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RDC Blog

January 2012

Welcome to the Research Design Connections blog, started in 2007. Recent blog entries are available here. Earlier blog entries (one for every working day since the beginning of May, 2007) are available to subscribers.

This is a forum to discuss recent research of interest to designers. To comment on a blog entry, please send an e-mail message to sallyaugustin@researchdesignconnections.com.

August 2014

Nieuwenhuis and his team have confirmed the value of adding plants to workplace environments. 

This research is timely because, as the researchers describe, “Principles of lean office management increasingly call for space to be stripped of extraneous decorations so that it can flexibly accommodate changing numbers of people and different office functions within the same area.”

In a series of experiments, most involving actual workplaces and workers and with data collected over long periods of time, the investigators found that “enriching a previously lean office with plants served to significantly increase workplace satisfaction, self-reported levels of concentration, and perceived air quality. . . . enriching space also improved perceived productivity. . . and actual productivity. . . . simply enriching a previously spartan space with plants served to increase productivity by 15%. . . . a green office leads to more work engagement among employees. . . . the results unambiguously indicated that participants who worked in green office space were more productive than their counterparts who worked in a lean office space. Tasks were completed faster and— importantly—without any accompanying rise in errors.” 

Plants used by the researchers were green, leafy (as opposed to cactuses), and had an average height of 90 centimeters (about a yard).  In “green” test conditions, subjects could see at least one, and generally between one and three of these plants while working.  No plants were visible to participants working in lean spaces. 

For additional information on the benefits of designing in plants, read this article.

Marlon Nieuwenhuis, Craig Knight, Tom Postmes, and S. Haslam.  “The Relative Benefits of Green Versus Lean Office Space:  Three Field Experiments.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology:  Applied, in press.

August 2014

Researchers Justin Moss and Jon Maner of Florida State University have conducted research that again illustrates what interesting creatures humans are.  Their work has repercussions for the design/soundscapes of healthcare facilities and homes, for example.  The team learned that “The subtle sound of a ticking clock can quite literally speed up a woman’s reproductive timing. That is, the sound of a ticking clock can lead women to want to start a family at an earlier age, especially if she was raised in a lower socio-economic community. . . . Reproductive timing refers to the time frame and the specific years during which people begin to focus their energy and resources towards bearing and caring for their offspring.

“Tick-Tock:  How to Speed Up a Woman’s Biological Clock.”  2014.  Press release, Human Nature [journal], http://www.springer.com.

August 2014

Research completed at the Rotman School of Management highlights the social implications of living in a “tight” or “loose” culture.  Designers can use this information when planning interactions with clients and suggesting design options, for example.  As stated in Rotman’s press release, “Tight cultures such as those in China, Germany, and Pakistan have a lower tolerance for deviation from cultural norms and may even impose severe sanctions for doing so. Loose cultures, such as in the U.S., New Zealand and Hungary, tend to be more open to change, and experience higher rates of change than tight cultures.” Norway was also identified as a tight culture by researchers.  Additional information on tight and loose cultures and lists of cultures that are classified into each group is available online, by Googling “tight loose culture.”

“Gender Quotas Work in ‘Tight’ Cultures, Says New Paper from the University of Toronto.”  2014.  Press release, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca.

August 2014

Frank Duffy, an important workplace design researcher, has contributed material to a new book on urban design.  He reports that “The concept of the “intelligent building” . . . is based on the unrealistic assumption that automated environmental control mechanisms will have the capacity to anticipate, and respond to, open–ended user expectations and ever changing patterns of occupancy. The very term is an excellent example of a “pathetic fallacy”, the belief that lifeless objects, on their own, can anticipate change. The practical implication of this argument is that the software of space management must become at least as “intelligent” as the design of the hardware of the buildings themselves – perhaps much more so. Space management for many organisations is already transcending isolated, individual buildings and will have to expand through time and space to embrace the accommodation of the totality of ever shifting networks, connecting people, wherever they happen to be, in multiple organisations in many buildings – and places – of many different types.”

Frank Duffy. 2014.  “A Time and a Place for Everything.”  In Cities for Smart Environmental and Energy Futures, edited by Stamatina Rassia, and Panos Pardalos, Springer:  New York, pp. 1-7.

August 2014

Ricciotti and her team introduced the sort of open workplaces that are relatively common in office settings at a medical practice and have drawn some preliminary conclusions. As they report, “The redesigned workspace accommodates more staff in a modernized, open, egalitarian setup.  . . . the physical proximity created by the new workspace has facilitated timely and civil cross-discipline communication and improvements in team-oriented behavior, both of which are important contributors to safe patient care.”  The researchers indicate that employees are distracted by face-to-face and cell phone conversations in the work areas. The workplace, in “an obstetrics-gynecology department at an academic medical center” is described as featuring “a traffic pattern that required staff to walk by the kitchen, the main conference room, an electronic message board, and the chairs workspace before branching off to their own workspaces. . . . residents and medical students were allotted . . . desks located adjacent to those for the medical education staff, within sight of the chair’s workspace. . . Fellows’ desks were located near those of . . . [people] with whom they collaborate.  Every desk setup was nearly identical in square footage and style and was equipped with a locker and a lockable file drawer.” Staff were assigned desks and unassigned spaces were available for visitors.  Quiet spaces for thoughtful work/confidential conversations were also provided and team rooms were available near the clustered desks of team members. 

Hope Ricciotti, Walter Armstrong, Gabriel Yaari, Suzanne Campion, Mary Pollard, and Toni Golen.  2014.  “Lessons from Google and Apple:  Creating an Open Workplace in an Academic Medical Department to Foster Innovation and Collaboration.”  Academic Medicine, vol. 89, no. 9, no pagination.

August 2014

Speaking at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Miriam Tatzel linked happiness and environmentally responsible behavior.  A related press release reports on her presentation: “The pursuit of true happiness can lead people to lifestyles that will not only be satisfying but will be better for the environment. . . . Positive psychology, or the study of happiness, well-being and quality of life, provides the answers to what really brings happiness to consumers. . . . Several studies have determined that peoples’ basic psychological needs include competence, autonomy, positive relationships, self-acceptance and personal growth. And research has shown that rather than fulfilling these needs, the pursuit of money and possessions takes time away from more personally fulfilling activities and social relationships. . . . Materialism is not only bad for the environment, it’s bad for consumers’ well-being. . . . Another path to well-being is thrift, which means conserving resources as well as money. . . . Frugal people are happier with life in general, according to a 2014 study. . . .  people realize more lasting happiness by changing their activities than by changing their material circumstances.”  Designers can apply Tatzel’s work when they develop environmentally responsible design solutions and present them to clients.

“Happier Consumers Can Lead to Healthier Environment, Research Reveals.”  2014.  Press release, American Psychological Association, http://www.apa.org.

August 2014

Botticello and her colleagues investigated the life experiences of people in the National Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems database living in different sorts of areas.  They determined that “Living in communities with greater land use mix and more destinations was associated with a decreased likelihood of reporting optimum social and physical activity. Conversely, living in neighborhoods with large portions of open space was positively associated with the likelihood of reporting full physical, occupational, and social participation."

Amanda Botticello, Tanya Rohrbach, and Nicolette Cobbold.  2014.  “Disability and the Built Environment:  An Investigation of Community and Neighborhood Land Uses and Participation for Physically Impaired Adults.”  Annals of Epidemiology, vol. 24, no. 7, pp. 545-550.

August 2014

Tomovska-Misoska and her research team identify consistencies between the responses of Macedonian knowledge workers to the design of workplaces and those of employees in other countries. As the researchers report “A statistically significant difference was found in the satisfaction with privacy between employees in different office types and in the level of satisfaction with privacy between employees working in office shared with colleagues and open office. This result is similar to the findings of other studies as well (Danielsson, 2005 [a Swedish researcher]). . . . satisfaction with storage space, satisfaction with lighting, satisfaction with privacy and satisfaction with air quality significantly predict workspace satisfaction. These findings were in line with other studies done across different industries in Europe. In addition, workspace satisfaction, satisfaction with the meeting space and freedom from distraction significantly predict the overall job satisfaction. The findings points to the importance of the design elements of the workspace for job satisfaction.”  This research confirms that although workplace design needs to be customized to support national cultures, there are consistencies in worker responses to designed environments.

Ana Tomovska-Misoska, Miodraga Stefanovska-Petkovska, Misko Ralev, and Venera Krliu-Handjiski.  2014.  “Workspace as a Factor of Job Satisfaction in the Banking and ICT Industries in Macedonia.”  Serbian Journal of Management, vol. 9, no. 2, pp. 159-171.

August 2014

Hsu and his team investigated the relationship between music heard and feelings of power.  They determined that hearing “power-inducing music produced three known important downstream consequences of power:  abstract thinking, illusory control [feeling of being in control, even when no control actually is present], and moving first. . . music with more bass increased participants’ sense of power.”  Designers with the opportunity to soundscape spaces and objects they develop can apply these research findings.

Dennis Hsu, Li Huang, Loran Nordgren, Derek Rucker, and Adam Galinsky.  “The Music of Power:  Perceptual and Behavioral Consequences of Powerful Music.”  Social Psychological and Personality Science, in press.