In a recent post, The Client is Always Right, highlighting the importance of a well run engagement process with clients, we asked:
How do you innovate around the physical environment, making it better for customers or learners, when space and the way we use it is so culturally ingrained in an organisation’s behaviour? How do you challenge business models and the way in which a service model is created and delivered?
More and more, I’ve come to see that the process, whilst flexible and variable, is crucial to get right, and sometimes the order to address things vastly changes the outcome. Our method is to spend time thinking about the design process, and in particular the order in which you address certain topics with clients when co-designing. Space and technology, for example, are “easy” to think about, and if you think about them too early, you do not address the areas where real change needs to be targetted: the way an experience takes place, the activities of the people in the space, the ideal interactions and behaviours taking place.
The importance of this is easily shown by considering the following question from the education world.
Why do we still design classrooms?
The often unquestioned assumption that the thirty pupil, one teacher generic classroom is an ideal learning space has pervaded not because it is, indeed, a superb learning environment, but because (a) teachers trained to teach in classrooms, (b) many people have been educated in classrooms and equate them with learning, and (c) when designing new learning space, staff are rarely given a useful framework for coming up with any alternative.
This lack of a framework or process that links educational vision to a concept design during the briefing process means many staff are simply asked to improve and tweak what they already have, often with little time. Classically, staff in a department may be asked to submit ideas for what the will do differently. This immediate focus on space drives out any chance of innovating with space. Small, incremental changes will be made, but the cultural power of the physical environment is like a black hole, impossible to escape from. So, the classroom, or the lab, or any other generic space, is redesigned much as it was before.
Challenging this requires what is known in the design world as a briefing process, that engages users and, critically, asks them the right questions. It has to be a co-design process, since every time historically it has been “done to” instead of “done with”, the users have rejected the new environments afterwards and sought to revert them to their previous practice. This is because teaching and learning practice (or pedagogy) can easily be supported, or indeed constrained, by the physical environment.
The Project Faraday dilemma
Several years ago, I led a project for DEGW called Project Faraday, a Department for Education and Skills (as it was then) project looking at the future of secondary school science accommodation, around the needs of the 21st Century learner and the requirements of the 21st Century science curriculum. We worked with two schools to produce design exemplars that created a very different type of science learning space, but crucially felt that if others were to really utilise the outcomes of the project, we needed to also come up with a design process for others to use to come up with their own version.
At the time we felt that our output would be used in two ways. The first: as a menu of potential options of spaces. The second: as a process to go through to come up with bespoke solutions. We strongly advocated the second, since a core part of a design process is the engagement and buy-in that participants get from creating their own concepts, as opposed to having another one simply adapted to fit.
In the last two years or so, the Project Faraday output has started to gain traction, and a couple of times I have been asked to address science staff that had been given “Faraday-space” by their Local Authority, and were feeling very resistant to these changes. They had not been taken through the design process, they had been given the menu. As a result they did not feel any buy in to these changes: they wanted their traditional eight science labs that they new worked. That is no criticism to the team running the process: finding the time and money for running in depth processes with all staff is difficult.
The optimum approach was shown by one of the schools we worked with, Abraham Guest. Following Project Faraday, they took their arts staff through the same process we had taken them through, on their own. The result? A fantastic arts space that redefines the way an art department should function. We will be covering Abraham Guest on this blog shortly, so images will come then, but the key lesson we learned was that engagement in briefing is a core part of change management during any kind of briefing or design programme, and a good design process is a great way of engaging people in a logical manner that not only allows people to innovate, but allows them to adopt the innovations afterwards.
The beSpoke process
Following Project Faraday, I was asked by the National College for School Leadership (as it was then) to chair a think tank of leading headteachers and designers about design process, and from the output forge a process framework that could be used not only as a structure for working through the educational and design brief stages of a school building project, but also as a structure for the Building Schools for the Future Leadership Programme, a programme to train all senior leaders in schools going through a school building project.
The beSpoke process, as below, showed that a solid vision and values were core to the thinking, and upon this you could build strategies for your curriculum (the model, thoughts about progression and options), operational models (measures of time and groupings), ethos (social identity) and pedagogy. These four cornerstones were interlinked and needed to be reflective of the vision and values. They could then be used to generate the “human dimensions” of design: the settings (combinations of furniture to support activities), scenery (the spaces the settings occupy), the suites (how scenes are grouped into departments, faculties, or minischools) and the systems (the technology underpinning this).
These in turn would generate the “architectural dimensions” of design: the services (gas, electricitry), shell (the building itself), site (where the buildings are) and community (links to other sites and real estate).
The idea was that delegates could start by understanding other schools “outside-in”, by looking at their architecture and slowing working out their vision and values, but should start their own thinking “inside-out“, from vision and values, and through the organisational structure through to the spaces and then the building.
This was a useful framework around which a number of initial briefs and visions were developed in a flexible but innovative manner, supporting school leaders who were struggling to see where to start in creating a new school that could really improve education for their learners. The downside, however, was that it was essentially organisational-centric as opposed to learner-centric. By beginning to define vision and values – both principles that focus on organisations first as opposed to users first – it already runs a risk of developing solutions for the benefit of the staff, as opposed to the core customers: learners. This is not, however, insurmountable: indeed, many schools may start with a vision or value set that defines their purpose in user centred terms.
The Flywheel Process
The consulting model for Flywheel evolved out of the work on Project Faraday, adapted over time as it was applied across residential real estate solutions, then workplace solutions, then service solutions. It acts as the broad thinking behind our work, and is structured as two interlocking systems.
One of these, the organisational system, revolves around the workforce. It looks at organisationally critical characteristics, such as culture, vision, strategy and operations. Considering these are the only way to design appropriate workspace and workplace technology. For organisations looking to increase their results, an element of organisational redesign may have to occur in these areas (which falls somewhat under the tradition of management consulting). After all, a revamped or new vision will require new strategies to be put in place to translate vision into operations, which in turn may need new operational structures and systems to execute the strategy. Operations is about the day to day, the work staff do when they come in to get on with their jobs, and any interaction they may have with customers. Changing this may require a culture shift, and all of this combined will have impact on both the workspace and the workplace technology.
Importantly, however, it is not enough to consider these things in isolation, if the organisation is a service organisation (and I include the educational world as a subset of this, since schools are simply educational service deliverers, as well as hospitals or other public service bodies). This is where the second system comes in: the customer system.
This system is customer centric (and by customers, we include any user who is the recipient of a service, which in public services may include learners / students, patients or otherwise). The customer does not care about the culture of the organisation it is interacting with. It will know nothing of their vision, will never see their business plan strategies, will be unlikely to enter their workplace. They have a number of expectations or needs that need to be met, which are rightly centred around themselves.
Designing the best service will again require focus on a number of critical elements. Understanding the needs of the customer, or what brings them to the service (even if they have no choice, as in learners or patients), is important to ensure you are focussed on meeting those needs, first and foremost, and not confusing them with organisationally centred flotsam and jetsam which will dilute their experience. Understanding the journey is about mapping the total route that brings them to an interaction with the organisation, through it, and beyond (and ideally back again), and ensuring the various points along the way all support the needs of the customer. The experience is about the core interaction, whether that lasts seconds or a whole day, and although we cannot design an experience, we can imagine it and design the structures and systems to allow it to take place and flourish in the wild. Importantly, from that experience we can begin to design in more and more detail the scenarios we wish to take place until we get down to the very discreet level of activities, which is where we granularly assess the interactions and behaviours we wish to support, which can then be mapped to spaces and technology they will interact with the technology with.
In a true design situation, we may start with the customer and then weave a path between designing the customer system and the organisational system. Tweaking one may impact the other, and it is important to keep both in balance. Ideal experiences will be tempered by organisational resources, and budgets. Strategies may be tempered by the realisation that you are providing something no customer really needs (there are many, many Web 2.0 startups that fall in this category).
This process forms the backbone of our approach, but is easily adapted to other situations. The following is an example of where this approach has been adapted to a role based design process for another educational project I am leading to revolutionise the way we design schools.
The Space for Personalised Learning Process
So how do we move beyond the thirty person classroom, forged by the production line concept that moving students around in batches every hour is the best way of exposing them to a broad educational base of knowledge? Or the idea that schools should be designed around departments, when we are increasingly seeing the benefits of interdisciplinary project based curriculum approaches?
Without going too much into the educational philosophical implications here, many schools have been designed around early 20th Century principles of mass education, required at the time to educate every child in buildings designed to educate less individuals – i.e. designed around efficiency. In the 21st Century, a major global philosophical shift in education, healthcare, shopping and many other fields is that of personalisation: how do we bring a more individual feel to services, whilst still providing them at the scale we need to?
Moreover, if schools have been designed around the principles of mass education, how to we even start at unlocking this and redesigning them, instead, around the principles of personalisation?
This was the starting point of a two year, interdisciplinary project to design ten pilot interventions, from a learning space to a whole school, and a briefing process to replicate our work, a project I am leading on behalf of DEGW, Davis Langdon, EdisonLearning and Penoyre & Prasad architects, which has also involved Futurelab and WSP, amongst others.
Learning from Project Faraday, we wanted to ensure we left behind a design process that would be creative commons licensed so that any school, Local Authority or private sector organisation could pick up the work and use it. Like Faraday, it carefully asks the right questions in the right order whilst recognising the complexity and interplay between an educationally led briefing process and a designer lead concept design.
This is still a work in progress, although it is likely to complete in the next month or so. As of the time of writing, the process is a role based design process, with a number of key stages (such as concept design) that interact with those roles (e.g. the design team). Within each of those stages is a number of “big questions” that should be posed and answered in order to create the most innovative design. Each of those big questions is supported by either a facilitator guide or an expert guide, and is backed up by examples from the ten pilots we worked on. There are three versions of the process – a full scale, medium scale and small scale, targetted at different levels of scale of developing a new school. The full scale is for creating an entire new secondary school, the small scale for refurbishing one existing learning space.
I will post a link to the final process document from this page when it is finished, in the comments.
The crucial aspect of the process is the interplay between the different roles, working together, sometimes depending on each other, as well as asking the right questions, in the right order.
As Ewan McIntosh says, “The way architects pose their questions during initial consultations are hugely important. There’s a difference between: ‘What kind of building would help you teach and learn better?’ and ‘What kind of teaching and learning would you like to do, and what things could we help with in making that happen?’”
We’ve aimed to ask the right questions, in the right order, to create the best chance of creating facilities for the 21st Century, leaving behind the cultural blockers and assumptions that stop us changing behaviours, and space.
And that is the lesson of design processes. When you are trying to link disciplines together to make a different, whether you are dealing with a service business and customers, or organisational and workplace design, or any kind of public institution, one discipline on its own may not have all the tools, but linking disciplines together requires thought, and a logic and order to create the best results..