Published December 6, 2021
Designing for the Human Experience
DIRTT gathers design iconoclasts to share their views on why adaptability is key to resilience.
Contributed by: DIRTT
Photo credit: James John Jetel
When we listen to each other, embrace diverse perspectives, and co-create space that encourages individuals to be themselves, then collaboration, creativity, and culture thrive. And great conversations follow.
Last year, DIRTT spoke to six big thinkers who provided insight on the future of space and its impact on people. These iconoclasts shared thoughts on how the construction industry would be more efficient and sustainable if it embraced the inevitability of change by applying productization, uber flexibility, and technology to construct positive experiences and build relationships.
In November, DIRTT released the 2021 edition of their Iconoclasts series which explores why adaptable design matters, and in it we feature some of the brightest minds from the world of architecture, industrial design, research, and interior design. They provide insight on how — and more importantly, why — adaptability in design is of paramount importance for everyone in our industry, and critical to inviting people into spaces that are intentionally designed and purposefully constructed.
The 2021 Iconoclasts explore adaptability as a key driver of resilience from multiple perspectives.
The entire magazine can be downloaded on DIRTT’s editorial platform, Make Space. Or keep reading. Below is a summary of the key takeaways from creating flexible spaces by embracing agility, to weaving inclusivity into the fabric of a design process.
Equitable design starts from the inside out, says Cheryl Durst, Executive Vice President and CEO of the International Interior Design Association.
The industry must face internal discomfort to access a broader understanding of how people from varied backgrounds and lived experiences regard and engage with built environments, she continues.
If you invest in the diversity and training of designers themselves, as well as invite multidisciplinary stakeholders to be part of the design process, spaces can be created with purpose, Cheryl told DIRTT.
“Design inherently has the power to make something better.”
Creating deep meaning for people is what space stands for. That is its purpose, or its “why.”
Put to practice, equitable design enables not just more inclusive environments, but amplifies human experience, Cheryl says.
Public space and workplaces alike should function as destinations people want to experience, rather than places they are forced to go, says Benjy Ward, Design Principal and Global Creative Director at architecture and design firm Gensler.
“Just as offices need amenities to get workers out of pajamas to drive or take the train downtown to hang out with co-workers, cities will need to build parks and other spaces filled with great art and lots of people,” Benjy told DIRTT.
The result: adaptable cities and spaces that are reshaped to inspire “work-life integration” rather than work-life balance.
When designing, you're not just creating solutions to meet people's needs — you're enabling relationships, says Bret Recor, Founder and Creative Director at Box Clever.
Configuration and personalization are key to improving user experience and creating an environment that fosters these relationships. “A lot of it has to do with being able to perform in a wide range of environments,” Bret says. “That's where we're seeing a need to have more hyper-flexible configuration.”
For designers, this means understanding what gets used and what doesn’t in a space, then swapping components in and out on the fly.
How can they achieve this? Bret’s advice is to take a page out of the playbook used by direct-to-consumer brands and invest in ongoing engagement.
A truly adaptable organization embraces the "bottom-up power" of employees when designing workspaces, says Diana Rhoten, an organizational design and innovation strategist.
Increasingly, to achieve resilience, companies need to empower both agile environments and teams that are deeply collaborative, she says, noting that employees should have the opportunity to help co-create their future.
“Reconfigure what was the traditional organizational chart into more of a networks- and teams-based model. By doing that — if you have teams of folks that are working across functions — you can actually design the workday so that flexibility and hybridity is applicable and distributed across the whole organization’s culture, structure, and space,” Diana says.
Office of Planning + Community Development, City of Seattle
For Rico Quirindongo, Interim Director of Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development, community engagement is central to the creation of diverse and inclusive built environments.
“Culture and needs of the community are the most important contexts for any project getting built,” he says. To understand these contexts, architects must access insight that is sometimes subconsciously embedded in people’s cultural experiences and backgrounds.
Community engagement helps to draw that knowledge to the surface, so people become aware of and understand the impact built space has on them. Only then can they influence the design process by asking for specific needs to be met.
For this reason, the collaborative process is integral to framing equitable design choices and directions, Rico says.
To thrive in a hybrid era, workplaces must be both agile and inspire belonging, says Amanda Schneider, Founder of ThinkLab.
A single environment can’t be all things to all people, she explains. The quality and life of a space is extended when it has the agility to flex from one purpose to another. And you are one step closer to creating a place where people feel they belong.
“The feeling of belonging can be addressed in design, but we can’t do that if we don’t have diverse perspectives. And we can’t do that if we don’t acknowledge that inequities still exist,” Amanda told DIRTT.
Inclusivity doesn’t simply benefit the users of a space either –– it’s also good for business, she concludes.