For this Human-Centered Design challenge, we delved into the question of how we could reimagine a traditional workspace in order to better fit a wide variety of needs and environments. This idea came out of a problem we observed of many students, researchers, and professionals being dispersed into their home spaces and, being unprepared for these circumstances, struggling without spaces and tools that could sufficiently support their work.
To gain a better understanding of the ways people interact with their workspaces, as well as their desires and expectations, we interviewed 6 different candidates, focusing on 3 categories: student/professional work needs, research needs, and socializing needs. From our interviews and observations, we identified a few common sentiments toward workspaces or struggles. First, we found that the environment a workspace was set in or created from greatly influenced how productive users felt they could be. Some of the important factors people identified included adequate working space (whether in terms of a desk surface or screen size), flexible use of video/webcam equipment that has become increasingly important in light of the global pandemic, and a feeling of connectedness to others, whether in-person or digital. In addition, what was highlighted in many of our interviews, across interviewees’ diverse situations was the importance of having variety in work spaces and being able to work in different conditions, especially in terms of available space. Second, we found that our research subjects were also very cognizant of the ergonomic/health and wellness-related components of a workspace. It was important to people that in working hard, they were also protecting their eyes and their body posture. Our key takeaways and the resultant design criteria are synthesized below:
To address these needs and expectations, we built a device that, in its most basic form, can function as a traditional desk that serves a universal need, but can also be expanded and folded for more creative uses ranging from hosting intimate social events to conducting active dance classes, allowing users more flexibility in how they configure their work spaces and even conduct their work. We’ve identified 3 main modes, called “Desktop”, Desktop+”, and “Panel” modes, with some mockups demonstrating how they unfold and are used shown below:
The desk itself has dimensions of 18” x 28” that enable it to fit into smaller spaces, but when expanded can reach up to 28” x 36”. Its surface includes a built-in screen that streamlines the user’s visual/digital needs and minimizes clutter of additional devices. It also features a detachable webcam device so the user can position and angle it however is best for their personal needs and to fit their height and posture. The screen features low-blue-light settings to minimize visual strain, and the desk height is adjustable to cater to different heights and postures.
With all of these needs and expectations in mind, we also strived to create a product that was desirable beyond being functional. A focus of ours was on the visceral appeal, especially because we wanted to set our product apart from the many existing desks or screen devices. The minimalistic and clean design of our desk serves the dual purpose of increasing aesthetic appeal and providing a clean space that can also help to clear the user’s mind to focus. This clean and minimal design also has a reflective aspect, in that it instills in the user a sense of being put-together, organized, and ready to enter a working and productive mode. We also wanted the behavioral experience to be pleasant, and took care to include details that we hoped would make the user experience seamless—for example, rounded corners to avoid painful encounters, a raised lip running around the edge to prevent items from rolling off the surface, and the adjustable height of the leg frame.