Design for Innovation
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INGREDIENT 6: COLLABORATION

17 November 2017 - Tim Hawk

Collaboration is a buzzword, and is widely overused when we discuss innovation. Teachers want their students to be more collaborative, employers pay bonuses based upon collaborative initiatives, and corporate leaders believe that collaboration can spur effective work process. But, hasn’t there always been some form of collaborative process? As our society has matured, have we not had collaboration to support basic initiatives and propel innovation? Of course, we have had collaboration in the past, otherwise, great ideas would not have been propagated. I might argue that collaboration has always been at the core of organizational success. Look to Ford Motor Company, where team processes helped to drive production capacity on the initial assembly line. These workers were clearly collaborating to assemble vehicles…however, the collaborative process is much different than the type of collaboration that we reward today.

Twenty-first century collaboration is rooted in the belief that we are better off in the long run when we put our great minds together to solve big, audacious problems. In design, architects are working to engage a diverse array of partners to consider the future of our built environment. We know that we are best when we hold a broader conversation and recognize that our buildings will be better when these larger considerations are folded into the program. Architects design benefits from collaboration, and knowing this, we seek to demonstrate the benefits of collaboration when we design environments to spur innovation.

Through our research and practice, our team has discovered that we need to support collaboration to drive innovation. Without collaborative process, the speed at which new ideas are tested is slower and what might have been an innovative concept becomes yesterday’s news. In the design of our innovation centers, we have been able to experiment with new collaboration concepts. Interestingly, we have found that the key to collaboration is to provide a variety of spatial options. Yes, you need to provide open office environments which increase visual access to process, but interestingly, private, individual space is vital to collaboration. When we are solving challenges, we need areas to come together, and then places where we can focus. These differing environments help to support an iterative process, where concepts are analyzed and then tested and fit. Collectively, we get closer to the answers we seek, and the speed is fueled by the various environments, and especially the private enclaves which foster focused, individual work.

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Historically, facility managers have resisted the multiplicity of space types, in large part due to the fear that space needs may increase real estate costs. Naturally, corporations have little interest in shifting their investments towards greater rental rates, so architects and designers have had to do more within the same footprint. Our recent work innovation centers have shifted space historically dedicated to individuals towards spaces supporting collaboration. If we would have assigned 64 assignable square feet to each worker yesterday, today we limit that allocation to 36. This allows 28 assignable square feet to be added to conference rooms, casual collaborative areas, amenity space, private enclaves, and the broader public realm. Recent projects have featured phone booths, small private meeting areas, and work areas with adjacent group-work tables. Mobile users are encouraged to use each space as they see fit to collaborate, retreat to privacy, and then reconvene. Our client attest that this strategy is driving results. Quality is on the rise, and innovative results are being modelled throughout their organizations.

So, what will be next? What will drive innovation in the future and how can collaboration be encouraged? Certainly, technology will play a role in shaping our future, and advances will increase the need for new design solutions. But, we also recognize that human interaction is key and will always fuel collaborative process.

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TIM HAWK
Firm Principal  |  thawk@wsastudio.com