MEREDITH Strategy + Design

We design the places and spaces where people come together to do great work

Starting without furniture

How embedded in our thinking about the settings for work are the conventional artifacts that we use today? Would people be able to conceive work settings and working environments without those components? 

I periodically wonder how people might shape a workspace if they began the design without furniture. 

If their design project started at the architecture, the surfaces around them, where would they placed their attention, what would they value most? 

How would the volume of the space matter? Would they put ceilings in, or take them out? What lighting would they choose? Would it be uniform throughout the space, or would they choose to illuminate different areas in different ways? 

What flooring would they choose? Would they leave that concrete uncovered, or would they put other surfaces on top of it? What other materials would they consider to be appropriate for the workspace? What walls would they erect, if any? What would they place near windows? 

Would they think first about individual work tasks or would they consider the interactions between and among themselves and design for that, first? 

If there were yet no places to sit, in what ways would they think of arranging and accommodating their work? Would many individuals find their own unique ways of working? Or would we find that many follow a leader and do similar things in similar ways?

If after all that and it finally came time to insert things into the space would they consider a table and chair as essential components of the workspace? If those fundamental elements weren’t available, how would people choose to approach their work? Would they place a 30" x 60” horizontal platform 30” above the floor to put papers on? Would they pull partitions around themselves? 

If we did this project in the near future, and large high quality digital display screens were available accommodating voice input and gestural interactions, will they choose other objects to augment their work at those devices? 

And after designing their own space in this way, at what time will they arrive? At what time will they leave? Will the products of their work be any different than they might have been utilizing conventional ways of designing the workspace?

What about you? If you were to walk into an empty space and begin to select finishes, furniture and equipment that you thought would be most effective for doing your work, would it include the things in your workspace now?

Look around your workspace. What things are in it that you take for granted but that actually no longer have real value for you and your work? What things are in your workspace that are important but that you could do with less of? What things are there that are really good and that you think you should have more of? What is missing in your workspace that hasn’t been invented yet but would be good to have?

Interactions planning versus urban planning?

Linknotes 3 – 27 January 2019

Screen Shot 2019-01-22 at 6.58.25 AM.png

Interactions planning versus urban planning

We have come to define the value of place and space by the quality, frequency and intensity of its interactions. People go to work to interact with each other to get things done, so interactions, we believe, is an appropriate measure of success. Cities act as catalysts for culture and commerce, so the richness of interaction in urban space seems an appropriate measure of successful planning. 

But what about the concept of “dwell” in a place. At the office, I may also seek a quiet, non-interactive place to do contemplative work. In the city, I may choose a quiet park to walk with my thoughts, or a sidewalk cafe to sit, sip and simply watch the passing parade. 

In this article about urban planning in Russia and Finland, the measure of digital activity in a place is the measure of the principal value of the place. The more I turn to my phone to instagram a place, for example, the higher that place registers on a scale of value. 

“Today, we can’t untangle the intricate relationships between places and the digital footprint people create while interacting with them…successful places are those capable to provide a good interaction with the users. And that is what the planning profession is all about today.”

I am not comfortable accepting that as a primary value metric. We already comment on the lack of meaningful interaction between and among people in “public” place as individuals sit glued to their texts, or photograph a place and move on rather than truly interacting with it and the people, history and culture surrounding it. 

Observation of urban space, of workspace, may provide insights to better metrics for the success of places intended and designed for engagement and interaction. What may be the kind of place or space that might cause people to put down their phones? 

(Hmm…maybe those are places like these.)

How Urban Planning Is Turning Into Interaction Planning

Linknotes | 20 January 2019

Linknotes for 20 January 2019

Residential building quality

Curbed has a nice review of the recent history of residential construction intending to uncover the validity of the statement that “They don’t build them like they used to.” 

While there are a handful of wonderful postmodern residences, and while a handful of architects continue the tradition of building fine homes, there are very few residences being built for anyone other than the ultra-wealthy, and almost none being built in the reigning deconstructivist and parametric styles of today’s big architects. This disconnection of architectural culture from the residential, indeed, from the culture of homemaking itself, is perhaps the most poignant truth within the statement “We don’t build like we used to.” 

How have building materials changed over time? - Curbed

Street level retail – other uses

Our cities and certain neighborhoods experience cycles of value in real estate. Street level retail , and restaurants as a major sub-set, may be among the more volatile of the visible types. Several businesses are now offering mothballed restaurants and other retail the benefit of temporary leases or licenses to activate the space and street with coworking and other business uses. 

In coworking era, pricey urban real estate does double duty  - Curbed

The pairing of strong and weak technologies

Chris Dixon quotes George Bernard Shaw —

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

He then goes on to paraphrase —

Weak technologies adapt to the world as it currently exists. Strong technologies adapt the world to themselves. Progress depends on strong technologies. 

Strong and Weak Technologies – cdixon blog

The city is not a computer

The increasing implementation of “smart city” infrastructure now makes evident the overlay of metrics that may be inappropriate and perhaps even destructive to nature of what makes great cities great. 

In this new political age, all rhetoric demands scrutiny. At the highest levels of government, we see evidence and quantitative data manipulated or manufactured to justify reckless orders, disrupting not only “politics as usual,” but also fundamental democratic principles. Much of the work in urban tech has the potential to play right into this new mode of governance.

The author goes on to conclude – 

Instead of more gratuitous parametric modeling, we need to think about urban epistemologies that embrace memory and history; that recognize spatial intelligence as sensory and experiential; that consider other species’ ways of knowing; that appreciate the wisdom of local crowds and communities; that acknowledge the information embedded in the city’s facades, flora, statuary, and stairways; that aim to integrate forms of distributed cognition paralleling our brains’ own distributed cognitive processes.

We must also recognize the shortcomings in models that presume the objectivity of urban data and conveniently delegate critical, often ethical decisions to the machine. We, humans, make urban information by various means: through sensory experience, through long-term exposure to a place, and, yes, by systematically filtering data. It’s essential to make space in our cities for those diverse methods of knowledge production. And we have to grapple with the political and ethical implications of our methods and models, embedded in all acts of planning and design. City-making is always, simultaneously, an enactment of city-knowing — which cannot be reduced to computation.

A City Is Not a Computer

Data versus narrative

Much of our practice in the domain of workplace planning and design has been driven by, or implies it has been driven by, data. I have, however, become increasingly concerned that the data-driven workplace is a workplace that drives people, purpose and performance from it. The data-driven workplace is about a financial portfolio and not about people and what they do to achieve the organization’s purpose. 

Portfolios today are assembled via math and marketed via story telling. 

This article reminds us, however, of the wishful thinking and cognitive bias that may move the design of the workplace into similar faulted areas. That is, that our approach may not be one or the other, but that each informs the other. 

Narrative or Data? Yes. - The Big Picture

Data, narrative, community

Perhaps neither data nor narrative, nor its combination is adequate to inform the design of the workplace. There certainly are many other factors about culture, behavior, productivity, purpose, organization, management, work types and more that could or should inform any design program, project or problem. 

This discussion of community as the foundation for organization is illuminating in that regard. 

I am focusing on communities here because communities come together and cohere very differently. They are usually aligned around a purpose larger than each individual; membership is usually voluntary which means people go where they are drawn to go. Diverse people connect who may “normally” not have known each other, creating greater opportunities for serendipity and innovation. Communities allow lurkers to also exist within its ecosystem, something teams cannot do. I believe lurkers carry immense value as they often become channels of cross-pollination between communities and are a critical part of the weak-tie network making a community more diverse, resilient and porous. And most importantly, communities carry a sense of belonging to something beyond the self. All of these contribute to make communities adept at feeling into the ecosystem, seeing the system through different lenses, caring about the system, and responding to the emergent with deeper insight. This is what tapping into the power of collective intelligence is about.

One of the core purposes of the workplace, of the office, is to bring people together to do things that they as individuals could not achieve. That is, perhaps the mission to  build and apply collective intelligence is the right focus for workspace design. 

Organizations as Communities — Part 2 – Sahana Chattopadhyay – Medium

Space and knowledge

I love this —

Emerging evidence suggests that the brain encodes abstract knowledge in the same way that it represents positions in space, which hints at a more universal theory of cognition.

The Brain Maps Out Ideas and Memories Like Spaces | Quanta Magazine

Organizational culture

Does this idea apply to the nurturing of culture in the workspace? Or is this idea a concern because it perpetuates groupthink in smaller organizational units? 

The propagation of beliefs and behaviors is influenced as much by the meanings we ascribe to them as by our social circles. 

The implication is that “social contagion” — the concept that ideas spread as viruses — is being challenged by the idea of “associative diffusion” — the concept that the relationship between ideas and the context in which they are received is the primary way that beliefs are formed. The theory holds that the things being transmitted between individuals are perceptions about what beliefs or behaviors are compatible with one another. Meaning is found in the associations between the perceptions. 

Beyond Social Networks: How Cultural Beliefs Really Spread | Stanford Graduate School of Business

Experiential office space


Part of the impetus to offer more to tenants — who are themselves trying to attract and retain talent — is that WeWork and other shared office concepts have upped the competition when it comes to making office space more appealing.

For JLL, Experiential Office Space Is The Next Big Thing

Outdoor office space as a differentiator in corporate real estate 

There is an increasing focus on how workspaces affect the health of people in them. The concept of biophilia is moving quickly into the commercial office market place as a differentiator. 

“There’s not a developer or forward-thinking building owner today that doesn’t have this top of mind,” said Paul J. Amrich, a vice chairman for the New York area at CBRE, a real estate services company.

Fueling this trend is growing awareness of the health and wellness benefits from contact with nature, a concept known as biophilia. Exposure to nature has been shown to lower levels of cortisol, the human stress hormone, as well as stimulate creativity. Employers competing for the best workers are using outdoor amenities to show they care about their staff’s well-being.

The Next Frontier in Office Space? The Outdoors - The New York Times

The corporate real estate industry is no longer about corporate real estate

The experience piece is but one factor is a rapidly evolving change in thinking about the workspace and its design and management. One of the more significant trend/threats is the emergence of “Space as a Service.” 

Everything we are familiar with about how we design, build, occupy, manage and value all the spaces and places around us will change fundamentally over the next ten years….Any company dependent on attracting, retaining and making productive high skilled employees WILL become Space as a Service minded.

Space as a Service: The Trillion Dollar Hashtag | Propmodo

Boss-less or just a new kind of manager? 

A number of companies have recently formed or tested organizational and management models that eliminate hierarchy and more to a more autonomous team and project-oriented basis. 

Today’s business landscape features exciting developments in information technology, networking and collaboration that have led to new forms of organisation, production and distribution. Far from making management obsolete, however, these changes make good management more important than ever. The shift from management as direction to management as making and enforcing the rules is slowly entering the management literature and the business-school curriculum. That’s a paradigm shift worth embracing.

No boss? No thanks. Why managers are more important than ever. | Aeon Essays

Apple's workplace design strategy at Apple Park?

There has not been a lot published about Apple Park and the nature of the working environment there. We thought we'd reference interviews, photos and reports that seem to imply something tangible about Apple's plans and try to derive some insights into their workplace strategy, and even grab some lessons for other places. 

This, of course, is only speculative. If you know better than we do, comment or shoot us a note.