The universal language of ‘design empathy’: the power of limitless transportation.
Design Empathy + The Digital World
In the words of Cliff Kuang, “design empathy achieves something new. In empathising with others, we create things that we might never have created ourselves.” The sentiment is one that has only become truer in recent years, alongside the growing ‘digitisation’ of all facets of our everyday. Now, communication beyond one’s self and immediate circle is not only more accessible than ever before, it’s impossible to evade.
And while the influence of social media, the community of digital natives and the worldview of ‘interconnectedness’ might all have detractors, one of the consistently impressive – and extremely inspiring – developments we’ve only just noticed is that far beyond extending the capacity and invitation to communicate, our digital reality now extends the invitation to empathise. At a professional and not solely social level, the invitation to empathise has married beautifully with the burgeoning of Big Data. Now equipped with the most granular metrics, we seek to understand our stakeholders and end-users to a unprecedented degree. Adapting to the evolving needs of these stakeholders, empathic design stands side-by-side with empathic data – a truly digital revolution that holds the power to future-proof projects against obsolescence and atrophy to consistently meet the shifting needs of generations of users to come.
The Case Of Microsoft, Suzhou Technology Centre
It’s very little wonder, then, that through this cherishing of a diversity in stakeholders and an inclusive design to suit them all, design empathy is key for one of the prime drivers for this change: Microsoft. Renowned for their inspired design approach to technology innovation, Microsoft has recently put their empathic design thinking to the test for their new Microsoft Suzhou Technology Center in Suzhou, China, for which Interface provided the modular flooring system. The project is an exemplar in taking into account the diverse needs of over 2,000 end-user stakeholders. As such, the project represents a meeting point between two leaders in design empathy: Interface’s focus on wellbeing and sustainability for a breadth of users is complemented by Microsoft’s ethos of delivering an intuitive, adaptive user interface that provides radically different experiences for diverse end-users.
Designed by PDM International, the Suzhou Technology Centre reflects this understanding. Spread across nine floors, the Centre caters for the divergent needs of a different group of stakeholders and end-users: Microsoft workers themselves. The Centre recognises that thanks to shifting workplace cultures and a new generation of workers who tend toward collaborative, mobile working methods, the demands placed on office space are radically different to what they were in the past. Not only this, but they are also bound to change in future, and even fluctuate within the workday. A worker may require quiet cubicle space in the morning, a meeting room for lunch, and a break out area for team brainstorming in the afternoon.
To cater for this myriad of needs, Interface modular flooring systems were used throughout the Centre, which wraps around a central winding atrium in a nearly 31,500m2 ribbon of flexible workspaces. Different floor surfaces are used to demarcate spaces for different purposes, with luxury vinyl tile in woodgrain finishes used in lobby and break out spaces and carpets providing warmth and texture in work areas and shared spaces. Drawing from the rich history of Suzhou, a former port city, the new office makes ample use of greenery and colour, creating a vibrant interior that is as dynamic as it is inspiring.
To ensure that the correct Interface solution is provided every time, Interface works closely with clients and design teams to ascertain the exact needs of the targeted end-users. The combination of a wide product catalogue and team of skilled, experienced experts ensures that the final project is always above average, and as far away from the middle of the road as possible.
Replete with traditional working environments, formal and informal settings, breakout areas, zones for focus and retreat, as well as buzzy communal areas for interaction, The Centre celebrates the diversity of Microsoft’s various and diverse staff, offering them a selection of tools, spaces and strategies to empower their own individual working behaviours.