While 2020 was a step back, 2021 is the time to prepare for two steps forward.
In BHDP’s previous installment of “The Retail Rumba,” we looked in our rear-view mirror at historical events that forced retail to reinvent and adapt to learn how the industry can rebound after the COVID-19 Pandemic. We were caught by surprise and unprepared as an industry. The outset of 2020 looked promising for much of the retail category, further catching retailers off guard once the pandemic hit. With the onset of and prolonged effects of the pandemic, the rigidity of our formats, lack of alternate shopping channels, and inadequate distribution engines caused retail to hit a roadblock.
However, with vaccine rollouts underway and recent reports that infection rates are on a downward curve, we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel. This beacon signals that now it is time to plan for long-term solutions and take steps toward implementing the learnings from what we now know.
The Retail Rumba: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
The 2020 pandemic has reminded us that retail is severely prone to the effects of uncertainty.
Historically, the category experiences ebbs and flows at an almost consistent rate. Some of this is due to events beyond our control, for instance, acts of war, natural disasters, and terrorism to name a few. Not to mention economic cycles over the last several decades that have impacted the industry. These scenarios contribute to the sequence of peaks and valleys that the industry has traditionally encountered. Over the last two decades, the incidence of these cycles occurred at a seven- to 10-year interval.
Of all industries, retail is highly susceptible to events beyond its control. But it is also probably true to say that it is one of the most resilient with the most potential to energetically bounce back.
In this century alone, retail has encountered numerous unprecedented situations that forced the category to regroup and re-strategize. In 2001, the heartbreaking events of 9/11 caused widespread disruption across a multitude of industries—impacting retail severely. Seven years later, the great recession started a downward spiral in retail resulting in the loss of many main street brands; it was not until 2010 that this industry experienced growth again. Here we are,10 years later facing the COVID-19 pandemic which has brought the category practically to a halt.
Retail has always been a fast paced and dynamic industry, and that is no truer than today. I have always thought of the retail industry as one of the most creative and collaborative—just think of all the expertise required to conceptualize, plan, and open a store. To facilitate and coordinate all these disciplines, a unique consultant role was created that could take everyone’s needs and represent it all in a plan: merchandising, marketing, operations, visual, management, store design, just to name a few. The Store Planner was the liaison who understood how to marry business strategy and the retailer’s brand promise, all the while being the advocate for everyone, including the shopper.
Before the advent of internet and mass national retailing, the Store Manager had another key role, reading the pulse of their shoppers. Each store or department manager had direct and instant access to their shoppers’ needs and mindset, simply by observing and talking with them in the store. A Store Manager could glean the shopper’s current mood, answer product questions, gather information on preferred styles or products, upcoming events, or milestones. This information helped managers evaluate what merchandise should be brought into the store.
From Clicks to Bricks: Expanding Brand Loyalty through Physical Stores
It’s 2015. A new movement in retail is emerging where some direct-to-consumer brands (DTC) are dipping their toes in the pool of physical retail. Some industry voices are calling this new movement “Clicks to Bricks.” Shoppers wonder who these new brands are and why they should shop there versus the tried and tested brick and mortar stores they have shopped at for years. They question if this movement will succeed.
Fast forward five years. “Clicks to Bricks” (C2B) is now a household term. Dozens of brands have followed the lead of Bonobos and Warby Parker, et al. making the leap from entirely digital to adding physical and opening hundreds of stores along the way. This movement is disrupting retail, and it is here to stay.
The pioneers of the C2B movement have the benefit of experience in transforming from DTC models to successful online/offline retailers. Even so, they are still working on mastering physical retail and creating stores that deliver a brand experience that is equal to or better than their successful digital experience.
Now, the majority of later C2B adapters/followers are facing growing pains in translating their brands from a digital form to a physical environment. Because this movement brings an abundance of new brands to an already highly competitive and saturated marketplace, C2B retailers must get this recipe right. It is not just a matter of a simple translation tool, but rather understanding their new in-store consumers and creating a fresh way of shopping to meet their needs. Successful adaptation of a digital brand shopping experience to an in-store experience needs to incorporate knowledge of store shoppers’ behaviors and preferences. Not paying attention to this trend can mean the difference between success and failure.
Creating Inspiring Experiences Through Purposeful Design
When leveraging purposeful design through a balanced approach of informed, empathetic, and exciting, designers can reach a higher, more impactful level of design.
Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Purposeful design builds on this quote by creating a novel problem-solving approach that inspires people, enhances experiences, and drives strategic results. This new design approach leverages the strengths and key ideas of design thinking as well as experiential and emotional design to positively impact the environments and behaviors within a space. The three key principles of purposeful design are centered on intent, people, and emotion—all of which deliver a more informed, empathetic, and exciting design solution. Armed with a deeper understanding of people, their behaviors, and feelings, designers can generate positive improvements on the effectiveness of work environments, while helping to enhance business results for their clients.
Understanding Purposeful Design
Purposeful design takes a holistic look at all aspects of design including the people, the organization, and other key influences through a collaborative exchange of information. This process occurs prior to putting pen to paper. Designers’ personal assumptions and perceptions for the final solutions are tempered by including valuable insights comprised of the users’ needs, aspirations, and journeys within the design. This method ensures that the final design of the space feels as though it was created expressly for the people interacting within the environment. To better illustrate this principle, picture a tripod. Each of the three purposeful design components function like the legs of a tripod to provide balance and a solid foundation for impactful design. These three principles may shift and adjust to accommodate different situations and conditions. However, if one is eliminated, the final design may not achieve its full potential. When all three principles are incorporated, they produce a more successful and powerful solution that inspires the users of the space, meets their needs, and aligns with the organization’s goals. This approach has unique implications for the future of workplace design.
The First Principle: Informed
Informed design is intentional, focused, and driven by awareness, information, and data. It refers to the iterative practice of extracting, distilling, and leveraging ideas, research, and information to help formulate design solutions. Analyzed data can help expose problems, provide more information about those problems, and evaluate the effectiveness of solutions. According to Design Blog Editor Cameron Chapman, “Collecting and analyzing data is key to creating better designs and user experiences.” Through the process of gathering and analyzing, designers should incorporate a full range of both qualitative and quantitative data types early and throughout the process. Strategic data incorporates softer data, including the vision, leadership’s goals, and success criteria of the project and organization. Spatial data includes not only “hard” data, which is the quantitative information on where, when, and how people spend their time, but also “soft” data which is the qualitative or more subjective perceptions of how people’s time was spent in specific spaces. Data focusing on the building’s performance and human comfort such as temperature, humidity, and light, is considered environmental data, while business data assists designers in understanding their clients’ work processes and workflow.
“Collecting and analyzing data is key to creating better designs and user experiences.”
– Cameron Chapman, Design Blog Editor
After determining the right types of data to use, the next step is to select the data streams needed to capture this critical information. Sensors, badge readers, spatial observations, and employee surveys indicate who is using the space and how the space is being used. Interviews, visioning sessions, and other specialized activities can be used to gain more insights from the people who will occupy the new spaces. Designers can review existing research, articles, and lessons learned from similar projects to provide additional data on applying best practices for designing the space. This wider spectrum of inputs, once filtered and analyzed, provides a strong influence on a proposed design direction. The challenge is recognizing what data is required and asking the right questions to avoid the process from becoming overwhelming. Quantitative data can drive optimization and efficiency while qualitative data is required to address “softer” inputs, allowing for a more balanced solution. The wider the data net is cast, collected, analyzed, and applied, the more informed the design becomes. In this process, data leads to knowledge and knowledge leads to wisdom. The currency of this wisdom allows the final design solution to achieve a more meaningful and effective result. Ultimately, purposeful design blends and balances objective content with subjective content.
The Second Principle: Empathetic
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. More than ever before, designing for people requires an empathetic mindset that addresses the need to better comprehend people, to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of others, and to use that ability to tap into an individual’s strengths. Whether it is seeing through their eyes or walking in their shoes, gaining a better understanding of a user’s emotional needs helps designers set aside preconceived notions. In fact, companies that incorporate empathy and emotional intelligence in their corporate culture outperform their rivals by 20 percent. Additionally, a 2019 survey determined that 91 percent of CEOs surveyed believe that empathy can improve productivity, motivate employees, and affect a company’s financial performance. Designing a memorable user experience requires understanding the characteristics of the people who will be using the space and what inspires them. This principle helps bring valuable insights into the challenges that can be solved with purposeful design.
“Gaining a better understanding of a user’s emotional needs helps designers set aside preconceived notions.”
Equally important is recognizing the psychological affects the space may have on users as aspects of the space can affect a user’s mood, safety, and wellbeing. Consider the following three types of empathy when using purposeful design. First, cognitive empathy represents a user’s thoughts, understanding and intellect. This type of perspective thinking responds to problems with brainpower, such as when finding ways to motivate coworkers. Second, emotional empathy represents the user’s feelings and physical sensations and helps with interpersonal relationships. Finally, compassionate empathy represents the user’s intellect, emotion, and the need to help or respond. Compassionate empathy works to strike a balance between cognitive and emotional empathy. The combination and consideration of these three types of empathy allows the designer to connect with the end user in a deeper way, resulting in design solutions that support and inform positive behaviors.
Engagement activities, such as understanding personas and journey mapping of those who will use the space while becoming immersed in the culture of the organization, should be conducted with the users of the space to deepen the designers’ connection to the target audience. Incorporating the empathetic principle into the design process allows designers to set aside their own assumptions and opinions and view the design solution from the user’s point of view.
The Third Principle: Exciting
Beyond understanding people, tapping into what engages and excites them is another important element of purposeful design. The principle of exciting taps into the emotion of the end game, which reflects how people see, feel, and interact in a newly designed or renovated space. This principle is responsible for creating a positive and memorable experience for the user by eliciting an appropriate emotional response. According to Don Norman, Director of the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, there are three levels of emotional design that can impact and influence design and design thinking. The visceral level is a natural, automatic response and encompasses first impressions and what can be referenced as “curb appeal.” Incorporating this level into design reflects the user’s feelings and the initial reaction to the space’s attractiveness. The behavioral level represents a user’s reaction to the space, how the space support’s the user’s functional needs, and how the user feels during the experience. This component of emotional design helps designers to enhance the functional effectiveness and usability of the space. The reflective level is how a user remembers the experience of being in the space. Integrating the reflective level into the design of a space incorporates the impact of thought and meaning as well as the shareability of the experience with others.
These emotional design levels involve both subconscious and conscious responses to help determine what is important and creates a balance between functional solutions with delightful ones. A user’s senses play a role in how an experience is perceived and can trigger memories of a space or place the user visited. The senses have a strong and connected influence on emotions which allows users to find excitement in the spaces they inhabit. Every experience has an emotional component connected directly through the senses which is why this principle is key in the design of space and environments.
The common thread through every step of purposeful design is engaging the client and incorporating relevant knowledge along the way. When clients and end users of the environments are involved in the process, they will have a stronger connection to the design solutions because they were active participants in creating the vision, co-creating potential solutions, and actively developing the design direction. With the trust that was built through the process, they will feel empowered and more familiar with the solutions since they recognize the spaces were designed specifically for their needs. The purposeful design approach is unique because every design project is unique. The right solution for one space will not be the best solution for another space as companies, their people, and their problems are all different.
Designers seeking a more empathic approach in creating inspiring spaces should consider integrating the problem-solving techniques of purposeful design into their creative process. When leveraging purposeful design through a balanced approach of informed, empathetic, and exciting, designers can reach a higher level of design which more effectively impacts people and drives business results.
The Covid-19 pandemic necessitated a sudden transition in higher education from in-classroom education to online learning, and students had to vacate campuses and adapt quickly to remote instruction. To determine the effect of this altered environment, virtual focus group discussions and online surveys were conducted to learn how these mandated quarantines and campus closings are affecting the student experience and how student behaviors and expectations may change when they are permitted to return to classrooms. These insights provide guidance to higher education leaders preparing for the resumption of on-campus learning and activities.
Students acknowledge that online learning can be beneficial, but learning with their peers and professional experience that technology cannot replicate.
The Research Process
Forty-one students from 11 universities across the nation participated in virtual focus groups and online surveys. Each focus group covered four main themes:
How the students are doing and what they’re experiencing.
How Covid-19 is affecting students’ experiences and their academic progress.
Students’ expectations and thoughts on what will be different when they are allowed to return to campuses.
The effect of the pandemic on students’ academic career paths and educational outcomes.
Several themes clearly emerged from the focus groups:
There is no substitute for the on-campus student experience. Allison, a student at the University of Cincinnati, said, “Some majors are just not made for online classes, including architecture.”
Students struggle with taking all online classes. Students in online classes report having issues with motivation and staying on schedule. Luke, a student at Virginia Tech, says he has more distractions at home than at college and feels constant pressure to interact with family. Students also say that many professors were not able to adapt their classes successfully for online platforms. Some students stated they might not return to their colleges next semester if classes are offered online only.
It is difficult to virtually replicate “hands-on” learning that normally occurs in labs and studio environments. Online courses also result in limited collaboration opportunities with other students. Charlie, a Virginia Tech student, says: “Not being in the presence of others is definitely a major issue because I cannot bounce ideas off people. This experience has hindered what I thought I would get out of this semester.”
Students believe some teachers are piling on homework and assignments. They say this eats into their personal time and that they are expected to be available at any time. They also feel some of the work isn’t meaningful. “Biology and chemistry have been very difficult, and twice the work has been assigned,” says Georgia, a student at the University of Cincinnati. “It just feels like busy work.”
The lack of social interaction is difficult for students. They chose to attend college to meet people, and they want to be together again with their peers. Charlie says, “What I miss is being in the classroom with friends and being in the dining halls between classes.”
The abrupt way in-person classes were canceled earlier this year has negatively affected students who were unable to say goodbye to their friends, finish hands-on projects, or participate in-person graduation ceremonies. Students are grieving these losses and are frustrated by the conditions out of their control. “I had just one night to pack up and move back to Michigan,” says Allison. “I miss the studio environment the most and collaborating with teams. I can’t sit on the carpet on the living room floor back home and build a model.”
Despite all of the uncertainty, students still express optimism. “I know there is a lot of bad,” says Luke. “We should look to the shift online as a good working tool. Something beneficial could come out of this.” Students love their schools, have a strong educational commitment to them, and want to return to school as soon as possible.
Students acknowledge that online learning can be beneficial, but learning with their peers and professional experience that technology cannot replicate.
Space Design Implications
Schools need to consider how to incorporate the campus experience into a virtual world should online learning continue next semester. The decision on when to resume on-campus learning hinges on several factors, including government regulations.
The Covid-19 pandemic will have both near-term and long ranges effects on schools, especially regarding how they plan for building modifications to bring students back on campus safely.
Schools need to consider how to incorporate the campus experience into a virtual world should online learning continue next semester.
Social distancing protocols will dictate revised layouts for classrooms, laboratories, residence and dining halls. Large auditoriums designed for 150 to 200 people may now be permitted to hold only 30 to 40 students. Laboratories may need to be redesigned to hold fewer researchers per bench. Residence halls may need to house fewer students, and cleaning protocols will need to be performed multiple times per day.
Dining operations will need to be redesigned to provide safe food preparation and delivery. The dining experience will need to be redesigned to ensure safe social distancing.
Schools are likely to have limitations on large gatherings and how their open environments, including student unions, libraries and reception areas, are used. Long-term implications have yet to be determined, however higher education leaders will need to reassess their institutional strategies around the following factors:
Attraction and retention. Increases in the competition for students already is a major concern and the pandemic has magnified this issue; students may choose to stay closer to home or even delay their education, thereby decreasing the pool of potential students. To address this issue, colleges will need to differentiate themselves among peer schools by leveraging the unique qualities of academic, athletic and social offerings.
Educational outcomes. With online education likely to be mixed with on-campus learning, it is imperative that the quality of educational delivery, regardless of pedagogy, be of the highest caliber so that students graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in their careers of choice. Students with learning challenges such as ADHD will be particularly affected because of increases in online education Heightened measures to tutor and mentor these students to succeed will be necessary.
Financial viability. The financial gap between large research universities, many with medical centers, and smaller private liberal arts schools has widened significantly because of the 2020 pandemic. Institutions will need to re-examine the revenue generation of programs and offerings moving forward to offset financial losses. As an example, student housing may be forced to offer fewer beds until the pandemic has ended. That lost revenue will need to be partially recovered by increasing room and board fees. Employee restructuring may need to be considered, and faculty and staff may need to do more with less. All academic and nonacademic programs will need to be re-examined to determine how they contribute financially. This will require tough choices for administrative leaders to develop a financially sustainable business model.
The key to moving forward is creating the on-campus experience students crave—one that enhances the student experience. This is accomplished by providing thoughtfully designed environments that promote positive behaviors to bring people safely together to collaborate, learn, discover and personally grow through social interactions.
There’s value in raw data, but it can only take you so far. The true value of those numbers materializes through analysis, anomalies and context. Due to the lack of available real data about shoppers who shopped both on a brand’s digital online site and at its physical retail store, BHDP Architecture (Cincinnati) initiated research to learn more about shoppers’ online and retail store behaviors. The data we uncovered offers both “Clicks to Bricks” (C2B) and traditional retailers invaluable insights into the behaviors of these shoppers.
BHDP engaged an independent, online market research firm, to gather input from 1000 shoppers on their online and in-store experiences between February and March 2020. The C2B brands included for this research were Adore Me, Alex and Ani, Allbirds, Athleta, Blue Nile, Bonobos, Casper, Everlane, Glossier, Indochino, Thirdlove, Untuckit and Warby Parker. Select data from this survey was published in an earlier piece. Below you’ll find the analysis of that data and recommendations for C2B retailers that are considering opening a physical retail store as well as insights for traditional retailers.
Analysis of Findings
Despite the ease of purchasing online, many shoppers still want the option of visiting a brick-and-mortar location. In fact, shoppers are willing to travel a significant distance to enjoy the in-store experience. One significant factor for the in-store experience is being able to see and touch the merchandise as well as being able to take items home immediately. One shopper stated, “I was able to see the quality of the merchandise. I was able to have a worry-free buying experience.”
The in-store experience provides the opportunity to build brand loyalty and shopper connection through engagement with real people. Ideally these people were trained to provide a more intimate and personal customer service experience as opposed to an impersonal online interaction. Comments from shoppers concluded they expected great customer service, employee recommendations and personal touches when shopping in the online brand’s retail stores.
When shoppers were asked what their expectations were for brick-and-mortar stores originating from online-only brands, the word “service” was used 157 times – one of the most frequently used terms from respondents. The ability to order from the online site while in the physical retail store was important to 58 percent of respondents, reinforcing the preference for personal service and “virtual” immediate gratification.
However, shoppers are unhappy with the limited assortment of product in C2B stores. Many shoppers in this survey stated that the in-store experience did not match the online experience because the retail stores did not have the same product availability as online sites. Shoppers expect there to be as much or nearly as much product available in store as there is online. “They sometimes don’t have my size in stock at the stores,” said one shopper.
This lack of product availability has significant ramifications on the design of C2B retail stores. The first impression is critical in retail. Because most C2B retail stores are smaller than traditional stores and unable to display the brand’s entire product line, it is important for store designers to impress shoppers quickly with an enhanced in-store experience. A worst-case scenario for retailers is when shoppers leave their stores disappointed or frustrated. In this case, it is unlikely the shopper will return to the store – another reason why an enhanced in-store experience is so important. It reassures shoppers that in-store experiences are worth the effort and strengthen brand loyalty. Finally, many shoppers stated they shopped online after purchasing from the retail store, indicating that a positive in-store experience drives awareness and online business.
C2B retailers are seeking guidance on how to design a brick-and-mortar space that satisfies their shoppers’ needs without following the traditional retail store model. They also want to ensure survival in a competitive, saturated and constantly evolving retail landscape. Consider these recommendations as a roadmap for DTC brands moving to the C2B retail model:
Listen to and understand what shoppers like and expect from the online experience.
Develop solid strategies to design retail stores that ensure uniformity between the online and in-store experiences to reinforce their brand.
Identify brick-and-mortar locations that meet the retailer’s specifications in areas where the target audience shops.
Delight shoppers with their initial in-store experience.
Consistency is important. There should not be a disconnect between the online brand shoppers fall in love with and the C2B retail space. Instead, C2B retailers should create a seamless transition from online to in-store shopping by designing the physical space to reflect the feel of the online shopping experience. This is accomplished by C2B brands knowing their shoppers and recognizing their unmet needs and frustrations. One shopper, commenting on the decor and aesthetics of the retail store and how it positively reflected the online brand experience stated, “It felt like a candy shop, the feeling you get visually by looking at the website.”
C2B shoppers want the opportunity to touch and feel the products and leave the store with product in hand, or ordered with free shipping if the product is not available in store. “There has to be a big reason for me to go into the store. Probably the ability to try things on in many sizes/styles and get customer service when needed,” stated one shopper.
To strengthen the in-store experience, C2B retailers should consider offering:
Professional and personal customer service and one-on-one consultative help.
The ability for shoppers to order online while in the retail store.
The ability to observe the entire product line via display technologies to compensate for smaller product assortments in store.
Additionally, providing the convenience of in-store returns for online orders provides another touchpoint for retailers to make a positive impression and another opportunity for additional in-store purchases. When C2B retailers can translate the retail brand experience to align with their customers’ expectations, they can deliver more creative, innovative and engaging environments that build loyalty and generate increased revenue – both online and in store.
This article was originally published on VMSD.com.
The thought of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak essentially launching Apple Inc. out of a family garage is one of the more romanticized developments in the history of entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, it is not a realistic or appropriate approach for many professionals attempting startups in other fields. For example, in biotech and other scientific industries, various daily hazards impose constraints on space and budgets that necessitate more complex working environments with more control over safety and compliance than even the most “high-tech” garage could ever offer. More specifically, in laboratories, a scarcity of certain resources coupled with ongoing onsite challenges that are present during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic underscore how essential it is for professionals and designers to be meticulously detailed, comprehensive, and strategic about identifying the “must-haves” when creating or renovating workspaces in the lab, especially among those companies that are startups or attempting to grow.
An understanding of the role of business incubators and accelerators when it comes to fostering innovation is a good place to start. That requires defining each and recognizing some of the important similarities and distinctions between the two. Incorporating various operational principles into lab designs that allow for more functional workspaces becomes crucial if industry professionals are going to achieve their goals.
Defining incubators and accelerators
It is widely accepted that the idea of a business incubator was established in Batavia, NY, in 1959, by a landlord of a business complex who recruited tenants through extravagant benefits. As of 2006, a University of Michigan/University of Albany—SUNY study estimated that as many as 1,400 incubators existed in North America. Between 2008 and 2014, incubators continued to multiply with a 50 percent annual increase. The fundamental hallmark of the incubator is to provide a combination of consultative and financial services, including education and product development support.
Recent years, however, have brought the market a fine distinction between incubators and accelerators, or companies that specialize in the expediting of growth among already existing companies. Defining the difference between incubators and accelerators is becoming a matter of semantics and interpretation; but, generally speaking, the characteristics of incubators include working with products or services when no market exists, individuals or entities that do not provide capital or take equity, those favored by universities and economic development organizations, and focusing on companies that are local to the incubator. A major shortcoming of this model is that incubators don’t tend to provide a path for graduates to grow and can be slow to weed-out companies that do not succeed.
The fundamental hallmark of the incubator is to provide a combination of consultative and financial services, including education and product development support.
Accelerators, on the other hand, tend to recruit national clients, work with businesses in a defined market, provide capital in exchange for equity, and mainly draw interest from for-profit entities. This more-advanced model tends to work once a cluster of expertise has been established. Tom Osha, senior vice president of innovation and economic development at Wexford Science & Technology, likes to refer to these clusters as “Knowledge Communities.” A fundamental hallmark of these communities is that they tend to be unique in terms of their needs and the types of Lab spaces and equipment that fuel their growth. Many professionals will continue to use the terms interchangeably, but professionals in an incubator are more likely trying to create a breakthrough technology where anyone with an idea is an asset. In an accelerator, the technology has been proven and there’s more likely a dedicated attempt to be the first to market.
Some common household names that have evolved through the assistance of an incubator or an accelerator include AirBnb, Dropbox, Redbox, Instacart, and Uber. Of course, the stakes for those incubators and accelerators in the biotechnology, chemistry, and nanotechnology sectors are somewhat different. Design trends include development of smaller, cleaner spaces (even before considering COVID-19) on campuses that encourage collaboration. The emergence of big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning has resulted in an accumulation of data that requires teams to solve more complicated issues that require multifunctional teams to address them. Colleagues expect to work together in environments where ideas are shared, and this trend is expected to normalize when the pandemic subsides, according to professionals affiliated with business incubators and accelerators who were asked to share their insights on how to achieve these goals. To comprehensively articulate various challenges, professionals from corporate-sponsored, university-sponsored, for-profit consultant-sponsored, and economic-development-sponsored incubators and accelerators were asked a range of questions including:
How do design elements relate to effective lab space?
How has their input on design impacted the success of the clients they collaborated with?
What are low-cost components of design that yield high impacts?
What general “expert” advice did not quite meet expectations on their projects?
What are considered project “must-haves,” especially related to COVID-19?
Design elements and achieved success
Mark Long, director of incubation services at UF Innovate, a group of four organizations that seeks to move research discoveries from the laboratory to the market, emphasizes the placement of a central laboratory space for shared equipment as a “tremendous attraction” for clients. “We have a laboratory full of shared equipment in the middle of the building, including low-temperature freezers, walk-in cold rooms, a fluorescent microscopy room, UV spectrophotometry, and a host of other equipment we have purchased,” he says. “Many of our clients tell us what a huge plus it is for them to be able to access this equipment at no charge, as our resident clients have free access.”
General demand also exists for “single-pass” air, chemical fume hoods, and biological safety cabinets, adds Long. “We have the typical HEPA-filtered, high-capacity HVAC systems with UV sanitization chambers,” he says. “I believe the reason for the demand for single-pass air and fume hoods relates to the number of companies using organic solvents on a regular basis.”
At Princeton Innovation Center BioLabs, a co-working space for science startups based in New Jersey, Beth Rowley, PhD, director of operations, likewise says that access to specialized equipment for biotech companies, including incubators, freezers, shared biohoods, and chemical fume hoods is key, and all are included as part of rent. “Our fully equipped tissue culture labs and cold storage area are also quite attractive to people because it means they don’t have to purchase this equipment for themselves,” Rowley adds. “In addition to this infrastructure equipment, we also provide access to many scientific instruments. Our most popular instrument is our Attune NxT flow cytometer.”
As Osha puts it, space provides an advantage when it allows for a concentration of people and ideas. He is seeing more development of “public realm”-type spaces such as gathering spaces, lobbies, and cafés—and more recently, outdoor plazas and exterior campus spaces. “A project that we are currently working on in Philadelphia restores one of the plazas from the original William Penn plan for west Philadelphia,” he says. “It will become the fabric that ties together more than 1.5 million square feet currently under development at uCity Square.”
Space provides an advantage when it allows for a concentration of people and ideas.
Jonathan M. Varholak, vice chairman at CBRE Inc., a full-service commercial real estate firm that provides solutions to property owners, investors, and occupiers, also notes a number of space trends, such as suite sizes of 10,000 to 12,000 square feet for “Series A” companies, modular utilities in ceilings for making fit-outs easier, and office space being very open with access to light. One client, AstraZeneca’s BioHub in Boston, incorporated a park-like setting with the idea to attract tenants from an urban setting to the suburbs. All amenities required were self-contained on the campus, an even more desirable aspect given the spread of COVID-19 today, Varholak says.
Similarly, Paul Parker, director of the Technology Incubation Program (TIP) at the University of Connecticut, boasts an “Entrepreneurs in Residence” program, through which each tenant receives one-on-one, personalized support to develop business plans and fundraising strategies. They are each provided an entrepreneurial/mentor but encouraged to build relationships with the entire team of entrepreneurs who each possess unique traits that can vary from the ability to raise funds, build business relationships, write a business plan, or take calculated risks. Access to specialized equipment and state-of-the-art labs remains a huge draw for UConn incubator companies, says Parker. “We open doors for our companies through research facilities like an in-house vivarium, but one of the greatest needs is connections to top researchers and investors and individualized business support,” Parker says. “Simply providing the space is not enough to help companies succeed anymore.
All told, lab design must appease safety, ethical, and security measures. There’s also an element of reputation. Leading researchers want to trail-blaze and be known for advancing science through discovery. But those “eureka” moments are less likely to be a single scientist’s work today and building design should lend to that collaborative environment.
Recommendations and missed-the-mark expectations
Other attempts at optimizing space missed the mark. For example, “Putting in central systems, such as natural gas and compressed air and vacuum, is no longer, in our opinion, a reasonable option,” says Long. “These systems are expensive to maintain and repair, and very few resident clients ever use them. At Princeton, Rowley says several fume hoods were removed during construction, which “was a mistake.” “Many people prefer to have their own designated fume hood, rather than a shared hood,” she says. “We could also use more storage space.”
Osha says a concern is when architects and engineers “over-engineer” buildings that result in spaces that are too expensive than true intended use dictates, and that he does not get involved in such details as air-change rates and chilled beams. “I remind my team that rental rates must perform to the market analysis, which makes small projects in rural locations outside of known clusters challenging,” he says.
Leading researchers want to trail-blaze and be known for advancing science through discovery. But those “eureka” moments are less likely to be a single scientist’s work today and building design should lend to that collaborative environment.
Low costs, high impacts
Allowing tenants to access common space was also deemed a big incentive, at least prior to COVID-19, says Varholak. Additionally, Rowley shares that conference rooms, phone rooms, “quiet rooms,” and lecture events were popular and sought out by tenants pre-COVID. At UF Innovative, a temperature-controlled greenhouse, complete with a seedling growth room and mudroom, has been added. “These have been used extensively, as the availability of rental greenhouse space is apparently a rare commodity,” says Long. Rowley promotes the interior design at Princeton, noting the lighting and furniture was “very modern and eye catching.” Many applicant companies want an impressive space where they can meet with investors or collaborators, and that other lab spaces they have looked at are much more utilitarian and “don’t provide the ‘wow’ factor they want for their business,” she says.
At Sid Martin Biotech, a UF Innovate facility based in Alachua, FL, availability of a vivarium (a structure adapted for keeping animals under semi-natural conditions for study) and the university’s equipment lab, both at reduced costs, has allowed companies access to expensive, complex equipment, such as electron microscopy, says Long. “The use of the vivarium has been feast or famine,” he says. “The facility is at capacity currently, with many studies being undertaken. It’s certainly an attraction factor, and there is no substitute.”
Lab professionals are inherently more interested in advancing their research than what the space looks like, but that space should subconsciously feel open and easily shared even if COVID-19 prevents the amount of access professionals have with one another currently.
Biotech, chemistry, and nanotechnology professionals have long been trained to work in hazardous spaces. They can’t collaborate in the same sense that Wozniak and Jobs notoriously once did, but they can continue to benefit from today’s most successful business incubators and accelerators that are willing to pave the way for others through the promotion of successful and unsuccessful elements related to design space, the overall impact of space on research and collaboration, and the typical “traps” that are not necessary and that can be avoided. Lab professionals are inherently more interested in advancing their research than what the space looks like, but that space should subconsciously feel open and easily shared even if COVID-19 prevents the amount of access professionals have with one another currently.
The “Clicks to Bricks” (C2B) movement is gaining significant momentum. It wasn’t long ago that only a handful of direct to consumer brands (DTC) expanded into the physical retail space. Today, dozens have ventured from an entirely digital presence to opening brick-and-mortar locations.
Even with COVID-19 procedures and the uncertainty around re-opening measures, the C2B model has advantages over traditional retail, especially in providing a seamless integration between online and retail shopping. Due to the lack of available real data about consumers who shopped both on a brand’s digital online site and at its physical retail store, BHDP Architecture (Cincinnati) initiated research to learn more about shoppers’ online and retail store behaviors. The data uncovered offers both C2B and traditional retailers invaluable insights into the behaviors of these shoppers.
BHDP crafted a research hypothesis, developed the questionnaire, and engaged an independent, online market research firm to gather input from 1000 U.S. shoppers between February and March 2020. These shoppers were older than 18 and had previous or current experience shopping either online or in a retail store from a list of established C2B retail brands in the clothing, eyewear, cosmetics, jewelry and sleep product categories that have recently moved into the brick-and-mortar space. The brands included Adore Me, Alex and Ani, Allbirds, Athleta, Blue Nile, Bonobos, Casper, Everlane, Glossier, Indochino, Thirdlove, Untuckit and Warby Parker.
The main objectives of this study included:
Uncovering the influences and differences in shopper behaviors when shopping on a brand’s online site and at their brick-and-mortar retail stores.
Understanding C2B shopper perceptions relative to the translation of a digitally native brand from online to offline.
Identifying opportunities to enhance the in-store experience and better align it with the online brand experience.
Research Findings from Clicks to Bricks Shoppers
After analyzing the data, it’s unsurprising that the majority of shoppers who completed this questionnaire made their first purchase from the participating retailers via online. While one-half of these C2B shoppers prefer to shop online, it appears that many are embracing the C2B brand’s physical presence with 23 percent of them indicating they now prefer to shop in store.
Of those shoppers who would rather shop in store instead of online, 59 percent wanted the ability to compare and confirm specifics such as fit, color and texture, while 48 percent were influenced by convenient store locations and 41 percent liked the instant gratification of being able to leave with the purchased item. One shopper said, “They should have a wide variety of styles, colors and sizes,” while another stated, “I expect exclusive products, a wide selection of products, convenience and fair prices.” One shopper, who liked being able to shop and have the item the same day, said, “I also like seeing the textures and experiencing the vibe of the store.”
On the other hand, shoppers preferring online shopping selected the no-hassle appeal of virtual shopping (no crowds, parking issues or drive time) as their number one reason for using technology to shop. They also identified the lack of conveniently located stores as a negative for in-store shopping and cited the larger inventory of online platforms (compared to brick-and-mortar retail shops) and the ease of finding clearance or sale items as positives for online shopping. Overall, shoppers expect that items will be the same price and quality whether purchased online or in a retail store. They also expect the retail store to offer similar return policies and customer service as compared to the online site.
While shoppers definitely have online shopping preferences, it is still important to understand why shoppers choose to visit a retail store after making an online purchase from the same brand. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed shopped at the brand’s retail store after purchasing from their online site. The ability to try on the merchandise is a major influencer for shoppers visiting physical stores. Of those who chose to shop at a retail store after making an online purchase, 53 percent wanted to inspect the merchandise, while 37 percent had an interest in seeing how the in-store brand was expressed. Shoppers expect the brand image to be carried over to the retail store and that the store feels like a full shop and not one that is empty or only carries limited products. One shopper stated, “It should be nice and resemble your online shopping experience,” and another explained, “I expect there to be perks to encourage me to shop in store instead of online, like helpful representatives and the ability to try on products.”
The C2B shopping experience also can influence shoppers to peruse the brand’s online site after making an in-store purchase. Of those surveyed, 68 percent shopped online after purchasing from a brand’s retail store. Many cited inconvenient store location (43 percent), low inventory or weak product assortment (32 percent) and limited store hours (29 percent) as reasons for shopping online. “It’s just that shopping online is more convenient,” said one shopper. Another expressed that the retail store “didn’t have the item I was looking for,” and one shopper explained, “[I] was looking for a certain item and found it online instead.”
The research also collected information about how shoppers felt about both the in-store and online experiences. Almost three-quarters (69 percent) of shoppers who shopped at the brands’ retail stores after making an online purchase believed that the in-store brand matched the online brand. This was primarily due to product availability (63 percent) and the décor or aesthetics of the retail space (33 percent).
“I expect the in-store aesthetic to be similar to the colors and design of the website,” said one shopper. Another shopper liked the in-store messaging and explained, “[The] mirror that said, ‘You look good,’ emphasized values of brand in the store creatively, not limited to their online presence.” The majority of these shoppers (89 percent) were extremely or somewhat satisfied with their in-store experience compared to their online experience. “Found exactly what I was looking for, and if I couldn’t, staff was happy to help. Much like search bar online,” said one shopper. Less than 2 percent of shoppers were somewhat or extremely unsatisfied with their in-store experience. The vast majority of shoppers who had a negative in-store experience were disappointed in the brick-and-mortar store’s product availability. “A better variety of products online than in store,” said one shopper while another stated, “There has to be a big reason for me to go into the store.”
Half of these C2B shoppers stated that access to in-store personalized customer service affects their decision to visit a brick-and-mortar store. Shoppers are fairly divided about how much personal attention they want from sales representatives when shopping in store. Forty percent said it varies by what they’re purchasing, 36 percent want minimal attention and 23 percent preferred one-on-one customer service. However, 5 percent of shoppers said it is important to be able to order online from a sales representative while shopping in store.
Only 22 percent of online shoppers indicated they would not shop in store if there was a retail store in their region, while 50 percent of online shoppers preferred to shop in store and 28 percent said that it makes no difference. Travel time to a retail store impacts their decision whether to shop in store or online, with 7 percent tolerating a 30-minute or less trip to the retail store.
Although this raw data presents interesting facts and figures as it stands alone, the true value emerges when context is added and the shopper behaviors become tools for successful retail store design. As mentioned prior, a team of retail strategists and store designers at BHDP analyzed the survey’s findings and synthesized the most relevant data into a strategic roadmap for retailers. The analysis and recommendations will be offered as follow-up to this piece.
This article was originally published on VMSD.com.
In March, COVID-19 changed everything. Employees from many industries began working from home, while others—essential workers—began following new protocols and policies to maintain their health and safety. There was a huge shift in the working experience, one that no one was expecting.
Now, as many organizations prepare to welcome employees back to the office, they are met with a challenge: How do we make employees comfortable while also changing their former routines to ensure the health and safety of the workplace?
The Need for COVID-19 Signage
Like many companies, BHDP was looking forward to returning to the workplace. Despite the enthusiasm to see coworkers and collaborate in person, the well-being of BHDP employees was a top priority. When the leadership team began to strategize about the transition back into the office, the need for clear, concise messaging became apparent.
BHDP’s Experiential Graphic Design team regularly works with a myriad of clients to create visually rich storytelling experiences that elevate the intangible, communicate messages, assist with wayfinding, and sometimes most importantly, encourage behaviors. Naturally, the Experiential Graphic Design team was eager to take this challenge and turn it into an opportunity.
With our unique point of view, we know how to use strategic signage and tone of voice to shape behaviors. All our offices—Cincinnati, Raleigh, and Columbus—required signage that would educate employees on the “new way to work” in a space that everyone was accustomed to.
Naturally, the Experiential Graphic Design team was eager to take this challenge and turn it into an opportunity. With our unique point of view, we know how to use strategic signage and tone of voice to shape behaviors.
After getting the go-ahead from government officials to operate at 50% capacity, our team—with counsel and support from Senior Interior Designer Carrie Beidleman as well as leadership and human resources—got to work on the solution.
Developing our Strategy
Teaching people a new way to work is not an easy task, especially in a familiar office environment where people spend a huge chunk of their time. We develop routines and habits, and these are hard to break.
Have you ever heard the phrase “I could get there with my eyes closed”? This phrase affirms how strong repeated behavior can be. So how do we prevent people from going on autopilot when they return to their workplace? We use visual reminders that disrupt routines and patterns.
Our strategy ensures the safety and well-being of BHDP employees by clearly communicating new routines with frequent reminders of current standards. Through information gained from roundtables with clients, research, and open dialogue with BHDP employees, we developed five categories of messaging to address key concerns and communicate CDC protocols. These five buckets are as follows:
#1: Program Protocol
Program protocol refers to the broad-scale messaging that outlines the new set of rules and regulations in the workplace. At BHDP, program protocol was actualized as a large, free-standing kiosk in our entryway that calmly demonstrates new sign-in procedures. It gives employees insight, before they even walk through the door, about what to expect in their new work environment. Icons were used to illustrate behaviors, and a step-by-step visual guide demonstrates the current procedures and the order in which they should happen.
We leveraged a bright color palette for all COVID-related signage that was strategically “off-brand” to reiterate the idea of disruption in the office environment.
Through this pandemic, we have become accustomed to language about what not to do and have been inundated with mandated “don’ts” coming at us from all directions. Behavior suggestions flip the script and encourage healthy behaviors in a kind, suggestive tone—allowing employees to take advantage of collaboration in a safe way.
We placed temporary clings in key collaboration areas to promote and inspire safe teamwork. For example, one clings asks “Need to share your screen?” then suggests sharing your screen digitally, through Microsoft Teams, to safely practice social distancing. Other clings suggest alternate ways to collaborate at a distance.
#3: Proximity and Circulation
When surveying employees, one key concern was navigating high-traffic areas like the restrooms or kitchen area. To help alleviate this stress, we used signage to designate new paths of travel. In some areas, purple arrows signify one-way travel. This prevents gatherings of large groups and averts awkward shuffles between coworkers.
In all closed or semi-closed areas—like huddle and meeting rooms—Carrie determined the appropriate occupancy based on the density of a six-foot radius. Where there were twenty chairs before COVID-19, there are now five. To reiterate this change, we placed occupancy postings on the door of each room.
#4: Queuing and Reminders
How do you ask your boss to give you more space? The sociological effects COVID-19 has had on human nature was a common concern we wanted to address. To alleviate the stress of reminding others to keep their distance, we developed stickers. The stickers, provided at sign-in, are worn as a visual reminder for others to respect boundaries and keep a six-foot distance. One sticker simply states, “I practice social distancing,” while the other states, “I am physical distancing for ____,” allowing employees to fill in the blank. It is essential to remind employees they are not simply social distancing for themselves but also for their colleagues and even sometimes for their colleagues’ families.
It is essential to remind employees they are not simply social distancing for themselves but also for their colleagues and even sometimes for their colleagues’ families.
To prevent other old habits from returning, we designed and installed reminder clings at decision-making points throughout the space. Washing your hands, practicing physical distancing, and wearing your mask may seem obvious, but it is crucial to remind people of correct behaviors.
#5: Cleaning Protocol
Due to the nature of the virus, an enhanced cleaning protocol is essential. We placed sanitation stations strategically around the office and developed table tents with a checklist instructing employees to take their personal belongings with them, wipe down all surfaces, put their masks in place, and lastly, to wash their hands.
Refining our Message and Delivery
Once we had identified what types of signage were important and why, it became critical—perhaps even more important—to strategize on how to deliver our message. This meant understanding the tone of voice of our messaging as well as the actual design and color of the signage.
Tone: We rarely design with fear in mind. But, due to the state of the world right now, fear is inevitable. Still, that does not mean we have to communicate in a way that is clinical or somber. It’s important to remain human and to give clear and concise information that is simple, authentic, and to-the-point. Our signage includes plain language and minimal text to promote clarity, and our tone is calm and understanding.
Color: BHDP’s brand colors are a blend of blues, greens, greys, and oranges. For the new COVID-19 signage, we required a color that would stand out and catch people’s attention. As stated previously, disruptions are necessary to counteract old routines and ways of working. As a group, we decided on purple for its distinctive, yet professional, qualities.
Material: The signage is temporary and moveable. Changes are happening—fast—so signage that can be easily installed and removed is key. Window clings, table tents, and our free-standing kiosk are examples of the flexible signage we implemented.
Although BHDP’s offices are currently operating at 50% capacity, the feedback from both employees and leadership has been extremely positive.
One BHDP employee, Emma Webb, said “It makes me so happy to be back in the office. Our Experiential Graphic Design team was very successful in designing all of the signage and posters to help our employees feel safe in the workspace.”
Employees are sporting their new stickers, adjusting to the new paths of travel, and finding new ways to collaborate at a distance.
“It makes me so happy to be back in the office. Our Experiential Graphic Design team was very successful in designing all of the signage and posters to help our employees feel safe in the workspace.”
Emma Webb, Human Resources Coordinator
We are designers, but we are people first. When the Experiential Graphic Design team started talking about the importance of signage in a post-COVID-19 workplace, it felt natural to tackle this challenge for BHDP. We were able to have candid and open conversations as a team—bringing the wall down and talking about our fears and personal perspectives with a professional mindset.
As with many of our projects, we listened with empathy and designed a smart, clear, and easily implemented solution: A Design for People.
If you would like to read more about experiential graphic design, check out Building Memories—a blog by Lisa Bambach about how memories can drive successful design.
Singular events such as pandemics challenge everything: established social norms, assumptions about how we should do the most commonplace tasks like shop and work, beliefs about what is truly important to everyday life. Because of their rarity, immediacy and severity, cataclysmic events such as the onset of COVID-19 also tend to shine a spotlight on social changes that may already have been in progress – but will now accelerate at warp speed.
Think about virtual work and the role of “place.” The past few months have prompted everybody – and we don’t mean just everybody in the real estate and workplace design industries – to think about the very nature of work, how and where it is done, and the relative importance of physical and psychological safety, connectedness, and socialization.
As more of us work remotely, which almost all of us will certainly do to some degree moving forward, the importance of place and creating communities of work will be more critical than ever. Ninety-nine percent of respondents in recent studies say they value the flexibility and security of working remotely. How can companies balance that understandable desire with the need to foster connectedness and a sense of corporate identity? What technological tools can help bridge the gap? How should physical space evolve to stimulate innovation, collaboration and engagement?
As more of us work remotely, which almost all of us will certainly do to some degree moving forward, the importance of place and creating communities of work will be more critical than ever.
Community design, which has its roots in urban planning and focuses on enabling social connections and a sense of shared purpose by putting people at the center of the design process, has much to teach us about these questions. The essential insight of community design is that place can propel the relationships which lead to commitment and a shared mission for a group or organization.
Here are some thoughts for how to improve the sense of community and cohesion in the office – wherever it is – from workplace design innovators at Fidelity Investments, one of America’s largest asset managers and financial services companies, and Fifth Third Bancorp, a diversified financial service company and one of the largest banks and money managers in the country.
1) With virtual work, leverage remote technology to “catch the culture”
The likelihood is that post-pandemic as many as 50 percent of workers will work from home at least part of the time. Although there is no substitute for a physical space in building community, there are a wealth of technological innovations that can help diminish the distance and address the challenges employees face doing remote work. Tools that Fidelity and Fifth Third employ include:
The adoption of agile work processes which necessitate regular, frequent interactions amongst colleagues. Establishing regular touch points enables distributed teams to close the gap, build connections, and deliver results.
Ubiquitous video such as BlueJeans, Webex, etc. which ensures that remote talent is both seen and heard, and begins to address the communication challenges presented by our over-reliance on phone calls, e-mails, and text messages to patch together conversations that would have traditionally occurred face-to-face
Digital spaces such as Batterii, Slack, Google, Microsoft Teams, monday.com, and AirTable, which allow a distributed workforce to collaborate, create, and manage work in a consolidated manner, rather than patch together continuously out-of-date documents.
2) When workers come back to the office, find ways to surprise and delight them
The lockdown has also taught us an enduring truth: we lose something when being exclusively remote. A physical space that exemplifies the corporate culture while encouraging workers to come together and connect is core to creating a vibrant community. It’s critical, in the new nature of work, to draw people in and provide an opportunity for both planned and unplanned interactions, where people can chat and form relationships.
Fifth Third has made major investments in spaces such as The Forum and Project Connect as hubs for its headquarters campus. Both are designed to connect the workforce and community through shared experiences integrated with daily work practices at the crossroads of the campus.
Project Connect, as its name suggests, connects two formerly separate buildings on its downtown campus via a two-story glass atrium providing a sense of security to employees and customers as well as the convenience of not having to go outside to transit between buildings. It features a variety of seating areas and amenities with integrated retail and restaurants. The Forum is a conference center, open to the public and clearly visible to street-level pedestrians. It is designed for client and community meetings with multiple conference area options – from two to three person huddle rooms to a thoroughly updated bank vault that celebrates the bank’s heritage to a 200 person auditorium -all outfitted with the latest technology and collaboration tools.
Fidelity has addressed the challenge of building community by creating what it calls “centers of gravity” or destination points within its workspaces. These can be receptions areas, workplace cafes or “town greens” which are open, welcoming and often provide amenities. These areas typically offer a variety of seating options, feature natural materials and use warm lighting to create an intuitive, thoughtful and authentic “experience.”
The “Town Green” at Fidelity’s Covington location is an excellent example. It is a central gathering place, situated at the primary entrance to the building, with food options, reconfigurable work areas, larger meeting rooms and other “opportunities for collision and connection.” More than just a space for employees to come together over lunch or breaks, it is expressly designed to function as an informal work zone throughout the day where employees can run into and talk to people with whom they may not otherwise interact. It’s also designed to be a beacon – a welcoming place that draws remote employees to the campus, provides company information via digital screens, and fosters a sense of community.
3) Consider organizing space into work “neighborhoods”
Legacy floorplates are all too often characterized by long corridors of walled-off offices and cubicle farms, the veritable opposite of community. In an effort to create spaces that support people while breaking down barriers and humanizing work, Fidelity organizes its workspaces into 30 to 60 person neighborhoods, divided by visual screens, walls, or a mix of open and enclosed activity areas. Regardless of the organizing principle, the emphasis is on building community, and creating a sense of identity. Some of the neighborhoods have even been given names – such as “Upper East Side” – by their employees.
Fidelity has also invested in community managers to help organize the work neighborhoods and has built in standard design elements – such as “identity walls” – to encourage connection. Associates can curate content and personalize these walls in a variety of ways, and community managers are encouraged to post “call and response” messages such as “What are you being for Halloween” to foster engagement.
4) Pay special attention to how people take in information and navigate workspaces
“Neighborhood”-based seating plans with a variety of work settings are just the start of successful community design, however. How people navigate an environment can have a major impact on how they connect to it and whether they feel part of a shared enterprise.
The design community has long understood the importance of way finding and how people take in information, especially with regard to urban planning. In 1960, Kevin Lynch published his ground-breaking book, Image of the City, the result of a five-year study of Los Angeles, Boston and Jersey City, in which he argued that people form mental maps of their surroundings based on archetypal elements such as boundaries and edges. These provide familiar reference points and ways for people to relate to an urban environment.
Fifth Third Bank has applied Lynch’s thinking to its workplace design guidelines, creating human-scaled spaces with intuitive paths, landmarks and nodes. An excellent example is their use of elevated, “loft” spaces in floors plates to create visual beacons (as well as functional meeting spaces) for employees. These landmarks, which are built eight feet above the floor and sport space-identifying colors, assist with navigation through larger floor plates. Fifth Third has taken Lynch’s approach to way finding and organized it into new and exciting forms as part of the company’s approach to work placemaking and design.
5) The essential truth: Place is people. People is place.
Think about the most successful and memorable social spaces in your life. What makes some neighborhoods really “work” while others don’t is a combination of qualities including accessibility, functionality, comfort and the ability to engage and connect. This results in a community experience – people engaging by meeting, talking, walking and being together – that provides existential, not just theoretical, benefits.
City planners have long understood that enabling these social connections and building a sense of civic identity requires putting people and social structures at the center of their work. Far from being driven by the binary balancing of form and function characteristic of more traditional modes of design practice, community design begins with the culture and identity of the people who use a space.
The key to creating communities of work is a shared vision, derived from open communication, with everyone involved feeling a sense of ownership. Ideally, the design process begins with engagement, bringing employees from every level of an organization together to solicit input about their behaviors throughout the day, what they hope to accomplish, disconnects between the overall mission and day-to-day practice in the workplace, etc. The focus is on how place can enable the relationships and social connections which lead to commitment and a shared mission for a group or organization.
The key to creating communities of work is a shared vision, derived from open communication, with everyone involved feeling a sense of ownership.
A key success metric in community design is the reflection of the attributes of that community’s culture, which leads to a greater sense of attachment, happiness and pride of place for users – all things which can be measured in surveys, feedback and cultural assessment. Safety, functionality, and productivity are all very important, but attachment to place, which supports a shared identity and a shared purpose, is the ultimate goal.
Communities of work truly happen when places are designed based on the perceptions and expectations of the workforce, also known as people, as well as the purposes of an organization. Taking cues from successful communities, great work places can be great people places. Like great cities and neighborhoods, they can express a shared sense of history and meaning to inspire people to embrace the mission and energy of an organization and through that experience, set the stage for future success.
It’s a whole new era for retail. It wasn’t that long ago when the mall was “the” place to shop—the epicenter of retail, where a less saturated collection of brands co-existed in harmony. Over the last decade, shopping habits changed, and many categories became crowded which triggered fierce competition among brands. These issues are creating new challenges for traditional mall retailers, even causing some to go out of business or barely cling to life. The future of the traditional mall format is in question. Yet, even before COVID-19 and social distancing restrictions, many retail spaces in malls were already unoccupied and the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating this. Now the tide is turning. While online shopping is currently the preferred method due to the pandemic and, in some cases, the only available method of shopping, shoppers’ choices are on the increase as retailers are reevaluating the physical space.
One portion of the retail category that is “getting it right” is the Clicks-to-Bricks (C2B) segment—those previously online-only retailers that ventured into brick and mortar physical retail spaces. C2B retailers understand how to compete successfully and survive by listening to shoppers, understanding their habits, uncovering their unmet needs, and finding new ways to attract them.
Matching expectations and experiences from clicks to bricks
BHDP, an international, award-winning retail design firm, initiated research to learn more about shoppers’ behaviors, both online and offline. To accomplish the goal, the firm engaged an independent, online market research group to gather input from 1,000 adult U.S. shoppers between February and March 2020. These shoppers were required to have experience purchasing both online and in a physical store from a list of established C2B retail brands. This research revealed the importance of fulfilling shoppers’ expectations through a holistic brand experience. Almost three-quarters (69 percent) of shoppers who shopped at the brands’ retail stores after making an online purchase believed that the in-store brand matched the online brand. This was primarily due to product availability (63 percent) and the décor or aesthetics of the physical retail space (33 percent). “I expect the in-store aesthetic to be similar to the colors and design of the website,” said one shopper. The majority of these shoppers (89 percent) were extremely or somewhat satisfied with their in-store experience compared to their online experience. “Found exactly what I was looking for, and if I couldn’t, staff was happy to help. Much like [the] search bar online,” said one shopper.
Brand consistency is critical. There shouldn’t be a disconnect between the online brand and the in-store brand experience. Successful retailers create a seamless transition from online to in-store shopping by designing the physical space to reflect the aesthetic and voice of the online shopping experience and bringing their brand equities to life in a physical form. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed shopped at the C2B’s retail store after purchasing from their online site. One shopper, commenting on the décor and aesthetics of the retail store and how it positively reflected the online brand experience, stated, “It felt like a candy shop, the feeling you get visually by looking at the website.” Overall, shoppers expect that items will be the same price and quality whether purchased online or in a retail store. They also expect the retail store to offer similar return policies and customer service as compared to the online site. Shoppers want the store to feel like a full shop and not one that only carries limited products. One shopper stated, “It should be nice and resemble your online shopping experience,” while another said, “I expect there to be perks to encourage me to shop in-store instead of online, like helpful representatives and the ability to try on products.
Understand the shopper
Online brands excel at collecting data about their shoppers and shaping the online buying experience to match their shoppers’ wishes and desires. Traditional retailers, however, struggle to capture data from their customers to understand their behaviors. Shoppers want the opportunity to touch and feel the products and leave the store with product in hand or ordered with free shipping if the product is not available in-store. “There has to be a big reason for me to go into the store. Probably the ability to try things on in many sizes/styles and get customer service when needed,” stated one shopper. Half of these shoppers stated that access to in-store personalized customer service affects their decision to visit a brick and mortar store and 58 percent of shoppers said it is important to be able to order online from a sales representative while shopping in-store.
It’s time for retailers to be more innovative and to create the authentic, in-store experience shoppers seek. Technology must be an integral part of capturing information about in-store shopper behaviors similar to how data is captured about online shopper behaviors. In-store technology can measure how long shoppers are in the store, where they move and linger, if they fulfill their purchase or leave unfulfilled, among other valuable data points. Additionally, AR and VR allow customers to virtually experience more products than are available in the store. C2B retailers also can strengthen the in-store experience, by offering:
• Professional and personal customer service and one-on-one consultative help.
• New technologies, such as kiosks, to assist shoppers in ordering directly from the website if the desired product is not available in-store, and test-fit products like cosmetics with virtual capabilities.
• The ability to observe the entire product line via monitors to compensate for smaller product assortments in-store.
• Options for shoppers to pay online after selecting their products in-store, to reduce the time spent waiting in check-out lines.
• Enhanced shopping experiences from the brand’s app. One survey discovered that 70 percent of Generation Z shoppers wanted to receive personalized recommendations from the brand’s app while they were browsing in the brand’s retail store.
• Amenities such as areas to recharge phones and free WiFi to appeal to Generations Z and Alpha and increase engagement while in the retail stores. Requiring sign-in for WiFi allows retailers to capture additional information.
Adapting retail experiences to COVID-19 restrictions
Traditional retail stores were hit hard by the COVID-19 restrictions, while online sales increased during the pandemic and in some cases and categories soared. As in-store shopping restrictions are starting to relax, retailers are figuring out how to entice shoppers to return to their physical stores. C2B retailers are ahead of the game when it comes to recovering from the COVID-19 crisis. Their ecommerce sites were already well established, and their customer base is comfortable with shopping both online and in-store. In fact, these shoppers typically research products heavily online first for selection and deselection before visiting the retail store for validation. This means they need less time in the store and are less likely to touch every product they see, which is more in line with the COVID-19 recommendations for reopening retail stores.
The role of a retail store is to be a place where shoppers can gather, connect, learn and discover. Even with the movement toward online shopping, many still want that in-store experience. Surprisingly, research with the Gen Z population discovered that 81 percent of those surveyed prefer shopping in retail spaces more than online. In fact, most Gen Z shoppers want to visit those retailers that provide more engaging in-store experiences. No matter the generation category, most shoppers expect convenience and the ability to fulfill their shopping needs immediately. They want reassurance of shopping securely. Most importantly, shoppers need to trust the brands they support, necessitating brands to realize and meet their expectations.
It’s not business as usual anymore for retailers. Shoppers now have full control—dictating what they want, when they want it, how they get it and where. With all of the available tools to capture valuable data about shopper behaviors, DTC retailers should listen to their specific shoppers’ wants and desires as it pertains to in-store experiences and embrace the physical store model. Meanwhile, traditional retailers can emulate the C2B model and be better prepared for future crises by learning more about how their loyal customers prefer to shop in a physical space and providing a cohesive online and in-store experience that satisfies their demands and desires.
Retailers need to consider longer-term strategies that prioritize the needs of consumers in a post-COVID-19 world, say leaders from GMDC and BHDP Architecture.
The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted the grocery and general merchandise industries that are already in the midst of a digital revolution. Upending the fast-evolving norms of a shopper’s experience, the global pandemic is sending shock waves through the ways we used to go about our normal lives. While the rise of online shopping, delivery services, mobile checkouts, buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), channel blurring and more have already permeated the shopping experience, the industry could not have anticipated the seismic shift in that direction the crisis has caused. With the pandemic altering many traditional and new habits, the consumer of tomorrow will undoubtedly see their perspective shift from a pre-COVID-19 to post-COVID-19 lens when buying products and services.
Online shopping has been dominating the retail industry for years, but according to Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, online grocery sales surged 49% in April following nationwide lockdowns in response to the virus’ outbreak. By default, these numbers are unsurprising as shoppers have been isolated at home and feel more comfortable selecting products online in an effort to mitigate the risk and exposure to others. So, how will retailers work to maintain this positive trend and ensure their shoppers feel comfortable being inside a store?
Navigating Our “New Normal”
First, we must look into what shoppers once considered “normal,” and why we are calling the post-COVID-19 world a “new normal.” While the retail industry was undergoing a transformation before the pandemic hit, the digital revolution will continue to accelerate, introducing the store of the future much sooner than we originally anticipated.
As the outbreak began, grocery stores were deemed essential and remained open for business. Although grocery stores experienced a decline in foot traffic, consumer shopping habits have varied greatly over the past months, and more changes are likely to occur throughout the course of the pandemic. Despite changes in behavior, stores worked quickly to ensure consumers felt safe with the implementation of personal protective equipment, in-store shopper count limitations, aisle and checkout floor markings, and social distancing guidelines.
Shoppers entering a store within the past 60 days have observed protocols put in place in an effort to minimize the risk factors of contracting the virus. Common practices include employees and consumers wearing masks and standing in staggered checkout lines with 6 feet between each customer, and often only every other lane is open despite long lines. Store employees are diligent about disinfecting carts, baskets and registers, and some stores have protective plexiglass added to shield cashiers.
To maintain consumer loyalty, stores and brands will need to change their game and seek new ways to enhance the customer experience that have not yet been invented today.
These short-term changes have, for the most part, been implemented in some form or another. As we enter our “new normal,” many practices will remain in place for the foreseeable future while some stores may choose to strengthen guidelines and implement more permanent changes. For example, the directional aisle approach may help regulate the pace at which a consumer shops, staggering and limiting human contact even more. But this tactic also has the potential to negatively impact the shopping experience, impeding a consumer’s path toward his or her desired products.
Examples of these solutions include click and collect and BOPIS, or curbside solutions. Thirty-five percent of all shoppers began using these methods for the first time over the past two months and do not have plans to return to shopping the way they used to. To maintain consumer loyalty, stores and brands will need to change their game and seek new ways to enhance the customer experience that have not yet been invented today.
Testing and learning how to navigate new innovations must be at the forefront of every conversation inside each retail chain that is still open for business. Many pickup and staging areas are located off to the side of the store, in areas that are not always aesthetically pleasing or consumer friendly. To improve the experience of customers using this option, it is recommended that brands re-evaluate an on-site pickup presence that feels less like an afterthought and more like an intentional design that is comfortable and clean.
While short-term solutions in the retail and grocery industries have proven to be effective, it will take more permanent design decisions for the industry to adapt to the new psychological and public health changes we’re experiencing in the face of a global pandemic.
Innovating to Promote Health & Safety
Now that consumers are beyond the immediate reaction to the impacts of government-mandated quarantine in many regions that included panic buying, hoarding and inconsistent shopping habits, it is time for stores to consider longer-term strategies that will remain relevant and prioritize the health and mental well-being of consumers in a post-COVID-19 world.
For the anxious consumer in our new world, stores and brands will need to prioritize the shopper experience and journey, from the moment they get into the car to arriving back home.
These longer-term strategies will include innovations ranging from HVAC improvements to increase humidity in the air, to visible filtration systems across the entire store, new UV lighting solutions, the creation of a certification program for cleanliness and sanitation, and touchless or contact-free shopping.
For the anxious consumer in our new world, stores and brands will need to prioritize the shopper experience and journey, from the moment they get into the car to arriving back home.
Store designers must reassess how and where products are presented by looking through the eyes of the shopper. From compartmentalizing certain parts of the store, to designing shelves with rounded corners and adjusting light levels or colors used in the decor, stores have an opportunity to significantly lower their shoppers’ level of anxiety as soon as they enter the premises.
With anxiety now a commonality among many consumers, there are various aspects of a store that will change both in the short and long term, and may even become permanent based on their positive impacts on the consumer experience. Hygienic practices, social distancing and re-evaluating how people check out and pay by offering more self-checkout kiosks and touchless technology are here to stay because our behaviors will be permanently changed.
The Lasting Impacts of COVID-19
In this first phase of the pandemic, stores have responded swiftly and shown great resilience in responding to the demands and consumer needs. Now, this trajectory must continue, with the industry acting agilely to get ahead of consumer concerns rather than standing idly by awaiting government regulations to mandate behavior.
In response to consumer demands and concerns for overall health and well-being, the store of the future will look unlike anything the industry has ever imagined, and chances are, it will be here to stay.
Retailers must consider their consumers’ hierarchy of needs and quickly begin designing spaces for their consumers that promote cleanliness, reduce risk and temper anxiety. The prioritization of consumer values now is safety, accessibility, reliability and transparency.
In response to consumer demands and concerns for overall health and well-being, the store of the future will look unlike anything the industry has ever imagined, and chances are, it will be here to stay.
Interpersonal skills influence building project outcomes
Construction projects hinge on satisfying the client’s budget and schedule. Nothing creates more turmoil than incongruities regarding timelines and finances. Yet, budgeting and scheduling are the most likely areas of a project to be compromised. According to a survey by McKinsey Global Institute, 98 percent of megaprojects become delayed or exceed their budget. Additionally, 70 percent of unforeseen adjustments that occur during projects are caused by design-induced rework. These design-induced changes are the main culprits when projects are pushed past their scope. For the client, an overblown budget or an unexpected scheduling shift represents a spiral effect of lost revenue, energy, and resources.
From my 17 years of experience managing projects totaling more than $1 billion and 1 billion square feet (93 million sq. m.) of new buildings, I have seen failure and success – and, primarily, the difference between the two is the quality of communication, not field conditions or outside factors. Poor communication causes challenges such as lack of cooperation between clients and service providers as well as subsequent stress and anxiety, leading to poor professional relationships that sabotage projects. Initiating and fostering a transparent communication strategy and relationship-building that’s rooted in empathy will be key if the client’s budget and schedule are to be honored.
Initiating and fostering a transparent communication strategy and relationship-building that’s rooted in empathy will be key if the client’s budget and schedule are to be honored.
Embracing and practicing client empathy
Being empathetic is characterized as the ability to understand what someone else is experiencing by internalizing their emotions and feelings and experiencing them personally. In business, this is a challenging task because agendas and client needs vary. But missed opportunities for empathy will always negatively impact clients and, thus, service providers. The first step to developing empathy is to focus more on listening during the planning phases rather than on being the first to speak. Service providers might be inclined to suggest, “This is the way I would do it” versus listen to clients who might already know what they want. Before imparting opinions, it is more productive to enable clients time to explain, and then follow up with insightful questions about the company’s needs and the challenges faced by project managers.
Understanding the client’s point of view avoids conflicts of interest. For instance, if a client has 15 minutes with leadership to discuss updates, supplying him or her with an hour’s worth of notes and presentation slides will create undue hardship. Instead, service providers need to speak in a language that is going to help project managers get their next round of approvals. If an owner needs to spend as much time modifying upper-management’s presentation as the service provider took to create it, something is wrong.
For business owners, a true personal stake exists because they own the actual space, which places higher demand for the job to be done correctly and more pressure on project managers. Those clients who are employed by larger companies will have less access to leadership, which places more importance on budgets and schedules. In these cases, service providers aren’t likely to get in front of the boss to deliberate potential project conflicts. Specifically pertaining to budgets and schedules, construction takes on a personal meaning for clients because it’s likely that any approved budget is the result of multiple meetings that culminate in a less-than-anticipated financial sum. To compound matters, the schedule is likely set to a quicker timeline than is ideal because the business will be in better position to profit the more quickly the work is completed.
Laying the foundation of for communication
As with empathy, expectations for communication flow must be established early. Clients benefit from holding kickoff meetings that allow ideas and preferences to be shared in consideration of budget, space, and schedule. These introductory-type meetings should be absent of preconceived concept drawings that borrow from previous client experiences. Early assumptions are symptomatic of poor communication and an easy source of fractured relationships.
In my experience, it is frustrating to be in a proposal review when the service provider claims, “We have everything figured out!” How could everything be decided when no questions have been asked? Instead, take the opportunity to understand clients and to gain as much knowledge about the company’s people, processes, systems, mission, and vision – information that is best gleaned by asking questions during introductory meetings.
A kickoff meeting is also the time to devise checklists, to establish deadlines, and to assign responsibilities for future meetings. All in-person meetings should be backed up with email confirmations and signed documents, where applicable. If vital information is not captured in email, it has essentially gone unsaid. Additionally, have someone record and disseminate a transcript of each meeting – someone who is not tasked with anything other than compiling notes.
Conversing along the project continuum
With an information-gathering meeting as the baseline, engage in proactive communication throughout the project so that construction is not significantly stalled.
With an information-gathering meeting as the baseline, engage in proactive communication throughout the project so that construction is not significantly stalled.
Being proactive in this sense means anticipating potential problems without needing hand-holding, yet not making too many assumptions. Don’t walk into a meeting or initiate a conversation solely to present dilemmas; be prepared with potential solutions. Say, for example, that an underground utility is not aligned with the as-built drawings. Sharing alternatives and estimating the costs and impact on scheduling is more productive than asking, “What do you want me to do?” Or, consider this scenario: When designing an office and there’s uncertainty on the employee headcount, providing multiple, flexible design options will move things forward when important logistical specifics are incomplete.
These types of conversations are also best kept in email so that information can be shared among decision-makers and referred to if legal issues arise. Make sure emails are comprehensive and accurate. Sending incomplete emails costs valuable time and mental bandwidth when the recipient doesn’t have an opportunity to reply before receiving follow-up messages. Email should not feel like train-of-thought notes. Additionally, email is not conversational texting. It’s professional communication. Save all crucial email communications for easy reference and utilize management software such as Procore or PlanGrid for collaboration across drawings, requests, and submittals.
Red flags and best practice
Consider these customer service strategies to avoid red flags:
Design to the budget. Challenge the design team to meet the budget and expectations and confirm they can achieve desired results. Focus on core project needs and only consider extras that add value.
Practice professional over-sharing. There’s an inherent responsibility to know the client. Learn about the type of people you are working with. What does their DiSC® profile say about them? Are they comfortable jumping right in to the meeting, or is that seen as too direct or rough? Consider opening meetings with some casual conversation before diving deep into work specifics. Over-sharing can include such talking points as where one lives, hobbies, and the kids’ after-school activities. Over-sharing must also be directed to the work, as well.
Follow “communication hygiene.” Ensure that communication reaches everyone who needs it so it’s cleanly inclusive. Implement a regular cadence of meetings with all participants involved.
Introduce “lean construction.” The lean method creates better business by eliminating wasteful practices and improving efficiency by focusing on value and the client’s wants.
Provide due dates and help clients follow them. Some clients are poor communicators. Keep an active “open items” list and who is responsible for closure. Send reminders and keep content on shared drives.
Ask questions early and often. Asking questions keeps everyone informed and the project organized. Clients should feel like they can add more responsibility to your plate as needed.
It’s all about relationships
Construction is a relationship business. If the client doesn’t feel cared about and respected, everyone’s work suffers. In the current business environment, there is more work than there are people, which means clients can be selective. Poor relationships affect long-term validity and opportunities. Cultivating mutually beneficial relationships today will generate more work for the future.
Construction is a relationship business. If the client doesn’t feel cared about and respected, everyone’s work suffers.