Meeting Thing

We took on the challenge of designing our ‘living space’  we wanted to design something that was functional before it was beautiful a space that would put function above form.

Umuzi is Home

It’s a place that provides opportunity.  It’s where we learn, laugh, and grow. We share this space with friends new and old.  We are a community that has cemented itself into the futures of those around us. We live here together, and we call this place home…UMUZI.

We took on the challenge of designing our ‘living space’  we wanted to design something that was functional before it was beautiful a space that would put function above form.

The Challenge

To Rethink meetings in a manner that best represented the ever changing requirements of Umuzi and for what a meeting needed to be. Are we brainstorming? Presenting? Working? Are we three? or twenty-three? The typical meeting room was no longer adequate to respond to these varying needs.  We needed to provide a system that allows us to define what the space needs to be; as opposed to the workspace dictating what can happen in it. To make a space that “lives”, a space that can adapt and change according to users and their ever-changing needs.

Our role

Our role as designers was to create a simple set of variable seating and working configurations that would allow users to choose what they did with a space. We needed to reflect and continually test our insights and assumptions to ensure the end users’ best interests where still being addressed.  In this manner, we acted as designers as well as mediators of a human centered design process to get to an end product.

Our Process

Using a Human Centered Design process in a #makeUMUZIbetter design sprint we discovered that meeting spaces are a critical aspect of our everyday lives. We needed to find a better way to satisfy our need for getting  together and sharing a common space.

Empathy

We may have been designing for ourselves but we could not assume anything. We needed to consider everyone, all people at Umuzi, observe them, get to know them, ask them, see things from their point of view.

What is the problem

We defined our objectives by generating a list of problem statements based on the insights we gathered from our interviews.  We ranked them in order of importance and realistic means of addressing.

So, How Might We...

  1. How might we enable the ability to accommodate different size meetings.
  2. Make the space multifunctional.
  3. Include facilities for communication like Pin Boards, Whiteboards, etc
  4. Create a sound regulated space.
  5. Make the space more Contained and private.
  6. Ensure the end product takes up a small area.

Ideate, ideate, ideate.

We brainstormed various options from partition walls on wheels, to wall hung standing desks that could fold away. Continually testing our insights and assumptions to ensure that we are still designing for the user.

Our current design includes many design cues from older ideas and iterations.

Prototype

We made 3D Models of the best solution and built a working prototype.

With the prototype we where able to test our assumptions and make improvements to our design and manufacturing process. We could make sure that the design worked, that the design was practical and we could work out resource requirements for future units.

The Solution. Meeting Thing.

I got your back.

The back to back seating arrangement means that we can maximise the way we use space by providing workspaces  and meetings adjacent to one another.

Meeting size requirements

The fixed bench on the wall allowed us to create the variable meeting sizes which we desired by moving the units further or closer apart.

I am because you are.

Each unit works in relation to the other, creating a modular system that could be replicated on any wall at Umuzi.  

Shhhhh, sorry makhe...

To deal with noise, we introduced screens between each unit. In the screens we upcycled noise insulation ceiling boards to absorb as much or the sound as possible so adjacent meetings do not become disruptive. The screens are the 1.8m high which visually isolates each meeting space from the next when inside or walking next to it. 

,and to add to that

We used peg board as the finish to allow the sound be absorbed by the ceiling board inside as well as to double up the function of the surface. Using peg board clips, we could use the surface to display notes, show artwork or additional whiteboards to the meeting space.  

How it's made

The units are constructed with materials based on the availability of skills in our community as well as there durability.  We used steel to construct the frames and implored the skills of bab’ Miyandu a Nduna at Jeppe Hostel. To weld it. We used hollow steel squares to keep the units relatively light and mobile while maintaining strength.

After our first prototype, we used smaller sections as we realised the steel was overkill and reducing the size would not affect the structure.

Wood to finish

We decided to use wood as the finish as it is robust and warm to the touch. It is, we think, a more human friendly furnish. This was important to us, as this is where the user and the object physically interact.

 The decision of using wood pushed us to evaluate the size of the units.  Because wood comes in standard cut sizes, we determined measurements of the units to these standards. An example of this would be the length of the unit –  2440mm- as that is the longest length of standard wood boards. Any longer and we would have needed joins, any shorter and we would have waste from off cuts.

Meeting Thing

The final design is minimalist in its appearance while highly practical in addressing the needs of the user we closely aligned our product to.  Because of it’s modular application, there is potential for this unit to address similar constraints around meeting space in corporate office spaces.  Meeting Thing may appeal to the rapidly emerging market of coworking spaces due to its simplicity of application and low initial investment costs.  


The materials and skills used are widely available all over south africa.  Manufacturing requires little up-skilling making it a model that could be easily replicable anywhere in the country.  A series of different design options could be provided allowing user specific variations.

Win win

In the making of our unit, we were able to engage with various stakeholders in the Umuzi community (design) and the local Jeppestown community (manufacture).  

Meeting Thing’ encapsulates an idea that an object can represent more that its designer or itself.  In the manner that an object is created and used, people can benefit, networks can be made and problems be addressed.  
We believe Meeting Thing is a success, not by the presence of the object itself, but by the people it embodies and serves.