The biggest problem when people want a space for collaboration is that most meeting spaces are designed for a leader-led meeting. Conference and meeting spaces are often designed for sit-down-shut-up-and-listen meetings, or at least group sessions where one person presents information and the rest mostly take it in.
“In most conference environments a screen is placed on a wall, people sit at a table and what ensues is kind of tennis match. You look at the person speaking, you look at the information down there, someone speaks again, and you look at the information again,” says Lew Epstein, director of Advanced Marketing at Steelcase. “Nothing is in close proximity where it’s really easy to look at the speaker and the information with just a glance, which make it much more comfortable, keeps your focus and ultimately makes things much more productive.”
In collaborative work everyone has information to offer and often that content is on a laptop. There are as many laptops as people in most meetings today. Yet sharing information from those laptops is typically an exercise in untangling cables and guessing how to connect: Which key do I hit to get this on the projector? Is that thing on? The meeting flow is gone and information gets lost amid wistful comments about how helpful that file would’ve been. “Through our observation research it became clear that most meeting environments weren’t keeping pace with the needs of people when they were collaborating,” notes Epstein. “So the question became, how can we reposition the relationship of information to people to maintain eyes-to-eyes between people and eyes-to-information, which is typically a screen?”
Based on these insights, Steelcase researchers and Design Studio, together with IDEO, recently designed a new approach to helping groups leverage technology to improve collaboration. It’s called media:scape®, and it’s as much an experience as a product.
It’s a shared space that merges furniture and media specifically to help teams access and share information. People simply belly up to the table, plug the provided USB cable into their laptops, and everyone shares what’s on their computers on the flat screen monitor at the table. To switch between laptops, you just touch a button (called a “puck”). It’s basically a “walk up and connect” experience that results from a merger of furniture and technology that makes it simple for groups to get stuff done. “It needed to be dead-on simple. The kind of environment that you didn’t have to be trained for, you didn’t need to use your manual. And it had to be very impromptu,” says Epstein.