Form, Function, and Workflow in Lab Spaces

If ‘Form Follows Function’, then is Designing Good Workflow in Laboratory Spaces important too?  – Yes!

In all that we do as space planners and designers, there is some element of organization to how we do it. In the life sciences industry, there are many steps to performing any given experiment to test the viability of a product. This process is not only regulated by associated industry standards but also helps achieve predictable results in a controlled laboratory environment. A logical conclusion would be that when a laboratory space moves from one location or building to another, the design team should work closely with the lab users to formulate the most efficient workflow for the tasks taking place within it.

This can be done by first understanding the type of experiments and processes being accomplished in the lab. It is best to not assume you understand these processes as you are not the scientist performing the work every day. Instead, ask the lab users how they perform their work and ask insightful questions about how some processes could be combined for better efficiency. They may tell you it cannot be changed, which is also important information to understand what will and will not work for their lab. This process also helps to promote thoughtful review of current workflow to hopefully inspire new thoughts on how a more efficient way could benefit their work. Remember the lab users know what is best for their specific tasks, however, a designer can provide space planning ideas that may not have been thought of in the past. A collaborative communication process with new thoughts and ideas from a different perspective can help establish new methods for better workflow.

In most cases, there is equipment identified as obsolete or no longer needed to perform the work. Lab moves are ideal times to reassess the needs of all equipment in the space and to plan for new equipment integration. This is like spring cleaning your house and deciding it’s time for a garage sale to purge unwanted items. The process allows you to see an underutilized space and imagine how it can become a better organized and useful part of your home (or laboratory in this case). This analogy is the same for any work environment. A designer can not only enhance the aesthetics of the workspace but also help to formulate a better workflow within any given space.

Designers never assume there is only one way to solve a problem. Instead, we approach it with an open mind about how to best fit the needs of users. This is usually a vacillating process that establishes options for consideration and review. It typically sparks dialogue about how lab work is performed and what if any flexibility there is to perform a specific task.

Ergonomic considerations are an important aspect of design as well in both laboratory and personal workstation spaces. Adjustability is key to user comfort and efficiency. In most cases lab benches, stools, and computers with monitor arms and keyboard trays have built-in flexibility to allow personal adjustment for everyone using the space.  Common bench heights may be best for most users, but the lab equipment may require something different. Understanding both and finding a viable solution is key to efficient workflow in a lab. An ergonomic assessment is best to meet each user’s specific workspace needs as well.

In conclusion, designing a good workflow in laboratory spaces is key to supporting efficient procedures and minimizing the number of steps needed to complete any given task. Understanding users’ needs and designing spaces that incorporate improved workflow and functionality improve efficiency. If all this is achieved, then you will have continued success with satisfied lab users.

Do you have a lab, healthcare, or other corporate space that needs a workflow overhaul? Click here to connect with us today about your goals and needs.

Written by Bob Guindon