Our designers are influenced by the books they read, the podcasts they listen to, and the people they meet. For the most recent issue of Dialogue, our focus is the changing nature of work. Five Gensler designers let us know who or what has their attention on the topic of workplace and office design.
Who: Gervais Tompkin, Consulting and Real Estate Services Leader in Gensler’s San Francisco office
What: Outside Insight: Navigating a World Drowning in Data, by Jorn Lyseggen
Why: This book was written by the CEO of Meltwater, a San Francisco-based media intelligence firm. It explores how companies are missing the mark when it comes to how they use data. Currently, most businesses rely on their own internal data and KPIs generated by their business lines to monitor business health and strategy. But Lyseggen thinks that’s too narrow an approach. Given the dramatic increase in available data, analyzing external data and social media data can actually be much better measures of one’s performance. At Gensler, we have tended to measure place performance with client-generated data. The external benchmarks used for our Workplace Performance IndexSM (WPI) were our entry into this “outside insight” territory. Now, we’re evolving our approach with other research initiatives like the Experience IndexSM (EXI), which can tap into the wealth of social media data to inform our experience design analysis and design solutions.
Who: Melissa Mizell, Design Director in Gensler’s Tokyo office
What: In Praise of Shadows, by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki
Why: This slim but powerful book compares traditional Japanese aesthetics with Western ones. Though it was originally published in 1933, the book has some very relevant and timeless messages about the essence of the human experience of space. As we design for a world that is becoming increasingly diverse, there’s an opportunity to consider and apply the best of many cultures. The chapter that I resonate with most is the one on bathrooms — not the lovely Japanese o’furo (which is worth learning from)—but the room that houses the most common of objects: the toilet. Tanizaki’s book inspires me to remember that every space we design, for every function in life, has the chance to actually improve life, not just by how it looks, but by how it engages the senses. The spaces we design allow for socialization, focus, or deep thinking, and they play a role in our human experience. There’s a popular movement now to think about digital design alongside spatial design. In both cases, caring about design as a holistic experience means putting people first.
What: Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, by General Stanley McChrystal
Why: General McChrystal’s message in this good book is about how leadership can embrace change, and he lays out the tools and techniques to get there. It’s a spot on message for Gensler right now because our clients are changing fast. They’re growing in the marketplace and evolving internally as creative class companies. And that means they’re structured in non-hierarchical, agile team structures. That means that when we design for a client’s workplace, we must have a deep understanding of how agile teams work and their need to be nimble with speed and frequency. To find the right answers, we have to understand the modules of their culture, the structure of their organization, and their purpose and vision. General McChrystal outlines in his book how our defense and intelligence agencies faced this exact problem — rapid transformation of an established, centuries-old structure across siloed, independent organizations and cultures. This book provides value to any leader or team member, and also provides in great detail some very noteworthy perspective on the world’s history of change.
Who: Christian Wolff, Regional Managing Principal for Gensler’s Latin America Region
What: How Google Works: The Rules for Success in the Internet Century, by Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg
Why: This book by Google’s former CEO and its former Senior VP of Products is about how organizations need to be able to change as technology shifts power from companies to consumers and people in general. It was written in 2014 and is still super relevant. In terms of the workplace, my takeaway is that every day you need to be open to change and new ideas; even when you identify a business plan, you still need to be flexible and adapt to the needs of your people. Schmidt and Rosenberg say that this can only happen by empowering people to make a positive impact through their work. Determine the people who make an impact in your firm and position people around them, giving each a space they can define and where they can see they are valued and have a voice. The idea is to create a platform to get your people — and you’re your organization — to reach the next level, continuously.
Who: Todd Heiser, Creative Director of Gensler’s Chicago office and Consumer Goods Leader
What: The Laws of Simplicity, by John Maeda, and Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull
Why: I chose two books because I think they’re both important and relevant for the work we do now. This first one is The Laws of Simplicity, by John Maeda. It’s an older book but I gave it a re-read and remembered what an inspirational book it was for me. It was written just as the first iPod was introduced, long before the iPhone, and its highlights include the chapters Learn, Differences, and Failure. To me, the book is a relevant resource when thinking about how design can support talent.
Another favorite is Creativity, Inc., by Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios. It highlights how to overcome forces that stand in the way of true inspiration. It’s a great manual for innovation and culture creation.
Elizabeth Snowden is a writer/editor at Gensler, based in San Francisco.