Plenty of opportunity in WELL building design
Businesses are striving to be more diverse and inclusive, and that’s providing big opportunities for people who design those spaces, writes Jack Noonan.
Contemplating the market size of inclusive design that all organisations are going after in today’s world?
Think deeper about the skill demands and tailwinds of jobs that transform places to deliver on organisational goals for health, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) goals.
The opportunity is big. According to the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) 2022 Trends Report, health and social justice are two major themes influencing space design and driving the upward trends for the interior design industry.
Better yet, design to promote health and DEI culture are no longer solely owned by design professionals. According to Kel Smith’s chapter, ‘Inclusive Design is the New Green’ in the book “Moving Technology Forward without Leaving People Behind”, contractors and installers, as well as all other participants on a project, should share health and DEI goals, and must apply skills to help fulfill these goals.
An industry whitepaper, “The Future States and Artifacts of Design + DEI” by US-based MA Design, predicts that, going forward, health and DEI protocols will be codified in the building industry and specialists on these social justice practices will become common jobs available in companies outside the designer cohort. The whitepaper calls it the “distributed design networks”.
As part of the distributed design networks, designers, contractors, and installers are now health equity partners to help organisations fulfill their DEI goals. Transforming places to promote health equity is not only a noble mission for the broader community of building professionals, but it also represents a practical professional benefit – putting skills to work that are increasingly in demand by organisations seeking to deliver on their health, wellbeing and DEI vision.
For the distributed design networks, a jump start to lead with health equity excellence lies in the ten concept areas of the WELL Building Standard, the leading global framework for scaling health across buildings, organisations and communities. The ten areas are: air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind and community.
While all WELL features address physical and mental health or wellbeing needs, a set of them specifically addresses DEI and/or offer strategies to help bridge the health equity gap. Lack of universal design, missing pieces in accessibility by all, and health inequity issues are still common challenges in buildings, organisations and communities where people spend most of their time. The distributed design networks can help turn things around.
As an example, accessibility and universal design, a feature within the WELL Community concept, encourages projects to use universal and inclusive design principles to make buildings accessible to all. It lays out the design parameters for any organisation pursuing WELL Certification or ratings to consider feasible strategies in order to meet the health and equity intent of the requirement. What does this requirement mean for a space designer, contractor or installer? The touchpoints to bring about positive changes seep through the intentionality of any people-first place.
Need a few inspirations?
Make technology work for all
Technology is one of the many tools that can help places deliver a better experience. This can be done in a variety of ways, but the underpinning principle is to leverage technology features to help make health and wellbeing more inclusive, accessible and equitable. If you are putting voice-activated technology in place, the job is not well done until you have addressed issues for those with physical, memory and speech challenges.
Sensitivity to neurodiverse population
We are living in a time of increased neurodiversity and heightened awareness about it. In fact, one in eight people are considered neurodiverse, but fewer than 50% know it, according to WorkDesign Magazine. Spaces today need to reflect the diverse makeup of organisations to set all up for success.
As companies strive for more inclusive and equitable workforce, workplaces need to reflect the sensitivity to this population; be it where distractive gadgets are installed, making quiet spaces readily available, or providing thermal zoning with access to individualised thermal options.
Make acoustical comfort enjoyable by all
In a day and age when sound pollution escalates and the general hearing health deteriorates, a cocktail of good design and technology interventions can go a long way helping those sensitive to noise. Technologies on sound masking and/or sound scaping systems, noise cancelling audio device selection, furniture choice and surface options, all contribute to balancing off acoustic effect for shared and enhanced well-being.
Democratise access to light
Providing appropriate light exposure in indoor environments through lighting strategies is essential for the physical, mental and biological health of everyone. Knowledge in circadian lighting attributes and functionality, the ability to maximise natural light for as many people as possible, and skills to minimise lighting glare, all are contributing factors to advance clients’ goal for enhanced health equity.
And there are plenty more opportunities once you start putting the health equity lens to your work.
Jack Noonan is the vice president of the International WELL Building Institute for Asia-Pacific.