By Robert Wright, FASID
I started my career as an interior designer working for a firm that planned and designed large corporate facilities. In those days, the programming phase was pretty straightforward and the results were usually quite similar. Mid-management workers would receive 150-sq. ft. private offices, while vice-presidents would be located in corner offices with larger 300-sq. ft. workspaces. Workstations came in two sizes and each cubicle had a consistent panel height of 69 inches. The concept of collaborative spaces was not part of a designer's vocabulary. In hindsight, Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, may have been the only person in America who benefited from earlier corporate design solutions.
Much has changed since then, particularly with how companies and office employees do their work. Very few people perform isolated tasks and work independently in today's world. Workers often are brought together as teams for specific projects and then are redeployed when the project is completed. Today's offices, accordingly, are designed with quickly adaptable spaces and much more flexible work environments that provide multiple options for where and how people work together. Private offices are being eliminated and it is more common for workspaces to be shared on an as-needed basis, such as single desks assigned to multiple workers or "touchdown" desks that can be reserved as needed.
This is only one example of how the rapid changes within business are driving rapid changes within the field of office design. Interior designers continue to develop new and creative workspaces to accommodate teaming, knowledge sharing and collaboration among workers, and to integrate new technologies. The global economy has given rise to corporate leadership and project teams comprised of professionals distributed throughout the world that will require new design solutions for the office that is responding to a 24/7 cycle of business. The technology that makes it possible to work and communicate with co-workers 24 hours-a-day will continue to blur the line between work and personal time, and where and when those activities occur.
To help designers keep apace with these changes, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) has sponsored a series of discussion forums at NeoCon® and other venues called "FutureWork." These panel discussions, first presented in 2000, focus on what the future of work may look like and what implications it may have for those who design and plan workplace environments. The highlights of these forums are now available in a new ASID publication, The Future at Work: Preparing for the Workplace of Tomorrow. Drawing on the insights of the many distinguished experts who have participated in the panels, this publication presents potentially cutting-edge scenarios and suggests ways that interior designers can prepare for future design solutions.
Among the trends examined in The Future at Work are the aging worker and the multi- generational, more highly-diverse workplace—both of which are rapidly affecting workplace design solutions. With more and more people wanting to postpone retirement and work well into their 70s, interior designers will need to be more sensitive to ergonomic, lighting and acoustical design solutions for the older worker. We also must consider how to harmoniously accommodate the work and learning style preferences of different generations, genders and cultures while designing one corporate environment shared by all.
Thankfully, we have many case studies and research findings that document ways in which a well-designed workplace contributes to worker satisfaction and productivity, as well as to the overall success of a business. ASID has taken a leading role in informing interior designers of the latest in office design strategies and critical design issues affecting today's workplace. Another recent ASID publication, Designing Better Workplaces, compiles the findings of four ASID research studies that looked at ways in which the field of interior design can improve worker productivity, contribute to recruiting and retaining the most qualified workers, as well as what impact the physical environment has on employee satisfaction and work habits. It can serve as a guide to the designer or as a marketing tool to inform clients about the many ways that good interior design can aid the bottom line.
As corporate culture and the world economy change, so will the design of the workplace. It is in our best interest as interior designers to prepare for the future. The issues that preoccupy us today—the aging workforce, globalization, the environment and rapid technological change—will someday be replaced by new concerns that will need to be addressed when designing state-of-the-art workplace facilities.
To learn more about the aforementioned publications, go to www.asid.org and look under "research publications" in the resource center section of the Web site. You can also explore many research summaries on topics related to office and workplace design on the InformeDesign® Web site at www.informedesign.umn.edu.
ASID president Robert Wright, FASID, is an award-winning interior designer, with a focus on office and residential design. He is a principal of Bast/Wright Interiors, Inc. in San Diego, CA. ASID staff can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or [email protected], and on the Web at www.asid.org.