An Iterative Approach to Designing Space

Posted in Innovation
9.8.17

“Great design is a multi-layered relationship between human life and its environment.”
–Naoto Fukasawa

Planning, building, and then finalizing a new space is a typical design practice but not the optimal one. Space design, like any other design medium, benefits from an iterative approach that takes into account the user-experience.

In the workspace industry, this review of how people interact with a built space is called a Post-Occupancy Evaluation (POE). A POE happens after people move-in to a space and sets a baseline for the spaces performance as it relates to the user experience. This method assumes that every design may be improved, by seeing how real users interact with it.

Beyond providing a baseline of how a space is meeting the needs of its users, a POE defines guidelines, grounded in research, on how to improve the existing space. At The Energy Project, we have created a POE – The Energy Audit for Workspaces™ – that looks specifically at how space helps or hinders meeting employees’ core energy needs:

  • Physical energy needs for daytime rest and renewal, fitness, nutrition, and an environment that supports healthy evening sleep. For example, giving employees regular access to natural sunlight helps regulate their sleep cycles.
  • Emotional energy needs for space that fosters high-positive emotions, social connection, safety, trust, and respect.
  • Mental energy needs for space to focus, collaborate creatively, brainstorm, and space to mentally quiet the mind and renew for those who working regularly in the office and remote workers.
  • Spiritual energy needs for a space that is aligned with the values of the organization, or reflects what is important to the community. In cases where values aren’t highly articulated, simply having connection to what matters to people in the physical space can be powerful.

To find out how well the space supports these four dimensions of energy we observe and record with photos and diagrams:

  • What people are doing in the space. Does the environment fit the task at hand? For instance, are employees trying to brainstorm in a room without whiteboards or join on a conference call with a room with echo?
  • Changes people make to their environments to accommodate their needs. For instance, are people hanging up paper on their glass wall to create privacy? Bringing in their own lighting to avoid poor quality overheads? What other “hacks” are people using?
  • Changes people make to establish a place as their own. Are people personalizing the space by bringing in family photos, sports paraphernalia, highlighting personal achievements? Who does this? What effect does that have on the culture?
  • Ways in which the company communicates with the public. How does the company present itself to the general public. For example, is their signage outside? What impression does this give?
  • Messages both formal and informal that are displayed in the space. What do messages show about the culture? For example, if people write informal notes to say where they are when out of the office, what might this say about their culture?
  • Barriers in the space that create in and out groups. For instance, if there are locks on certain floors or doors, how does this affect communication? Who goes in? Who doesn’t? Why?

After doing these observations and recording our questions, we then use a focus group and survey to glean more insights into what we learned in the observation phase. This allows us to gather additional information and context to inform our design guidelines.

When presented back to the client, these design guidelines help facilities managers, architects, and interior designers understand how the may tweak the space to serve the occupants who use it.

In fact, seemingly small changes we have recommended have had outsized results. Hiding unhealthy snack helped employees at one of our client’s offices eat healthier. By co-locating teams that were supposed to work together, another client increased collaboration.

Simply by becoming more aware of how environments shape our health and productivity our clients become empowered to make meaningful change for their employees.