Design for Innovation


16 March 2016 - TIM HAWK

Everyone talks a lot about technology and the amazing impact it has had on our American culture. I agree with them. All firms, large and small, urban and rural, huge city to small town…are harnessing technology to stay connected, seek information, and gain a competitive advantage. So, if technology is the key to success both now and in the future, why has it remained a “stand-apart” component of the design process?

1998. WSA Studio was busy working to design a major corporate headquarters for The McGraw-Hill Companies on the north side of Columbus. McGraw-Hill is a global leader in educational products and information. This particular headquarters is for their Glencoe division, which publishes textbooks for secondary schools. Given the use of the building, and given the wide ranging geographical distribution of employees for McGraw-Hill, technology integration was a key goal for the project. On previous projects, we had always coordinated the efforts of a third-party consultant who would work directly with the owner. This process proved less than successful and almost always wreaked havoc on the construction process. Inevitably, work that had been already put in place needed to be “undone” in order to coordinate the later, technological interventions. The entire process was very frustrating, and always led to exasperated owners and change orders that could have easily been avoided if the project was planned well. When we were planning the design team for The McGraw-Hill Companies, our team fought to integrate the design of the technology system (both audio/visual tools and distributed cabling) into the main project in order to increase the coordination of systems and costs. Frankly, it just seemed odd to me that this trade was allowed to exist outside of the main project protocol. The process needed to change in order to reduce the confusion over the distribution of cabling and the integration of audio/visual components. Interestingly, we didn’t realize that we were pushing the boundaries of the industry at the time. We found that most of the contractors felt uncomfortable about taking responsibility for this new technology, and had hesitated to add the scope into their purview, even though they could have benefitted financially from the integration. Their aversion to risk trumped the potential benefits that contractors could see from a change to the process. Regardless, we were able to modify the team to include a technology integrator and the early planning and coordination during construction led to an amazing reduction in field related changes and more success solving those complex technology issues during the design and planning phase.

Most notable regarding the McGraw-Hill example is this: it was 1998, and we were working diligently to integrate technology distribution into the workplace. If this integration was of great importance nearly twenty years ago, imagine the importance in today’s globally connected business world. Today, the speed of business demands the use of technology for every worker. Systems are automated, workers expect to be connected via video conference instantly, and the transfer of information is prolific. Matt Straz, the founder and CEO of Namely, suggests that “cloud-based file sharing tools like Google Drive and Dropbox are gaining traction within business both small and large” (Entrepreneur, February 23, 2015).

When technology is integrated into the design process, technology users are presented with user-friendly systems that support and augment their day-to-day work process. Employees share knowledge and collaborate more readily, and their collaboration leads to innovation. Individuals are able to harness technology to facilitate learning on the go as they do their daily work. No longer do we have time to break for exhaustive training sessions and linear learning processes which extend timelines for continuing, education. Today’s technology featuring user-friendly interfaces allows users to simply learn as they do.

The designer of the future might actually begin with technology as the centerpiece of the design challenge and fit in lighting, furniture, comfort systems, and other functional needs as secondary to the technology. The key is integration. As leaders integrating technology, we are not unduly focusing on technology, we are fully integrating technology so its use is seamless and ubiquitous, promoting effective workplace habits.