In 2014 vinyl album sales reached their highest number recorded since the industry started monitoring LP sales in the early nineties. That same year, music streaming services saw an increase of 54 percent (wsj.com). In the years since, both of those markets continue to grow. For example, vinyl is becoming a mainstream medium for pop star releases, and has found shelf space in big chain stores (fortune.com). Additionally, in the first half of 2016 U.S. music streaming revenue grew 57 percent to $1.6 billion and accounted for almost half of industry sales (Bloomberg.com).
This combined consumer trend embraces both analog and digital technologies, and gives insight to an area where the interests of digital natives and non-natives overlap. It’s an example of one of many sources that inform what we do here at PDR as we think about the future of Workplace. We are architects, designers, and consultants who create spaces that connect people in meaningful and productive ways—spaces that inspire people to do their best work and enable businesses to thrive.
To no surprise, these consumers want it all: the experience of owning, handling and listening to vinyl records in the comfort of their homes, and the convenience of accessing any album at any time from their personal devices when they’re out and about. What does this mean for Workplace?
VINYL OWNERSHIP: A HIGH TOUCH EXPERIENCE THAT BUILDS IDENTITY THROUGH CHOICE
The boutique market of vinyl lovers is fueled by something unique and new, but it’s also somewhat familiar as it leverages a long-established technology. Contrary to the original vinyl album market that hit its high point in the 1970s and 80s, the contemporary vinyl album market is digitally savvy and its community is a very millennial crowd: half of vinyl record buyers are under 25 (MusicWatchinc.com). Today’s LP and EP collecting doesn’t eschew digital technology—it embraces it in a “yes, and” type of way. Vinyl record purchases also grant consumers free downloads of the album so they really can take the music anywhere. Collectors also digitally catalog, share their acquisitions, and network with other like-minded people by way of services like discogs.com. The convenience of digital is built into the analog experience.
Vinyl taps into something that MP3s and even CDs can’t compete with: the basic human satisfaction that comes from engaging the senses to create an authentic experience. It’s nostalgic for older generations, it’s a new kind of meaningful experience for digital natives, and it’s an authentic way for both demographics to build personal identity through ownership.
Translating this into Workplace terms, an authentic physical experience paired with a sense of ownership can lead to the types of positive results businesses seek for their most valuable assets, their people. Perhaps it’s attraction and retention of skilled knowledge workers, or the strengthening of individual engagement, or the cohesion of corporate culture. The physical workplace, how it affects our senses, and the rules of engagement within it are a large part of what makes work satisfying. Catering to this basic human condition will not go unnoticed.
Imagine handling a vinyl record. Flip the album over in your hands. Take in the artwork. Slip the record out of the sleeve. Hold it carefully by the edges as you place it on the record player. Softly touch the needle to the grooves. Watch as it turns. Listen to the warm sound of the scratch before the music begins. It’s incredibly satisfying. The process of walking through your reception area, greeting your team, setting up your workstation, or getting a cup of coffee in the break room could tap into that same type of high-fidelity reward. A clear workplace strategy and the elements of design make that level of tactile and meaningful experience possible.
STREAMING MEMBERSHIP: AN ON-DEMAND UNTETHERED AND SEAMLESS EXPERIENCE
Streaming services compete to give individuals quick access to virtually any song from any location. The subscription service bypasses the burden of ownership (who wants to stockpile MP3 files or CD cases?) and creates opportunities for users to socially connect with other members within its vast network. What if Workplace could be just as ubiquitous? What if I told you, it’s on its way there.
The Mobile technology movement, for better or worse, has introduced ways for people to leave the typical office environment and take their work with them. Most knowledge workers already have the tools they need: a smartphone, tablet or laptop, and wi-fi. Like never before, they have an opportunity to build work routines more attuned to their personal and professional schedules. We all catch up on emails while waiting in line for coffee, or occasionally work from home when a child is sick or when the cable decides to go out. More proactive mobile workers take the “work from anywhere” mantra to heart, closing deals from an airport, taking calls while jogging or managing projects from café tables.
Coworking also shares a common thread with streaming services. The term refers to shared workplaces where independent professionals purchase memberships to access workplace facilities outfitted with wi-fi, desks, conference rooms, amenities, and other perks. Members enjoy the benefits of a professional environment while bypassing the financial burden of paying rent for a dedicated commercial workplace they might not even use very often. Coworkers sit side-by-side with professional peers in a free address system. They don’t own anything more than what they walk in with. They use what they need when they need it, and leave free from the responsibility that managing overhead creates.
The open seating and even free address seating are methods of resource sharing that progressive businesses are also using in their workplaces. A growing number of our clients have at least a percentage of open seats built into their workplace plan as a way to encourage connection and to make better use of their space. For example, a plan with a few less closed offices might allow for bench seating, more shared amenities, and larger circulation paths. It’s a far cry from the cubicle days, but just like with streaming technology, not all demographics are natural “early adopters” of this seating system. And just like a good tutorial accompanies a new technology, Change Management can help workers understand the benefits and rationale behind the shift from closed to open, or from owned to shared.
WORKPLACE IS A TECHNOLOGY TOO: PART PRODUCT, PART SERVICE
These music industry consumers want to own what’s satisfying, and shed the clutter. They want to access services and networks, without the inconvenience of maintaining the structures that support them. They want the ability to create a seamless listening experience where they can choose technologies best suited to their activities. And what’s convenient and seamless now is on track to become default and immersive later.
Workplace strategy and design can take a note from trends like this to maintain its utility and relevance, and more importantly, to push the discipline forward. What consumers gravitate toward in the marketplace can inform what businesses tap into to attract and support top knowledge workers. We will continue to track the themes these trends tease out— High-touch, high fidelity experiences, convenience through mobility, identity through ownership, and activity-based choices. They’re on track to become elements of the Workplace mainstream.
Carolyn is a Project Designer and Brand Program Manager for PDR’s Visual Communications Practice. With over 12 years of identity design experience, her range of work exemplifies how a comprehensive approach to design can connect audiences and inspire their actions and behaviors. Carolyn graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Design. She is an active member of the Professional Association for Design (AIGA) and the Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD).