Does design impact collaboration?

December 6, 2016

Does design impact collaboration? I was recently asked this question by a local business leader. My short answer is: yes, typically.

Clinton Brown

Clinton Brown
Co-Founder/Owner of The Bakery

The long answer is that collaboration is fostered, supported, and informed by design. To collaborate is to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something. Let us not confuse this with another hot topic: co-working. In a co-working type environment, people are working alongside, or in the same space as other workers. Often those other workers are with other companies. When they collaborate they work together with the same goal. Let’s stay focused on collaboration.

As I am writing this article there is a soccer game on the television. The soccer team is collaborating to get the ball down the field and score a point. However, don’t overlook how design is informing this whole collaboration in real time. The simple design of the field tells players where and how they can collaborate, and with whom.

Certain moves can take place in the goalie box that cannot take place elsewhere. This is controlled by a simple line draw on the field. Even at lightning-fast pace players are able to adjust the manner in which they collaborate simply by crossing a line. But what about the work environment? Can it foster collaboration and can design help that?

I am not a designer, but I am an owner of a large co-working and collaboration space. In this space I observe a great deal of human behavior. I have rearranged the space countless times to increase connection and collaboration. Between my partner and I, we have visited co-working spaces worldwide. I have observed many efforts by designers to create space for collaboration. Here are some mistakes I see designers of space make:

  1. Cool design does not create collaboration, however it can influence employee attraction and retention. Collaboration is a function of leadership and shared vision more than it is a function of space design. However, if that space is without thoughtful design, it could make collaboration difficult.
  2. Collaboration is not a fad. If you design for business then you are focused on collaboration. Collaboration can happen in a sea of cubicles, or at an espresso table. This is nothing new. What is new is that employers realize they have designed their spaces to prevent collaboration, yet expect it. They forgot somewhere along the line that they employ humans.
  3. So does design impact collaboration? Yes. I find that it is at the extremes, though. A poorly designed space will confuse and distract. A well-designed space feels intuitive and encourages people to work together. Here are some additional observations I have made about the needs of my clients:
    • They need to be able to see each and hear each other
    • They need to be able to hand documents to each other or spin a laptop around and show something
    • They need to be able to make a bit of a mess as they set down their purses, briefcases, iPhones, and such
    • They need to be able to adjust quickly when another person joins the group
    • They need some sense of privacy when the topic is sensitive
    • They need to be a comfortable temperature
    • They need to be able to get a wifi and cell phone signal
    • They need a restroom close by

Additionally, they often need to “hide” to work on something apart from the group. Keep in mind that groups and collaborative processes are fluid. The design of a space needs to be informed by this fluidity. As the group shape shifts the space would allow for, and even encourage it.

Clinton Brown has been helping businesses grow and people come together to succeed in business for 13 years. His unique skill set of being able to assess, evaluate and create solutions for quickly growing businesses has proven helpful in the successful launch of The Bakery.

As a former Area Director of BNI of Sioux Falls he helped the organization grow to an all-time high winning the region national recognition.

He has helped numerous businesses transition their systems from paper to online, streamlining the process and saving thousands of dollars.

He has consulted with businesses nationwide regarding their online presence and how to reach their target audience as well as automate systems for customer retention.

He has developed online products that have helped generate leads for thousands of businesses.

He is helping to bring recognition to Sioux Falls and South Dakota with his latest business The Bakery.