Dynamic thinking underlies everything we do.
Spring presents an opportune time to think about the year ahead and to contemplate what the future holds. Where is design headed? What new spatial paradigms are unfolding? What characteristics does the built environment of tomorrow need to personify? What trends are calcifying into movements? What emergent technologies will be disrupting our industry—and those of our clients?
Future thinking is at the core of what drives IA, and these are the sorts of questions we regularly reflect on and discuss amongst ourselves. Our cross-disciplinary structure and deep experience in varied market sectors gives us the unique panoptic vision to connect dots between seemingly disparate developments—and to analyze their relevance for our clients.
Recently we’ve noticed two overlapping narrative threads that weave through many project categories. End users are, to an increasing degree, seeking spaces that give them a sense of agency, or autonomy; this can be expressed in the ability to choose where they sit at work or the freedom to shop at whatever hour they want.
Secondly, clients want spaces that embody resiliency, meaning an ability to respond and adapt to fast-changing and volatile conditions. Within the realm of experiential graphics, for instance, resiliency translates into branded elements that can support constant evolution—interactive digital screens being a prime example.
Autonomy and resilience are not new buzzwords, of course. But what’s novel and noteworthy is the degree to which they permeate all market sectors, and how those qualities are becoming manifested in spatial terms:
- In today’s flat-hierarchy workplace, autonomy is perhaps best represented by the ascendance of activity-based design: the opportunity for employees to select where they sit and when/how they work. More and more clients are tapping into our expertise in creating these types of transformable workplaces, which need to morph in concert with teaming and other.
- In healthcare, autonomy equals broader and more convenient access to medical intervention and having more say over how, where, and when care gets administered. Consider telemedicine, wearable diagnostics, and new building typologies such as hybrid incubator and research hubs. While such advancements greatly empower the patient, they also place great demands on providers, who require agile facilities that can be updated to keep pace with emergent technologies.
- The speed, convenience, and immediacy of e-commerce have completely altered the form and function of bricks-and-mortar retail spaces, which IA designers have been imbuing with humanist touches. They have taken on the heady challenge of redesigning the entire shopping experience—one that counteracts the effects of technology even while exploiting its capabilities. In this arena, autonomy means shopping on demand; resiliency means traditional retailers being able to accommodate that.
- Our Design Intelligence group has advanced IA’s use of immersive technologies via 360-degree rendering techniques and the development of a Virtual Reality (VR) center that enables users to “physically” move through a data-informed virtual design on their own terms. Refinements in the analysis and presentation of big data has also stimulated autonomy, liberating clients to use that data in a more dynamic manner, even for marketing or change management purposes.
- In the realm of experiential graphics, practitioners are looking beyond walls, applying branded effects to every surface as well as materials, furnishings, and technologies like video projections. Updatable user-generated, collaborative content—expressions both personal and corporate—is another area of focus, personifying autonomy and resilience in a single element.
- Wellness initiatives are largely designed to help people achieve the ever-elusive work/life balance and mitigate tech-induced stress. We help clients embrace a more expansive approach to mindfulness and wellbeing, creating spaces that can bend and flex to incorporate new initiatives—whether that means an in-office sauna or simply allowing workers the opportunity to give back to their community.
This desire for autonomy and resilience derives from the exponential change and disruption we’re experiencing on all fronts: technological, cultural, economic, societal, communal, climatic, and even in terms of artificial intelligence. To understand this onslaught of this disruptive change, we need to embrace it and recognize that designed environments should be able to adapt on a dime. Constant change can makes us feel out of control, thus the corrective desire for more agency and self-determination.
These axioms also speak to some ambivalence towards mobility. Organizations crave the efficiency, productivity, and convenience that it affords—and people love the freedom and community connection it enables—yet we chafe at how hyper-connectivity distracts us. To some extent, that’s because people haven’t yet mastered mobility, which is still a new phenomenon, and despite major technological advancements, having a sense of place is always going to be essential. Certain types of work can be accomplished only in the office; surgery needs to be performed by an actual person; consumer goods must still be inventoried in a warehouse for the world of e-commerce to function. Mobility is a state that we are still fine-tuning—a challenge requiring that design, strategy, and technology are synchronized in perfect harmony in support of a client’s culture, identity and business. This is what our professionals at IA strive to do.