Sunday, February 9, 2014

Windows With Unintended Views - The Need to Engage Key Stakeholders Using Multiple Methods

Not only do designers need to engage as many different stakeholder groups as possible to give them a voice, but they need to do it using multiple methods – interviews, observations and surveys (after occupancy as well as before). This typically results in insights that wouldn’t have been gained from using only one or two methods, including insights into unintended consequences. And one-on-one interviews in context often jog memories about issues as well as provide opportunities for occupants to share thoughts they might not in a group.

In this New Mexico elementary school, teachers had mixed feelings regarding the small, low windows in the classrooms, and its likely that many of the following concerns were weighed during the planning/design process. Some found the windows distracting to class activities, while others felt that a view to the outside was important for students. One teacher felt that the outside view of playground activities and the valley below important as the views provided a number of learning opportunities. Others liked the light from the smaller windows, and the fact that blinds allowed the teachers to control the views.  Several teachers commented that the vertical blinds didn't work well.

However, it is likely that the following unintended consequence wasn’t addressed during the planning/design phases, and the only way to learn about it was by engaging the teachers in a post occupancy evaluation or ethnographic exercise of some type. While out on the playground, one teacher related that the size and placement of the windows was unfortunate, as they framed adult bodies in an unflattering way that generated rude comments from older students inside the classrooms.  As a result, staff, particularly female staff, felt that they had to be particularly aware of body placement in their classrooms as well when they were outside near the building. This distracted from the learning process in a number of ways (including providing an avenue for the expression of disrespectful behavior among some students), and it was suggested that slightly larger windows would have solved the problem. 

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