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Maya Levin
Maya Levin

Akendi Alumnus

How Combining UX With Interior Design Creates Smart Work Spaces

What comes to mind when you hear or see the term “UX” (User Experience)?

How about “Who is a user and what experience are we talking about?”

Although most cases in UX are related to technology and human computer interactions, a higher level of experience brings us back to one of the founding professions in design: architecture and planning.

In reflecting on the relationship between modern day UX and old school architecture, I became interested in Akendi Ottawa’s current living situation and decided to address our move to a new office location.

What better space to investigate place making than within the context of a creative environment meant to foster research, user testing, training, and collaboration?

I wanted to know how user experience design methods could be used in tandem with interior design to effectively create a space for our team.

My Tried & True Process

I had to refrain from jumping in head first, as keen creatives often do, in order to follow my own tried & true process.

In any UX project, there are three types of people at stake: the business, the client, and the user.

Thinking of these personas and their traits, I came up with three corollaries that exist in interior design: budget, circulation, and communication.

livewallFigure 1. Under Armour Hydroponic wall. If their office has one, why can’t ours!?


Budget represents the business persona of user design, and it’s unavoidable. It’s the style cramping parameter that has final say!Budget

Design doesn’t like limitations and is more inspired in the unrestricted zone outside the box.

However, there are some things that creativity simply can’t buy (for example, that fancy hydroponic wall concept you saw saw on Pinterest!)


Figure 2. Budget Prioritization Diagram

Understanding the parameters of the budget hand allows for smart creativity instead of unrealistic ideals.

That said, within the boring budgetary parameters also lies the ‘fun stuff’: furniture, fixtures, materials, colours, etc.

If you don’t know the exact numbers, start with creating a hierarchy of importance and highlighting the items that must be implemented versus the ones you would like to implement.

Prioritizing design elements at a high level will allow you to focus on those big changes that drive the special experience.


Circulation represents the client who needs to be accommodated, satisfied, and uninhibited.

Crossing slightly with user needs, it asks the questions where are people going and how often are they changing locations?

At a high level, it is important to understand how people will move around the space in order to adapt to their natural flow.

A certain balance needs to be attained between the limitations of the space (physically and monetarily) and user behavior.

Simple circulation diagrams can help in this attainment by relating to specific places within the space (drawing lines or arrows from point A to point B) and conceptualizing the shortest route, with the least amount of potential noise and traffic.

In the same way that smooth navigation within a device enhances ease of use, smooth circulation within a physical space can lead to better use of that space.

circulation diagramFigure 3. A circulation diagram I made with people and information in a hospital


Communication represents that fussy user with particular habits, perceptions and needs.

Communication is a vast category that is becoming increasingly complex with the addition of HCI and technology into communication methods.

I like to think of communication as a sensory experience with two facets.

First, it is somewhat data driven: what information is being sent and received?

Second, it is emotive: how is that information being sent and received? (verbal, auditory, visual, combination)?

Due to the nature of work at Akendi, communication occurs through many streams, sometimes simultaneously. Acoustics, placement of fixtures and furniture, as well as room size and orientation all contribute to a functional workspace.

Additional questions can also relate to the users and their behaviuor within the space: Is there a need for privacy? Does it need to be heard across a space? How many people are being communicated to?

Ultimately, accommodating the communication needs of users means understanding the sensory parameters of the communication type and attributing the appropriate spatial design.

Design Direction

Creating a place for people is much more than populating a space with stuff that fits in a budget.

At its foundation, interior design is user experience design where space is the product.

In his book, Design for Ecological Democracy, Randolph Hester talks about ‘enabling form’ and highlights the difference between space and place.

Where space is a mere environmental existence, place is a thought out, intentional creation meant to enhance working effectiveness (2006, p18.)

Our office is a diverse ecosystem of functionality ranging from public to private, loud and quiet, long work sessions and impromptu visits.

The next steps of this place making inquiry are applying a deeper level of design methodology to contextualize the user and define use cases.

In the meantime, I’m going to come up with a clever pitch to the rest of the team to get on board with the hydroponic wall idea…and beanbag chairs!

Community Post: 39 Insanely Cool Vertical Gardens. (2013, February 23). Retrieved July 14, 2016, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/marcelle/39-insanely-cool-vertical-gardens

Hester, R. T. (2006). Design for Ecological Democracy.  Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Cullen, K. (2011, March 9). Let’s Get Physical. UX Beyond the Screen. | Adaptive Path. Retrieved July 14, 2016, from http://adaptivepath.org/ideas/lets-get-physical-ux-beyond-the-screen/

Maya Levin
Maya Levin

Akendi Alumnus

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