Ideation & Prototype: Employee Common Spaces (Team 5)

Vicky Zhou
Mar 7 · 6 min read

For our final project, we ideated and designed a prototype addressing Construction Junction’s Employee Common Space’s most prominent pain points, based on research, analysis, and on field studies accumulated throughout the semester.

Problem Space and Research

Our mission at Construction Junction to investigate employee common spaces. In order to better understand how the common areas affected employee relations, perspectives about work, and interactions within the space, we conducted a number of research activities:

  1. Observation: We observed the personal and communal artifacts within the employee break room and conference room to understand employee personalities, work culture and interpersonal interactions.
  2. Cultural Probes: We created task journals to understand CJ’s social culture. We created playful, engaging, and open ended questions and prompts to see if camaraderie exists within Construction Junction, what that looks like in the forms of comics, the level of job satisfaction among the employees, and the personalities that exist within the company.
  3. Affinity Diagram: We developed a specific interest in investigating how food cultivates a sense of community at CJ. Food creates a common ground and interest amongst employees, and provides opportunities to share brief conversations and interactions with each other.

What are our pain points?

From our last exercise (affinity diagramming) we came across these major points:

  • Signs and physical objects are the most common form of expression through employees
  • We try to see ourselves as a unit / team, despite difficulties coming together
  • Personalizing and bringing sentimental objects allows me to feel attached and connected to my work.
  • We have an unkempt common space because tidying the space is not a priority and nobody is directly responsible.
  • There is a disconnect in our community.
  • Tired because understaffed, means more work to do
  • Communication systems exist to make workplace more efficient
  • Food is important to us and creates a common ground

Using these pink post its, we individually brainstormed possible solutions using a “How Might We…” approach, and then came together to discuss our proposed ideas. A couple of example interventions from this ideation session include:

  • A potluck event to gather employees together with food as the main context and common ground.
  • A “Maker Mondays” for employees to unite and tinker around with existing materials at Construction Junction, either for fun, personal benefit, or to create a functional product to better the employee common area.
  • A “Giving Wall”, or, a public shelf placed in the common area for employees to discard personal items still of use for other employees to acquire if they so desire to. In other words, the concept of “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”; a place where items can be given a new home.
  • An app to help aid in effective communication across employees, in order to diffuse the negative repercussions from lack of manpower in conjunction with an overwhelmingly large surface area of ground to cover at CJ.

Narrowing down proposed ideas

From these proposed ideas, we then proceeded by each individually filling out a Gut Check Worksheet based on the most 1. innovative and 2. realistic ideas. We proceeded to go further in depth with how exactly these proposed prototypes would be beneficial, how they would be executed, and what key issues they would be addressing. Each of us took one idea back to focus on, and came back together to discuss what the pros and cons of each idea. Ultimately, we decided to narrow down our focus to the following:

“How might we use food to enhance a sense of community that is flexible to fit within their work schedules?

Example Gut Check Worksheets:

Prototype Concept

Our proposed solution for this key insight consists of two main components:

  1. Food Fridays: Once a month, an employee will bring in a store bought or homemade dish of personal significance to them to share with the staff. A tip jar at the cash register will be used to fund costs for the activity, and provide incentive for participation.
  2. Share Case: a physical, designated area to share food for between employees.
  • It is consistent; an area designated specifically for sharing food
  • It will be recurring; a monthly potluck event for the employees
  • Employees will implement a tip jar to help collect loose change for Friday Potlucks. On it, will be posted a blurb saying “Feed our staff! All tips go directly to our Friday Potluck” to encourage customers to donate to the event.
  • Flyers will be passed out around employees and sent out in a staff-wide email to promote awareness on the event.

Prototype Sketches

A couple sketches of our proposed prototypes.

Finalized Prototype Poster

How are these proposed solutions addressing major key points and insights?

We learned that employees don’t have many opportunities to interact with each other, and when they do come together in the break room, they choose to have conversations that center around food. Based on these findings, we decided to propose these two interventions — Food Fridays and a Share Case — to facilitate increased communications in the common area. The potluck will provide for opportunities for employees to gather, chat, and learn about more their fellow co-workers through more engaging and intimate means. The sharing case will allow for a more efficient and clear form of communication between employees on communal foods, even when employees are not able to be face to face with each other.

Our proposed intervention utilizes a comfortable, familiar, and common medium among the employees at CJ — food — and transforms that medium into a a more engaging, intimate, and personal form by creating an allotted experience and tool for facilitating these new levels of conversation and camaraderie.

Final Poster

Takeaway and Reflection

Through implementing a novel and engaging food culture, and platform for sharing food, we believe that this could realistically and positively transform the employee culture and how employee common spaces are used at Construction Junction. For further exploration, it would be interesting to explore different sectors of Construction Junction (such as diving into how different forms of communication and/or types of events can affect camaraderie, etc), and also revisit Construction Junction in the case that they hire more staff and have a bigger employee database and community.

CMU Design Research Methods // Spring 2019

Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:00-4:20 PM MM A11 // This half-semester course is about research in design, and mostly about research through design — how to use the methods and skills you’re learning as a designer, to investigate questions in the world, generate and evaluate ideas.

Vicky Zhou

Written by

CMU Design Research Methods // Spring 2019

Tuesdays and Thursdays 3:00-4:20 PM MM A11 // This half-semester course is about research in design, and mostly about research through design — how to use the methods and skills you’re learning as a designer, to investigate questions in the world, generate and evaluate ideas.

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