R&D Project: Work Environments

Industrial Design CASE STUDY

I was a designer at a small multi-disciplinary architecture / industrial design firm in the 1990s when we were hired by Steelcase, the nation's largest office-furniture manufacturer, to work on a concept for the future of the workplace. 

The images and descriptions here provide a very small glimpse into a project lasting a couple of years.

Our work included:

  • Charting a strategy and scope for the project, including research to create user-group personas and define functional requirements
  • Concept development, design studies, and models
  • Full-scale working prototypes
  • User interviews and outside critiques
  • Further rounds of design refinements and operational prototypes
  • Creating marketing proposals and strategy documents
  • Documenting the process throughout
 

Alongside the client's R&D department and organizational psychologists, we researched developing work practices and un-met opportunities in the market, while encouraging the management to move beyond their conservative brand identity.

Our concept was predicated on giving groups in the office environment a high degree of autonomy over their work spaces.  

(The booklets shown here compiled our research, our dozens of design concepts and study models, user surveys, etc., etc.)

 

 

Going beyond the traditional world of partition panels and casegoods, we conceived "micro-architectural" elements, which would be semi-permanently installed to create a sense of space and to distribute utilities. Then we would provide mobile elements to support various kinds of group work - tables, storage, display, lighting, etc. Users had ownership to reconfigure these elements over time, on a monthly or even hourly basis, to support their unique and shifting work patterns.

 

Through drawings and models, we came up with proposed designs, and then we rapidly built working prototypes and installed them in the client's active workspaces. The idea was not to rush to simulate a finished, market-ready product, but to test out the concepts quickly in real-world situations.

Then we interviewed the users to assess their experience and the functionality of the products, and we compiled evaluations from the users and from the behavioral consultants.

 

 

We went on to further rounds of design refinements - again, from models and sketches through working full-scale prototypes, each time at a higher level of sophistication toward supporting work habits and gravitating toward market-ready products.