Thursday, September 27, 2007

Work space

I love to visit artist's work spaces, and the San Francisco Bay Area provides several opportunities throughout the year to do just that -- when multiple artists open their studios to the public for a weekend.

I particularly look forward to San Francisco's Mission Open Studios, which largely features artists in old industrial buildings that have been converted into multiple floors of spacious artist studios, most with lots of wall space and configurable as needed for different activities, both solo and involving several people.

Two years ago, I wrote about the value of ample wall space and of open, reconfigurable work spaces in a blog posting about the impact of "walls" on working "in the world of user experience." Some of that value is captured very nicely in a 1998 quote I included in that blog posting -- words from Judy Olson and collegues:
"Collocation of cognitive artifacts and team members offers the broadest bandwidth for cooperative work. Team members developed shared documents together, making the work tangible. Artifacts helped coordination and motivation as well. The key feature was that they were persistent, allowing easy access (by a glance, not a file retrieval) and large enough to allow cross connections to be perceived. The presence of one's co-workers helped with coordination, implicit learning, easy transitions from one phase of work to another, and social facilitation."
Bill Buxton says much the same in his terrific 2007 book, "Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design," and cautions:
"simply plunking a bunch of corkboards or foamboards around your work space does not magically turn it into a design studio. These are artifacts with certain affordances, but their effective use requires as much attention to the cultivation of the culture of the studio as to the detailing of the architectural space."
Such cultures and work spaces are far from the norm in companies where user experience needs to play a much larger role, but they are appearing here and there as special areas designated for special "innovation" activities. Kaiser Permanente's impressive Sidney R. Garfield Health Care Innovation Center, occupying a huge warehouse, is one example; P&G's Clay Street Project, occupying "a brick-walled loft in a gritty Cincinatti neighborhood," is another.

Recently, I visited Adobe in San Jose California for a tour of a work space of a similar nature, except that it is used ongoing (i.e., not just for special projects) by user experience personnel (and those that join them to collaborate) and wasn't constructed apart in some funky location. Until this past spring, the work area looked like that in the photo at left of a hallway lined by small offices with doors, still the norm in the building. But now, a large part of one floor is as depicted in the composite photo -- an open, multi-use work space, with whiteboards and "foamboards" on long spacious walls, on walls on wheels, and even on horizontal work surfaces.

At Stanford University this past spring, Claudia Kotchka, VP of Design Innovation & Strategy at P&G (where they have the Clay Street Project) , spoke of attempts at convincing her company to replace existing seas of cubicles with such work spaces, but has found that the mindset regarding appropriate, corporate office space is not easy to change.

Years ago, Karen Holtzblatt argued, "If you want your team to be creative, give them a room." But a conventional conference room, even when used as thoroughly as the one shown in the image from Karen, is often not enough.

My thanks to Julie Baher, Experience Design Manager, for the tour of the Adobe work space. Thanks also to Claudia Brenner, Implementation Manager, for a tour of the Garfield Innovation Center.

1 comment:

Richard I Anderson said...

Jennifer Crakow pointed me to a great follow-up to this posting that appears in a BusinessWeek special report on office design dated October 15, 2007. See