Office design, and the theoretical person I am not like

In my last post, where I had a bit of a rant about badly-designed hand driers, I promised a bit more about the new office building where my current temp placement has me toiling away.

This is so very obviously an office building that has been designed around a Theory About People.

So many open-plan offices are a bit higgledy-piggledy – yes, the desks are in neat rows, but the storage units, photocopier/printer/scanners, pinboards and whiteboards, the coffee machines and water coolers and what-have-you, are all squeezed in anywhere they can be made to fit and it is pleasingly random in that there is clearly no ulterior motive behind it.

This office, being a new build and built specifically for the purpose, is not like that. Yes, it is open plan, and yes, the desks are all in neat rows around the place. But everything else has been deliberately placed, and it feels to me like these little island “hubs” of the copiers and refreshments in the room are about some Theory of how to make People Interact and thus be a Better Workforce (happier more efficient, I don’t know – but somehow “better”). They feel like rather blatant “nudge theory” inducements to some form of behaviour that is probably not like me and not in accord with what makes me happy.

As well as having a Theory, this office has been Designed. The weirdly space-age angular Design of the reception desk is the first hint that someone really wants to win an Award for their design, and at times the design is actually pretty useful (the combined boiling water/chilled water drinking water fountain is an excellent innovation) but that feels incidental to the Design. the Design has taken precedence over function and usability.

Guess where I found this to be most blatantly obvious?

That’s right, with the hand driers.

These hand driers are so painfully obviously a part of a Design Ethos and I guarantee the designer did not think about what would actually be useful about where and how they were placed.

What they’ve done is create wall units of two wash basins, with a hand drier in between them.

This means that if one person is drying their hands, there is NO ROOM either side for anyone else to use the wash basins!

What’s more, the hand driers are placed on the underside of the washbasin mirrors so that you can ONLY use them to dry your hands. In my last piece, I explained how this is bad design, since hands are not the only things you might want to wash or rinse quickly in between doing your job, and rinsing the face is actually quite a common thing for people to do.

Especially on a hot day like the ones we’ve had recently.

This is a building designed by people who have fixed ideas about how people function and the functions people carry out. It isn’t all bad. Some of the comfort touches and outside picnic gardens and such are really quite pleasant and helpful. Some things (like the drinks fountain), while obviously the design came first, nevertheless have produced something genuinely useful. But it still feels like people are being treated as theoretical entities rather than the wondrously varied and chaotic things I know them to be.

I know I struggle to get to grips with People, and the various theories aI have about them as the best-guess heuristics and algorithms often end up being out of sync with actual behaviours. But I don’t try to build a whole building around my theories either.


About ValeryNorth

I overthink everything.
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