02/08/2022 • 3 min read

How Design Can Create a Post-Pandemic Sense of Place

Following a period of disrupted routines, the role of designers is crucial

by Haworth, Inc.

What does space design look like in a future that refuses to be predictable? With the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters and updated safety protocols, we're finding ourselves between the end of what we knew and the start of what's next. What does this mean for productivity, culture, and design?

“Our sense of place matters after a period that disrupted how we lived and worked,” says Cheryl Durst, Executive Vice President and CEO of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA). She has worked to promote an understanding of how design impacts human behavior and affects all aspects of shared spaces.

“No matter where our place is, we need to know that we belong there. So, we need that concept of ‘you are here’—that rock-solid knowledge that we're in a place that is meaningful, that has purpose, that has comfort,” Cheryl said.

Putting People First

Cheryl recently joined Haworth Connect, a series that engages inspiring speakers on a range of topics, to discuss why the role of designers in crafting and creating a sense of place is even more crucial post-pandemic.

“Clients want to know the ‘why’ of what's ahead. After living through a period with such a lack of clarity, what they expect of designers is even more amplified now,” Cheryl said.

Design is about putting people first in all things, understanding the psychology of experience as people return to the workplace, learning environments, travel, and hospitality spaces.

“We know that design is ultimately our most profound act of optimism,” Cheryl said. “People also want empathy and clarity—softer things that people wouldn't typically associate with the workplace.”

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Workplace Expectations

“The expectation of the workplace will be magnified,” Cheryl said. There will be a demand for more community, more connection, more camaraderie among teams. What it comes down to is a definitive sense of belonging.

“We're wanting the workplace to be a safe haven. Many of us have been at home for over a year. Home for so many people is an oasis, and it’s a sanctuary. So, when returning to the workplace, we're wanting that safe haven and support for our emotional well-being,” Cheryl said. “We want to see a reimagining of flexibility and culture. We want to know that work may not necessarily be 9 to 5, at our desks, at our workstations. We want to know that we have the flexibility to work from home.”

When surveyed, more than half of employees say that they want to look at a hybrid return to work.

The Importance of Nostalgia

Designers have always been the experts at creating experiences. But, in this next normal, nostalgia is incredibly important, according to Cheryl. There will be a need to create memories and memorable places.

There is a desire to get out and connect with others—but to gather in a way that is meaningful.

“What is the future of work in the workplace?” Cheryl asks. “People first, humanity first. Knowing where we are, that sense of place, ‘you are here,’ and knowing that you belong here. I want you to always remember that design is important because chaos is so hard.”  

Leading, Managing, and Being Productive in the Unknown

For more insights on the future of design and the workplace, watch Cheryl Durst’s full Haworth Connect presentation.


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