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Visit the Workplace of Tomorrow With These 4 Futuristic Designs

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Dec 21 2018

As designers, our work begins by asking good questions. They range from the straightforward—how might we make ice cream more portable?—to the wild—how might we design the workplace of the future?

People are talking about what the world will look like once machines take over jobs. But before (and if) we ever get there, the way humans experience the workplace will change in other ways, too. Recently, while a group of us were in between client projects, we spent a week asking questions about just that—the future of work.

We dug into topics like technology, flexible hours, global teams, connection, and community. Once we had our ideas, we prototyped quickly. Building these physical models made the intangible more tangible, which was helpful when talking about something as abstract as the future of work.

A few of the prototypes the team constructed from cardboard, glue, and other materials.

In addition to these physical prototypes, we created the following visuals to illustrate what we think might be the future of our nine-to-fives (which we don’t expect to be nine-to-five at all). Here are the four questions we asked and the playful ideas we came up with to help people navigate the ever-changing professional world.

1. How might we foster belonging, connection, and accountability?

Technology lets you work from almost anywhere. But the unforeseen cost of this is often a loss of community, both inside the office space and for those working remotely.

Imagine a portal that offers a snow globe-like view into spaces you want to be connected with.

Imagine a small, portable “wormhole” that connects you to a place and those inside. The portal projects the visuals and sounds of your office and coworkers into your space, so you’re no longer alone. Based on your need, the signal strength can be adjusted to convey atmospheric office noise or actual hallway conversations. By turning the device on, you also notify others that you’re available and working.

2. How might we enable our environment to change to support different modes?

With our lives becoming more flexible and connected, the same needs to be true for our spaces. A certain room might need to host an interactive meeting, but also allow heads-down time.

Imagine windows that create variable zones, optimizing spaces for work and home activities.

Imagine a digital and physical piece of furniture that transforms your environment. Spatially, the window hides certain areas. Digitally, it displays dynamic images. You can move the window to the wall to showcase a relaxing video of ocean waves, or on top of your kitchen counter to display recipes. Merge multiple windows into a large canvas to turn virtual face-to-face conversations into room-to-room conversations.

3. How might virtual spaces gain a physical presence?

Lawyers, therapists, and teachers are now having more virtual meetings with clients and students. What if this virtual connection came to life in the physical world through new types of digital brick-and-mortar service stations?

Imagine screens that are virtual representations of businesses popping up across cities.

What if there was an array of large, screen-based portals throughout your city? The screens create virtual shop windows that integrate into existing shopping streets, letting pedestrians peek inside retail stores and virtually interact with owners. Buildings constructed with the screens can host private conversations with dietitians or job counselors. The screens can create small-scale versions of existing services, too: Banking booths made of screens let tellers offer financial advice to customers.

4. How might we manage changing rhythms, rituals, and transitions?

For many of us, our minds primarily switch between home and work mode. Our environment, attire, and tasks reflect the current mode. The big advantage of this mental separation? Focus.

Imagine a bracelet that creates and re-arranges your daily schedule based on movable blocks of activity.

We envisioned a wearable assistant that autonomously creates your optimal daily schedule based on your relationships and connections using set units of time. The notion of nine-to-five is replaced by alternating, colorful blocks representing work and life activities. The bracelet reminds you of work meetings and the best time to call your parents who live across the globe. If you’re not feeling like exercising, remove the block or push it back in time. The device rearranges your schedule while you focus on the present task.

Asking questions, brainstorming, and quickly prototyping can help bring even the most abstract ideas to life. And even if the prototypes are a little more whimsical than serious, they help us imagine the future in a creative and human-centered way.

The team that worked on these ideas included Julian Kraan, Dogan Sekercioglu, Chloe Lee, Kim Cullen, Matty Martin, Geemay Chia, Andy Deakin, Jayne Jeffries, and Matt Marchand.

  • Julian Kraan

    IDEO Alum
    Julian is an Interaction Designer with a focus on UI, animation and creative coding. Among other things, he enjoys visualizing complex systems, exploring generative design methods, and adding playfulness to user experiences.
  • Kim Cullen

    Senior Design Director, IDEO San Francisco
    As a Senior Design Director at IDEO San Francisco, Kim Cullen provides guidance to a community of interdisciplinary designers that ranges from deep systems thinkers to code tinkerers to visual designers. She supports teams in creating their best work while partnering with clients to help them understand and engage with the creative process.
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