Working and commuting in the living room

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In another of those days of interesting intersections of random readings from other places (the fast scan of the RSS reader) came this cluster, reminders of how the seismic shift in the economy set an emerging, but latent, shift in values into a more prominent position in thinking, doing and practicing, illuminating both their possibilities and the clutter in the way of gaining momentum. My interest is not so much in the specifics of these references, but with the sense that all of these moves in other places are indicators of need and potential illuminations of lags in other places.

So, in a few minutes of scanning on Monday morning,  these –

Alice Rawsthorn reflected on opportunities for new thinking in automotive design, and expressed concerns about missed opportunities. She observes that the car companies have been traditionally focused first on the propulsion system, and then on exterior rather than interior styling. Combined with the closed culture that creates and sustains automotive designers, and the risk-averse culture reflected in corporate product development decisions, the resulting designs for a new breed of car – the electric vehicle – lack inspiration and motivation. Despite a dramatic shift in the nature of the problem, the response is largely conventional.

It’s one of the most exciting design challenges of our time. It’s a
(very) rare opportunity to reinvent a ubiquitous object that is the
most expensive — and, often, most emotive — thing that many people will
ever buy except for their homes.

 

Almost as if in response, Dwell presented this video interview with a San Francisco design team, Mike and Maaike, and some of their thinking on personal transportation. A fantasy scenario – and a wish – for the family car of 2040, their concept is a reflection on autonomous commuting and a mobile lifestyle. In a shft of thinking from the driver experience to the passenger experience, and from propulsion to lifestyle continuity, they sketch an entirely different sense of shape, enclosure, visibility, and even directionality. (Images from mikeandmaaike.com)

Their vision seemed to be also an anticipation of Joe Duffy’s lament and exhortation – Stop going to work! – in his FastCompany blog. “I don’t believe that inspiration is sufficiently served up in even the most compelling office environments,” he writes, pointing to the importance of escape, exposure to new things, changing perspectives and other environmental influences on innovative and creative thinking.

It’s this last one that is closest to our practice and an indicator of a substantial shift in thinking about the design of the workplace. For a decade, or more, there have been a number of influences that have been slowly shaping how we and our clients think about the world of work. In many cases, while relevant to emerging workplace culture changes, they have been influences from outside – considerations about differing behaviors and values in cultures, genders and generations, potentials for mobility generated by technology, global networking, and, of course, cost reduction. It has been rare, however, that a client has invited us to advise them on how to shape their workspace in consideration of the experiences of their employees and the potential benefits to be gained from the quality of those experiences.

Each of these cited references are particles in a stream of reflections here and by others that the dissatisfactions with what went before are the emerging opportunities for design thinking and design strategie now. Rawsthorn’s thesis is about shifting the focus from what propels us to us. Mike and Maaike remove propulsion form the equation altogether; their wish, I expect, is not about styling but about a transportation mode that is not selfishly demanding attention to itself. And Duffy’s lament is very similar – if you want something from me that gives value to what we are all doing, don’t preoccupy me with products and practices (propulsion systems) that reinforce a different set of metrics and values.

I look forward to going to the office now that I don’t consider it
“going to work.” For me it’s actually the more social aspect of
creating design. Because I’m not going there out of habit or for the
sake of appearances, it’s just another interesting facet of everyday
life and it helps keep things in balance.

Balance = happy = creative = productive. Repeat.

So some basic questions –

Why is it so difficult to change when change means survival?
Why so difficult to uncover and articulate a vision for change?
Is centralized management over?

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