Programming and Research-Based Process: The Genesis for Fostering Playful Work Design Exploration

There is satisfaction in creating something custom and made-to-order.

Retail Design Collaborative headquarters, downtown Long Beach, CA. The headquarters transformed and occupies a former Nordstrom Rack and is 34,102 square feet. The project was completed in March 2017. Credit: Fotoworks, Benny Chan Photography

Programming the work space requires a variety of creative solutions and there is certainly no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Fundamental design aspects for the workplace, integrates three critical aspects:

  • Identifying vision and goals for the space utilizing research-led process
  • Facilitating both qualitative and quantitative research to inform the design’s output
  • Employing a bespoke design approach that is exploratory and challenges the norms of typologies

Vision and Goals: Dissolving Intellectual Traffic

Contrary to popular practice, solely sourcing a selection of images on Instagram or Pinterest is not design. This might be a way to instigate a reaction or an attempt at a non-verbal simile. If inspired images are taken literally, as opposed to abstractions of thought, it can limit creativity to a form of mimicry. Admittedly, it can be difficult to resist the temptation of utilizing these readily available resources of evocative imagery as the foundation of idea generation. As a strategy to avoid “ready-made” answers, we must heavily rely on a research-led way of questioning everything.

Initiating a research and development focused process begins by first identifying vision and goals. An informal workshop format can create a forum to listen and understand a clients’ aspirations and values. This type of process involves a dynamic social engagement that cultivates genuine personal relationships, understanding and trust. This initial phase of the process involves providing thoughtful questions and not preconceived answers. It is critical to purposefully appropriate ample time at the beginning of the process for this foundational keystone to design study.

Programming: Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Established affirmation and conviction for the vision and goals of a project informs the discovery process through programming. Programming is the discipline of listening, inquisitory dialogue and unbiased investigation. Historically, there has been methodical and numerical rigor associated with the programming process. Infusing a parallel emphasis and equal importance toward the quality of the spaces versus the size and number of spaces enriches program understanding to a deeper level. Programming can be more specifically defined as immersive quantitative and qualitative research. Qualitative and quantitative research should not be seen a competing approaches; rather as complimentary pair to each other. Programming study utilizing mixed method or mixed model research methodology can expand design research beyond spreadsheets and checklists. John Naisbitt’s concept of high-tech and high-touch identifies that a human quality is necessary to counterbalance the pervasive omnipresence of technology. Expanding this concept by overlaying a more humanistic, sensitive approach to understanding a company’s people can offer unique insights. The programming process must start with a passion to discover a company’s origins, its people, its culture and where it’s been and where it is headed in the future. Each company, business, group, or organization has their own unique story to tell regardless of what industry and that is what inherently defines their DNA. It’s imperative to have a genuine curiosity about the people and their lifestyles to inform innovative design.

Retail Design Collaborative offices communal space & well amenitized kitchen. The adaptive reuse of the space supports the company’s belief in environmentally sustainable and responsible design. The building employs numerous strategies such as utilizing natural ventilation, lighting controls for energy conservation, low water consumption, smart material selection and reused and indoor/outdoor gardens. Credit: Fotoworks, Benny Chan Photography

The undeniable movement of companies focusing resources on talent acquisition and talent retention, highlights the importance of the programming as a tool to align these people-centric values. The landscape of the workplace has experienced a dramatic paradigm shift. The workforce is more diverse than ever and the demands to address employee engagement are now on the forefront of CEO’s and company leadership. Programming is a personal, face-to-face, noninvasive process that allows both the design team and leadership to get the pulse of a company’s culture and level of engagement. ­­­

Qualitative research challenges us to be attuned and attentive to human factors. The undeniable prioritization of health and wellness in the workplace, has impacted planning and design to respond to the evolving and demanding lifestyles within and beyond the workplace.

Equally important is the detailed data gathering and formulation of a projects spatial requirements that is extrapolated through quantitative research. Enumerating and organizing the types of spaces, quantity of space types, relationships between the spaces, and space requirements increase project understanding and determine the criteria of how the spaces need to perform. Identifying fundamental practicalities that enhance operations, efficiency, fluidity and flexibility are required in this comprehensive research philosophy.

Studying the contextual environment is another facet to this aspect of quantitative and qualitative research. A site, region, locale, building, and history are all a part of a work spaces’ rare attributes; each combination is uniquely different and this research focused programming process gives a deeper awareness of all factors to directly impact design ideas and concepts.

A community-oriented hub for local events and sidewalk dining. The new development houses approximately 135 employees and allows for a future growth capacity of more than 170 and aligns with the company’s values of connectivity to local community. Credit: Carlos Hernandez Photography

A Bespoke Design Approach

The confluence of goals, vision, and programming through a research-led process enriches the design process to be responsive versus reactive. Investigative research allows specifically customize design concepts to reflect a place, brand, group, and culture. If a design appears homogenous, off-the-shelf or staid, it can be argued that the research lacked depth and there wasn’t a comprehensive process involved.

There can be obstacles which may impede innovation and the freedom to creatively explore. Some programming information or criteria is pre-determined and can be limited to established corporate standards and guidelines. Opening a dialogue and challenging standards and norms is critical to a bespoke design approach. Utilizing the intimate knowledge derived from a meaningful, research based programming process encourages the discovery of the spaces. This process requires creating new typologies within the workplace that do not have precedents. Approaching the design process as an ‘experimental lab,’ to playfully explore hyper-responsive solutions rather than reactive or trend driven designs.

Strategic partnerships and cross-disciplinary collaboration with local fabricators, creatives, and artists is a key component to designing local. Creating early engagement with the comprehensive design team yields customized and specifically tailored results. There is satisfaction in creating something custom and made-to-order. In a globalized world, is it is easy to have an appreciation for places and experiences that are not mass produced, but carry a lineage of fine craftsmanship.

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