How the Design Process Helped Us Integrate Our Physical and Digital Workplace

POLYGON Process

“If you can design one thing, you can design everything,” according to a celebrated designer named Massimo Vignelli. The past year of quarantine gave us a chance to understand what he meant. We learned to use our design process for architecture to design a new way of working.

When we design for clients, we follow a process where the end product are spaces that allow their organization to grow and their people to feel connected. Since this is essentially why we needed to make improvements, the core principles helped us deliver our work in spite of physical limitations.

  • Establish the purpose
  • Understand the uses and core activities
  • Develop your criteria to determine effectivity
  • Use the familiar to introduce the unfamiliar
  • Map the relationships
  • Gather feedback, observe, and evaluate
  • Record and implement

Establish the purpose

The very first step is to understand why. Is this really necessary? What purpose will it serve? We needed to improve the way we work because the restrictions wouldn’t allow our team to be in the office. So how can we possibly continue working if we relied on this type of model?

We had to let everyone know what we intended to do, how we were doing it, and why we need to do this. When we got the team invested in the process, it helped us find better and effective solutions.

Understand the users and core activities

Let’s start with the people and create a general profile, and see what they do.

Our Team’s User Profile

  • Age range between 23-35
  • 85% designers, 15% admin
  • 70% Female, 30% male
  • 80% living in NCR, 20% outside NCR
  • Comfortable using the cloud
  • Comfortable with web-based activities, and basic functionality, chat and familiar with using social media
  • All use smart phones
  • All have internet connection, speed is variable

Core Activities

  • meeting or collaborating
  • personal working
  • relax and socialize

Support

  • access to common resources
  • information storage

Understanding the users allow us to filter options, and boiling down activities to fundamentals means we can deconstruct our work process, then recreate it in another medium. 

Develop the criteria

For decisions that affect a lot of people, we always find it useful to have a set of criteria to inform our choice. How does our team work? What are the daily and weekly activities we need to emphasize? How can we communicate what is important? What should we prioritize?

Our criteria for choosing the right tools

  • Offers least resistance, can be integrated in our workflow
  • Familiar or reputable service provider (has track record of stable and secure applications)
  • Web based for easy access
  • Bandwidth friendly for slow internet
  • Administration capability
  • Easy user interface, and can be implemented immediately with minimal training
  • Free or affordable paid plans (we allocate a budget cap)

Use the familiar to introduce the unfamiliar

This is typically used in design when we want something new to be accepted. Remember when the very first iPhone was introduced? It was described as: an iPod and a Phone that can access the internet. Although it was the first time people saw it, they will not be so hesitant to try it because they understood it.

When it comes to apps, it’s so easy to go for the one with the most features or whatever is shiny and new.  We learned it’s not always the case. From a webinar on work culture with Dae Lee. He shared a simple system developed in their team by using web-based apps they were familiar with, like Google Slides or Docs. They created a shared file that updates in real time, members can then drag personal icons to a particular zone, which lets others know it’s a good time to coordinate or call. Simple and effective. It was an eye-opener for us to prioritize something we can implement with the least resistance.  Here’s a diagram to help illustrate the concept, it’s my interpretation of what I can recall from his presentation.

Image Above: Simple diagram done in Powerpoint to stay connected to the team.

Map out the relationships to get a better overview

For all our projects, we make it a point to map out the data we gathered. It’s a useful tool to help us find connections or to simply provide a better perspective. Our table shows the relationship between the activities, the physical place it happens, and their digital equivalent. I’d like to add a caveat that finding the right tools will take some time, it took us a few months of feedback and iteration to arrive at this combination.

Core Activities

ActivityPlaceDigital Applications
Check-in
Check-out
ReceptionMicrosoft Teams,
#general Channel
+ Clockify
+ Google Sheets
Work (Design, drawing, documentation, etc.)WorkstationMicrosoft Teams
#project Channel
+ Trello
+ One Note
Socializing / Happy HourPantry or loungeMicrosoft Team
#lounge Channel
+ Zoom
MeetingsMeeting RoomZoom
Table above: our activities, the spaces they happen, and their digital counterpart

Support

Activity / ResourcePlace Digital Applications
AnnouncementsMemo or bulletin boardMicrosoft Teams
#general Channel
+ Email
Keeping materials and swatchesLibraryDropbox
+ Google Sheets
+ Microsoft Teams
References (code, standards, and guidelines)LibraryMicrosoft Teams
+ One Note
Table above: our resources, the spaces they happen, and their digital counterpart

Gather feedback, observe, and evaluate

When designing for change, remember there is resistance before acceptance, it pays to find ways to reduce the friction.

For example, when searching for our digital headquarters, we tested several apps before arriving at Microsoft Teams. This app needed to be a place where we can communicate, retrieve stored information, and diverge to other apps. For every app we tested, we gave it a few weeks, we checked with the team how they were using it. Is it helpful or does it add unnecessary steps? Is it difficult because of the application or because one is hesitant to change? If really doesn’t work, then we shift and try again. We were able to cycle through the various options quickly because of our criteria.

During the process, we allocated sessions to observe and evaluate if the tools are helping us work towards our goal.  Doing so helps us optimize our process and sort through what steps are making the most impact.

By the way, there also isn’t “the best” app as many sites would claim, but there is definitely the best app for your way of working. If you want to learn more, we’ve dedicated an entry just for these.

Record and implement

Architecture projects typically last months to years, and in that time span we can easily forget decisions and details. We make it a point to have a dedicated and accessible space where these can be reviewed. This was a particularly helpful habit because now we have manuals and lessons for each of the app we use. It is worth noting for every tool we use, we assume it is the first time someone is using it, we allot sessions to train and orient, and then observe, so we can record and optimize. And the cycle of learning and improvement goes on.

Moving forward together

Designing for change is difficult. It requires a hard look at reality, and then be critical of what is essential to achieve a goal. What we learned is you don’t have to do it alone. When you have people invested in the process, then you will have people who will help make it work.