Looking Outside the Workplace for Inclusive Design

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Chair of the Month

Erika Moody
Erika Moody
Erika Moody, FIIDA, is President of Helix Architecture + Design, a nationally recognized firm with offices in Kansas City and Denver. A proven workplace design leader, Erika’s clients include some of the region’s largest employers. Her commitments to IIDA include serving as IIDA Mid-America Chapter President, IIDA International Vice President, and elevation to Fellowship in 2022.

IIDA’s new International Board President, Erika Moody, highlights the people and places that are shaping the workplace — and the importance of conversations for considerations at every level. 

As commercial architects and designers, ‘What constitutes an exceptional workplace environment?’ is a question that we need to be asking ourselves often. And while it’s essential to be having these conversations within our individual practices and among our peers to push our work, we also need to remember to look outside of our ecosystem for the next big (or small) idea that will spark great design.

At Helix Architecture + Design, we had the opportunity to look inward on our own workplace design for the renovation of our Kansas City headquarters, taking a cross-section of the diverse markets we practice in and what we can glean from each. It involved pulling back from the usual process of workplace planning, and asking ourselves, ‘What do we know about higher education or multifamily residential that applies? And what do we know about community and gathering spaces that apply as well?’

Erika Moody Speaking
Erika speaking at Kansas City Design Week, an annual event for the public and the professional community to interact and experience all areas of design. Photo courtesy of Helix Architecture + Design.

Inspiration from Education Design

The evolution of interior design is a reflection of evolving societal values and aesthetics. In my opinion, some of the brightest ideas for community-forward shared spaces with enduring design can be found at universities and on college campuses. First and foremost, these institutions aren’t jumping on the latest trends in fast design. Instead, they are investing in tradition, excellence, inclusivity and longevity for everything from food courts and cafes to learning hubs and gathering spaces. To inform the work that we do at Helix, I make it a point to speak to college students every chance I get. They are our nextgen workforce and the arbiters of what’s to come.

Inspiration from Residential Design

Post-pandemic, designers were super-focused on what the workplace (and nontraditional work spaces) could learn from residential design — and we learned a lot. During COVID, our homes had to fulfill all kinds of needs, providing a place for work, recreation, dining, studying, etc. Fast forward to 2024, and how the workplace can mirror the comforts and convenience of working from home — or anywhere — is still evolving. The mindset is that we have to switch out our lenses more frequently to bring the future into focus. For example, whenever I’m in a new city, the first thing I do is check out the public spaces where gathering is already happening — libraries, local coffee shops, hotel lobbies; spaces where there is an open invitation to be there. Then I ask myself: ‘What are 17 ways that the layout, the postures of the furnishings, the AV and tech integration, the acoustics, the storytelling, etc., are successfully bringing people together for work and socialization, while elevating these experiences for all?’

Inspiration from Theater Design

During the final stages of a renovation of a theater in Kansas City, Mo., I had the pleasure of speaking with a donor — a wonderfully dynamic woman who also happened to be in a wheelchair. We were discussing our plans for the reno, and I asked her if there was anything she thought we may have overlooked. Her response spoke to a small detail within the grand scheme — and it floored me. She said, “Would it be possible to not have automatic toilet flushers in the bathrooms? I know they are more modern, but for a disabled person in a wheelchair, they keep going off over and over again because getting in and out of my chair sets off the sensor, and it’s really embarrassing for me.”

Helix Erika Moody FIIDA
McCownGordon Construction headquarters was designed to be “the ultimate employee amenity” and is a prime example of architecture and interior design working in an integrated fashion. Photo courtesy of Helix Architecture + Design.

To be gifted with the intimacy of an end user’s perspective can be humbling and eye-opening, and can lead to impactful considerations. And the above exchange never would have transpired had I not slowed down and taken the time to have the conversation in the first place — and made a human connection that created a safe space to speak candidly.

This month, I will be hanging up my hat as a Vice President on IIDA’s International Board and kicking off my new role as International Board President. My goal is to become an even stronger advocate for interior design and its invaluable role in shaping environments that inspire occupants and promote their well-being. More specifically where the workplace is concerned, that means making space for fresh discussions around community, accessibility, authenticity, reuse and resiliency — and spreading that thought leadership far and wide.

Erika Moody IIDA
Erika Moody and the 2023-24 International Board of Directors members at IIDA Annual Meeting 2023; Photo Courtesy of International Interior Design Association.

IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, said it best,

To design for the world, designers and their work must be of the world.

In order to be inclusive and create resilient workplace design, we need to broaden the conversation to include the origin stories of the humans that will (and could be) occupying or adjacent to these spaces, and immerse ourselves in those perspectives. We owe it to every project to crosscheck with users to make sure we aren’t missing something. Because when we open our eyes, ears and hearts to connect and communicate with intention, great things take shape.

Want to hear more from Erika Moody?

This month during NeoCon at THE MART, Chicago (June 10-12, 2024) — Erika Moody, will be sharing her thought leadership across the organization’s two days of impactful programming aimed at bringing the “future of experience” into focus. See the full line up here: IIDA’s NeoCon 2024 programming

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