Max Nathan: We must make design smarter

From the Royal Society of Arts/ Pfizer lecture, given by the Work Foundation researcher at a conference in Walton Oaks, Surrey

Monday 13 January 2014 03:41
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The UK, along with most other Western democracies, is becoming a more mobile society. Britons in the 1990s travelled five times further and five times faster a year than did the Britons of the 1950s. The balance between being at home, being at work and being on the move is shifting as urbanisation and sprawl continue and we find ourselves more and more of the time shuttling across that metropolitan space.

So where does this leave the office? These trends are having major effects on the way we organise and distribute work. One thing that hasn't happened, which was predicted 50 years ago, is the death of the office. The teleworking or telecottaging future of the Fifties shows few signs of arriving.

The Nineties have been a golden age for office design and office systems management. The office has been re-imagined and reinvented over the last 10 years as a forum for ideas, a generation of communication and interaction, as a drop-in point for the kind of mobile workforce I've been talking about.

The challenge for workspace professionals and for the firms who employ them is to identify, understand and respond to the challenges they face, and to design workspace systems and management systems that fit.

We must make design smarter. We already have a very good idea of how people, culture, work styles and work spaces interconnect, but I think that understanding needs to become more sophisticated. Designers need to become persuaders, they need to make the case perhaps more strongly than it's been made, that good workspace design can help work to happen and help companies to perform better.

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