[STEVE] We have had two coffee conversations so far with Stuart Redpath and then just recently, Pamela Knudsen. They agreed with each other, broadly, that we need to step back a little from technology and be allowed to make sense of a space almost naturally. Did you agree?

[ADAM] Yes, I guess that I do, but there’s a lot more to explore here. Let’s start with how we judge a workplace. If we stick to the basic metric that the best workplace is an effective one, then that measure really tests the role of design. People all approach a space differently. Pamela talks about making sense of a space, of making it feel like your own – almost like a nest. We see it everywhere. People don’t like to be forced to hot desk. A lot of people like a base. But others don’t. Designers must understand that. It means often, we have to work with a light touch rather than assume a one size fits all approach.

[STEVE] Doesn’t that put a huge question mark against our role?

[ADAM] No, not at all. Sociologists could steal some of our thunder if they do rigorous research into what people want from a space – that magic formula that turns a space in to a place as Pamela says. But if we [designers] are good at our job then we can do that just as easily. Our role is part psychologist, sociologist, leader, persuader, interpreter, negotiator. In reality the design part of what we do only really matters 10% of the time.

[STEVE] Explain.

[ADAM] Ok, so we accept that great architecture engages people. It wows us, it wonders us and we like being around it or interacting with it somehow. It shapes out world. But it does it in a way that we feel, intuitively. There is no need for way finding signs in St Pauls Cathedral for example, or the Parthenon, spaces can define themselves. Some of these buildings or structures have been successful for hundreds and thousands of years – they have succeeded for a reason. These spaces communicate with us in a non-physical way. That’s what we need to do in workspaces.

[STEVE] What you’re arguing for here is that a workspace just happens, naturally, so that we just use it without too many questions.

[ADAM] That’s right. Great environments are instinctive. Think about pubs. We don’t question that when we go inside one it is a pub – we know what to expect without over thinking it. It’s a pub. It has beer, seats, tables, beer and crisps and it has the aroma of a pub. We identify with it immediately.

[STEVE] If you like pubs.

[ADAM] Even if you don’t, you still know it is a pub.

[STEVE] Even allowing for pubs closing and having a change of use, how does that impact on a

[ADAM] We need to create a work space that has an instinctive relationship with its users; so that people can use it without a rule book. Now, some of that has to flow from an organisations culture, but not all of it. Because even in say, a shared space or co-working space, if it is designed right then you’ll know how to make best use of it without the need to spell it out.

[STEVE] This is what you mean by a light touch. It’s not minimalism, but it goes back to one of our constant themes doesn’t it: don’t over think stuff.

[ADAM] Yes, although, there’s a lot of thought in the idea of not overthinking it – if you get my

[STEVE] I need more coffee

[ADAM] One thing that I wanted to pick up on from Pamela and Stewart is the idea of where
technology fits in our working life. The big elephant in the room is that it is not just here to stay, it is continuing to evolve. We can’t look at IT systems, apps, phones or whatever as isolated examples of progress. They are part of a conundrum of development. What we urgently need to do is accept that technology does help us work smarter and take control – making sure that how it has enabled us to work is reflected in where we work, rather than using it as a crutch to support change. There was alway old tech and there will always be new tech.

[STEVE] Are you saying we’re fighting it?

[ADAM] Maybe. There’s room for digital detox and down time, but we must let it flow. Given time, we will properly differentiate our physical presence from our digital experience and we will get over fears about living parallel lives through technology or some form of Matrix. Let it go.

[STEVE] So we need to take an open-minded approach to space?

[ADAM] Very much so. We need to keep things in proportion. You and I have created spaces for all sorts of organisations from bike manufacturers to banks. They want different things. We must keep that in perspective. Likewise, their people want difference too. The kind of spaces we need to consider for the future might take the form of a very diverse eatery.

[STEVE] How do you mean – not a normal restaurant?

[ADAM] Ok, think about how one day you might really want to eat medium rare fillet steak, then you crave a packet of Monster Munch. It’s the principle of cognitive dissonance, our minds can support 2 or more comparatively competing ideas at the same time, successfully. Surely a workspace has to accommodate such a range of tastes not just because of the diverse people using it, but because people are diverse as part of their very nature?

[STEVE] That’s a tough brief.

[ADAM] Only if you over think it. If we accept that how people work is evolving constantly and focus on creating an intuitive, instinctive space they can engage with – like a pub, but not a pub – then what we deliver will work. Simplicity. Although true simplicity is fascinatingly complicated.

[STEVE] Like the classic architecture that’s been successful for 100, 200, 1000 years?

[ADAM] Exactly. But to achieve that we have to answer the question one, or two beyond the one we are focussing on. We have to be two, thee moves ahead and look beyond the horizon. So far, if technology and human development is anything to go by the there’s a better answer coming our way and we must be ready to adapt.

[STEVE] And give our customers a space that responds to people’s natural behaviours as they evolve? Because those behaviours demand an environment that feels normal at that moment?

[ADAM] That’s right. Now, forget the coffee for a minute. I need something stronger.