Space for thought: Designing for knowledge workers

This article was an invited contribution for a special edition of the Facilities journal titled ‘Creative facilities’. It reported on research undertaken by Greene to observe different knowledge workers’ mobility patterns as a way of understanding their respective spatial needs. This focus contrasts with previous classifications that have differentiated knowledge workers by generation (Steelcase 2006), activity (Duffy et al. 1998) or technology use (Davenport 2005).

Greene developed a novel visual research tool for interview use, which encouraged participants to describe working patterns and habits in ways often difficult to vocalise.

This research gave designers and facilities managers insights into different needs of knowledge workers, commonly treated as a homogeneous group. The four knowledge worker ‘character types’ identified in the research – the ‘Anchor’, ‘Connector’, ‘Gatherer’ and ‘Navigator’ – have become active tools for improved design briefing in planning responsive workspaces that are supportive of employees.

Knowledge worker productivity is a central topic of research for organisational and facility management (Davenport 2002; Duffy 2005). Many organisations have adopted the open-plan office as a generic design solution, ignoring the creative and autonomous characteristics of a knowledge worker. Greene and Myerson take a people-centred approach to the topic, drawing on their work in the cross-disciplinary research project Welcoming Workplace (AHRC/EPSRC, 2007–8), which showed that people’s individual ways of working need to be supported with a variety of workplace settings.

The typologies and the graphic tool were developed into a workshop held at the ‘Include’ conference (UK, 2009) and ‘European Business Workshops in Inclusive Design’ (Norway, 2010). Greene also led further research in the area of workplace design and mobile working through the projects Living Library (funded by Haworth, 2010) and Mobile Working Lives (funded by Samsung Design Europe, 2012).

The article was awarded ‘outstanding paper’ at the Literati Network Awards for Excellence (2012).