The Space Outside the Odds
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.”—Elon Musk, 60 Minutes interview
Elon Musk’s mindset in the 60 Minutes interview affirms the value of design when making decisions associated with risk. When it comes to designing higher education facilities, work environments, and lab space, a design firm’s mindset drives success for their clients. The old adage “thinking outside the box” is often interpreted as a source of inspiration. However, the dynamic between what has been and what could be relies more on a mindset than inspiration. Musk’s statement points to the two key forces behind innovation: sense of importance and perceived odds. Innovation finds fertile ground in the space between the two. By researching the design of lab space for both academic use and innovative companies, MSR is forging a mindset around great spaces for analyzing and creating. Design thinking requires a culture that supports this kind of mindset and the innovation that follows.
Outside the Odds: The Act of Play
In baseball, meeting on the mound pauses the game in order to reassess objectives with new perspectives and creatively resolve an issue. Fashionable terms such as collaboration have become code words design firms use to appear as if they know what they are doing when it comes to facilitating spaces meant for innovation. The overused term has lost its meaning and impact. A more productive design focus is how to leverage efficiency in order to create room for the space for play. The design for Herman Miller’s Design Yard, one of MSR’s early commissions, responds to Max De Pree’s goal of assembling creative, method-based people in an environment conducive to expansive thinking, making, and designing space. Over time this mindset at MSR has transcended the idea of projects being based on type and has allowed MSR to use its culture of design thinking to meet clients and their needs in a “meeting on the mound.” In the case of one of our Fortune 500 clients, our mindset supports innovation by sharing resources, open lab design, and energy savings in a holistic design.
Inside the Odds: The Need to Contain Play
In his article “International Ideas for Research Laboratories” on the National Institute of Building Sciences Whole Building Design Guide website, architect Dan Watch points to the global pressure on research companies to meet demand. Taken in context, we can easily imagine the need for universities to respond by providing places for students to play in the spirit of innovation. The future of 21st-century research lies in managing this delicate balance between meeting measurable results and encouraging play. Without diminishing the seriousness of purpose, focusing on play responds to the natural need for exploration and creativity in an innovative environment—the need to take risks as Musk suggests. Designing spaces that encourage this combination of results and play requires a mix of art and science as demonstrated by the corporate headquarters and design facility for Urban Outfitter’s five brands, Drexel University’s College of Media Arts and Design URBN Center, and Carleton College’s Weitz Center for Creativity.
By contextualizing Musk’s suggestion to take risks when it matters, we can see the role design plays in providing a place to conduct research and manage the challenges at hand. By having a culture centered on a design mindset that uses science to provide measurable results and art to imagine inspiring spaces, MSR works with our clients to affirm the value of design. By fostering a mindset unlimited by project type, the odds of success can be in the client’s favor while encouraging the design of environments that invite innovation.
In November, look for our next topic dealing with the science behind great design:
MSR is participating in leading research to improve the way we design homes, libraries, higher education buildings, art/cultural facilities, and corporate campuses. Partner Paul Mellblom will talk about a data-driven design effort that is resulting in a 72% decrease below code in projected energy use for a 90-unit affordable housing project in Minneapolis, which will be both beautiful and function like a highly tuned machine.