager.

“Bringing nature indoors could be as minor as providing small houseplants at workspaces, all the way up to greenhouse-like indoor environments,” Rogovin said. “The upside is direct engagement with plant life; however, there is an increased cost to upkeep.”

Other strategies to provide exposure to nature can be built into facility or structure design, he noted, such as windows with a view and courtyard spaces. Even a digital display showing natural scenes, or the use of natural sounds as white noise, might provide positive effects with less maintenance required.

It’s not always simple to predict how global and societal trends will shape work environments. However, facility managers can be key players in creating competitive advantages that propel their companies forward. It makes sense to take a fresh look at how workplaces could change to accommodate societal changes, environmental factors, and human experience through different ways of working.


Originally published in FMJ magazine.


SEGD Experience Minneapolis

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SEGD Experience Minneapolis


The Society for Experiential Graphic Design, or SEGD, is a diverse “community of professionals who plan, design, and build experiences that connect people to place. SEGD is made up of graphic and information designers, fabricators, architects, exhibition designers, technology integrators, interaction designers, brand strategists, students, wayfinding specialists, teachers, and others who have a hand in shaping content-rich, experiential spaces.” SEGD hosts a conference annually, bringing together professionals in the EGD community to discuss, learn, collaborate, and inspire each other. This gathering is the only of its type, catering specifically to the experiential graphic design community. The three-day event focuses on inspiration and education, with a combination of hands-on workshops, design tours, summits, networking socials, thought leadership sessions and tradeshows.

Each year the conference is in a different city and BHDP has had the opportunity to send delegates for the last five years. This year, Grania and Jessie were granted the opportunity to attend as part of BHDP’s Experiential Graphics team. SEGD Experience Minneapolis, as the conference is titled, took place on June 7th through 9th based in Minneapolis but with tours and sessions all over the Twin Cities.

The conference evolves each year as speakers and moderators are chosen from professionals in the area, as well as lead designers in the EGD field. The culture of the city is captured in both the presentations and tours of prominent landmarks. Every year you can expect to be inspired, talk to top vendors in the country, learn about the new technology advancements in the field, and network with new colleagues. Below are just of few of the takeaways we gathered from our time in Minneapolis.

Customer Centric Experience:

One of the first speakers was Tanya Dressen, the vice president of the Minnesota Vikings. Tanya was as engaging as she was knowledgeable about her team and the new stadium. The repeated phrase during her presentation was “design decisions were based on our fans;” the stadium really embodies what it means to cultivate a customer-centric experience. For example, the landscaping and public space around the stadium were designed so that families could enjoy picnics in the large, two-block park in front of the stadium while tailgaters could get rowdy in a separate area, allowing both types of fans to feel included in the gameday spirit. The entryway into the stadium celebrates Vikings tradition as well as their consumers with an iconic Viking ship, with the deck made from bricks donated by fans.

The architecture of the stadium had three main considerations: the Scandinavian heritage of the city, the climate of the Twin Cities, and the geographic location of the stadium itself. The design reflects Norwegian ties with strong lines and a sloping roof. The roof slopes front to back and side to side to prevent snow buildup. The shape of the stadium as a whole fits nicely into the skyline of Minneapolis and has become an iconic landmark for the Twin Cities.

Some of the challenges the design team faced when branding the stadium stemmed from logos that had little bearing on football or the average consumer. How do you incorporate multiple non-sports logos into a football stadium? Their solutions proved very unique. One brand sponsored a large public art piece on the grounds outside of the entry. The art represented connectivity and unity in the community, once again considering their gameday patrons’ experience. Another brand sponsored a living wall, with changeable greenery. A third was a beautiful blue chandelier that represented water and connected to the company’s purpose.

Another way the team connected with the community was through a public art program in which local artists were chosen to create galleries throughout the space. The curated areas are enjoyed by fans and reflect the diverse culture in the region with all types and styles of art represented.

Creating Community:

One of the tours we had the opportunity to attend was through Surly Brewing’s new taproom and brewing facility. The designer, architect, brewer, and creative director led the tour and each provided unique perspectives on design decisions in the space. The land the brewery was built on was an industrial wasteland, and the brewery hoped to provide a beacon to the Twin Cities community and encourage growth in the area.

The patron tour experience was at the center of the design, which was very unique to a brewery, as each step of your approach was constructed carefully to elicit curiosity and intrigue. Built-in stopping points along the tour made the brewing process front and center but protected brewery production by separating the viewer with butt-glazed glass. As we walked from space to space learning about the history and design decisions within the building, it was evident that this robust experience had been cultivated by a very collaborative team. Each tour guide provided insight and a different perspective.

The exterior landscaping in the back of the brewery was developed to encourage customers to enjoy the different spaces and furniture. The beer garden, as they call it, was very pleasant and promoted a sense of public comfort, with people of all ages being able to enjoy the same space. The intent of the garden was to provide patrons with different experiences at each visit, depending on which area they inhabited or the furniture they utilized.

Prior to the building’s inception, Surly was already a prevalent name in the art community as they hosted open competitions for their beer labels. Each label can be attributed to a different artist and is proudly framed in a gallery in the taproom.

Surly Brewing has become such a landmark that patrons flock to the site daily (on a Thursday afternoon there were plenty of people!). The brewery has encouraged growth in the neighboring area as other breweries and housing developments have popped up nearby. Their unique take on customer experience and attention to detail have successfully and literally connected people to place.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention our side conversation with Surly’s creative director, Michael Berglund, after the tour. Michael was positively giddy showing us his unique beer menu (a great example of EGD in of itself) and the way he claims he “fell” into the position of creative director (after a great deal of hard work and many years of side design projects). His passion for Surly beer and brand is unmistakable, with his dedication it is no wonder the brewery is growing both in production and popularity.

These are just a few of the creative nuggets we were able to glean during our time at the conference. Overall, the design discussions and successful examples of EGD have pushed us to approach projects and clients with greater enthusiasm. What if we focus on the end-user as much as the client? Can we push our brands to create a more memorable experience? How can we get a design job where we drink beer during the day?

Behavior by Design: Market Forces Demand New Workplace Behaviors

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Installment 3 of 6: This is the third in a bimonthly series of six articles on the growth, value, and future of Design for People. The intent is to explore and discover the impact of behaviors, habits, and patterns of people in the design of environments.  


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Carmichael Makerspace illustrates how workplace behaviors are being driven by larger market forces as students are collaborating and working together organically outside of the classroom.

Businesses are designed to create and capture value. High-value businesses identify distinct market positions, develop sustainable strategies, maximize the productivity of their assets, marshal their resources (including their people), minimize their expenditures, and generate returns that can either be distributed or reinvested. To accomplish these goals, businesses need to optimize and monetize the productive potential of people. While simple in concept, designing for people is never so straightforward.

As the market continues to shift from concrete, discrete, and predictable modes of business management to emerging ones that embrace complexity and disruption, the demand for different breeds of workers and new modes of management is on the rise. The generation of future business value is dependent on the development of an entirely new set of organizational behaviors. Rather than designing businesses using outdated concepts, intelligent business leaders are constantly evolving the nature of their value streams and tweaking the organizational ecosystems that service their customers. As a result, the office is in a continual state of flux. In this context, it is important for CRE professionals to identify and deliver spaces that anticipate change and evolve to meet an entirely new set of behaviors.

This is the third in a continuing series of articles exploring the link between the built environment and the human behaviors that unfold therein. In the first, the case was made for looking beyond the form and function of the environment. Instead, it was posited that the attitudes and actions of the workforce, set within the context of the building, present a compelling source of design value to the designer and tenant alike.

The second article (April 2018) identified the shift away from individual cubicles towards agile, activity-based workplace environments. This shift was attributed to three factors: 1) the realization (via observation) and confirmation (via data) that the modern office is largely underutilized; 2) the rampant employee engagement epidemic; and 3) the evolution of work, itself—from highly specialized and independent to largely collective and collaborative. The case was made that tenants should acknowledge how the changes, from a dedicated, predictable workplace to one built in response to the factors outlined above, have elicited emotional responses from the people for whom the design was created. They are uncertain, skeptical, doubtful, and afraid. The focus then turned to managing how people experience change.

Before jumping to change management, though, it’s best to further understand exactly what is changing.

Workplace Behaviors

This corporate headquarters includes workspaces that are no longer easily identifiable as workspaces and now resemble a more residential feel.

The game has changed

The United States has a collective obsession with technology and innovation, one that borders on fetishism. People idolize the late Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and others for their devil-may-care attitudes and their relentless commitment to progress. Many laugh along at the comedic absurdity of the TV show, Silicon Valley. There’s always great anticipation leading up to new product cycles, CES™, and the expiration of our current phone plans. Employees gaze longingly at the slides in the Google space, and snickering derisively—assert, “Not here!” The same people still secretly wonder, “What if?”

In businesses large and small, in markets consolidated and fragmented, in sectors new and old, the call of the day is “innovation!” The response is the same from financial services firms to oil and gas providers, “We’re a technology company now.” Although there is endless debate over the veracity of this claim, the truth is technology companies behave differently, and they have reset collective expectations for how to behave in the workplace. CRE professionals, irrespective of industry, must take note.

The old rules no longer apply

Creative destruction, innovation, disruption—whatever it’s called—new ventures come at the expense of old. What’s more, in a global, flat, and connected economy, no business is safe for long. Look no further than the shortening half-lives of the once static Fortune 500. Set against this turbulent market, all facets of the business are responsible for delivering value to the organization. In the CRE space, this demand is set against fundamental shifts within the big four factors of workplace strategy and design: people, place, process, and technology.

Fluid is the new flat

While conventional wisdom acknowledges the stability of organizational hierarchies is unsuited for the dynamism of the modern market, some companies are going one step further. When Netflix’s Company Culture presentation leaked in 2014, it set the HR industry ablaze. It’s worth a read, but the general gist is this: the internal job market should reflect the external one, and a company and its employees are best served when both acknowledge hard facts. Rather than fit people into fixed roles and ladders of progressive responsibility, leading organizations are embracing fluid management models that encourage talent to find its highest and best use. Many employees have bemoaned the existence of silos within their organizations. In a fluid model, people belong to projects, rather than departments, and boundaries are delineated based on need rather than dictated by accounting necessity. The implications for workplace planning on this fact alone are ripe.

Failure is the mother of invention

When the target is constantly moving, the best bet is to take as many shots as possible. While many organizations claim to have a culture that embraces failure, few truly do it well. There is a reason that startups are bred amongst friends in the early morning hours—the fall is shortest from the ground floor. The trust required to fail fearlessly is often very difficult to come by in large organizations, where long-term career considerations often trump short-term prototyping cycles. Open offices can compound the matter, as private failure can easily become public spectacle. Creating spaces where failure is not only tolerated but also encouraged is quickly becoming a critical component of workplace design. Alphabet, Inc.’s X serves as a dramatic example.

Communication is always on

As work continues to shift from tethered workstations and fixed office hours to connected anytime devices, communication patterns have evolved as well. In fact, increasingly, they mirror the interaction that takes place on personal devices. Where a 10:00 PM call from the boss might have once demanded a frenetic rush back to the office, a 10:00PM text today might be resolved in 140 characters, not including emojis. Even when individuals bemoan the loss of professional decorum, the fact is developments in the consumer space have forever changed the way communication occurs with one another. This dates from AOL Instant Messenger, up through Facebook™, Twitter™, Instagram™, and Snapchat™. And, the race is on to own digital workplace communication as well. Just ask Facebook™, Slack™, and Microsoft™. In a business environment where constant contact has supplanted weekly meetings, CRE professionals can create value by augmenting analog spaces with digital systems. Pulling the work out from personal drives and into the collective realm, as was done by Four Winds Interactive™ and others, promises to disrupt the way information is shared and the resulting behavior in the workplace—forever.

This newly designed office space encourages collaboration and include open spaces where failure is encouraged.


Talent is transient

Many blame millennial attention spans and perceived commitment issues for the ever-shortening tenures at organizations. While the theory that job-hopping is rampant has been largely debunked, some studies indicate the other side of the equation—labor demand—is becoming increasingly hesitant. Employers are warming to the idea of non-payroll personnel. Regardless of the nature of the trend, the truth remains that turnover within the workforce generates pressure on the CRE function. The rise of the so-called contingent workforce has enormous implications on organizational culture and the design of space. In a dedicated desking model, turnover meant work orders and service requests. A desk is easily understood, and new employees were typically supported with extensive on-boarding programs. In an agile office environment staffed with employees and contractors alike, the challenge is to design intelligible space that communicates design intent without being overly explicit.

New business behaviors will determine who wins

Current and future trends from the technology sector have and will dramatically alter the business landscape, even in industries that might have once been isolated. In response, savvy organizations should selectively adopt new behaviors that will allow them to deliver additional value to their customers and employees alike. The new reality is behaviors unfold within the context of established environments and attitudes. What hasn’t changed is most people are very skeptical of change. The next article in this series will explore the implications of behavioral change for organizations and individuals alike—identifying emerging workplace models that align the design of space to new workplace behaviors.


Originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Design Thinking and the Innovative Workplace

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


Leading organizations recognize maintaining the status-quo is a failed strategy in today’s rapidly expanding and shifting business climate. As a result, they have come to realize the best and only option is to innovate if they plan to thrive in a competitive marketplace. Without innovation, organizations risk the possibility of either being acquired by a company with entirely different priorities or going out of business.

Yet when it comes to fostering a culture of innovation, or even one of calculated risk-taking, many businesses lack the commitment required for launching and sustaining ground-breaking processes that demonstrate originality and drive positive results. In general, this lack of commitment stems from two factors: 1) fear of failure; and 2) a linear, traditional approach to problem-solving and planning. The latter represents a step-by-step (“waterfall”) approach that is time-consuming and expensive. The outgrowth alternative is an emphasis on iteration and experimentation that is becoming more prevalent and accepted across market sectors.

Design Thinking—a term and strategic approach that means far more than the simplistic “outside the box thinking” epithet often attached to it—can change the paradigm to foster workplace innovation consistently. Design Thinking involves a creative, agile mindset that incorporates the ability to ask questions from a variety of vantage points. These attributes are applicable not only to the design of the workplace but to the evolution of a culture that quickly generates, shares and assesses the economic viability of an idea. Design Thinking can also help differentiate a brand while providing a competitive advantage.

The impact of VUCA

VUCA, an acronym first used by the U.S. Army War College to describe the unpredictability following the break-up of the Soviet Union, has been applied to today’s business environment. It stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity and represents the endlessly changing nature of the competitive business world. As the Harvard Business Review defined it in February 2014, VUCA is “a catchall for ‘hey, it’s crazy out there,’” and warned that each component requires a separate response if companies hope to overcome each significant challenge. Here is a brief overview of how each manifests itself in the work environment.

  • Volatility. The term represents a rapidly changing and unpredictable marketplace due to extraneous factors ranging from terrorism and politics to disruptive technologies and socially accepted customs, habits and patterns.
  • Uncertainty. Doubts about the state of the marketplace or economy are likely to impact decisions such as investments or expansion plans.
  • Complexity. Unlike a complicated system that is mostly linear and easily understood, the complex system is non-linear with interactions and interdependencies, some of which may not be readily apparent. Corporations battle with complexity because of a wide range of seemingly unrelated sources such as international competition and attracting the best talent that can impact current and future planning.
  • Ambiguity. Much like uncertainty, an ambiguous environment yields multiple interpretations. The fear of ambiguity is likely to forestall decision-making.

Design Thinking does not ignore VUCA components. It incorporates them strategically and creatively. A recent IBM study concluded that creativity may well be the most important requirement for “successfully navigating an extremely complex world.” Other studies verify the importance of the creative mindset inherent to Design Thinking. Case in point: Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by retired General Stanley McChrystal. The general found from his experiences in Iraq that he needed to move away from a hierarchical approach to fulfill his strategic vision of developing an army capable of defeating an enemy that was anything but conventional. Business analogies gleaned from McChrystal’s book on the importance of creativity are well-supported. A linear mindset can be a straitjacket when coping with competition that more effectively responds to a rapidly changing and complex environment.

Team of Teams

Source: Team of Teams. McChrystal. 2015.


Design Thinking: not just for designers anymore

David Kelley, founder of international design firm IDEO, is widely regarded as one of the pioneers of Design Thinking. Kelley and his brother Tom, authors of the book “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential in Us All” make a convincing case that the creative mindset required for innovation is not limited to “creative types.” They describe a “human-centered designer’s toolkit” that contains five elements for facilitating a Design Thinking process. They include:

  1. Empathize. It is never enough to give lip service to contrasting viewpoints. The design mindset examines those views, the reasoning behind them and considers their validity for defining the problem to be overcome.
  2. Define. This is no place for vague ideas. The innovation model must be clearly defined along with its purpose and measurement of its effectiveness.
  3. Ideate. This word “to imagine, conceive or form an idea or image” was associated with the philosophies of Plato, but it has found a place in modern Design Thinking through discussions that foster creative idea generation.
  4. Prototype. This tool goes beyond the theoretical. It is a version of the product or approach to be reviewed by a team then altered or modified to achieve the desired solutions.
  5. Test. The item, product, approach, etc., is tested through an “iterative process” to evaluate and measure if it effectively fulfills the goals envisioned in the earlier steps. The Interactive Design Foundation states that among the purposes of the testing phase are “to redefine one or more problems and inform the understanding of users…”
Design Thinking

Source: Rolf Hapel, director of citizens’ services and libraries, Aarhus, Denmark

One element not in the toolbox but worthy of inclusion is agility. When it comes to the workplace, an agile environment is one in which work is not concentrated in one office setting but rather where workers have a variety of different spaces where they can perform their functions. Agility is all about human behavior and people’s ability to respond to the changing nature of work. An agile workplace is one that supports a wide variety of work modes: focus, collaboration, learning, socializing, respite, rejuvenation, and nourishment. The agile workplace enhances employee engagement and enables users to decide and co-create a work experience away from the traditional office. Such environs encourage feedback loops for thought sharing and suggestions for improvement that can have innovative outcomes.

Another outcome of an agile work environment is increased opportunities for brainstorming. This process enables participants to ask questions first before going after solutions. In his April 2018 Harvard Business Review article “Better Brainstorming,” Hal Gregerson argues that better questioning is more conducive to problem-solving and subsequent innovation. He describes a technique called the question burst,” which places an emphasis on brainstorming questions instead of solutions. He cites Amazon, Zappos, Tesla, and Pixar as successful examples of this approach as employees are “encouraged to value creative friction in everyday work.”

Design Thinking: A pathway and a journey

Contrary to what some might believe, Design Thinking is not a Wild West scenario devoid of rules. Despite the workplace freedoms associated with it, Design Thinking does not eliminate the need for clearly defined corporate governance. It does, however, require executives and managers to be aware of and be sensitive to work environments that may stifle innovation. When leaders are committed to creating an open and safe environment that allows for the free flow of ideas, they minimize fear of failure and provide a platform for encouraging diverse teams to problem solve effectively.

Design Thinking is ironic in that it’s both pathway and journey to innovation. It is the pathway for leveraging workforce creativity by challenging a linear status quo. Design Thinking breaks down silos because it requires flexibility, input and a variety of disciplines in order to benefit the organization. It is forward leaning, relying less on what worked in the past and more on what might work in the future. The goal is to create a workplace and environment for developing processes associated with a culture of innovation. It is also a journey because Design Thinking is a constant that corporations must take if they expect to remain viable, creative and growth-oriented.

The agile workplace that drives Design Thinking helps create connections, familiarity, and trust. With a trust-based culture that incorporates testing, piloting and risk-taking, it is more likely that leadership and employees will be able to do their best work and keep their organizations viable for years to come.


Originally published in Work Design Magazine.

Behavior by Design: Driving Design Transformation

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In the first article for this series, the focus was on the concept of behavioral design—or more specifically, design as it relates to workplace behavior. In particular, the message emphasized how important behavioral design is to workplace architecture. Recent studies confirm the direct impact behavioral design has on people’s lives, wellbeing, and on the quality of their interactions. As individuals continue to transition from a fully assigned work environment to a more behaviorally focused and agile space, design value is achieved once sentiments, fears, and expectations are acknowledged and addressed. For example, measuring how space is allocated against how space is used can fill change gaps in order to build design results consistent with observation. Equipped with the knowledge that where employees are stationed affects the way they think, the focus now moves to the “how-to” of behavioral design—methods for making it work.

What drives transformation?

Design for behaviors comes from knowing the conditions that drive the need for a shift in workplace design. These conditions come from three sources. First, and perhaps most surprising, are the analytics showing that less than half of those at work who reside in personally assigned cubicles can actually be found at their desks. Stated differently, observations indicate that possibly as few as 10 percent of assigned cubicle residents spend 90 percent or more of their work week at their desks. No longer are employees bound to their workstations. Because of the recent advances in mobile technology, cubicles and offices are generating less and less value for businesses.

Commons space designed for flexible and collaborative work

The second condition prompting design for behaviors deals with the reality of very low employee engagement in the workplace. Gallup, an international polling organization, has tracked this for the United States since 2000. The company’s surveys reveal employee engagement has barely budged in well over a decade. According to Gallup Daily Tracking, only 32 percent of U.S employees are engaged in their jobs and workplaces. Many report that this comes as a result of the hectic and often unpredictable nature of the workplace environment. Ultimately, low engagement can create negative actions toward productivity and negative attitudes toward organizational culture.

The third rationale that explains why work behavior design is reinventing itself is due to the increasing complexity of the workplace. For at least the last 50 years, employees were generally assigned work that was much more rote-and-response driven than is called for today. An employee had a skill set that worked to solve specific sets of tasks. Many employees worked solo. As a result, companies developed systems that lent naturally to a cubicle-intensive environment that fulfilled plug-and-play work behaviors. Now, work is largely people-problem driven, which tends to require more time and interaction when it comes to solving problems and building systems. Collaboration is at the heart of creative talent, and designers are catering to behavioral design accordingly.

Fear-based challenges

There are many merits to designing with behavioral change in mind. However, to design this way, before attempting to use knowledge of behaviors to transform work environments, first it helps to understand employees’ fears, uncertainties, and doubts. Some of the most common sentiments embodying this apprehension include:

1.  “I need a place to call my own.”

2.  “I need a place to put my things.”

3.  “I need to be able to find the people I need.”

4.  “I need a door for privacy and confidentiality.”

5.  “I need to belong to the office.”

One common theme among these five statements is where the emphasis is placed: on the personal needs of the individual. This is very natural; employees believe they must look out for themselves. Another shared sentiment is that each message indicates a loss of control. Although employees define “control” differently—depending upon their status at an organization—being in control over at least the basics (like where to put one’s things) must count for something. Finally, all five reactions come from to memories of former fixed and assigned workplaces that are still perceived as having value. Why? Given the chance, most people tend to fall back on what is familiar from the past.

Commons space designed for flexible work

This list of sentiments is telling. Behavioral design benefits from carefully and considerately restating individuals’ expectations in a changing workplace. Anticipate that disruption will occur as a result of the transition—especially when the difference is as dramatic as changing from a fixed or traditional office or workplace to one more behaviorally flexible. Changes in behavioral design require using one’s imagination to envision new ways of working in dynamic work settings. It is through imagining new work expectations and processes that employees can reset their perceptions and judgments toward behavioral design. For that reason, it is important to invest the time and learn the value of aligning memory of past workspaces to new visions of how work will be produced moving forward. In the end, more advanced work behaviors may evolve that have the potential to increase utilization, stimulate engagement, and reset disappointed expectations about adapting to a new workplace.

Supporting behavior by design

Recognizing the connection between space and human behavior, companies like Google, Intel, and Cisco are spending millions on redesigning buildings, knocking down walls, and rearranging conference rooms. For example, since the perceived value for increased collaboration has been driving design trends, awareness of perceptions and judgments from the employees involved in the process seem to accelerate change acceptance. Being engaged in the behavioral design process helps employees move beyond deterrents and closer to acceptance.

One tactic in supporting behavioral change through design involves how the news of the imminent design change is delivered—explaining each step as it occurs—in real time. Making sure the key stakeholders stay abreast of the what, when, and whys of a changing workplace empowers teams. Another approach for supporting a staff in transition is reassurance. Making certain that everyone sees the positive vision behind designs for new behaviors goes a long way toward easing the pain of a transition. Another way to relieve transitional stress comes from helping employees envision what success in this new environment might look like.

Last but not least, one straightforward way of igniting employees’ imaginations is with storytelling. The reasons why workplaces are underutilized, why engagement continues to be low, and why the complexity of work continues to increase are best discovered and understood through the story of people who are working. Behavioral design can benefit from the power of, “Once upon a time” and “Happily ever after”.

Individual Cubicle Group

Modern workplace makeover

Modern workplace makeovers are a fact of life. It’s taken plenty of time, but the workplace is now becoming far less individualized. The traditional systems and beliefs that standard cubicles and offices propagated for so long are being shed and replaced with behavioral design standards that favor collaboration. As the sophistication and value of this trend increase to better align with employees’ work behaviors, transitional tactics will continue to be developed to support and ease the changeovers. Keep in mind: the best behavioral designs will not only encourage teamwork and boost engagement, but they will do so with transparency—while simultaneously catering to a human’s capacity for imagination.


Article originally published in Work Design magazine

Leading a Culture of Innovation and Creativity

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How can you make your organization more innovative, adaptive, and creatively competitive? After studying 200+ companies, global design firm IDEO has identified six essential qualities to drive innovation and creativity.  IDEO’s David Aycan shared a framework around these qualities, the data behind them, and stories of companies working hard to develop the culture, processes, and habits that drive innovation.

If you operate in the field of innovation or design, you are familiar with IDEO’s “User-Centered” design process and their earlier work with companies like Apple helping to design the first computer mouse and a “Grid” notebook style computer.



IDEO’s creative process experienced a shift with the on-boarding of anthropologist Jane Fulton Suri. The practice of observing before coming to a solution became a critical part of the design process. Another key strategy employed by IDEO was the pairing of business savvy thinkers and designers. This strategy helped them move into the realm of economics, making sure that the products they designed were marketable and desired.  IDEO operates under the belief that through design and prototyping there can be a greater understanding of what and how a solution should make an impact.

IDEO experienced growth by helping companies with Organizational Design. They have a passion for helping clients get over paralysis and have benchmarked hundreds of creative organizations and looked at factors that impact creativity. Here are the six essential qualities IDEO has identified to drive innovation and creativity for organizations:

Quality #1:  Purpose.

What to work on and what not to work on is a key element of purpose. The questions that need to be asked:  Is it useful? Does it help? Are we passionate about it?  Providing clarity on the purpose seeking process, Aycan shared the story of a large e-commerce company in Europe called Zalando. The company was struggling to find out what’s next for their organization. With the help of IDEO, they created a “Gallery Style” event that engaged all employees to uncover likes, dislikes, attitudes, and perceptions. This event helped the company discover that employees considered the organization a full member of the fashion industry and no longer a player in the start-up world. Through this, their purpose statement was born…”Fashion for the good of all”  with the goal to be a sustainable “Zero-Waste” organization. Aycan advises to “Use purpose as a prime factor in all major decisions it’s why purpose exist and organizations that have a clearly defined purpose are 20% more likely to achieve success.”

Quality #2:  Looking Out.

“Don’t get stuck on internal business like politics and attitudes. Connect with your users more than monthly.”   When “looking out”, Aycan says that companies have a 25% greater chance of being successful when insights are created more frequently. He shared a case study on LA County voting machines. There are 5 million registered voters in LA County.  The goal: make voting more accessible and intuitive. 1960 was the last time the process was improved. Voters were being excluded especially those with handicaps such as hearing, sight and language barriers. IDEO dove into these issues by talking to citizens and taking active videos of the voting process. Bernie Zorey, a blind man shared “I didn’t vote because I did not want to be a burden on the polling place officials.”  Another blind woman said she had to trust that polling officials were pulling the right vote for her. This research emphasized how important it is to “look out” and observe a variety of people during research.

Quality #3:  Experimentation.

There is a problem with looking at hundreds of ideas or challenges.  Aycan suggests that an organization should explore and test 5 ideas in parallel. Organizations that experiment before implementation are 50% more likely to experience successful outcomes. He shared the term “Cognitive Laziness”, meaning the brain is wired to protect ideas over time and after a while of this, it can slow down idea generation. The solution to this? Keep ideas fresh and don’t let them sit. The objective is to keep ideas flowing, experiment, and have three more ideas in mind before asking for feedback.

Quality #4:  Collaboration.

Collaborate across teams is key, and organizations that exercise this are 38% more likely to have successful outcomes versus those that employ a “waterfall” or linear approach. Exploring collaboration, IDEO created a “Co-Lab”; an “unholy alliance” of those who were teams but were really meant to work together. The goal was to leverage different skill sets, for example; Financial and Internet of Things groups came together to renew energy certificates on a blockchain or open innovation platform.  Energy companies were not excited about this, but teams wondered “Who might bring a different perspective?”

Quality #5:  Empowerment.

Another quality Aycan suggest is making problem-solving tools and skills available across an organization. Companies need to be transparent, fair and have a method that identifies tension and suggest improvement. Leaders of organizations need to provide autonomy and clarity of this process and foster an environment of support. When an organization makes it OK to challenge the status quo, they are 70% more likely to be successful. When communication is clear, and workers feel empowered high energy, goodwill, and project motivation will come naturally.

Quality #6: Refinement.

Organizations must keep the thread of vision alive.  Aycan shared the story of a city in Peru that was in desperate need of a better public-school system. Paying private school tuition was out of reach for most people in the area, so they wanted to emulate one of their higher-performing public schools into a school that more students could attend.  Some of the challenges they faced were the high cost of real estate, difficulty in attracting good teachers, the uncertainty of what technology to employ, and how to scale the system. IDEO was approached to help create an adaptive organization that can regenerate and constantly evolves.

In his closing statements, Aycan challenged the audience to think about:

  • What matters to you?
  • What makes your team different?
  • Create 5 to 7 design principles can constantly revisit them.
  • IDEO is successful because everyone was empowered by David Kelly
  • Looking Out need to be leveraged.
  • Rethink the purpose.
  • Reflect on you and your team’s strengths.
  • Identify areas for improvement.
  • Define a way on how to measure collaboration or creativity
  • Leverage teams or people, challenge them to think differently in order to identify hotspots


Written by Chris Lapata and based on a session at SXSW by David Aycan of IDEO.

Well-Design… at Work

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Well-DesignI have been interested that, on several recent occasions, the idea of designing for wellness principles has strongly come forward. For example, I was recently facilitating a change alignment session with 40 people who will move from private offices into a shared workplace. This level of change is abrupt for this group, and they have many concerns. One concern that came forward was a fear of germs, and the sharing of sickness because of more open settings and shared surfaces. The fear, though not completely logical, gained additional momentum after the session as a symbol that, “open space lessens wellness.”

I had been seeing a waning of interest in design specifically for wellness; particularly for programs like LEED, Well-building, Green Globes, etc. Upon deeper thought, I wonder what the gap is between what these standards promote, and what people need to be well in their work and workplace.

Wellness is a part of well-being, but being well is more than simply reducing exposure to germs to protect the health of the body. I recall a few years ago the phrase, “sitting is the new smoking”, which ignited a sit-to-stand desk revolution that is continuing today. While physical health has remained a core of well-design, physical health alone is incomplete. Even Well Building Standards seem short of a complete picture of what well-design could/should/would be.

Here are four well-ways to consider the value of design toward being a “well” person:

1. Physical wellness: Fitness, exercise, and aerobic health; The Body.

A few years back we designed an interior project for the new calls center with, what I would consider, an above standard fitness center for a corporate site of 1,200 people. Also, to promote stair use over elevator use, the developer of the build-to-suit core and shell built the stair towers outboard of the building core, expand the stair widths and landings, and glass enclosing the full height corners of the landings. A year later we measured the perception of people working to determine an increased drive to choose the stair over the elevator. We also built an interior strategy for design to include a “walking path” around the full outer edge of the floor plate and passed out pedometers on day one. A year later we observed people walking the path during their 15 minutes breaks from the phones.

2. Social well-being: Positive human interaction; Relationships.

It seems our design profession has centered on this reality with a design focus on collaborative environments. The idea has been sound in driving people together to share ideas and build culture. Yet, we know that ‘open’ does not equal ‘social’, and the backlash of the past few years has been resounding. Social interaction tends to happen in small social dynamics, while open expanses natural heighten the senses, causing eventual social exhaustion. There is much work for us to do in this area of designing for relationship well-being.

3. Psychologically well: Mental fortitude and reasoning ability; The Mind.

This is an area of great fascination involving workplace design. How do we, in what we design for people working, affect the nature of psychological fortitude? To be a well-minded person may best refer to feelings of emotional control and positivism. People that are generally perceived to be psychologically well tend to show themselves as secure, generally focused, and usually positive. In the workplace these individually well people seem to ‘belong’ and produce results for the benefit of others. Psychological wellness may represent alignment between the individual and the organizational culture into which they belong, generating an above average ability to think and reason in the face of complex work. Belonging comes about from shared vision, strengths-based alignment, and equitable exchanges of value within the work being created. Belonging reduces physical and social stresses so that thinking may come forward from psychological clarity. For design to add value to be psychologically well, we as designers must cross back and forth with business vision, aligning design to a branded experience in the workplace that creates mindfulness. I suggest, therefore, when we create graphic messages and images inside the workplace, the mindful actions and attitudes of the work may create psychologically well people. More work is needed on this.

4. Creatively and Intuitively well: Inspiration, aspiration, and the experience of life; The Spirit.

Of the four qualities of being well, becoming creatively and intuitively well is the most complex and difficult to conceptualize. This is spiritual in nature. Creative and intuitive well principles in work seem to connect with our inherent drive to produce results, based on our intrinsic desires, inherent strengths, and volatile passions. Every child is an artist without fear of criticism for their scribbles that tell their stories. The combination of maturing along with self-awareness and extrinsic criticism build rationalism that erodes these childhood creative and intuitive drives. Most work environments have, through trial and error, managed out creative systems in lieu of efficiency and effectiveness drivers. Teams are organized in hierarchies, and status symbols are assigned to space types. The results are an implied suppression of the intuitive nature of ideation. I believe this aspect of well-centered design remains vastly unexplored and full of potential as a design philosophy that would enhance the value of well-design.

These four key well-design criteria, to me, seem to play well in terms of space promoting a whole person experience. These four principles, in themselves complex, are an attempt to simplify and categorize the idea of abundance thinking over deficit thinking as defined by positive psychology.

Kim Cameron teaches from his research in organizational culture that, “Evolutionary theory suggests: If people ignore negative information, it could cost them their lives. If they ignore positive feedback, it only causes regret.”. He teaches that only through conscious effort can we overcome our learned deficit attitudes. Building on this, I wonder about the positive value of investigating the potential of well-design principles.

A focus on any one aspect, such as a fear in germ sharing, has too much potential to create an imbalance in well-design strategy. As we worked with the group of 40, we introduced the relationship, the thinking, and the creative value of the design. At the outset, the negative fears outweigh the positive imagination, but the business value was seen in the purpose of creating a well-design workplace for people. The team did decide to distribute disinfecting wipes on day one.

The Three Branches of Design: A look at history provides a glimpse of the future

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“Occasionally, in times of chaos and change, there is value in reconsidering and reevaluating foundations for a previously conceived or discussed idea. Facility design is one example of where this process applies. As work-place design continues to morph between the challenging demands of being more efficient and effective and providing a greater experience for people, everyone involved can gain value in design considerations by looking back in time.

According to the ancient Roman architect and author, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (De Architectura, 15 BC), architecture consists of three requirements: strength, unity, and beauty. They were referred to as the Vitruvian Triad. While the manifestation of these three constructs may have changed over time, it’s important to evaluate how a rebalancing of strength, unity, and beauty can impact the future value of workplace design in a positive way.”

Read more.