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“The Wall”

Case Study: Applying Design Thinking to office space redesign

Antonin Lapiche
Dec 21, 2016 · 9 min read

We spend about 8 hours per day at our office. Office spaces are often built to optimize how many employees we can fit in a hundred square feet. They are rarely designed as a way to help us focus and achieve more.

I applied Design Thinking method to transform a small and noisy Phone Booth Room. It became a quiet and warm place to keep focus.

Why did I design this?

The initial problem was that some employees in my office complained about meeting rooms used by a single person. This resulted in lack of meeting room for group work. Another fact was that the 4 phone booth rooms seemed underutilized.

As an employee myself, I was the one identifying the initial problem.

My main project goal was to increase the propensity to use the Phone Booth Rooms.

My goals for my research were to:

  • Identify & understand the use cases for employees going in the Phone Booth Rooms.
  • Identify & understand the use cases for employees using Small Meeting Rooms on their own.
  • Learn how they feel when they are in those rooms and why they pick those rooms.
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Dark and gloomy Phone Booth Rooms.

Who did I design for?

The users are the 50 employees of an innovation lab of a global telecom company. They are located in San Francisco.

Their routine activities is to connect with external partners. They also create content and present to executives about latest trends in technologies. They sit in an open-space.

Majority of those people go in small meeting rooms on their own. I did not know what they were doing and why they were doing it in those specific spaces.

What was my role?

I conducted the entire project myself from research to prototyping and testing. I was mentored by who is a seasoned designer. She gave me weekly guidance during this one month project.

What was the constraints?

The main constraint was to get the buy-in from 3 person in the office to secure budget for the prototype:

  • The COO of the office (make sure we get some budget)
  • The HR manager (make sure it fits with company culture and rules)
  • The building manager (make sure of the technical feasibility)

For the timeline, I needed to get budget approval before the beginning of December 2016.

The design process

Understanding the users

The problem I was hoping to solve was the under utilization of the Phone Booth Rooms. I learned about this problem because of 3 things:

  • Colleagues complaining about how they could not find a room for a meeting
  • Seeing the rooms empty on a regular basis
  • New signs on the meeting room saying “Reserved for 2+ people”
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Not very welcoming…

Those were hunches and not validated through testing. I started my research by creating a research plan. It included the goals, research questions, methodology, participants and schedule.

The methodology first included an online survey. I sent it to the 50 employees to gather the use cases, the frequency and the choice of one room versus another. Afterward, I conducted 5 user interviews to dig more on their motivations and feelings.

Defining the problem

From the 18 answered surveys, I regrouped the insights in two empathy maps. One was for employees using the Small Meeting Rooms. One was for employees using the Phone Booth Rooms. The goal was to regroup all the different insights.

I then created 2 storyboards to show the users in their current contexts. I highlighted 2 use cases (personal call and work session).

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Storyboard of an employee using a Phone Booth Room as of today.

I also tried to compare different features from different type of rooms (privacy pod vs small meeting room vs personal office) but I did not get any insights from that.

At that point, I had a pretty good understanding of my users and their problem. I felt confident to reframe the design challenge.

I used POV statements to express user’s needs and motivations. I then wrote How Might We (HMW) statements to think with solutions and not with problems.

I came up with a pretty extensive list and I had to narrow it down to keep my focus. I was kind of overwhelmed with such a broad space.

I decided to filter out what I call “itches”. “itches” are something we can live with and if we scratch a little bit, we feel better and forget about it. I also regrouped similar HMW statements and focused only on the Phone Booth Rooms.

The final design challenge before moving to solutions and ideation was the following:

  • How might we create a warm and welcoming environment to help focus in the Phone Booth Rooms?
  • How might we create a quiet environment without noise or visual distraction in the Phone Booth Rooms?

Generating ideas

My first step was to go do some looking around on the web. I saw how other office spaces were tackling those challenges. I created two board with images of solutions used by others and pinned them on the wall for inspiration.

My second step was to do some fast brainstorming for each problem statement:

  • 10min on gathering notes and jotting down rough ideas
  • 2 iterations of 8min sketching 8 different solutions (Crazy 8)

My third step was to select a few solutions and integrate them into new storyboards. This allowed me to put the solutions in the context of the user’s journey. I showed the storyboards to 3 non-users to see if I was missing something big and if the story made sense.

I transformed the personal call use case into a work call because it came up more often in the initial survey and I decided not to go on the “doing personal stuff at work” theme. This might be seen as controversial by both employees and managers.

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Storyboard of an employee using a Phone Booth Room and interacting with solutions.

I picked 6 solutions to test. I was a little worried that each solution would compete with each other. But the starting point was so low that I felt like I needed a baseline. I also wanted to make sure to have one bold idea to test.


Prototyping on a non digital product is not easy. I decided to start with a 3D rendering of the room with the solutions. I got an overview of the design and how everything fitted together.

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3D design of the expected solutions.

I then went to see what kind of budget I would need to run my test. I struggled quite a lot because I wanted to have a great perceived quality. It would generate more genuine reactions. I also wanted to stay crappy to keep the budget reasonable. A good example is how I used a yoga mat to create a soundproofing tile on the wall.

At this point I invited the 3 persons I needed buy-in to explain them what I needed to prototype. I walked them through the entire process and got positive feedback.

I purchased everything and implemented it in the room as per the 3D design. This was definitely the most fun part of the project.

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Final prototype.

Afterward, I created a learning canvas to define the criteria of success. I would be able to measure success or failure when I test my solutions.

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Learning canvas


To test my solutions, I created a second research plan with 2 goals in mind:

  • Test assumptions from the learning canvas about integrated solutions.
  • Test the propensity to use the room.

I conducted 5 usability interviews to gather reactions and feelings. I was really excited about getting feedback. As you can see below most of the assumptions were validated:

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Insights from the 5 interviews

On the two assumptions that were inconclusive, I believe the quality of the prototype was not high enough to confirm the assumptions.

For the custom room name, the wording was not clear enough and users were confused about the purpose of it. For the soundproofing, I used a yoga mat to simulate a soundproofing material. I was surprised by the mixed feelings I received. The perception of the sounds level varies from one individual to another.

The last step of the project is to send a follow up survey. I want to gather insights about the frequency usage and perceived value of integrated solutions in the long term.

My goal is to have a final validation and redo the 3 other Phone Booth Rooms using the same design.

What did I learn?

Working on a physical space is the same as a digital product, it is just harder to track usage.

When I started my project and the user research around it, it was pretty easy to understand the needs and motivations from the users. When I did the prototype, it was challenging to keep the budget low but the quality high enough that I could get genuine reactions. When it came to measure the actual usage of the room or “features”, everything became way more complicated. One way to have good quantitative data would be to install a camera or put a sensor of everything. This was not doable.

It was more challenging that building an app, but it was not impossible at all: it was still about solving a problem where a human sits at the center of it (literally).

Prototyping with users around does not allow you to capture their feedback.

When I built the room prototype, a lot of employees walked by and said things like “oh cool, I like this” or “this is too green”. While it was always a good intention, it was impossible to focus on the current task and pay attention to them. On top of that they would often have feedback on different elements that were not part of my assumptions.

Next time, I’ll make sure to do it when there is less people around. Maybe surprise them in the morning?

Getting budget approval by showing the entire process is easier.

I invited 3 persons to review the process with me. I walked them through the entire design thinking exercise. They were not familiar with the process but at the end they did not question my choices and assumptions. They were all excited and gave me some budget for my prototype ( about $400).

Keeping design artifacts on a wall allows for short term memory.

During my entire process, I kept all the artifacts and placed them on a timeline on a wall so I could have a look at it at any time. Even though you need some space to do so, I found it much better than having it in a folder on my computer. I could have an overall view. It was acting as a short term memory and kept me focused. It was also a great substrate to explain what I was working on to my curious colleagues.

Thank you for reading. Please email me if you have any questions or feedback about this project:

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Thanks for reading!

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