t: can you clarify the idea of "behavioral ergonomics?"
TOM: Ergonomics or behavioral ergonomics has the sound of a dry technical or engineering term, but the idea is that we can encourage or amend behaviors through design. For example, a desk is an item of furniture that appears everywhere and tends to be used always in the same way. How can we design a desk that changes the way a person operates or feels when seated at the desk? How does design influence how one interacts with the desk in the context of the architecture and the culture of the workplace?
In the past, office design has been seen as a way to manage people. The mark of success was either the ability to fit lots of desks into a given amount of space or to measure how efficiently people did their work—a sort of “command and control” idea. The Taylorist office, which imitated the factory assembly line, was a highly structured environment meant to deliver the goods with maximum efficiency. That’s not the way we deliver value any longer.
To a certain extent, we are attempting to manage emotional well-being, which is somewhat paradoxical. To be efficient, to perform well, people need to sustain psychological health. And we do have to acknowledge economic objectives; we have to respond to the conditions of a commercial environment. At the same time, I think that quite often, company leadership does care about employees and about the quality of the workspace. Most clients are beginning to understand how much the language of a space influences how people feel about their workspace and how they feel about the company, how engaged employees are in their work.
LUKE: We think about ergonomics as being both physical and emotional. There’s the side of ergonomics that one can measure – the physical or metric aspect —and we can design a chair based strictly on those measurements, but it might be hideous to look at. No one will want to use it. On the other hand, there are chairs that one falls in love with on sight, but which turn out to be quite uncomfortable. One needs to find a balance. Certainly, the emotional component has always been very important in our work. The way a person responds to furniture, the way furniture interacts with the space. . .those interactions will change the way it is used. So, we begin to develop layers of aesthetic features or qualities. That holds true for any type of interior environment.