This summer, 200 Samsung and LG employees will be outfitted with Sociometric Badges, social sensing technologies that track and record body movements and human interactions. The devices monitor the wearers’ behavior as they navigate the workplace, attend meetings and collaborate with colleagues, essentially mapping and measuring how these knowledge workers utilize office space over the course of a business day.
A Cornell University research team is conducting the two-week exercise as a part of a wider study and the user-experience (UX) data it yields will inform new design guidelines — a blueprint for the office of the future.
“In today’s global inter-connected economy there is a premium on workers who can apply creative thinking skills and cooperate with others to develop new ideas and knowledge. The design of workplaces is critically important to achieving these goals and facilitating these kinds of exchanges,” says So-Yeon Yoon, ASID, Ph.D., who is leading the Cornell study.
“Workers who are isolated from one another, stuck in their own silos, may be missing out on opportunities for collaboration. Spontaneity can spark new ideas. We are trying to understand how this physical environment can better facilitate these kinds of opportunities.”
An ASID Foundation Transform grant is funding the innovative 16-month study. The recently announced 2014 grants for applied study in interior design and human behavior were awarded to researchers at Cornell and Michigan State University. Applicants were asked to quantify the effects of design practices on employee retention, engagement and productivity. The findings will enable the design industry to improve workplace design and demonstrate its return on investment.
The Cornell team describes its project, “3C Design: Tools for Designing Connected, Collaborative and Creative Workplaces,” as integrating social sensing technologies with self-reporting data. The goal is to identify critical evidence-based design parameters and develop guidelines for designers and managers, strategic decision-makers who are planning 3C workplaces that support an organizational culture of innovation for tomorrow’s knowledge workers.
The practice of evidence-based design has made significant inroads in recent years, but incorporating UX data into design guidelines is brand new. Yoon is a recognized expert in the developing field. A certified interior designer in both the United States and South Korea, she has always been fascinated by technology and sensitive to users’ needs, which she believes need to be more emphasized in the interior design environment.
“I always think about the methodology. After a while I realized I needed to study further to understand user experience better,” she says. She went back to school pursuing interdisciplinary studies examining the intersection of UX and design in the context of physical environments. She earned a doctorate in information science with an emphasis on human-computer interaction and user experience in 2004.
Today, Yoon is an associate professor in Cornell’s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis and director of the Design-User Experience-Technology Lab (DUET). The 3C study is a culmination of her personal curiosity, design development and academic focus.
She is collaborating with two Cornell colleagues — fellow professors in the Design and Environmental Analysis department. Alan Hedge, Ph.D., directs the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory, and award-winning interior design educator and researcher Sheila Danko chairs the department. Ying Hua, another faculty member who co-directs Cornell’s International Workplace Studies Program, also is participating in the project supported by the ASID Foundation.
The study builds on the team’s previous research. According to Cornell, there is little empirical evidence linking design attributes to business impact. The team capitalized on this fact and won the grant with a convincing proposal stating that the “opportunity is ripe for interior designers to embrace emerging social sensing technologies to help demystify how organizations can gain a competitive edge by design.”
The study findings are expected to make a pivotal contribution to the field.
“This is a first-of-its-kind study looking at real users and office workers and gathering their daily interaction or behavior data, “ says Yoon, “There is a lot of uncertainty, but there is great potential as well.”