A Podcast Network by SANDOW

Moving beyond accommodation

Inclusive design is a topic not nearly enough people are talking about. This week’s guests are working to fix that. Jolene De Jong is an Applied Insights + Design Specialist at MillerKnoll and Joseph White is the company’s Director of Design Strategy. They recently collaborated on a white paper for the peer-reviewed CRE Journal. In it—and in this episode—they unpack the need for architects and designers to move beyond accommodation of unique needs and toward a more widespread adoption of the notion that spaces that follow inclusive design principles simply work better for everyone. Inclusive design is also a key part of MillerKnoll’s POV on the future of work, which you can read here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/designing-better-tomorrow-millerknoll/.


Ryan: (00:19)
Hey, listeners. Today, I’m pleased to be joined by two of my close colleagues, Jolene De Jong and Joseph White, as we talk about one of the most impactful ideas that we’ll unpack this season; inclusive design.

Ryan: (00:30)
Inclusive design isn’t just for designers. It’s a method of approaching the design of places or products or other things that moves beyond the concept of accommodating special needs and seeks to deeply understand the full range of human abilities to improve design for everyone. I know that might sound a bit theoretical, but we believe that this approach is key in transforming offices from being viewed as traditional, or hierarchical, or places of control, to becoming wonderful places of connection that promote belonging. So whether you work in real estate, or human resources, interior design, or are just somebody who really cares deeply about inclusion and belonging, I think you’ll appreciate this introduction to inclusive design. Enjoy this conversation with Jolene and Joseph.

Ryan: (01:12)
Hey, my friends, welcome to the podcast.

Jolene De Jong: (01:16)
Hey there.

Joseph White: (01:17)
Hey there.

Ryan: (01:17)
I’m excited for today for a couple different reasons. First, because it’s really cool to have both of you on this. I’ve known each of you for years and have a ton of respect for both of you, but also because of this topic of inclusive design. At least in my minds, one of the most important, interesting topics related to the future of workplace, that not nearly enough people are talking about. So we get the privilege of maybe at least getting it on people’s radars and thinking about it a little bit more. But let’s just start with a little about you, and what you do, and how you got interested in this topic.

Ryan: (01:50)
Jolene, maybe you can kick us off.

Jolene De Jong: (01:51)
Yeah. Thanks for having me on here today. Right now, I am very busy keeping up with my very active boys, ages 10 and 12. And in my spare time, I do like to be an interior designer, because I’ve been practicing that since about 2000, and it’s primarily been focused on healthcare environments, kind of what brings me here today and my role with Herman Miller, being able to bring a healthcare lens or a lens of empathy to all the settings and design work that we do here at MillerKnoll.

Jolene De Jong: (02:23)
How I got into this really or why I was interested in healthcare design took root about 30 years ago, working as a teenager in assisted living and nursing home kitchens. As you can imagine, after about four or five years of bearing witness to living the end of your life in those types of environments, I couldn’t help but to think, “It’s got to be better than this.” And at that time, I did know I wanted to go into design. And that kind of just put a fire in my belly, of knowing that any design that I did must enhance or improve the quality of life, especially for those that are aging, or compromised, or healing. So all of that kind of fed into my thesis that I did in college. And that was around assisted living and the interaction with community.

Jolene De Jong: (03:22)
And then, having that of course helped me land my first full-time job in the largest healthcare architecture and engineering firm in the industry, which I was able to pour into designing spaces where working and caregiving and healing are all a priority and had to happen simultaneously. So that was a really interesting layering of priorities. And when I was doing that, when I was working there, I got to lead a lot of user groups. And not only user groups of patients and family, but user groups of clinicians and doctors. And so, that just gave me this lens to lead design with empathy.

Jolene De Jong: (04:09)
Moving on from there, that’s what led me working with Ryan. I started when I jumped ship from the A&D firms. I connected with Ryan and I was able to work on a project that he was working on, where we were leaning into the universal design principles and trying to apply them to our own office environment, to help those that have mobile limitations. That’s where that started and where I got really excited knowing. That was back in 2014. So this was a long time coming of just getting excited around this topic.

Jolene De Jong: (04:50)
And fast forward to now, in the past three years, really, I’ve just had a sense of urgency around using this lens. And that’s when I think I started coming to you both, of realizing… Before the pandemic, there was already a heightened awareness of cognitive differences and diagnosis with autism and all this social, emotional learning programs that were happening in schools and in colleges. And I remember thinking, “If we’re equipping our kids already in school to launch them into the working world, we cannot fail them when they reach to the workplace.” So that gave me a sense of urgency. And then, as well as the pandemic.

Jolene De Jong: (05:39)
There was so much that happened with the pandemic and I don’t want to dismiss what we lost because there was so much we lost, but I think though, we can agree that we’ve gained a new lens to see. And what I’ve been seeing, I got a glimpse of seeing those that were more compromised. And we’ve all been stretched to think outside the box, not sure if there’s a box anymore. But really leaning into understanding how we live, our lived lives physically and mentally.

Jolene De Jong: (06:13)
And we saw this happen in healthcare right away. All of a sudden, healthcare had to take up the telehealth models. And now, all of a sudden, we’re getting more healthcare access to more people.

Jolene De Jong: (06:24)
Also, we’re getting just food and groceries to the curbside. That’s getting more access of food to more people.

Jolene De Jong: (06:31)
So I just felt like now was this time. I heard this great quote doing some of this research. It says, “Only out of extreme conditions and chaos comes innovation and creativity.” And I just felt like, because all what’s happened in the past couple years, this is just giving us this lens to maybe lead with empathy in design.

Ryan: (06:55)
Well, I think you and I are probably coming up on 20 years of knowing each other. I’ve always known that you’ve had a passion for empathy in design. And of course, I met you as a healthcare designer. I didn’t know that this started for you even earlier, in high school. But it’s been awesome to be able to work together first at Herman Miller and now within MillerKnoll.

Ryan: (07:14)
And that experiment or that series of explorations we did in 2014, to me, really kind of kicked off officially in some capacity more of a focus on what is sometimes known as universal design. We’ve adopted the term inclusive. They’re related. And we won’t get into the details just now, but it’s been awesome to have you as a partner throughout.

Ryan: (07:36)
So Joseph, I get the privilege of working with you too, man. Tell everybody about you, and what you do, and how you got interested in all this.

Joseph White: (07:44)
Yeah, for sure. Thanks. I’m very happy to be here. So I’m Director of Design Strategy for MillerKnoll, and specifically focus on place design research. That’s really designed to help us understand better the relationship between human behavior and the built environment. And this is a journey I’ve been on for a long time, throughout my life.

Joseph White: (08:06)
Growing up in the south, in Georgia, somewhere in between the foothills of Appalachia and the suburbs of Atlanta, every Sunday with my family, we’d go to church and then we’d go this suburban construction boom. We’d go to these subdivisions that were under construction. And I can remember going into these houses that were just wood frame. And I had this really amazing insight, where I could stand in one room, and since there was no drywall up, I could see how one room led to another, to another. And I started to think things like, “Well, why would you put that room there? That doesn’t make any sense. You should go from this room to that room.” And that was really kind of the first seed that led me into studying architecture.

Joseph White: (08:48)
And in school, I can remember my professors telling me that I was turning in these, as far as the brief of the project, way Overdeveloped interior plans and ghastly building elevations. And I realized that I didn’t really care so much what the outside of the building looked like, I was mostly concerned about the part of the building that people were intimately connected with, which was the space on the inside, and how they moved throughout it. So that was one of the first steps.

Joseph White: (09:14)
Another was growing up as a closeted gay person, I already mentioned going to church every week, I was painfully aware of how different I was from most of the folks around me. And so, I had this laser focus on environments and relationships with people, and was keenly aware of anything that might make me stand out. So I was always looking for the spaces in between, where I could fit comfortably, and the spaces where I could move to the foreground without risk of exposure. And so, that really heightened my awareness of moving through space.

Joseph White: (09:53)
As I moved through school and got into professional practice, I started in architecture, moved to interior design. And when I got into the working world, I was…

Joseph White: (10:03)
And when I got into the working world, I was quickly given new projects where I would be told the name of a company, headcount, how many private offices, workstations, conference rooms, things along those lines, and then told to generate a space plan. That just left me feeling so unsatisfied about, is this actually helping the people, realizing that I needed to know more about the people that I was designing for other than headcounts and sizes of boxes to put them in, and wanted to ask more questions. That pushed me outside of interior design proper and more into what’s now called design strategy, which was about learning to ask better questions, because if you just ask someone, “What do you need in your space?” it can be hard for them to answer that question if you’re not focused on space as part of your profession and dealing with it on a regular basis.

Joseph White: (10:56)
So this idea of asking better questions, really understanding the relationship between people and their environments and creating spaces that help people feel comfortable so that they can interact with each other and those environments in a way that’s more successful, that’s really what’s driven it all for me throughout this journey.

Ryan: (11:15)
I love hearing your stories, particularly given how closely I work with both of you. And it’s been such a cool thing, because I don’t have a design background, to work with folks like you and be able to dive into topics like this. Specifically as we turn our attention to inclusive design, I think … Again, I don’t come from an interior design background. I think there’s generally a mentality that we should accommodate people with unique needs, but inclusive design feels like a significant mindset shift beyond just accommodation or doing, I hate to say it this way, the bare minimum to make sure that we meet Americans With Disabilities Act requirements, et cetera. Maybe Jolene, you can start off by helping us understand what sort of a mindset shift has to take place to get really to inclusive design.

Jolene De Jong: (11:57)
Yeah, for sure. Exactly like what you were just saying is, this is beyond accommodation. And as we all know, we’ve been doing the bare minimal. If you think about walking into any lobby or reception space, there’s usually just the one spot for a wheelchair user. And so I really think there is a shift happening to think beyond that.

Jolene De Jong: (12:22)
To use that whole wheelchair user and circulation as an example, I mean, we think about accessibility in the requirements. Typically, it’s just checking the box. And when we check the box, it’s like we add a corridor here or we add this type of pathway, but it ends up being a separate pathway from the common path and therefore isolates the user even further. So it doesn’t even … It’s, yes, accommodating, but it’s still isolating or excluding them. And so what we want to do is move this from checking the box to maximizing the utilization of the accommodation.

Jolene De Jong: (13:03)
What I mean by that is think about circulation, and let’s think about all the things that we already know that are good for corridors, let’s say, in businesses or corporations or larger buildings. We’ve already learned that our connection to nature is needed. And a lot of the times now we’re putting corridors along the exterior so that we maintain that connection to nature. We also know that we want corridors to be wider, not necessarily for those with walking devices or wheelchairs, but we have a lot of data around peoples that are hard of hearing or deaf and they’re using sign language to talk. They may be talking and using sign language or even lip reading, and so they need the space to look at each other in the face to read their lips.

Jolene De Jong: (13:50)
So knowing that, if we could maybe focus or even allow what I would say this accommodation to be the driver, it could even … I mean, the outcome of designing a circulation or pathway like that could be a place where people want to collaborate and they want to take their meeting into the corridor and walk and keep moving. And it’s a desirable place to be. So I really like this thinking of instead of just checking the box, how do we make it the actual goal of the outcome of what we’re trying to do here?

Ryan: (14:26)
Hey, friends, we’ll get back to our episode in just a moment, but first I want to take this opportunity to let you know that Looking Forward is part of SURROUND, a podcast network curated by SANDOW Design Group. SURROUND brings together some of the best architecture and design-driven audio content available. So if you like what you hear from us, visit surroundpodcast.com and check out some of the other great shows on the network.

Ryan: (14:49)
For me, this idea that in the past, people might have designed for the middle of a bell curve, if I can say it that way, but maybe some of those designs for those on the edge is better for everyone. That’s a powerful thing. The example that comes to my mind, and I know we’ve talked about it before, is the OXO Good Grips vegetable peeler probably because I do a lot of cooking and a lot of stir-fries, so I use ours all the time. But the story of that product’s so interesting because the designer designed it for his wife who had arthritis. But I think when everybody got the chance to use that thicker rubber grip on a vegetable peeler, it was just like, “This is way better than the old vegetable peeler.” So it might have been for a unique need, but it was just a better design, which I think is a powerful idea.

Joseph White: (15:32)
For sure. And I think that’s absolutely part of it. But one of the other parts of the mindset shift, and this is something that we’re seeing happening more broadly in the A&D community is the participatory nature of design, bringing the users into the design process. And I think when you look at a phrase like inclusive design, including the users in the design process is really key. I think that’s one of the differences between a universal design mindset. I think back to early in my design career, getting my hands on an Americans With Disabilities Act design guide or … Larger organizations have these types of guides as well. These can be hundred, multiple hundreds, of pages of documents of guidelines. And those are great. It’s great to have that body of knowledge. But this understanding or this thinking in universal design around the end product that you, as a designer, have considered everything that needs to be considered to create a perfect end result, as opposed to working with the users actively and having more of a progress over perfection mindset, where you’re bringing them along with you on the journey to create something.

Joseph White: (16:46)
And I think it’s really important here to note, as well, there’s this idea of co-design. I think it’s really unfair, and I mentioned this earlier, to expect people who aren’t focused on design as part of their profession to function as designers. So that’s not the goal. The goal is to engage them in dialogue and feedback. And you, as a designer, should be the guide for that journey. But the journey is not complete if you go on it by yourself. You have to bring that person along with you, and you’ve got to reach the mountaintop together.

Ryan: (17:17)
Yeah. It’s also worth noting that as organizations are more inclusive in terms of getting people involved in the process of thinking about their environments and how they help them, this is not just about physical disabilities. Right? It includes it, certainly, but inclusive design can go way even beyond disabilities, period, right?

Joseph White: (17:36)
Absolutely. And I think that touching on that word disability is another part of the mindset shift here in that this isn’t about designing for disability, but it’s designing for perfectly natural variations in the human condition and acknowledging that that’s a broad spectrum. And I hope that we’ll get into this a little bit later in the conversation around the business imperative for this, but we know around how innovation works, the more perspectives that you have included on the front end, the better your output is on the back end.

Joseph White: (18:11)
And if we’re not creating conditions that allow for more perspectives to be included, different perspectives than the one that you have yourself, you’re not going to get as good of results. So that’s really key as well, this notion of acknowledging these variations as natural and not something that is extreme or special requiring special accommodation, if you will.

Ryan: (18:34)
One of the things that gets me excited here is that I do hear more conversation about this broader array of conditions, broader group of needs. I love that there’s more attention being paid to neurodiversity, as an example, but I think there’s always this balance, isn’t there, between recognizing that you should, as best you can, understand the full range of human condition, but we’re really not just designing for one. We’re trying to, ideally, create a design that serves as many as possible by understanding some of those unique need sets. And I do think there’s a huge business case for it that we should get into momentarily, but anything else just on this topic of moving beyond traditional approach to accommodating those with special needs to what inclusive design really means?

Joseph White: (19:18)
I mean, one thing that I might add in there is just, you’ve got to know your people. This is all about strengthening culture, building belonging, creating healthier ecosystems and communities within your organizations. And you can’t do that unless you engage the people in the process. And that’s something that we’re seeing, particularly now, a lot of organizations hesitate with. I hear things like, “Well, no one’s in the office, so we can’t survey people.” I don’t understand that sentiment. Reach out. Call somebody. Send a message. You’ve got to engage people in dialogue or you’re not going to make any progress.

Ryan: (19:57)
Well, that answer says something, doesn’t it, about what that survey might have been focused on in the past? It sounds like it was-

Ryan: (20:04)
That survey might have been focused on in the past. It sounds like it was about the office as opposed to about people’s needs.

Joseph White: (20:06)

Jolene De Jong: (20:08)
We just have a much more acute lens of our lived lives, like I said, physically and mentally. And we have to ask those questions and address them.

Joseph White: (20:18)
You, as a business leader, are an expert in business. You, as a design partner, are an expert in design. A user is an expert in their own experience. You need that input in order to do your work effectively. This isn’t about pandering to individuals. Individuals want to be successful and they want to be part of organizations that are successful. So this is all about articulating how it benefits the business or the organization, the university, the healthcare system, as a whole. People want to do that. So I think that it’s actually a sign of deep respect by engaging that person in dialogue around how they’re going to help move your organization forward. And it’s not just about trying to make sure that everyone is coddled and comfortable, but how can you put them in the best possible position to engage and put forward something of meaning that they can feel good about?

Ryan: (21:11)
I think you’re putting your finger on something else too, which is when you do start asking people about their needs, sometimes you feel on the hook or delivering. But the more you ask, the more you understand the broad sets of needs and the broad patterns that are underway. And for those organizations that maybe do feel like they’re in a little bit of a limbo in terms of the return to office happening slowly, not exactly sure what they’re doing with their real estate portfolio. Really, is there anything better that an organization could do relative to workplace than simply engage a broader set of users and conversations about their needs, their work to try to have a better understanding of that broad range of conditions. They might not call that inclusive design, but that’s exactly what it’s getting at.

Joseph White: (21:51)
And that’s in season two, one of you, I don’t remember which person maybe you will. There was something that was set around… You hired that person for a reason, for some specific value that you saw that they could contribute. They agreed to join because they wanted to contribute that value and be paid for it. There’s nothing wrong with framing the conversation in those terms. “Hey, let’s check in. Remember when we started this relationship, we talked about this. How can we make sure that we’re giving you everything that you need to do that in the best possible way?” That’s different than saying, “Hey, what do you need?” It’s a subtle difference, but it’s a powerful difference, framing it in the context of the organization.

Ryan: (22:31)
Well, as you alluded to earlier, I think there’s a huge business case for this. And in several episodes, actually I think throughout season one and two of this podcast, we’ve gotten to this point of view, that long term, if people can in fact be productive at least to some extent, in a wide variety of locations. The core reason to have offices, to have a corporate real estate portfolio is as much around creating places for belonging and healthy communities as it is anything else. That’s the return on those real estate investments. So the thought of including more people and having more people feel like this space is for them, to me, feels like a really direct connection to the ultimate goal of why that portfolio exists.

Joseph White: (23:14)
Let me just run through a quick little cascade of some stats here related to that point. So looking at numbers from Boston Consulting Group, 81% of employees who report that their work culture is inclusive, are happy in their job. Looking at stats from BetterUp, when managers are viewed as inclusive, employees feel 2.7 times more committed to their organization, 3.4 more times more satisfied with their job and 3.4 times more engaged in their work. Gallup, year over year, through their Q12 engagement surveys and their State of the Global Workplace consistently report on the benefits of engagement yielding higher profitability, higher productivity, better customer engagement and lower turnover, lower absenteeism. The stats are there from many, many different sources around the importance of engagement, how that benefits people, how that benefits business. And these physical environments are really a great place to focus on to enable that level of engagement, not only the physical environment itself, but the process of creating it is tremendously valuable. Just asking someone, including them in that process is a great driver for engagement.

Jolene De Jong: (24:33)
A quote that I just read and maybe even sums up a book I just read called Bias Interrupted by Joan C. Williams. It was published by Harvard Business Review. She says people need to feel like they belong to do their best work. That’s the bottom line and what Joseph’s talking about.

Ryan: (24:53)
I don’t know that I’ve ever asked either of you this so directly before, but do you think people come into different office environments and are cognizant of whether or not that space is or is not designed for them? Or do they feel excluded based on some sort of physical design characteristics? Or how do you think this manifests for most people when maybe the space isn’t actually inclusive, but I don’t know that anybody might immediately jump to that conclusion when they walk in. You know what I mean?

Joseph White: (25:18)
I definitely can see examples in environments like that. There’s a big push now, rightly so, to create more spaces for community socialization within workplace and looking at how that dynamic plays out is really key. If that environment is designed like a stage where everyone’s on display, that’s certainly going to alienate a broad set of users. But if that environment is designed much more like a, I’m thinking of Dr. Sally Augustine here. She’s an environmental psychologist that we work with a lot, but she likes to talk about the meadow as a metaphor. And so yes, you have this open, grassy area, but you’ve also got the kind of fringe perimeter of trees and plants along the edge. And when you go into a really great urban park, you can just look and see how people interact. But yes, there are some folks that are right in the sun, right in the middle.

Joseph White: (26:18)
But when you look along the edge, there are lots of people that are tucked kind of either deep in the shadows or dappled, light and shade. And so you create these moments where people can move to the center, move to the edges in and out in a very fluid fashion. So when you think of that social space in your work environment, do you have partially shielded spaces, where people can still get a sense visually of what’s happening, but they feel protected if they need that and they want that. And creating, Jolene, I’m thinking of you clear and open pathways that make it easy for people to navigate in and out.

Joseph White: (26:53)
If I have mobility challenges and I go into a space that’s cluttered with a lot of unnecessary furniture and styling elements and things along those lines, it’s going to look like an obstacle course. And you better believe that I’m going to feel excluded and that no one thought about me and how I need to move through the space. So those are just a couple examples, but there are many around how the environment can send really powerful signals, unintentionally in most cases.

Jolene De Jong: (27:18)
Even thinking about cognitive barriers or social barriers, the ways we talk about that in the built environment is look at your signage and wayfinding. Can it be done with pictographs rather than words? This isn’t only just for people that might not speak that primary language, but it’s for people that are dyslexic. We do have research by Dr. Sally Augustine, it says that 20% of the population experiences dyslexia. That was pretty surprising to me and we don’t typically talk about that. Another barrier, what you were saying, you walk into a space and it might feel like, “I’m not sure if I belong, or is it pretentious?” Thinking about the things that are mounted on your walls, images of people, or are there status symbols that kind of signal pretense or does it curtail to one culture? Just being mindful of those things too.

Ryan: (28:15)
Well, there’s certainly a lot of offices out there that convey status hierarchy. I’m sure are meant to impress someone, but might cause someone to not feel like they belong there as well. I know we could go on and on with examples, and I’m also aware that I could talk to you about this literally for hours. So let’s just assume that an organization says, “If we’re going to invest all this in real estate, it’s about creating great healthy communities, places for belonging. We want to be more inclusive in our approach, but maybe someone like me is not an interior designer.” How would you suggest someone begins? Whether it’s someone who’s actually in the facilities, a real estate team, or maybe human resources or someone else. What’s a good starting point?

Joseph White: (28:56)
That’s a great question. I mentioned earlier those a hundred plus page handbooks. There are all sorts of resources and information ranging from building codes and standards, best practices in design, advances in neuroscience, building certifications like well, lead, you name it. There’s an ocean of information that you can quickly begin to drown in. And this is something that Jolene and I started looking at quite some time ago. And what we developed were these three guiding principles or lenses that, at a high level, capture much of the spirit of those documents. And so as team leads, as business leads, the idea was that this gives you information that you can use to set expectations when working with your design partners and folks that have access to all of those details and resources, which are helpful, but maybe not so helpful for you in the context of doing your job. So those three lenses go beyond…

Joseph White: (30:03)
… job. So those three lenses go beyond barrier-free. This is really about that notion that it’s beyond just physical disability. So this is physical, cognitive, and social looking at that broad spectrum of human experience. You want to eliminate barriers from all of those.

Joseph White: (30:19)
The second one is make it intuitive and desirable, and this is really acknowledging that our senses subconsciously read the world around us. In other words, we feel before we think, so making sure that you’re including sensory inputs within your environments that send the right messages, that make that space feel easy and intuitive but also desirable. That people want to be there, that it’s giving the feelings that they’re seeking out.

Joseph White: (30:45)
Then the last one advance autonomy and achievement. This one is really key, and this comes way back from our Herman Miller brand, some research that they did in development of the Aeron Chair findings that an environment can strengthen the resolve and improve the abilities of people, and that many people will expand and strengthen their own abilities with help. The environment can provide that help. There’s a concept in nursing here that is referred to as self-efficacy, and the way that I interpret this is you want to avoid the greenhouse effect. If you have a beautiful tropical plant … Ryan, you’re in Michigan there so you know what winters are like … If you have a beautiful tropical plant growing in a greenhouse in ideal conditions, and then you move that plant to the outside, guess what? It’s going to fail pretty fast because it hasn’t had to expose itself to any of those conditions. You want to make sure that you’re providing support in a way that it enables people to go out and strengthen their own skills.

Joseph White: (31:45)
Those three lenses go beyond barrier-free, make it intuitive and desirable and advanced autonomy and achievement are a really great way to guide early discussions on moving forward with these topics.

Ryan: (31:58)
You’ve, I think, gotten those principles to the point where they can really be applied at an interiors or even at a furniture application type level. I’ve been observing now for a long time that both of you have put these principles into practice in your own work, too. Anything to add, Jolene, in terms of how those principles either have affected your approach to design or specific ideas about any of them that Joseph mentioned that you’d want to elaborate on?

Jolene De Jong: (32:24)
Yeah. Under that going beyond barrier-free, we kind of talked about that already with understanding how to go beyond that accommodation. Also, just emphasizing how the WELL building standards are a good resource as well. It’s really interesting. They do spell out saying, “Provide buildings that are accessible, comfortable, and usable for people.” I think that’s the key word is usable, and we’ve kind of missed that in lot of our past accommodation design.

Jolene De Jong: (32:53)
Under make it intuitive and desirable, I mean, right off the top of that is I feel like when we talk about universal design or designing for function, all sudden we have this mental roadblock of it’s not going to be attractive, or it’s going to look ugly. We have to get rid of that association I feel like in order to move forward with this, but more so with environments specifically of making it intuitive and desirable.

Jolene De Jong: (33:27)
Again, Joseph and I have worked on some principles, but one to understand is in your workplace, you really want to reduce tension and anxiety right now. There are resources out there to help you understand that warmer colors tend to foster a psychological safety, and cooler colors can help cognitive capabilities. Warmer colors welcome interaction and boost moods. So there are resources out there like that to even help to that detail.

Jolene De Jong: (33:57)
Then again, that advance autonomy and achievement, going back to my thoughts about these kids being equipped in school and launch them in workplace, and we can do that by giving them choice of posture or choice of environment so that they can go and retreat and recover. We kind of think about this in healthcare already with a lot of clinicians when they need a place to retreat and recover when they do their job. So giving spaces, intentional spaces like that will really help.

Joseph White: (34:31)
This notion of choice is really important on that last one. To maybe put a finer point on that, it’s this notion of purposefully designing multiple modes of engagement or multiple ways to do something. That’s another way to think about providing choice, where if the goal is to get from point A to point B, making sure that there are multiple paths or options to choose, and those options may be articulated differently. Or Jolene’s example earlier with signage where you may be using pictograms, words and color as a way to inform wayfinding.

Joseph White: (35:10)
But when you’re designing those multiple modes of achieving a certain task in, what that allows is not only that choice, but that sense of autonomy in terms of someone deciding the best way for them. But also it gives people the ability to try new ways to get things done. All of this starts to prime the pump in the mind for spurring creativity, innovative thinking when you’re designing that into the place. The way that you actually navigate and move throughout an environment starts to function similarly to a gym where you may be going through and doing circuit training to train different muscle groups in your body, but you’re engaging more in a cognitive capacity.

Ryan: (35:52)
I think a lot of organizations have been thinking about more choice and variety in their workplace in recent years, but maybe just to accommodate the fact that work has grown a bit more varied. But to be really purposeful and inclusive in helping people with a wide variety of conditions that approach work and their experiences differently is a broader aspiration but so in line with what I think people have already started to do. Jolene I’m so happy that you actually said, “This doesn’t need to be ugly.” I’m paraphrasing what you said, but I do think accommodation has historically conjured up images of big bars and installs in bathrooms or in showers. I’ve seen from both of your work that inclusive can be really beautiful.

Ryan: (36:33)
So I feel like just in the interest of time, we need to transition towards a close, although I feel like in some ways we’ve just scratched the surface. I do want to put in a little bit of a plug, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before, that MillerKnoll has taken these principles that Jolene and Joseph and other collaborators have created and actually worked them into a helpful foundational point of view on the future of work and workplace that we’ve just called designing a better tomorrow. We’ll link as we share the podcast to an article on LinkedIn, or there’s actually a full presentation that our folks locally can give.

Ryan: (37:09)
But what you both have done, at least for me and I know for many others, have gotten us excited about applying these principles, which can seem very confusing and broad when you look at the full range of them in a practical way so that we help everyone start along this journey towards much more inclusive and ultimately much more impactful environments that simply produce a far better return on those real estate investments. So I want to thank you for your camaraderie and your contributions and appreciate you spending time with all of our listeners today.

Joseph White: (37:41)
Thank you, Ryan.

Jolene De Jong: (37:42)
Yeah. Thanks. This was awesome.

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Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson is one of the contract furniture industry’s leading voices exploring how changes in technology, design, and management practices are reshaping work.

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