interior office atrium with chairs and greenery

Designing for the Happiness Ecosystem

A Think Tank Panel explores how designers can help create positive outcomes in the workplace.

Using the words “happiness” and “work” in the same sentence may seem like a contradiction to many, but it’s actually a growing consulting niche, with employee contentedness having become an imperative as top organizations compete for talent. “Design for the Happiness Ecosystem” was the subject of a Think Tank panel held on February 17 that was hosted by architecture firm CallisonRTKL and moderated by Metropolis executive editor Sam Lubell.

The conversation was inspired by a new tool the firm developed called the Happiness Ecosystem Index, which Lubell explained was “working to make better connections between buildings and people and making places more people-centric.” The panel was filled out with CallisonRTKL employees: Jodi Williams and Paul Conder, principals; and Angela Acosta and Angela Crum, associate principal and senior associate, respectively.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about how that comes together into truths of happiness and how we can take that and design from what works the best,” Williams said, rolling out some sobering statistics: “Depression among workers has almost quadrupled over the last two years. For every engaged employee there are two who are disengaged. That’s bad the for the bottom line, for the culture, for everything.”

Can design help? The team at CallisonRTKL thinks so: “People want to be able to break away and focus on their wellbeing in quiet spaces, so we’ve seen a big emergence of wellness rooms and recharge rooms,” said Crum. “Happiness does not necessarily come from a new job with more money,” she opined, “It’s really finding a job that allows you to find balance in your personal life.”  

In designing for happiness, surprises almost always come up. Williams shared that in their D.C. office, “the most popular space is a plain old five-and-a half-foot workstation, but it’s got the best light in the office. It feels good just to sit there.”

With that in mind, Acosta pleaded designers to simply spend more time asking people what they liked: “If you want to look at different ways of gauging contentment, the easiest way is just to talk to people. Check in with somebody. I mean, who’s really going to stop you?” After all, she added: “Happiness is a universal goal.”

a workplace coffee bar
A workplace for Viacom designed by CallisonRTKL includes a coffee bar.

The Think Tank discussions were held on February 3, 10, and 17. The conversations were presented in partnership with Versteel and GROHE.

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