Lecture Recap :: Janice Barnes, Transparency @ Work



Written by Alyce Packard, BID Candidate

Crandon Gustafson, Head of the School of Interior Design started out the night by introducing us to Janice Barnes. Janice Barnes is the Principal and Global Discipline Leader for Planning and Strategies at Perkins + Will. She has over 20 years of experience and she focuses on the ways in which planning enables people to meet their goals. Her work focuses on drawing out information on work practices and how to organize that information to better serve people's needs.

Janice spoke specifically to us as students. When deciding what to say to us for the lecture she had a few main points she wanted to address. What would be the most meaningful to us? We’re the ones who will be influencing the design world, so we hold a certain power to change things. She wanted to teach us about transformational design, design that could promote health, wellness, and sustainability. As students, most of us are unaware of the scale of the problem that designers are faced with currently with harmful chemicals in our materials. She wants to teach us so that we can help make a positive change in the design world. The goals of design should be to create healthful environments that promote wellness and activity.  She then introduced the most important word of the night, transparency. What is transparency? What is it that we need to know in order to make better decisions in building healthy environments for clients?

She began with 2012’s biggest work trends. What creates a high performance workplace? How do you engage the users and the infrastructure around it? The components must be combined. There are twelve main workplace trends right now; diverse work styles (what do the series of work styles need to be?), mobility (reducing our carbon footprint, using spaces in new ways), spatial efficiency (increasing densities, client’s highest utilization ratio), work/life blending (working beyond the normal 9-5), brand (fully integrating a brand, not just a logo, showing the client a point of view), collaboration (bringing people together, produces more money for the company), recruit and retain (fun and healthfulness, the quality of employees), hospitality (inviting guests, what the experience should be, a welcome center or plaza, connection to the community), and transition planning (working with all the users at the site, creating a program around the changes they will experience and a reason for why they’re changing).

Out of these new work trends, the one she wanted to focus on was sustainability. As designers, we should be concerned with active design guidelines. What can we do to promote physical activity and health in design? Whether we’re designing a small interior or we’re at an urban scale, we should try to keep people interested in the space somehow and work on connectivity. The amount of obese Americans increases every year and we have a chance to do something about it. One idea she spoke about was staircases. If you can find a way to make a staircase more fun and interesting than people will be more inclined to take the stairs than an elevator, which will result in physical activity making everyone healthier.

Another important topic discussed was the Precautionary Principle. This principle basically states that if you don’t have 100% of the science behind what makes up a material (what’s in it), then it is better off to not use it. It would be better to err on the side of caution than to use a material that could potentially be harmful. She spoke about all of the harmful chemicals in our products that people know little to nothing about. Lead paint is still used, even though we know the harmful effects it has. It takes a long time for things to change in America. Perkins + Will is working on a new kind of product label. It would be similar to the nutrition box you would find on food, you can look at the label and know what the product consists of.  It would include details like product content, packaging, and the design process it took to make.

Her question to us was: what was it going to take to turn the boat, to fix a problem of this scale? The answer was awareness. The more people that know about this problem, the faster it will be taken care of. If designers and clients use only products without toxic or unknown chemicals in them, then more and more companies will realize that if they are transparent we’ll buy more of their products (equaling more money long term). At the end of the lecture, Janice asked us to please spread awareness about these issues. For more in depth information about any of these topics, check out her firm’s website and please do your part to help us begin to solve this problem.