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Shifting Spaces Are the New Normal Across Vertical Markets

Oct. 30, 2019

Understanding the drivers behind market changes will help designers adopt new design strategies for maximum impact.

There is an evolution of space typology happening today with words like ‘resimercial’ that have emerged to describe the desire for the office to feel more homelike. But it goes well beyond creating homier workplaces. The way people desire to use space is fundamentally changing across a variety of vertical markets. Universities want their spaces to feel more corporate, corporate and healthcare spaces are boasting a hospitality and residential influence, and even the fast food market is freshening up with more modern, upscale appeal.

As the lines continue to blur and spaces evolve to new visual standards, this CEU will seek to educate attendees on how to tie key performance measures for each space type into design solutions that are required not only to look fresh and forward-thinking, but also to function and perform at the highest standards for inhabitants.

The Emergence of Fused Spaces

Perhaps the best way to define the fused spaces is by illustration. When someone walks into an interior environment and is impressed by the way it uniquely incorporates elements from another vertical market to evoke a unique emotion, that’s a fused space. For example, many people may be surprised to walk into a well-designed McDonald’s and think, “I can’t believe this place sells hamburgers for only six dollars!” Likewise, a visitor to a hospital may feel more like they are walking into a high-end spa or the lobby of a five-star hotel. Interiors everywhere are blending across vertical markets, and buildings are no longer built in silos of what a space is “supposed to look like.”

In other words, fused spaces involve taking the best of other worlds and combining them together to make a new thing. This trend has been long established in the food industry, where items like Mexican pizza, falafel waffles, and vegetable curry pot pie have taken beloved, old recipes and blended them together with other amazing dishes to create wonderful new flavor combinations.

The same fusion is happening in the design industry, where traditional silos are being dismantled and fused into new and varied areas to create spaces that work better for clients and their projects. Designers can look at what each of the existing silos did well, where they fall short, and consider what can be learned from them. Like the world of food fusion, spaces are now open to delightful and surprising blends of strengths to achieve a whole new look.

There are six primary drivers behind the fusion of commercial spaces which represent some of the most impactful reasons why people crave change in their environments. These include wellness, biophilia, engagement, movement, social interaction and experiences.

These are not the only drivers influencing the trend, but they all have staying power. The concept of fused spaces isn’t a trend like ’70s paneling or millennial pink. Rather, fused spaces are shaping the face of commercial interiors and are designed and backed by research-based strategies that impact the key performance indicators of each space. Interior designers are taking the very best spaces that have been deemed successful and infusing those elements into interiors that may not be working as well. The result is a well-defined, expertly designed space that merges the needs of its occupants with the principles of great design.

This trend toward overlapping markets goes by a number of different names, including Resimercial, Corpitality, Respitality, Soft Contract, Ambidextrous Design and Casual Corporate. There are other terms that will likely emerge but what’s important isn’t the terminology, but how it works in practice to achieve a project’s desired outcomes.

In the sections that follow, we’ll examine this trend in practice today by looking at several vertical markets while we discuss how fusion is manifesting in the corporate, hospitality, healthcare, retail and fast food market. Then, we’ll explore how each of these verticals blends the best of other markets to maximize its potential. We’ll identify the primary drivers of each vertical market and review the principles that may have originated in one vertical, but have applications across every element of design.

Corporate Market

The corporate office environment today is far from perfectly designed. The design of the workplace has come a very long way from the days when cubicle farms and corner offices were the norm. Those outdated, uninspiring offices of the past were so bad that they became a punchline in comic strips like Dilbert and cult films like Office Space that made light of the fact that people weren’t meant to work in boxes.

It’s obvious to most design professional today that we’re experiencing a major culture shift in corporate America. As older generations retire, they are giving way to members of Gen Z, who generally are classified as being more motivated by peers, craving collaboration and enjoy working in teams. This new generation of workers require a new work environment that mirrors their modified lifestyle and desired merger of home and work. And designers are finding that, by fusing a little bit of the best of other markets, they can make better workplaces.

This corporate evolution isn’t new, of course. It first took off with a rush to a full open plan, which we soon found doesn’t always work well for the employees in the space – but that’s a separate conversation1. Then there was a push to make the space feel more residential, which worked aesthetically, but tripped up those who went a little too far and specified furniture and finishes that couldn’t hold up to the demands of a commercial setting.

While the addition of a younger generation of workers is driving this need for change, researchers also are finding that employers are placing more importance on additional change drivers like employee engagement, health and wellness, and collaboration, which have all been proven to be beneficial to the organization’s bottom line2.

Today, we see a shift in workplace design to a new kind of space. It looks and feels different than in decades past in that the spaces show off a skillful blend of elements from hospitality, higher education and residential. Other design elements are also obviously at play – light, movement, a casual atmosphere and even experience-based design – all of which are geared toward helping the occupants of the space feel more engaged with their work. Why? Because it is beneficial to the organization to have their employees engaged.

Research demonstrates that employees are more engaged when their spaces allow them to function based on the needs of the work versus having the function of the space determine the work they do. With a recent Gallup study showing that an actively disengaged employee costs their organizations 34% of their salary, the ability to design for this new fusion is imperative3

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Learning Objectives

interiors+sources’ Continuing Education Series articles allow design practitioners to earn continuing education unit credits through the pages of the magazine. Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this issue’s article. To receive one hour of continuing education credit (0.1 CEU) as approved by IDCEC, read the article, then log in to take the corresponding exam. To earn 1 learning unit (LU) as approved by AIA, read the article, then log in to take the corresponding exam.

After reading this article, you should be able to:

  • Identify the industrywide shift toward designing spaces that transcend traditional values specific to certain vertical markets.
  • Explore the implications that these new spaces could have on the performance of the space
  • Examine traditional key performance indicators required for successful design solutions in these markets, looking at which are still relevant to maintain in the face of shifting visual requirements
  • Consider what the future might hold in terms of the evolution of distinct vertical market design differentiation, addressing how to maintain visual identities (or not) in an era of shifting client priorities.

Following are a few drivers to consider when planning workplace design strategies.

Corporate collaboration. For employers, research-based or evidence-based design improves occupancy and financial performance. It also increases employee efficiency and retention and reduces absenteeism. In fact, industry experts predict that design based on data will be the workplace design trend of the future4.

In short, designers won’t just be designing for what people say they want (i.e., open concept) or what people think they want (i.e., residential), but instead, they will be designing based on years of data and trial and error methodology. We’ll look at which spaces are being used most often and for how long. Analyzing the data and making sure that the spaces within a corporate office will be valuable to maximizing costs spent on real estate, as well as provide insight into the spaces employees find the most productive.

Corporate right-sizing. Chalk it up to increased rents or perhaps a greater importance placed on our environmental footprint, but regardless of the reason, the facts are that personal space is shrinking, and shared space is growing in the office. Research shows that in workplaces with private offices, those spaces were empty more than 65% of the time. By shrinking the space dedicated to private offices and making the collaboration areas larger, designers can reduce the overall square footage of the whole office while adding spaces that employees are naturally drawn to.

The fusion between corporate, hospitality and higher education results in a space where employees have the flexibility to collaborate and the mobility to engage physically with the space. Employees can pick a spot that works best with not just the work they need to get done, but the mood they are in or the method of work they’d prefer to use.

Corporate health, wellness and mobility. Several years ago, corporations began putting corporate wellness programs in place. These were mostly designed to encourage employees to take care of themselves outside of work. We know that it will take more than that to help employees along their road to health, however.

Now the initiative has evolved to include providing employees with opportunities to move at work by means of open staircases, sit-to-stand desking, and an overall encouragement of workers to be more physically active.  More physically active employees are healthier employees and healthier employees are less expensive employees5. And since the CDC suggested that physical inactivity is responsible for 11.1% of healthcare expenditures between 2006 and 2011, this new element of design has become more relevant than ever6.

Hospitality Market

Anyone who’s done their fair share of traveling has likely stayed in an outdated, plain or uninspiring hotel room before. These dated rooms are a reminder that there was a time when many hotels were highly focused on efficiency over style or comfort.

This less-than-appealing approach left travelers feeling weary. It’s not just the color palette that has changed from these rooms, however. What guests expect out of guest rooms as changed dramatically.

As hotels have become travel destinations themselves, the spaces are reimagined with new strategies in mind and are designed to cater to the needs of every type of guest. What’s more, guests today don’t just want amenities, they also want their travels to provide an experience7.

As a result, hotels have begun to take advantage of any opportunity to engage guests by providing personalized experiences in every space, product and service. Think selfie stations, yoga rooms and cozy lounges for travelers to relax in as they shuffle between meetings, events or activities. This refreshed approach to hospitality design is primarily driven by the following four drivers:

Hospitality engagement. Consider the Moxy brand of hotels, for example. The company’s brand is aimed at the younger traveler looking for an experience, and anyone who’s visited one of their properties has likely “Instagrammed” the moment. Hotels and restaurants understand that today’s clients are looking for these opportunities – which benefits both brand and guest by elevating each other8. The guest shows their audience the great place they’re in, and the establishment shows off their guests.

In fact, a study by Gallup showed a strong link between customers’ engagement levels with a hotel and the amount of money they spend on things like upgrades, food, beverages, and hotel services9. Guests spent an average of $457 per stay at the hotel they visited most frequently in the past 12 months, but fully engaged guests spent $588 per stay compared with $403 per stay for actively disengaged guests – a difference of $185 per customer. Aggressive advertising campaigns, mega sales promotions, promises of low prices and reward programs may get customers through the door but they don’t create the types of emotional connections that drive long-term profits and loyalty the way they used to.

As such, it’s safe to say that today, the biggest driver to growth is engagement. Gallup defines customer engagement as the emotional connection between a company and its customers. Though some may believe customers’ purchasing decisions are guided primarily by rational thinking, research has shown otherwise. Customers form strong emotions about a company based on their experiences with its people – and those emotions strongly influence their buying decisions, according to Gallup.

In other words, customers who love a company and are true believers say that they “can’t live without it” (think Starbucks). They shop more often, buy more, tell others about it, and, most importantly, are less price sensitive. On the other hand, customers who hate a company spread negative emotions to stop others from doing business with them. Whether it’s engagement with social media or engagement with the physical space itself, the value of engagement has morphed into the most predictive driver for success.

Hospitality wellness. Hoteliers are actively looking for ways to nurture a sense of well-being among their frazzled guests10. In addition to people’s desire for an experience in travel, most travelers would agree that they crave a healthy travel experience. Business travels want their time away from home to be a continuation of their healthy lifestyle at home. Leisure travels demand an experience that caters to their love of wellness or perhaps to their priority of making healthy choices for their families.

Considering the whole package of wellness – mind, body, and spirit – a few trends begin to emerge. This includes a sensory experience in which travelers want all of their senses evoked, from the pleasing aroma of florals from a biophilia-inspired space, to the decadent flavors of an expertly prepared and healthy meal. Even the careful control of light (circadian lighting to control mood and body clock, for example), temperature, air quality and noise play active rolls in the wellness factor of design in hospitality.

According to a Gallup report, “Traveling these days often means navigating a gauntlet of flight delays, security checkpoints, overcrowded planes, lost luggage and unfamiliar streets. It’s enough to set travelers’ stress levels soaring. So, it’s no surprise that hoteliers are looking for ways to nurture a sense of well-being among their frazzled guests. Many hotels have started offering everything from soothing massages and yoga classes to guided meditation to restore travelers' lost equilibrium.”

Clearly, the key to great design in hospitality is the ability to provide a reprieve from the stresses of everyday life. But when the very act of traveling becomes a stressor itself, this mission becomes even more critical.

Other hotels take the concept even further, touting their entire guest experience as a holistic respite from the tumult of life. These facilities offer everything from spa treatments to uber-healthy cuisine, state-of-the-art workout facilities and an invigorating atmosphere designed to help guests attain an optimal sense of wellness.

But does this approach make good business sense? Or is it just another warm and fuzzy fad? Taking care of guests’ well-being can lead to a healthier balance sheet if hotels do it right. That’s because there’s a strong link between guests’ feelings of well-being and customer engagement, and as noted previously, engagement is a strong predictor of business growth. Nearly 8 of 10 guests (79%) who strongly agree that the hotel they visit most frequently takes care of their well-being are fully engaged, acting as brand ambassadors and going out of their way to purchase the brand’s products or services.

Hospitality experiences. Practically speaking, experience is one of, if not the most important consideration for travel. People choose a destination based on the experience they desire. Business travelers may want a clean room with great Wi-Fi and a decent, complimentary breakfast. But those same amenities won’t move the needle for a leisure traveler who wants to experience a local destination.

This is where boutique and other independent properties have the upper hand. Since they don’t have to stick brand standards, they are in a good position to provide memorable spaces that reflect their local destination, the unique character of their property and the desires of their target demographic. They can even offer experiences through tours or lessons to get the guests to participate and really feel like they’ve been in a new place.

Hospitality right-sizing. The industry has seen the shrinking of spaces in corporate environments, specifically as it relates to personal space versus communal space. So why wouldn’t the same principles apply to hospitality? Executives from Hilton’s new Tru brand call the concept “socially alone”13. Patrons want to trade their in-room desk for a large social area with dedicated workspaces. After all, who would want to work on a spreadsheet or report in their stuffy room when they could sit in an expertly designed space and enjoy a cup of coffee while working in an environment designed for work and social interactions?

Healthcare Market

There’s perhaps no other vertical market that is in need of a dose of fusion like healthcare. Fortunately for patients and their families, cold, sterile and institutional facilities of the past are beginning to phase out in favor of ones that reflect the trends in the market.

Driven by wellness, respite and experience, the healthcare industry has taken its turn with fusion and blended with hospitality and even residential to create a whole new look for modern hospitals for the benefit of medical staff and patients alike.

Let’s take a closer look at these drivers:

Healthcare wellness. It’s hard to believe the wellness trend didn’t catch on sooner in the healthcare market, as the two go hand-in-hand. As researchers look for ways to enhance wellness for patients in healthcare, many underlying principles emerge. Studies show that access to nature promotes healing and proves that getting patients up and moving after a procedure helps promote faster healing – thus the need for mobility design in healthcare14. Also, one study of well-designed acute psychiatric clinic saved a hospital more than $30,000 in injections that would have otherwise been used to calm agitated patients15. All of these improvements make for better hospitals with improved outcomes and result in higher profits for the institution. 

Healthcare respite. It’s been proven that patients that have access to views of the outdoors heal more quickly than those with views of buildings16. Likewise, nurses that are allowed to break in the outdoors return to work more relaxed than nurses who break indoors. It’s also clear that respite is on the rise. Modern hospitals are finding ways to incorporate spaces more commonly found in playgrounds and museums to help support patients and staff alike, all for the benefit of the hospitals.

Further, these relaxing amenities significantly improve patient satisfaction scores and are a larger factor in driving traffic to hospitals than clinical quality17. As a result, amenity-rich hospitals with modern design features are attracting more patients, which is good for the hospital’s top line.

Healthcare experiences. An analysis of multiple studies conducted by Yale University researchers found that social interaction helps patients recovering from coronary artery disease or bypass surgery. The more a patient felt supported by his social network, the more quickly he or she recovered18.

There are several ways hospitals can help keep their patients’ social health up. For starters, they can make it easier for friends and family to visit for longer periods. Too many hospitals lack places for family members to sleep, share a meal with their loved one, charge their phones or even hang up their coats.

Hospitals don’t need to transform themselves into a five-star hotel, necessarily. But simple things like natural light, potted plants, artwork on the walls, built-in sleeping arrangements and free Wi-Fi can go a long way toward getting friends and family to extend their visit. Reconfigurable patient rooms can make it easier for visitors to stay with their loved ones. Thirty years ago, a new dad might have had to nap in a folding chair while he waited to give his wife a break from their newborn baby. Today, he may be able to sleep right beside his family on a sofa that converts into a bed at the flip of a switch.

Research supports the benefits of providing social experiences for patients as well. One four-year study of 1,000 hip-replacement recipients found that the most socially isolated patients had a risk of pain after surgery that was almost three times higher than their counterparts19. In other words, a healthy social life in the hospital speeds healing.

For example, the University Medical Center of Princeton recently revamped its patient rooms by making them all private, installing large windows for natural light and expanding space for visitors with pullout couches. Likewise, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s surgery center in New York features movable sofas that let larger families all sit together. In Chicago, families at Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group can sit behind frosted-glass panels to have serious conversations in private. When hospitals are able to accommodate visitors with different circumstances, loved ones remain calm and, most importantly, close to the patient.

Some hospitals are even going so far as to allow loved ones to help with patient care. Intermountain Healthcare in Utah found that letting family members perform some hospital staff functions reduced rates of readmission. When hospitals design spaces with visitors in mind, patients and loved ones alike feel at home, at ease and connected with one another. It’s time we treat loneliness like the vital sign it is by making healthcare spaces a little more welcoming.

Senior Living Market

As a subset of the healthcare industry, senior living suffered the same lack of inspiration and attention to design details as hospitals and other medical facilities. This market has been in need of a dose of fusion and the need has never been greater. The rise in the number of Americans seeking this level of care is expected to double over the next 40 years. According to the Population Reference Bureau, nearly 100 million Americans will be 65 or older by 206020.

Over the past decade, however, design in the senior living industry has changed a great deal, driven by similar trends affecting other markets including wellness, technology and destination experiences21. Much of the senior living industry has moved away from institutional features, and instead embraced upscale concepts, in part because they are appealing to a more diverse audience.

Here's how these drivers are affecting change in the senior living market:

Senior living wellness. Well-traveled, tech-savvy, affluent baby boomers will choose communities that target their goals and dreams and demonstrate flexibility to keep the lifestyle current and interesting. Their focus is evolving from exclusively independent living or assisted living to mixed facilities that need to appeal to not only a variety of needs, but also varying retirement ages as well.

When it finally does come time to select a senior living community, they’re likely to seek a well-rounded facility that emphasizes health and wellness and offers myriad opportunities to stay active while embodying a hospitality/residential aesthetic. As a result, communities that offer such amenities as fitness programs, extensive opportunities for socialization and alternative wellness modalities are poised to attract, capture and retain the individuals in this profitable market.

LuAnn Holec, principal of Thoma-Holec Design put it this way: “Well-traveled, tech-savvy, affluent baby boomers will choose communities that target their goals and dreams and demonstrate flexibility to keep the lifestyle current and interesting. Interiors will need to reflect the diversity of this group, and provide a multitude of amenities that offer convenience, challenge and extreme comfort.”

Senior Living Technology. More senior housing facilities are making the most of modern technology as well. Some promote the use of wearable GPS tracking devices for memory care patients so that specialists can locate where a patient is when needed. But simpler things like digital signage or custom communication boards also give seniors the ability to see digital photos of loved ones, catch up on the weather forecast, etc., which can help keep their room feeling full of life and well connected to the outside world.

Senior Living Destination Experiences. While many retirees still enjoy bingo, senior housing facilities are focusing on creating positive experiences. The next generation of retirees want to experience new things and to continue living fulfilling lives. To that end, designers are working to meet those desires by creating spaces that have room for computer related courses or more entertainment options.

The idea behind this is giving seniors the ability to not be limited. To help with this in facilities where excursions may not be possible, designers are starting to embrace “destination” design, where each space looks different than the rest of those in the community23. It may soon become commonplace in senior living to see a wider variety of dining venues, for example – and not just bistros or pubs. Steakhouses, whiskey and martini bars, sushi joints, Italian grottos, artisan ice cream shops, delis and patisseries are just a few examples of that budding trend.

Retail Market

In years past, inventory was key and service was abundant in most stores. Today’s consumers, however, are savvier and are looking for more in a shopping experience. What’s more, in-store experiences are competing with online retailers and need to create an experience that really stands apart.

Similar to drivers we’ve seen in other markets, designing for experience, wellness and technology are influencing design in the retail market as well. Dan Hodges, founder and CEO, Retail Store Tours, recently reviewed more than 1,000 stores in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas and uncovered several factors that are driving success in retail today24. “We discovered the winning factors in retail today, including the retail environment, use of technology, store design, brand story, unique concept and change,” he said. As a result, these retail drivers are being fused with the best of hospitality, museums, corporate, and spas to encourage shoppers to part with their money:

Retail experiences. The future of retail is about creating an experience that consumers can’t help but tell their friends and family about – and, more importantly, is also a key method of differentiating from giant online retailers like Amazon. A research study conducted by PSFK surveyed 400 retail executives to ask them where they were headed with their organizations25. More than half (55%) said that by 2020 part of their marketing budgets would be spent on in-store experiences.

Take Dr. Marten’s flagship store in London as an example. It includes an experiential space called DM’s Boot room that serves as a permanent “gig space.” This “museum” ties the brand to the music and subculture of the 1960’s to present. It also features a product customization and personalization area26. In Nike’s New York office, a basketball court features 400 spectators open to leagues and high school teams that Nike mentors – talk about creating an experience while shopping! These examples demonstrate how the traditional retail space is transforming to incorporate so much more than selling product. In an Amazon world, these experiences simply can’t be replaced online.

Retail wellness. Stores today are doing so much more than just selling product – they’re also emphasizing wellness to their customers outside of their standard product offerings. Walk into a clothing boutique, for example, and you’ll find high-end garments sold alongside essential oils and a brochure for the benefits of yoga. Perhaps it’s the need to do more with less space or maybe it’s the drive to create an experience, but it’s not difficult to see the connection to incorporate wellness into every aspect of life today.

It’s likely the reason why customers can now find meditation lectures with Deepak Chopra at ABC Carpet & Home in New York, a yoga class at Bloomingdale's or a wellness getaway with Free People27. These unique concepts are all distinctive offerings that can’t be found elsewhere and have been shown to drive revenues for the stores.

Retail technology. When most people think of technology in retail, Amazon is probably top of mind. Yet the idea of incorporating technology into the design of brick-and-mortar stores is equally prevalent today.

7Fresh, for example, feature smart shopping carts that follow customers through stores so they don’t have to push, freeing up their hands to explore more product. Amazon Go is doing something similar but without the fancy robot carts. They have built stores that allow customers to purchase the items they want without having to stop for a cashier to check them out. Many major retailers like Walmart and Target offer mobile apps that offer coupons and deals that only apply in the store as well.

Retailers built to capitalize on rapidly changing consumer behaviors and trends are winners. The future truly belongs to the fast movers and their ability to adapt their business models.

Fast Food Market

For people who remember what all fast food restaurants looked like in the past, it may seem out of place to include them in a conversation about well-designed retail or hospitality spaces. Historically, the main objective for fast food chains was convenience for the owners. The plastic benches and seats, tables, and floors could be wiped down easily, the furniture didn’t move, and the space was designed for people to eat their food and leave quickly. In other words, the space didn’t lend itself to lingering patrons. High turnover and low maintenance was the key to profitability.

But today’s needs have evolved beyond those simple targets. And as we’ve seen in other markets, the factors that are driving change are the same for fast food: experiences, social interactions and right-sizing, all of which play an active role in the fusion of design.

Fast food experiences. Fast food retailers such as McDonald’s have given themselves a major overhaul and fused typical fast food needs of convenience and speed with new influences to meet the new needs of a fast food restaurant. And since the price of food is rising perhaps faster than many paychecks, people expect to get more for their money when dining out. Therefore, the need to create a fast food experience mimicking a sit-down restaurant is real. As a result, these spaces have been reimagined to meet the new demands of the fast food customer28.

Fast food social interaction. Fast food locations are becoming a destination for interaction. For the overwhelmed stay-at-home parent, a fast food restaurant with an indoor playground offers a welcomed destination to socialize with other at-home parents. For the elderly individual living alone, a fast food restaurant provides a destination to get a reasonably priced meal served alongside perhaps the only social interaction they will receive that day.

Fast food restaurants used to be a place to grab a quick meal, often on the go. But today, they are serving so much more, and their design principles are following suit. Larger, family-style tables encourage communal dining, and activities for children allow parents to extend their stay29.

Fast food right sizing. As technology continues to encroach on every aspect of life, many believe the wave of the future will be smaller spaces designed for efficiency30. Ordering food on a smart device and picking it up from a designated cubby is becoming more common, for example.

In theory, this makes sense for the bottom line in that increased efficiency means more product sold with less retail space (i.e., a lower rent). The key to this driver will be the ability to marry the desire for efficiency with the desire for social interaction.

Fusion in Action

Many consumers are well-acquainted with this trend toward fusing different markets as evidenced by new projects that have popped up and embody nearly every design principle mentioned thus far. For example, people who have seen commercials on television from Capital One might be wondering if they’re looking at a bank, a restaurant or even a hotel lobby. Capital One, a bank known for its heavy online presence, is developing cafes to reverse the declining traffic to large bank spaces. The cafes feature food, comfortable seating and reliable Wi-Fi to draw customers back into their brick-and-mortar locations30.

AT&T is following suit by piloting a 2,000-square-foot space in Seattle with a café, cell phone store and lounge seating. Likewise, Crate and Barrel is planning a restaurant, while Restoration Hardware is ready to launch spaces with a barista on the end floor and full-service restaurants on the roof.

State Farm has also entered the fray with its Next Door concept described as “your local community drop by, hang out, collaborate and learn, no-cheesy-sales-pitches-we-promise, plan-for-your-future space31. Come hang out, and if a question arises about insurance, oh, Nick your insurance guy is here to answer. But Nick isn’t just an insurance guy. He’s a financial coach who isn’t paid to sell you stuff, he’s there to strengthen your financial wellness. How’s that for service?”

This casual yet experience-driven approach to banking, insurance and retail would have been unheard of 10 or 20 years ago. Clearly, spaces that incorporate fusion influenced by research-backed drivers are on the rise. They are fresh, inviting and encourage multiple different outcomes through the use of design. Next, we’ll look at the future of design through the lens of vertical market design evolution.

The Future of Fusion

If there’s one thing that’s for certain about the future, it’s the fact that change is inevitable. But as the industry embraces the future of design and the impact that each distinct vertical market will play in terms of design differentiation, it’s important to consider what other outside influences will play a role in design decisions.

From the health and wellness trend to the emergence of immersive technology, and the growth of education to the shifting nature of the workplace toward innovation labs, it’s important to consider what the future might hold in terms of the evolution of these distinct markets and understand how to maintain visual identities (or not) in an era of shifting-client priorities.

Health and wellness. When we look to the future of design, nearly every vertical market shared one driver in common: wellness. As wellness weaves its way in and out of all market segments, building rating systems like WELL and Fitwel that focus on human sustainability become more prevalent and integrated into the programming of most organizations. In fact, there are more than 150 WELL-certified projects in the U.S., with nearly 1,500 projects registered or in progress, and there has been an 80% increase in projects achieving Fitwell certification between 2017 and 201832. It’s safe to assume with growth in both of these certification systems, these type of projects are going to become the norm in a similar fashion as LEED-certified projects.

VR/AR/MR/AI. Technology is another common driver that extends across each of the vertical markets discussed in this CEU. Keeping up with the terminology can be tricky, but simply stated, virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and artificial intelligence are all impacting work at an ever-accelerating pace (see sidebar at the end of this article for a glossary explaining these terms). In fact, 48% of designers say VR/AR/MR are important to incorporate into the creative process33. One prominent digital strategist noted that “most of the VR happening is being driven by clients who want to visualize space before they build. AI is being used to suggest concepts and help designers from a computational and programmable standpoint. As the technology becomes more accessible, I can see it becoming more prevalent in the next two years.” In other words, technology isn’t just driving the need to design more fusion-based spaces, it also is driving the way we design those very spaces.

Education. Consider this: the top jobs of tomorrow are ones that haven’t been invented yet that will require skills that we don’t yet know, using technologies that haven’t been invented yet to find solutions to problems that we can’t see yet – but will need today’s workforce to execute. As a result, ongoing education in all workplaces will be necessary to ramp up the skills of existing employees to do those jobs. And preparing for work isn’t only about technology or skills for the global economy – it will involve creating a learning space that is as dynamic as the world around us in every workplace. As a result, all workplaces will need additional spaces for accommodating this learning.

Garage-ify the Workplace. According to a definition in Entrepreneur magazine, a business incubator is an organization designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services that could include physical space, capital, coaching, common services and networking connections34. Tomorrow’s workplace will need to attract talent faster and to “garage-ify” to create an innovation laboratory. This process is about creating a space where innovation and creativity flourish like the old startups that worked with a tight knit crew in a pseudo-lab to collaborate on the next big idea35.

Microsoft refers to these spaces as “protected habitats.” Employees need spaces where they feel comfortable to explore wild ideas and feel safe in doing so. These idea tanks will be the wave of the future and will enable innovation to flourish. Characteristics of these innovation labs include:

  • Combination of casual seating and flex space
  • Chairs positioned in a circle or U-shape to promote idea sharing
  • Lighting levels that reduce glare and stress
  • Bold colors/materials to add energy
  • Tabletop smart-screen to capture creation sessions
  • Marker wall/pin-up area

As M+A Architects’ Director of Design Dan Pease explains, “the creative area should have a combination of casual seating and flex space with chairs positioned in a circle or u-shape to promote idea sharing. The lighting level should be designed to reduce glare and stress. And bold colors/materials should be used to invigorate the casual, yet fun environment. I’d also integrate a tabletop smart screen to help efficiently capture creative sessions and a marker wall or pin-up area. Ideas left pinned-up for display helps engage stakeholders who may not have been in the discussion.”36

Fusion Will Require Constant Evaluation

We live in a world of endless viewpoints that are expressed 24/7. People share opinions on clothes, cars, homes and even our personal choices, so it’s no wonder that evaluation will drive a lot of how we design in the future. Whether it is the Yelp score of a local restaurant, a Glassdoor rating for a corporation or a healthcare evaluation for a hospital visit, reviews of the built environment will continue to provide information to decision makers that will influence the way designers create interiors.

As we look at the fused environments of the future, it’s important to not only consider the people that inhabit the space and the drivers that influence them, but also the opinions of third-party influencers. While it may seem challenging, it also provides an environment for constant growth and innovation. The challenge for designers to create spaces that look good, function properly and holds up to the demands of the space and the activity of its users has never been greater. The proper selection of furniture and finishes is often a make-or-break decision for the long-term success of the project.

The end goal is to create a space that not only functions, but also withstands the constant evaluation its patrons demand. Needs change. Societal influences change. Perhaps the only constant is the need to remain fluid – and to incorporate aesthetic appeasement in the process, of course. By specifying products that are durable and multifunctional, designers can help create a fluid environment that confirms to the needs of its occupants, regardless of how those needs change.

As Kay Sargent, director of HOK’s WorkPlace observed: “The key is being able to blend different attributes together to create a variety of rich experiences and a holistic sense of place.”

Tech Glossary

Below are a few definitions of the acronyms from this article related to new technology based on information from Wikipedia and more in-depth analysis from software developer Foundry:

Virtual reality (VR)
Wikipedia definition: Virtual reality (VR), which can be referred to as immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, replicates an environment that simulates a physical presence in places in the real world or an imagined world, allowing the user to interact in that world.

Foundry’s interpretation: Virtual reality is the umbrella term for all immersive experiences, which could be created using purely real-world content, purely synthetic content or a hybrid of both. This is where the industry is getting excited right now. Content-viewing hardware, a.k.a. head-mounted displays (HMDs), ranges from Google Cardboard right up to HTC Vive. The market here is hot and the media is full of news about launches. Second only to excitement about headsets is excitement about cameras. Nokia OZO launched in December and GoPro has introduced Odyssey – a collaboration with Google Jump – Ricoh has Theta, and there’s also Bublcam and Giroptic.

Augmented Reality (AR)
Wikipedia definition: Augmented reality (AR) is a live, direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

Foundry interpretation: Augmented reality is an overlay of content on the real world, but that content is not anchored to or part of it. The real-world content and the CG content are not able to respond to each other. IKEA has developed a table as part of its concept kitchen that suggests recipes based on the ingredients on the table, which is a great example of AR working in the real world, potentially. Google Glass was a first attempt from Google to bring augmented reality to consumers and we’d expect to see more of this in the future.

Mixed reality (MR)

Wikipedia definition: Mixed reality (MR) – sometimes referred to as hybrid reality – is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time.

Foundry’s interpretation: Mixed reality is an overlay of synthetic content on the real world that is anchored to and interacts with the real world. Picture surgeons overlaying virtual ultrasound images on their patient while performing an operation, for example. The key characteristic of MR is that the synthetic content and the real-world content are able to react to each other in real time.

Hardware associated with mixed reality includes Microsoft’s HoloLens, which is set to be big in MR – although Microsoft has dodged the AR/MR debate by introducing yet another term: “holographic computing.” Microsoft recently announced a HoloLens emulator for developers so they can make applications for the new tech.

Of all the realities mentioned here, mixed reality seems like the furthest from fruition. However, it’s not impossible to imagine a future where synthetic content will be able to react to and even interact with the real world in some way.

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