Dak Kopec is an expert in the field of human-centered design and environmental psychology for design. He holds a doctorate degree in environmental psychology, two masters’ degrees, one in architecture and one in community psychology, and an undergraduate degree in health sciences. Dak is the former Director of the Boston Architectural College’s Master of Design Studies in design for human health program, and he is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Graduate Program in healthcare interior design at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
In this expert interview, AdvancingWellness CEO Mari Ryan explores human-centered design and specifically how that applies to the workplace.
Mari Ryan: Welcome to the Workplace Wellbeing Essentials Series. I'm Mari Ryan, I'm the CEO and founder of Advancing Wellness. It's my pleasure to welcome you today to this expert interview, where we explore topics that impact employee wellbeing. My guest today is Dak Kopec. Dak is an expert in the field of human-centered design and environmental psychology for design. He holds a doctorate degree in environmental psychology, two masters’ degrees, one in architecture and one in community psychology, and an undergraduate degree in health sciences. Dak is the former Director of the Boston Architectural College’s Master of Design Studies in design for human health program, and he is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Architecture and Graduate Program in healthcare interior design at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. When not consulting, teaching, or writing, Dak loves to walk and look at unique aspects of design. Dak, welcome, I’m delighted to have you here as my guest today.
Dak Kopec: Thank you, thank you for having me, I appreciate this.
Mari Ryan: I’m sure that living in Las Vegas and not in Boston, your walks are probably a little bit different, especially trying to seek out uniqueness of design.
Dak Kopec: Definitely true, there’s a big difference between the design styles that you find in New England versus what you find here in Nevada, and Las Vegas in particular.
Mari Ryan: I’m sure! It certainly changes scenery, as we can attest.
Dak Kopec: Life is a banquet, and I’m just enjoying it.
Mari Ryan: Good for you, great attitude. Today we’re going to talk about this concept of human, or person-centered design. I’m wondering if you could start by – let’s define that, so we can level-set for our audience what this really means.
Dak Kopec: Sure, in the past we in design have often been designing for a multitude of end users. If you look at a mall, you try to make sure that you can design for anybody who could potentially go into that mall and use that mall. Now we are starting to see that more and more people are getting older and we are also seeing that chronic illnesses are affecting more and more people. We are starting to look at human-centered design and person-centered design, so that we can look at the individual and try to figure out how it is that we can design for that individual, or clusters of individuals. For example, you might have a home for people who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease. There are also communal living situations for people who have cognitive deficiencies or developmental disabilities. So, that’s who we design for. We design for that specific condition and that specific group [indecipherable - 0:03:23.7].
Mari Ryan: Excellent. How does person-centered design impact or influence employee wellbeing? Let’s talk about this in the context of the workplace.
Dak Kopec: Every person has a unique set of needs, desires and wants, so a need is something you absolutely have to have for survival. Desires are those things that give your life meaning, they give value to what you are doing, and wants are those things that are in-between the two; the things that give you value, but they are also things that you have to have. So, as we start to look at individuals, we look at them in the workplace environment, we can no longer think of them as being, to put it bluntly, drones. You don’t want drones. You want thinking, creative individuals who can provide contributions to the organization. If we don’t want people to think, act, and be the same way, then we’ve got to provide representation within their environment that allows for that uniqueness and individuality to pull through.
Mari Ryan: What would be some of the aspects of individual uniqueness? We’re not going to build workplaces that are taking into consideration each individual, but what might some of the categories of that kind of uniqueness that we might take into consideration?
Dak Kopec: There are a lot of different ways, and I think that one of the ways we have to start looking at workplace environments now is the interests of employees and we try to understand what is it that helps them work the best. We need to provide them, for example, private spaces. People are distracted by noise, or by people walking, and if they are doing activities that require a lot of concentration, such as putting together a budget proposal, doing the accounting, or contracts, or what have you, then we need to be able to provide a quiet place to work more effectively. Some people work well in social environments, or collaboratively with other people. Some people don’t, and some people are in the middle. So, we have a variety of spaces, and we interview people based off of what our needs are and what we have available. Then, we are able to provide and environment that is more suitable for that individual.
Now, that’s just one level. The other level is that you’ve got generational things. We are seeing a lot of older people not retiring. You are seeing people in their sixties or seventies still in the workplace environment, and they have special needs related to their cognitive abilities, their physical abilities, but there is also a generational expectation. What is it they expect? What is it they are going to be wearing in the workplace environment, and that is very different from your twenty- or thirty-year-old, and what it is that they are going to expect from them, and how they are going to work. At the end of the day, we all have to be there together, but the key is the employer has to be prepared to say one size does not fit all, and simply plug us all into a cubicle and say go for it. Or, plug us into a collaborative workplace environment and say go for it because one size doesn’t fit all.
Mari Ryan: Are you seeing that employers are starting to take this into consideration when they are looking at and designing workplaces? Is this something they are thinking about? Are the cube farms gone, and are people really serious about design these days?
Dak Kopec: As we start to look at the more traditional professions, they are less inclined to be looking at this holistic way of workplace performance. For them, we need to prove it. That’s where all the outcome measures start to come into play. I suspect that as we start to see the outcomes for person-centered design within the workplace environment showing the positive effects, we’ll see some of these more traditional organizations picking up on it. It’s going to have to come from high-tech and design, which are traditionally the early adopters to new ways of doing things.
Mari Ryan: What do you think about some of the trends in workplaces, such as … you talked a little bit about these open office designs, we’ve seen a lot with standing desks, the biophilia aspects, bringing plants and nature and more light into the workplace. What do you think about some of these trends in the workplace?
Dak Kopec: I think some of the trends are simply fads and I’m certainly not going to begrudge any organization who wants to make money, but quite frankly I don’t know how some of them can have long term impact. I think the ideas in concept are great, but I don’t know about day-to-day.
When it comes to biophilia, I think we need to have an operational definition; we all need to be in agreement to what biophilia is. If you flood the office space with a bunch of fake plants, is that biophilia? Or, if you just put a bunch of pictures of nature on the wall, is that biophilia? I don’t know. The true spirit of biophilia is bringing the natural world into the built environment, and that means bringing in water features, it means bringing in plant material, it means bringing in rocks and the different types of things you would experience in the natural world, you would have in the built world.
When it comes to things like standing desks, I think that will probably have some longevity because I think people have been standing for quite a long time in their workplace for different reasons, and there is no real unintended outcome that I can see for it, at least, that I foresee, but the standing treadmills and stuff … I don’t know. I can’t walk and chew gum. I certainly can’t walk and type and do a design. Some people can. Will they continue to use them? I don’t know, or will it become another one things where “yeah, I bought a treadmill for Christmas, and I was on it for three months and well, then I hurt my ankle and have never been on it again.” So, I’m not really sure if that is going to have staying power.
Mari Ryan: What are some of the trends that employers should be paying attention to?
Dak Kopec: I think the trends should be placed into the context of business that they do. Again, I go back to contract law, or I go back to budget proposals, or even grant writers. You can’t plug a grant writer or somebody who has to do detailed work in with somebody who has to talk with somebody a lot, like a stockbroker, somebody who is on the phone all the time because you are going to interrupt them.
I think the first thing is that we have to start recognizing what the job functions are, who are the people attracted to that particular job function, and can we provide the environment that will support the person to do their job function effectively? I think that’s what we are starting to see. We are starting to see that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all, and start allowing people to have some of their freedoms to do their job effectively.
Mari Ryan: If our audience wants to learn more about you and the work that you are doing, where can they find out about you?
Dak Kopec: Well, I have a website, and you’ll see, it’s www.dakkopec.com – it’s all one word. I pretty much concentrate in health conditions and individual needs for people. Or, you can go to UNLV’s School of Architecture and you’ll be able to find me there.
Mari Ryan: Excellent. Thanks so much for your time and this conversation, and helping enlighten us about elements of human-centered design. Thanks, Dak, for being here.
Dak Kopec: Thank you for inviting me, it was a pleasure.
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