KU Design Research Studio: Challenging the Corporate Office Typology

  • Employees are less engaged in highly designed workspaces vs. less-designed "hackable" spaces where users organically form teams and alter the setting.  (A space titled "collaboration room" will not be collaborative!)
  • Workplace designers should create productive — rather than precious — spaces that support the creative process. 
  • Interdisciplinary research and dialogue (like this studio's makeup) can yield a rich process and unexpected results. Gould Evans seeks to embody this approach, exemplified by dGroup.


In 2014, Gould Evans created a multidisciplinary research fellowship studio with six students from the University of Kansas (KU). The team, led by designer Kelly Dreyer, began investigating the role of research in the built environment and challenged an entire typology —the corporate office environment. Recognizing that most corporate office models are outdated, the group examined how space can enhance the 21st-century workplace and how work can then inform the space.


Environments designed specifically for creatives, millennials, and techs resulted in similar outcomes of poor job satisfaction, high turnover, and generally unhealthy environments. Alternatively, work cultures that appeared to flourish were those driven by a more anti-design approach — instead, a user-driven environment. Some of the best design firms often overlook this variable.

The best user-driven examples are environments created from a kit of parts, with the intention to hack. We call this the "Black Box Workplace." Simply, it is a hackable society that bridges the needs between nomads and residents, creatives and techs, boomers and millennials. These environments present unique challenges — such as order and accountability — but, when embraced, measure such factors differently. E.g., outcomes can be measured by efficiency vs. time in the chair.