Designing for the Information Age

Designers routinely work with specialists to integrate specialised technical solutions within their projects. In the new digital age, another type of consultant, specialising in networking, telecommunications, audio/visual (A/V) systems, etc., is hired more often. Sophisticated ICT (information and communication technologies) bases become essential elements in buildings for employing “converged” networks that merge data and voice traffic. Indeed, the tie between ICT and design is becoming so intimate that sometimes technology becomes the actual design.

Many clients are said to prefer high-tech components as an expression of symbolic aestheticism. More knowledgable clients are said to expect hardware and software blended into the overall design for operational efficiency and reducing the expense of future upgrades and retrofits.

The challenge of finding a consultant with up-to-date credentials is compounded by the pace of innovation coupled with a lack of standards for implementation. Communications technology evolves so quickly that few guidelines or case histories of similar projects exist. Therefore, designers and ICT consultants, cooperating usually over uncharted grounds, must be able to distinguish performance requirements correctly and articulate novel solutions to make the most of technology investments.

As buildings incorporate videoconferencing and other communications techniques that require sending a lot of data over the wires in real time, designers are forced to consider adding ancillary spaces to accommodate the variety of equipment needed. Depending on the project’s size, a building may need a full-blown multimedia control room where technicians can monitor equipment and adjust camera angles and sound levels. Designers may also include several smaller communications rooms throughout a building during programming – an expansion of the old telephone closets – to house racks of servers and communications hardware.

Accommodating these needs takes forethought. Early collaboration also addresses the importance technology holds for clients. In this respect, specialists can also help designers see into the future.

ICT specialists normally put performance above aesthetics, while designers are naturally disinclined to endorse such bias. Material selection is often a bone of contention. For example, glass and ceramic surfaces in videoconferencing rooms would be quite unsuitable. Such rooms would turn out to be little more than echo chambers.

It should be underlined that designing for the information age is more elaborately intertwined with information technology than it is currently appreciated or the above examples imply. The rapid change of work and leisure habits induced by new ICT equipment and networking indicates that traditionally accepted design standards of human behaviour and needs can no longer be taken for granted per se. It is getting more difficult to distinguish offices from homes and homes from multimedia leisure outlets. Furthermore, ever increasing amount of work and/or leisure activities are expected to be performed in transit.

Developing novel design techniques satisfactorily accommodating all such changes is first and foremost a question of the degree of social acceptance of the newly emerging features of the Knowledge Society. In this connection, perceptive and cultural traits of clients and end-users will play a significantly prerequisite role.