Transforming Our Workplaces - and Society - With a Design Mindset
By James M. Fraleigh
Humans used to measure their ability to change the world around them by evaluating their crop yields or how well irrigation ditches performed during the rainy season. Although we can now literally move mountains or rivers to control where water flows, our design aspirations flourish on a smaller scale, too, as researchers address how we can make our workplaces more efficient and responsive to changing needs.
Increased computing power, decentralized corporate structures, and the capacity to use environmental data have permitted the development of a design mindset. This ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes is one of 10 vital skills described in Future Work Skills 2020, a report by Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute. A design mindset will democratize the process of changing one’s surroundings as needed, often by making the tools and technology to do so far more accessible to non-experts.
Neuroscience has revealed the interplay between our brains, our behavior, and our workspaces—the office layouts, application interfaces, and ergonomics of product design we often take for granted. Research has revealed, for instance, that the height of a ceiling can influence the way people perceive themselves and how they perform certain types of tasks. For example, work requiring creativity and open exchange of ideas might best be performed under a high ceiling, the study showed. This knowledge can be used for more efficient and productive design of schools, offices, and labs, or to refit existing ones with adaptive structures that shape a space to particular needs.
Such adaptive structures might be easier than ever to produce. The open-ended nature of the design mindset explains the rising popularity of 3D printers, which use computer-aided design to prototype and produce usable items from a wide range of plastics. Companies are using them to produce unique gear for hobbyists (e.g., custom vehicle shells for the motorsports field), cut their reliance on third-party equipment makers, and bring prototypes from screen to store at record speed. Laypeople outside of manufacturing are also rolling up their sleeves to give these printers a try. At the World Maker Faire New York 2012, a science and engineering exhibition where novices and technicians celebrated the do-it-yourself spirit, at least 70 3D printers were on display, either for sale or to allow users to produce a souvenir from the show.
Whether it’s building the perfect workspace, or retrofitting one to new users’ specifications with literally homegrown gear, the design mindset embodies science fiction novelist William Gibson’s statement that “the street finds its own uses for things.”
Learn more at www.apolloresearchinstitute.org.