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Design between the lines

Vrouyr Joubanian

Vrouyr Joubanian

Design between the lines Published by

320 South Broad Street Philadelphia, PA 19102

Copyright © 2013 by Vrouyr Joubanian Photography copyrights: Daeun Song, Tian Cai, Min Yeh, Vrouyr Joubanian Illustrations copyright: Daeun Song, Tian Cai, Min Yeh, Vrouyr Joubanian All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced — mechanically, electronically, or by any other means, including photocopying — without written permission of the publisher. Cover design by Vrouyr Joubanian Book design by Vrouyr Joubanian Master of Industrial Design at The University of the Arts 320 South Broad Street Philadelphia, PA 19102 First printing May 2013

Table of Contents

The Team




Research + Interviews + Findings


New Direction


More Interviews


Findings + Recommendations


Feedback + Focus


New New Direction


Further Research


Final Deliverable




To Varak and Areni

The Team Daeun Song Second year

Tian Cai Second year

Min Yeh First year

Vrouyr Joubanian First year 5


Introduction 7

All four of us, together with Jonas, enter the building, walk up to the security guard and say “we're going to The Hub; we have a meeting with Hannah.” “Sure. Turn left at the end of this hallway and take the elevator to the second floor,” she says, with a warm and welcoming smile on her face, and activates the turnstile with a remote control. In a line, and one person at a time, we pass the turnstile and walk in a milk-marble stone covered hallway towards the elevators. It's a fancy building. The inside of the elevator is covered with the same marble stone, only in smaller tiles and mirror-finished stainless steel joints. Of course, the doors also have a mirror finish, which give us a chance to do a final check on our appearances. Based on what our studio professors had told us, and a quick Internet research, we know that The Hub rents out productive and high-tech meeting spaces to other companies. 9


“Second floor,” says the nice lady behind the speaker. The elevator doors slide open: the lights are dim. A few spotlights in the ceiling shed light on The Hub logo and on a big screen mounted on the cherry-wood-paneled wall, facing the elevators. The screen shows images and words like “meet”, “collaborate” and “grow.” We turn left and walk through an open door, and stop in front of the reception desk. A lady greets us with a big smile and a “How can I help you?” “We have a meeting with Hannah; we are from the University of the Arts.” She makes a quick phone call (to Hannah, obviously), and kindly points us to the waiting area, where Hannah would join us. We walk on carpet floors, and are surrounded with white walls and stainless steel elements here and there. Another lady in a suit (like the receptionist) walks towards us with a huge smile on her face. You can tell she's enthusiastic and very excited to see us, but she's trying her best to look professional and keep her corporate image. 11

It's Hannah. We introduce ourselves and follow her, passing by a wood & stone bench along a lime green wall, on which are mounted a set of faux white animal heads. On the side, exotic plants and furniture, cushions covered with large and flashy flower patterns here and there, glass walls, a coffee and refreshments counter, and a water fountain on a stone wall. The contrast in colors and architectural elements is high. And the staff we run into have never-fading smiles on their faces.


Here we are: the Davos room. The door opens and the sun shines through the glass bay window. Six modular tables, arranged together very carefully, with eight four-legged office chairs, with arm rests. Two of the shorter legs go under the table and the other two — the longer ones — do not. The armrests are raised so they could go over the tabletop when the chairs are pushed all the way in. In front of each chair is a lined “The Hub” notepad, and a “The Hub” pen placed vertically atop the notepad, starting exactly on the second line from the top. The importance of this need to have everything very well-organized is made clear to us towards the end of the meeting, when Hannah also mentions that sneakers are not allowed in the facility. I think what she means is that wearing sneakers in that corporate, high-end space is frowned upon. 13

Kick-off Meeting

And so, our meeting kicks off. “We have raw space that we're looking to do something with. Some sort of co-working and collaboration space that's geared towards our corporate clientele. We will be working on the other half of the floor.” There it is: our prompt. A few minutes into the meeting and the door opens. Two men walk in. It's the CEO and the COO of the company. We all stand up, do the same introductions and sit back down. I can see the CEO's judging eyes go around the room, check out each one of us students, and address only Jonas while talking. The CEO and the COO both talk about their vision and clearly state that they expect us to design the new space that will be accommodating the employees of large companies that are looking to downsize their office square-footage. Jonas, our professor, explains that before getting to the task of designing the space, we — the students — need to research and talk to clients to understand what their needs are and define, together with The Hub Team, the services of this new space-to-be in order to have a design that responds to the needs of those services. They are on board, it seems. 16

Next, Hannah gives us a tour of the facility: green, blue and white walls, cherry-wood coverings, marble-tops, mobile furniture and partitions, artwork hung on the walls, cutting-edge lighting elements, sound dampening ceiling treatments, screens, projectors, vinyl-cut statements like “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid� on the walls, and a Grendizer Robot collection behind a glass display.



Research + Interviews + Findings 19


Research Hannah also tells us that she has already done a little research and gathered some information, and promises to send us the collected data. My team and I look through what she’s sent: she has looked at existing coworking spaces/models and mapped out the services they offer to the customers. Looking at her material and how it defines coworking, I have trouble imagining The Hub (corporate) and coworkers (much less corporate) paired together. We continue doing more research on existing coworking spaces to try to have a better definition of the culture, but feel we need to understand The Hub’s current service model first. For this reason, we develop a generative design tool to help Hannah describe their model and map it out clearly during our next weekly meeting.


Generative Research Generative design exercises engage users in creative opportunities to express their feelings, needs and desires, resulting in rich information for concept development. Visualization of The Hub’s service model shows us their work flow and distribution among the teams.


Peter Kilty, The Hub’s facilities manager, joins us. He brings with him blueprints of a previously proposed layout plan for The Hub’s new space for us to look at. In other words, he's telling us to do a better job than those architects/designers. We continue discussing the space in terms of construction, sound treatment options, finishes, budgets, etc. — the usual concerns of a facilities manager. All this, without knowing the nature of the space.


Staff Interviews Interviews are a fundamental research method for direct contact with participants and stakeholders to collect firsthand personal accounts of experience, opinions, attitudes, and perceptions. We tell Hannah we would like to start with the staff and leadership at The Hub and later move on to their clients. She scheduled interviews with the Sales Support Manager (herself), the Director of Sales, the Meetings & Events Manager, the Facilities Manager and the Assistant Director of Operations — a total of five interviews. Hannah also asks us to send her the interview questions beforehand so that she can go over them with the CEO and the COO, but promises not to share them with anyone else (especially the interviewees). Our questions are simple: we ask about the individual’s role in the company, their daily routine, their client experience and interaction, their current service model, whether or not they are familiar with the concept of coworking, and if they have any suggestions to improve their company. 25





We get plenty of mixed answers from the staff and realize there’s a lot of confusion and insecurities. The staff says they don’t feel appreciated and that there has been a 70% turnover in the past few months.




“The current model is very well structured and can be applied to the new space.”

“We don’t need additional staff for the new space.”

“The current model needs some changes and the new space would need a new model.”

“Client interaction/service is the most importat asset of The Hub.”

HUB 28


ent of Roles

“My work is always appreciated.”

“We have good communication within our teams.”

“My work isn’t appreciated.”

“We cannot voice our needs.”

HUB 29


“We should divide the space into cubicles and open space.”

“Cubicles don’t reflect The Hub’s image.”

“We would be incubators.”

“We don’t need coworking space. We need bigger meeting rooms.”

“Members from the same company working together.”

“Different companies working together.”

HUB 30


Our third interview is quite interesting. Min and I are set up in a small room at The Hub, waiting for our interviewee. She walks in with a very serious face and attitude, barely smiling, greets us and pulls a a chair — at the head of the table — and sits straight. She’s crossing her arms as if she’s hiding something, and speaks in a low-toned voice. She's obviously tense (as opposed to her colleague who was very relaxed and straight forward). Her answers seem well thought and prepared beforehand — you would think she had already seen the list of questions. When asked a question that's not on the list, she wrings her hands together and anxiety would fill her eyes. Every time she says something negative about the company, she follows up with “but it's normal; every company goes through these”, probably assuming we'll be telling he bosses on her. By the end of the interview, and after realizing her colleagues had talked about similar things/issues, her seating position changes: she's now sitting back, her arms are not tied anymore and she's smiling more often. 31


it needs

it should ke

“The space should be corporate enough for companies to rent it.”

“The for m

“We would have cubicles in the new space.”

“We should divide the space into cubicles and open space.”

“We need to have more open space. Like hang-out areas.”


“We need another bathroom.”


“We would need another cafeteria for the new space.”



ace should be corporate for companies to rent it.”

would have cubicles n the new space.”

hould divide the space bicles and open space.”

“The space should look hip enough for members to want to work in it.”

“Cubicles don’t reflect The Hub’s image.”

“Cubicles are harder to manage.”

to have more open space. e hang-out areas.”

“We should have glass partitions. No dry walls.”

ed another bathroom.”

“We need larger meeting rooms.”

would need another ria for the new space.”

“Plumbing is a huge problem in the new space.”


We go back to the studio and use affinity diagramming — a process used to externalize and meaningfully cluster observations and insights from research — to synthesize the data we gathered. The staff members have different understandings of the co-working concept, some of them believe the new space should be an extension of the current space and offer the same services, others believe it should have office spaces for them, since their current office was originally a closet, etc. Obviously, they are not on the same page and there probably hasn't been a meeting where the owners (CEO & COO) discussed their vision with their team members to get their perspective and have them on board.







Client Interviews Next, we interview the clients. After looking over our interview questions and adding some of their own, The Hub — Hannah — sets up meetings with 5 of their current clients: a couple of them at The Hub, and for the others, we would go to their own offices, which is perfectly fine, of course. Note that these clients are employees who call The Hub to book a meeting space for their coworkers or managers. In other words, they are meeting planners. We cover areas like their role in the company, their daily routine, their workspace, their experience working with The Hub, whether or not they are familiar with the co-working concept, and if they have any suggestions to improve The Hub's services.








They all express great satisfaction and praise The Hub's services and experience. They all love the brand image and the unique culture The Hub has.


Well, not all five clients. For one of our interviews, a staff member from The Hub accompanies us, makes introductions, takes a tour of the client’s premises with us and asks us to not only take photos of the workspaces, but also of the kitchen and their appliances. She leaves after the tour to give us our privacy during the interview. Interestingly, this specific company was never The Hub's client and clearly said it will never be one. They have 9 floors of office space and plenty of meeting and conference rooms. Why would they go and pay money to rent out one of The Hub's rooms for a few hours, when they can just go up (or down) a floor and meet in a room they own? The Hub said these are their current clients, but they clearly are not. Something is not right. After our meeting and on our way back to the studio, Hannah calls, and asks us to share with her the photos we had taken. Strange. 41


“The Hub accomodates all of our needs.”

“The Hub has great service. They care about us.”

“We don’t need additional space. We have plenty on our offices.”

“Co-working is for particular people with particular jobs.”

“It’s for companies that have limited space.”

“I need to have privacy. My work is confidential”

client 43


Findings Things get stranger as we interview the rest of the clients on our list. We understand from all 5 clients that they are not at all interested in a co-working space, and most of them don't need any extra space and they definitely would not want to share an office space with other companies. Their business is confidential and they can't risk employees from other companies peaking at their work. Moreover, when they do book a meeting room at The Hub, they make sure none of their competitors are there on that day. Min and I discuss what is going on. We are both confused and feel there's something that's not right. There's something we don't know, something hidden. We need to figure it out and we need to figure it out fast.



New Direction 47


A revelation For our next activity, Hannah takes us on a tour and shows us The Hub's other two facilities: similar high-end architectural designs, chrome finishes, high tech equipment, top-notch lighting, popping colors here and there, etc. After the tour, we ask Hannah to sit with us for a few minutes to discuss some things. Since she's the person who brought us in and has been our contact from the start, we figure we can be a little honest and open with her: —[…] this is just between us: the interviews we conducted were quite surprising. None of your clients are interested in a co-working space, and honest-… —OK, that's good to know. That's what we want. That's what we want? Who's we? What's going on?


Of course! How did we not see this coming? We were set up with these specific current clients on purpose, to confirm that they do not need co-working spaces. Min and I feel The Hub staff is using us to communicate a message to the CEO and the COO. We feel we are manipulated. The ground starts shifting beneath us. We talk to our other two teammates, and Jonas, and we are all suprised. We feel like the work we've done so far doesn't have any value or importance: the staff already knows the results and we are only here to reconfirming.


Shift Together with the ground beneath us, our project shifts. It's not about the new space anymore; it's not about what it needs and how it should be designed. Another, more crucial issue is uncovered: a disconnect among the staff and the leaders of The Hub.



More Interviews 53


Owner Interviews Two interviews are left. We had told Hannah in the beginning that we would like to interview the staff and clients first to gather enough data and information that would shape our questions for our last two interviews: Bill's and John's. We cover topics similar to the previous ones, and add questions about their interaction with their staff, the clients, and to have a better understanding of their vision, we ask these business partners, separately, what their idea/definition of co-working is. We start with the Chief Operations Officer, John. The Hub is a big family for him. He admires the energy, dynamism and openness of the atmosphere and believes it's what keeps the staff going. As for co-working, it's a "big wild animal." John encourages us to dig into the customer experience and behavior, and really understand the needs of the users to have a better idea of how to improve, or add to The Hub's current service model.








Two days later, we are scheduled to meet with Bill, the Chief Executive Officer. We receive an email from Hannah the same morning, saying Bill has forgotten about our meeting and is out of town till the following week: the week of our first presentation to The Hub. We meet with Bill on Monday and present to The Hub on Thursday, hoping the data we gather from Bill will not affect the structure of our presentation too much. For Bill, this new space they are looking to do something with is a moneymaking opportunity, a way to grow and expand the unique culture of The Hub. He also wonders whether or not investing huge amounts of money in this expansion would be lucrative enough. 56


The disconnect between the leaders and the staff is more evident as Bill tells us that he thinks the staff is satisfied with their job and the work environment. My team and I sense there's also a disconnect between the two leaders when trying to explain their understanding of the co-working concept. We synthesize and strategically put together our findings and a set of recommendations to present to The Hub.



Findings + Recommendations 59

The Team


The clients

The space

First Presentation It's the big day: all four of us, together with Jonas, enter The Hub and are accompanied to the presentation room. They have new round tables with faux-marble tabletops. Three staff members — the leaders — walk in, including Hannah, and we wait for Bill and John who arrive a few minutes late. Dim the lights, the show is about to start. We walk them through our research on co-working spaces, discuss the evolution of the concept over the years and talk about its four major values: accessibility, community, openness and collaboration. After presenting our interview process with the different parties and the topics we covered, we get to our findings.

We divide our findings into three major categories: the team, the clients and the space.


The team


For the first category, we explain that the team has different opinions and understandings of the co-working concept; different opinions on the current service model; and that there's unclarity on the extent of the roles of the staff.


The clients


For the second category, we explain that the current clients of The Hub are satisfied with the services offered and do not need additional office space. We also note that the clients we interviewed are not the actual users of the current spaces of The Hub, and they are not the ones who might be using the future space; they are meeting planners. In other words, they are not responsible for downsizing their companies' square footage.


? 65

The space


Finally, for the space, we talk about its different needs and what it should look like design wise, based on what our interviewees said. We include anonymous quotes from the different interviewees, in support of our statements and findings.


The Hub Client



Based on these findings, we propose the following recommendations:

We understand the issues raised by the facilities manager regarding the physical space and its constraints, but we believe tackling those at this point will not be time well-spent, since we still do not know what the new space would offer and what kind of needs the design has to respond to.

Since the clients we interviewed are not the actual users or the decision makers of their companies' real estate, we recommend reaching out to the management of these companies, and interviewing the individuals who are responsible for the downsizing of their square footage. Also, we recommend going into deeper client research and interviewing other potential clients — current co-workers — who might be somewhere between Fortune 500 employees and ones who wear sneakers to work.

The space

The clients


The Hub Team


And finally, in order to get The Hub team on the same page, we recommend facilitating a conversation where the CEO, the COO and the staff would discuss these topics and communicate. We would be happy to be the ones facilitating this workshop/conversation, or we could also refer them to a third party neutral.

The team



For our big finale, we project a map that ties all three areas together: Getting the team on the same page and defining the needs of the clients lead to a clear business plan and a service model, which would inform a space design that responds to the needs of this established service model.


The Hub Team The The Hub Hub Team Team

The Hub Clients

Current situation Current Current situation situation Different opinions within opinions theopinions team Different Different within within thethe team team

Current situation

Unclear clients & clients’ needs


Conversation Deeper facilitated client by a & market Conversation Conversation third-party neutral facilitated facilitated by research by a a third-party third-party neutral neutral

Team on the on same Team Team on page thethe same same page page

Space design that responds to the needs of the service model


Clear business plan & service model Clear Clear business business plan plan & service & service model model

Target clients & clients’ needs

The Hub Clients The The Hub Hub Clients Clients Current situation Current Current situation situation Unclear clients &Unclear clients’ needs Unclear clients clients & clients’ & clients’ needs needs

? ??

Deeper client & market Deeper Deeper research client client & market & market research research

Target clients & clients’ needs Target Target clients clients & clients’ & clients’ needs needs

Space design thatSpace responds to Space design design the needs to of to that that responds responds the service model thethe needs needs of of thethe service service model model



Feedback + Focus 77

With our hearts in our hands, worried that this is not what they want to hear — a bunch of students indirectly telling them to communicate and listen to each other before making any big, expensive investments — my team and I turn to the attendees to receive their feedback. To our surprise, the same big smiles we always see during our weekly meetings with Hannah are drawn on their faces and accompanied by applause. It went well: they like it. Even Bill applauds, although he looks tired and sleepy, and is struggling to keep his eyes open during the course of the presentation.


Discussion follows and The Hub would like us to focus on the client research part (the right part of the map), and better understand what the potential co-workers’ needs in a working space are. They also ask us to do a market research, define price points — how much a co-worker is willing to pay for a day, a month or an hour — and look into marketing strategies. They do not want us to focus on the employees and their communication with each other, or with Bill and John (the left side of the map). We agree on the area of focus, shake hands and exchange big smiles.



Our work is appreciated. My team and I head straight to dinner and our classmates join us for a few drinks. We celebrate our success...



New New Direction 83


We are Shocked At noon on Monday, however, we receive a follow-up email from Hannah, with comments and critiques on our presentation. The Hub (Bill & John) does not understand the relevance of the employee synthesis in all this, and would like to see a synthesis of John and Bill's interviews. It is also not clear why we are interested in their current service model, and how that's relevant to the new space. And finally, it seems we were looking for a problem to fix in their internal organization, trying to fit it into a design mold. Is this what we were doing for the past two months? The email ends with the objective of our steps moving forward: find the market, the market need and the market pricing. We are shocked.


Why wasn't this brought up right after our presentation? Why was this communicated to us via email? What about those smiles? And the applause? Were they not really satisfied? Did they pretend to appreciate our work? Do they understand what our role is? Not everything is what it seems, it seems. We feel offended by the comments and the lack of confrontation. And to think we drank to our success! What The Hub (Bill & John) fail to understand is that to make this expansion a success, having the staff on board and on the same page is crucial. Also, by understanding and learning from the current service model, they will inform the future model for the new space. And finally, we are human-centered designers after all: we care about people. We observe and learn from the organization to help it grow, and the best way to do that is to understand the internal system and its dynamics.


Shift, again My team and I meet with Jonas, discuss the email and the concerns, and although we were hoping to take the rocky road and focus on the internal communication of The Hub, we decide to redefine our direction, again, as per The Hub’s request. We start researching potential clients and delve into market research. Are we equipped to do this? Is this what designers do? Market research?



Further Research 89


Potential client Interviews Hannah sets us up with two of their current clients who are start-ups and who rent oneperson offices at The Hub twice or three times a week. Where were these clients in the beginning? Why weren’t we referred to them before?




To make our interviews less traditional, we develop interview tools: images of spaces, services/equipment cards, price range, etc. - to actively engage the interviewees and make it easier for HUB them HUB to communicate their ideas. We questions about their HUB also HUBaskHUB work routine, their experience with The Hub, their understanding of the co-working concept, etc.



After synthesizing the data that we gather from these two clients, we decide to visit cafĂŠs where individuals go to work. Places like Starbucks, La Colombe and Panera Bread. Our goal is to interview individuals who could be potential clients of The Hub.


We visit 10 cafĂŠs. 60% of customers there are students, 20% are working individuals on a break, 16% are children and retired working individuals, and only 4% are individuals actually working.


working individuals are only 4%

60% students



retired or children working individuals 4% working on a break individuals


We also decide to visit existing co-working spaces like Indyhall, Benjamin's Desk and The Grind (New York City). Our goal is the same: to interview businessmen who have the profile of potential clients for The Hub. After interviewing a few individuals in the existing co-working spaces, we are able to define the needs of the co-worker: a desk, a chair, Internet, a space for a meeting/events, basic services, etc. We ask why they like these spaces, how they choose them over others and what their budget is — The Hub’s major interest.




Final Deliverable 99

It was time for our second presentation: our final deliverable. Although we had gone out and conducted market research (if we can call it that) and defined the needs of potential co-workers and their budget, because that’s the area of focus The Hub chose, we still believe our initial recommendation — getting The Hub team on the same page — is a crucial issue and are not willing to let it go. Since we are going to deliver the same message — one that they are not ready to hear again — we decide to say it in a way that’s easier to hear. We decide to boost The Hub’s ego first.


Why would these potential clients choose The Hub’s space and not somewhere else? They would choose The Hub for their brand image, their unique culture, their high-end client experience and their front-line staff. And who knows about these qualities better than The Hub team? This is the exact reason why the staff, the leadership and the owners of The Hub should all communicate and be on the same page in order to have a successful business.



Final Presentation We set a tentative date for our final presentation and are asked to share our presentation document with Hannah beforehand so she can look over it before we present to the rest of the team. In other words, the owners asked her to make sure we won’t be wasting their time with recommendations they are not exactly interested in hearing. We find this weird and since we never finish our presentations days in advance, we are not able to send it to her. Our presentation day is still not confirmed. Several emails go back and forth: the owners of The Hub are very busy and we need to present before our semester is over. A date is never confirmed and we end up sending our document via email. It is clear that we will not be presenting unless they decide the content is worth it. We mention in our email that we would be more than happy to present our findings and recommendations in person, even if it’s after the end of our semester. We receive an email from Hannah saying they will look through the document and get back to us. 105


We never heard back.




Looking back at the project, I realize that we never had The Hub’s buy-in. They understood we will not be designing their new space — the reason they had initially brought us in for — but thought, in my opinion, they might as well see what a group of students are capable of doing. Our initial goal, as designers, was to first understand The Hub’s current user experience and service model, and build a solid research base before moving forward. While doing that, however, other [hidden] issues came to surface, the biggest one being the different perspectives between the front-line staff and the executive leaders, and demanded a more holistic point of view, and therefore a reframing of the project. Still, the stakeholders did not want to reframe and reset their expectations based on the outcome of our research. They did, however, change them from their expectations at our kick-off meeting. Since they did not want us to talk about their internal communication and put their organizational problems under the spotlight, they opted for another expectation: a market research. They asked us to further research and report back with numbers. 110

We failed to clearly communicate our role as designers: our partners did not see the value in our approach. The reason for this is that we were not able to build a relationship and gain their trust at the beginning of our collaboration. And the main reason for that, I think, was the absence of a clear, written communiqué, or a contract, stating our role and explaining our design research process more thoroughly. A communiqué would have pushed The Hub to see us as designers and not just as students. We would have been taken much more seriously and our findings and recommendations would have been taken into consideration. My learning from this project is that a client’s buy-in is essential, but sometimes very hard to get. It is very important to walk the client step by step through the design process and demonstrate its value along the way: a “show, don’t tell” approach. The project started with our team designing for them, when we should have been designing with them. After all, people’s buy-in comes with their participation. 111

Vrouyr Joubanian is a candidate for the Master of Industrial Design degree at The University of the Arts, expected to graduate in May of 2014. His name being historically difficult to pronounce, he often goes by simply “V.� Born in Lebanon, and of Armenian descent, Vrouyr studied industrial design and interior architecture in Beirut before traveling to the United States to pursue his second Masters. With first hand experience of the social issues in his home country, he has been thinking strategically about applying his diverse skill set in collaborative settings for years before crafting this thesis. A speaker of four languages, partial to practically every kind of dessert known to man, with a keen understanding of history and politics, Vrouyr is an excellent host and tour guide if you ever find yourself in the Middle East.

Design Between the Lines  
Design Between the Lines