Why an experience center in Frankfurt puts its walls to work

Frankfurt – The designer has become the contemporary equivalent of the wild-haired inventor, as their studios are commonly seen plastered with visual information and a colourful tiling of self-adhesive paper flags. But it seems that as much as Marie Kondo preaches the power of a decluttered space, designers aren’t appearing to tire from the Post-it-on-the-wall trope. Why? Well, it works.

Take, for example, the PWC Experience Center, where several spaces designated as territories for innovation put the walls to work. Instead of inactive partitions, they become rotatable whiteboards and even backdrops to the paper trails of the design process.

But in the many efforts made to create spaces that support the messy procedure of brainstorming, what evidence is there that this really works?

Coast Office, a German architecture and design studio, created the experience compound so as to inspire collaboration. By focusing on how to make a space encourage creativity, the studio looked to the timeline of the design process. The methodology of design thinking has been broken down by Stanford’s d.school into five elements: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. At PWC, the building follows the five-step programme by designating the different areas as the Welcome Zone, the Sandbox, the Social Zone, the Workbench and the Black Box. Within the different ‘zones’ the walls, the tabletops and the functions of each space are sacrificed to the practice of creative prototyping. In a cube of white boards, the doors are able to be pivoted outwards in order to invite others into the process.

But in the many efforts made to create spaces that support the messy procedure of brainstorming, what evidence is there that this really works? Consider the Affinity Diagram created by Jiro Kawakita in the 1960s: it was devised as a tool to take a big problem, isolate it into categories and have an overview that allowed lines to be drawn and solutions reached. Even Winston Churchill’s war rooms placed maps on the walls, as the prime minister believed battles could best be run from vertical surfaces.

Today numerous offices at Google, Uber and their kindred start-ups are adapting their surface area to create similar rooms, but this time dedicated to strategy. For the PWC Experience Center, the entire space is opened up for meditations on process. 

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