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Designing for the Future of Work

Posted in journal

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In December of last year, Jacknife facilitated a workshop in collaboration with The School of Communications, Media, Arts and Design at Centennial College. The event brought together students, faculty and industry experts to explore how The School could best prepare its graduates for the future of work and inform multidisciplinary programming. We were being proactive and planning ahead in what we believed to be a period of “unprecedented change at the hands of automation”. 

But how do you plan ahead for the unimaginable? How do you find your footing in a constant state of uncertainty? How do you create safe, productive and enjoyable pandemic-ready workplaces? And what does this all mean when designing for business?

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of new ways of working across all industries. As organizations head toward recovery and chart new paths forward, key trends are emerging from their recent experiences and learnings. We’ve rounded up a few of them here:



Both physical and mental wellbeing have been challenged by the events of 2020. As people continue to collectively cope and openly share their feelings, we’re seeing a rise in prioritized compassion. Brands are choosing empathy over execution and leaders are more conscious of how they communicate to their audiences—both internally and externally. From colour palettes to tone of voice, how can design prompts be used to convey empathy and trust?



COVID-19 is driving profound societal and organizational shifts, many of which are happening behind the scenes as resilient businesses clarify processes and reframe product offerings. For instance, Jacknife client KitchenMate—who design self-serve meal kiosks specifically for workplaces—have taken a systems approach to address risks at every step of their supply chain to ensure employees feel safe eating at work when they return. How can design help rethink new servicing opportunities?



From mobile partition systems to ‘on/off offices’ that share flexible leases, physical workspaces are being reimagined. But what about people who will continue to work from home? Luke Pearson of UK furniture designers Pearson Lloyd isn’t convinced that many domestic set-ups are viable long-term, predicting that “new furniture typologies and ways of dividing space flexibly” will be required to meet the needs of a modern home office. How can multi-functional spaces be designed to blend work with home?



The way we move through public spaces has changed. A well-designed approach is paramount to clearly communicating guidelines and encouraging safe behaviour. ​Another one of our clients, iQ Offices, recently put this into action through the release of their ​safety awareness initiative: Safety Aware. The operational plan clearly outlines ‘Five Foundations of Safety’ to help their members navigate their spaces and reduce risk. They’ve also released a Hybrid Work Style Guide to assist other businesses facing similar challenges. How can design language be used as a tool to communicate, educate and instruct?


Evident in these examples, COVID-19 continues to force organizations to change the way they work towards outcomes. Shifting from polished final outputs to rapidly tested, modified and iterated prototypes, the power of design is helping organizations improvise, adapt and leverage new opportunities like never before. While the future of work is still a work-in-progress and will look different for everyone, we’re confident that design as a discipline is best suited to iterate and imagine solutions for what lies ahead—whatever that may be.


Emotional Vulnerability: Coping with Crisis – WGSN / The New Normal – Fast Company Webinar / Returning to work in the future of work – Deloitte / What will the post-pandemic workplace look like for creatives? – The Spaces

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