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Flocking to the Office

We instinctively know that well-designed workspaces can improve performance, but more research on how they do this is needed. The Transform grant program can help.

By Rachelle Schoessler Lynn, FASID, CID, LEED AP BD+C

We instinctively know that well-designed workspaces can improve performance, but more research on how they do this is needed. The Transform grant program can help.

Like many other designers, I often find inspiration in nature. Take, for instance, migratory birds. The balance of a flock, the predictability of its flight patterns and even the rhythm of their wings—confident and with purpose—are all part of nature's design. But I'm always intrigued when one or two birds separate from the flock. Have they lost their way? Or do they know something the other birds do not?

As I look at the leaders and designers in our industry who inspire me the most, it's apparent that they frequently do the same thing, separating from the flock and setting off in new directions. Some are using technology in exciting ways, such as applying geographic information systems (GIS) data and video gaming applications to the evaluation of building performance, and using so-called wearable sensor technology to understand how people move within spaces. Others are more holistic in their thinking, going beyond the performance requirements and embracing a multidisciplinary mindset; for example, some designers are now employing 3-D imaging to ensure greater transparency in material selection and promote sustainable choices.

These innovators are thinking globally about the impact of design on all aspects of life, reinventing and exploring new ways to connect our global systems together in the name of progress. But what is it about design professionals and the way in which we work that fosters such constant reinvention and innovation? Is it a natural way of looking at the world, or one that we can cultivate through our environments? It turns out that our workspaces may hold some clues.

My workplace has always been an open, daylight-filled studio. I've found this type of space encourages collaboration throughout the day, with designers freely sharing and hashing out ideas, and politely challenging one another to consider new design solutions. The open workspace also promotes informal mentorship. Because senior designers are seated among newer designers, emerging professionals have an opportunity to see how their more-experienced colleagues manage complex projects, and interface with clients and contractors. This type of work environment offers visual benefits as well. For me, just seeing creative work, including sketches, materials, and models throughout the workspace provides inspiration.

Indeed, there's no question that our workplaces are more than just a location where work happens; rather, they are a reflection of a company's brand and mission. A well-designed office has the power to create culture, increase employee satisfaction, improve customer service, and enhance overall performance. Most interior designers know this anecdotally, but we need more research to fully understand and communicate the impact of design and its return on investment.

In an effort to learn more about how the design of physical space improves performance, the ASID Foundation's 2014 Transform grant program will fund research to begin quantifying the return on investment of a well-designed work environment. The third-annual program, offering more than $100,000 in funding, seeks to address critical gaps in industry knowledge and demonstrate the value and impact of interior design in quantifiable, replicable, and, ultimately, economic terms.

In short, we want to uncover the specific design interventions that consistently result in positive worker outcomes—including increased productivity, satisfaction, creativity, innovation, and collaboration levels—thereby making the business case for bringing interior design expertise into the workplace.

The program, which accepted applications from August to September 2013, was open to all, including educators, design practitioners, and product manufacturers. Grant proposals are now under review and recipients will be announced on January 31, 2014. We look forward to sharing the research findings of our winning proposals, and hope you'll be able to use these findings to separate from the flock and chart your own way forward.


Rachelle Schoessler Lynn, FASID, CID, LEED Fellow AP BD+C, is the national president of ASID and a senior associate with MSR in Minneapolis. ASID can be reached at (202) 546-3480 or, and on the web at