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We're having the wrong conversations about open plan

By Riley Flanigan - posted Friday, 8 November 2019

Designers need to advocate for the right balance of spaces

Scaling the lessons of Deep Work to the workplace is not without resisting factors. As a general principle, designating separate space for Deep Work will reduce the amount of workers per square metre, and tying vague and intangible improvements in productivity to design can be a tough sell. Sweatshop-style Open Plan does however appear to be more common than it ought to be, and certain industries could be suffering needlessly as a result.

If a profession's core output demands Deep Work (like journalism), the importance of spaces that enable Deep Work has to be paramount in the mind of the client. In the research phase of the design process, analysis should reflect how much of the workforce's time is engaged in complex tasks, with strategies advocating accordingly. In this way, responsibility for the overprescription of Open Plan falls on the shoulders of designers for failing to push for a more nuanced balance of sanctuary spaces.


Whatever the right balance is, it is self-evident that the New York Times shouldn't have the same floor plan as a Nike Factory. Creatives shouldn't be forced to leave the office to brainstorm. Writers shouldn't need construction-grade headphones and an Adderall addiction to do their job.

For what it's worth, I wrote this at home.

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About the Author

Riley Flanigan is an Australian urban designer and freelance writer with an emphasis on finding common threads between urban planning, political, cultural and economic policy matters. In addition to writing opinion pieces, he finds creative expression in standup comedy, performing in clubs and bars around Brisbane.

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