What can workplace design learn from makerspaces in educational environments? (Part 1)

July 9, 2018

How a benchmarking study helps us educate workplace clients on makerspaces and ultimately assess culture and growth strategies


By Julie Zitter and Sharon Steinberg

A makerspace is a collaborative work area for people to share ideas, equipment, and knowledge, most often associated with the education industry. Through Stantec’s Research and Benchmarking program, we recently conducted a benchmarking study across the US on makerspaces in educational environments and revealed beneficial findings for both education and workplace environments. This will be the first blog in a series on what educational institutions and commercial workplace design can learn from each other.

Meet our workplace experts in Texas who helped with this benchmarking study:

  • Julie Zitter: Registered interior designer with more than 20 years of experience and expertise in workplace interiors, higher education, and functionally-designed spaces.
  • Sharon Steinberg: Principal architect with two decades of experience in brand-driven interior architecture for a variety of building types, including academic, corporate, and institutional.


The recent addition to Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, created a Research + Design center for new teaching methodologies to be experienced.


Q: Why is researching makerspaces important?

Julie: Although the makerspaces movement has been agile since the early 2000s, it has been infiltrating multiple markets more heavily as the movement gains traction. Whether you’re in education or corporate markets, having awareness of this movement helps us help our clients.

_q_tweetable:In the same way students tour campuses to assess what facilities will benefit their educational experiences, our workforce is now touring workspace to make the same assessment._q_The makerspaces movement has created a buzz, but it means different things to different people. As designers, we create spaces that respond to needs. However, some clients aren’t sure what they need and end up reacting to trends. Through our research, we can help our clients understand how to make their makerspace the most useful for their needs and not just to satisfy trends.  


Q: What did you find from the benchmarking study?

Julie: Our visits concentrated on spaces at higher education institutions. Our research highlighted glorified work rooms, “shops,” tinker rooms, open labs, and upgraded conference rooms.

As teaching methods evolve, so do the space types where content is being taught. Emerging technology and more group work to apply learned knowledge is giving way to new space types. Every student absorbs content differently, so institutions are now specifying a variety of seating types and making furniture “electric” to ensure they can stay fully charged and connected on their electronic devices.

We witnessed and learned that institutions need to be savvier in creating spaces for people to gather, share content, and produce tangible solutions. As a result, they are renovating existing spaces or building brand new buildings that reflect this new space type. Users rely on their own research; however, the design team should be a thought leader as well.


The first generation of Jacobs Hall at the University of California, Berkeley. 


What is the connection between the education environment and the workplace environment?

Julie: The connection of these markets is twofold: 1) Institutions want to create spaces that mimic workplace environments that students will transition to after school. They want spaces that evoke a sense of place just like corporate offices do. 2) Like any market, attracting and retaining top talent is crucial. Users want spaces that are progressive and forward-thinking just like the teaching and researching that occurs at higher education institutions. The space, as a result, becomes the recruiting tool.

Sharon: We have students matriculating every day and graduating “up” to vanilla office space in some cases. Our commercial clients can learn a lot from the great success our educational clients have seen with these fun, creative makerspaces. This is not to say that we’ll lose traditional private offices and meeting spaces—it is to suggest that we provide a wider variety of spaces to stimulate intellectual creativity. In the same way students tour campuses to assess what facilities will benefit their educational experiences, our workforce is now touring workspace to make the same assessment, and our clients don’t want to miss out on the best-and-brightest in their recruiting and retention strategy.


Q: What are the biggest takeaways from the study that can be repurposed for workplace?

Julie: Most corporate workplaces probably won’t include the makerspace examples we researched, however, our research helps us understand the types of spaces educators/students are coming from and how that impacts the work environment they will join. After all, everyone wants top talent and spaces that illicit the best outcome. Our top takeaways are:

  1. Providing enough space to store building materials was a common pitfall.
  2. Avoid millwork; staying nimble and flexible allows for space/ teaching strategies to be reactive.
  3. Because of the everchanging environment, help users create rules of space to keep it looking tidy and useful for all-learning types.


The renovated Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, commonly known as the d.school.


Q: How do these findings impact your recommendations for clients?

Sharon: Benchmarking is an amazing tool for educating our clients on makerspaces—that’s where we start. We need to provide a context for where they stand currently with their workspace amongst their competitors, help them assess (with the assistance of their human resources department quite often) whether that is in alignment with their culture and growth strategies, and suggest programmed spaces that make sense from a financial and a cultural model in their new space. Most companies don’t have the luxury to build out spaces and consistently modify them over time to suit the trends. Our goal is to provide a makerspace that is easily adaptable with moveable furnishings and adequate infrastructure to accommodate a variety of potential options. With the right planning, a prototype building space today could just as easily be a team-building chef’s kitchen tomorrow.

The next blog in this series will be a back-to-school edition on what higher education clients can learn from commercial workplace design when implementing new models of administrative space.


About the authors

Julie Zitter is a registered interior designer with more than 20 years of experience in a variety of building types. Known for her expertise in workplace interiors, higher education, and functionally-designed spaces, Julie leads programming, visioning sessions, and furniture selection and specification.

Sharon Steinberg brings nearly two decades of experience in brand-driven interior architecture in a variety of building types, including academic, corporate, and institutional. Sharon views design through a broader lens of real estate strategy and uses this perspective to assist clients in all stages of the process.


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