Weekly Editorial

Designing for Technology

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • July 31, 2023

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For all the good it creates, technology also has a dark side. It can divide us, putting us into silos that separate people. It can be a huge time waste as well. Just ask any parent of a teenager how much time they spend on TikTok. Yet technology can save lives, improve productivity and help connect us, depending on how it is designed and deployed.

For the past several weeks, I’ve shared with you my thoughts on technology and the industry. Today, we’re going to chat about designing for technology. As we’ve explored in these past columns, technology isn’t going away and there are ways to use it to make our jobs and the work lives of our customers much, much better.

But what it all comes down to is this: Everything we design — including technology — must begin with understanding the individual that we are designing for. Simply put, understanding our customer is critical and should direct everything we do, from products like furniture, wall coverings and flooring to technology.

If I design a product, no matter if it is a task chair or a monthly magazine, it must take into consideration usability and interactivity. User experience and user interface — two terms found mostly in the tech world — can and should be applied to space planning and design as well. And like technology, which has evolved from products that were difficult to use and clunky to products that are elegant and easy, design must put the user first as well, especially in a post-COVID world where employees have choice in where they work.

When designing, the individual must be at the center of every decision that is made.

Of course, human-centered design is nothing new. Its philosophy of prioritizing understanding and designing for people’s needs before style and aesthetics is ubiquitous, but it is often forgotten, even by businesses that claim a human-centered design focus.

Design thinking was codified by David Kelley and Tim Brown of IDEO and it has become a popular approach to creating products. According to Tim Brown: “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success.”

Design and technology have always gone hand-in-hand. Design thinking methods and user research are often combined to create new channels for exploration. Design’s focus on user needs helps in space planning and bringing technology to life.

This kind of design thinking also helps us be naturally more inclusive since it gets us out of design for ourselves and instead puts us in the shoes of our customers. What do they want? How can I help them achieve their goals?

Like design, we often mistakenly believe that technology must be complicated to be good when the opposite is usually true. Here’s an example of how simple technology can be designed to do great good: A European company is trying to build bridges around the globe with “portals” that let passersby in different cities peek into each other’s lives. The company, aptly named Portal, has already installed two digital “doors” in Vilnius, Lithuania, and Lublin, Poland. Using a large screen, cameras, and a live feed, the portals allow people in these cities — more than 370 miles apart — to interact with each other in real time.

It is simple technology designed to do one thing: Connect people in far-away places. That’s our job too — to use technology to connect people in the workplace. It is a huge design challenge, but one that our industry has all the skill and tools to complete.

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