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Accessible design from Reich+Petch for Deloitte’s Montreal office

RGD_RP_Deloitte_1(2)Case Study by Edmund Li RGD, Reich+Petch Design International

In 2015, Deloitte consolidated their existing offices in Montreal to the newly constructed La Tour Deloitte. La Tour Deloitte is the first privately-owned office tower to be built in Montreal in 20 years. Deloitte’s Montreal staff occupies 153,000 sq. ft. spanning seven floors of the 26-storey tower, in a completely agile work environment that required a new, agile approach to wayfinding.
Background

There was no existing relationship between Deloitte and Reich+Petch Design International prior to the Deloitte Wayfinding Project. Prior to being chosen, we were invited to participate in a selection process which included interviews and a written proposal.

This was a completely new design program, started from scratch. Within the seven floors occupied by Deloitte, none of the staff have permanent workstations, desks or offices. Personal belongings are stored in storage cabinets and work-related essentials, including computers, desks, workstations and meeting rooms are available for booking. At the beginning of each workday, each staff member reserves what is needed and finds the current location of their colleagues using software and apps, which are available at designated “check-in kiosks” and on their mobile devices. This unique work environment has created unique challenges for wayfinding and accessibility.

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Wayfinding strategy in an agile work environment that also responds to the bilingual requirements described in the Québec language laws has not been done in the past. There were no precedents to follow.

Project overview

The goal of the project was to develop a comprehensive and accessible wayfinding strategy for all seven floors occupied by Deloitte. The solution needed to bring in a layer of personality, build a sense of community and complete Deloitte’s vision of an engaging and welcoming work environment while also remaining flexible in order to be adopted by future Deloitte offices in Canada. The target audience for the design included Deloitte’s local Montreal staff, Deloitte’s national and international staff who travel to Montreal and visiting clients.

As a wayfinding strategy, the main element is the three-tier (non-overlapping, unique) numbering system which provides “addresses” for office essentials. Workstations, rooms and offices are not assigned within Deloitte’s new agile office environment, which creates a challenge for directional signage. There are no fixed department locations or permanent destinations, making it tricky to navigate the space and find what you’re looking for. As a solution to this, all of the clues to help connect users from A to B are not permanent.
The first tier of the numbering system allows users to identify the workstations, rooms and offices they reserved. These sets of numbers are coordinated with the electronic booking system. We made sure to keep these numbers short to avoid creating confusion. We also provided uniquely different numbers for the three different types of destinations, to make the system more intuitive. By coordinating extensively with Deloitte’s IT department, this system ensures that the numbering integrates with room-booking functions both physically and operationally.

For design, the super-scaled floor numbers are highly visible both at the atrium and at the elevator bay and act as floor-level landmarks. The sculptural design elements push the boundaries between art and design, integrating with the interior architectural elements. The numerals are made from brake-formed aluminum “folded” to reveal the texture behind the physical cutouts. The dimensional treatment combines with negative space to complete the letterform. These oversized numbers are beacons across the workspace. Bright green sculptural arrows incorporated into directional signage echo the approach of the super-scaled floor numbers. The underlying concept of the wayfinding system is to expose the cultural, textural and unique quality of Deloitte. The sculptural numbers and arrows speak to that concept.

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At the very beginning of the project, accessibility was already part of the discussion; an accessible work environment for Deloitte’s new offices was a project requirement. As part of Deloitte’s corporate office development process for their new consolidated offices, an “Inclusive Design Strategy” identified benchmarks for usability and accessibility. This report was provided to the Reich+Petch team by DesignABLE Environments Inc as the guiding document on inclusive design and universal design for our wayfinding strategy. This has become Deloitte’s national strategy and is planned to be implemented for all of its future Canadian offices.

The benchmarks described in this document are based on current inclusive design and universal design standards and guidelines, the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act (AODA), and the Ontario Building Code. Contents of this document include:

  • Overall Inclusive Design Strategy for Deloitte
  • Specific accessibility requirements for: circulation, doors, windows, finishes, lighting, acoustics, air quality, controls, signage, electronic information and visual display systems, wayfinding, public address systems, hazards, emergency planning, stairs, ramps, parking, passenger loading zones, curb ramps, furniture and equipment, etc.

The document also addressed increased space requirements for larger wheelchairs and scooters.

We also went beyond the baseline accessibility requirements and identified not just all rooms, but all workstations and personal storage with tactile lettering and Braille. This allows users of all visual abilities to identify the destinations they reserved to conduct work. As well, the typical wheelchair icon was rendered to create a more independent, “active” visualization of wheelchair users. A forward-thinking client is a distinct advantage when we propose unconventional ideas like this.

Our contract was awarded in December 2014 and the Montreal Deloitte floors were completed in July 2015.

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Process

Research and analysis included:
• Review of Deloitte’s Inclusive Design Strategy
• Review of AODA, ADA and RGD accessibility guidelines
• Review of applicable Québec language laws
• Review of applicable building code

All of our environmental graphic design (EGD) projects, including wayfinding, follow standard architectural stages. The end of each stage is a milestone. Standard stages includes “Schematic Design”, “Design Development” and “Construction Documentation”. This process and related stages were discussed and agreed as part of our written proposal before we were awarded with the contract.

As a key part of the strategy, accessibility was reviewed by the client and their consultants at the end of each milestone stage. Client comments were incorporated into the design, including adjustment of mounting height, colour use, positioning of tactile and Braille elements, message used, etc.

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Fine-tuning the Room ID

Perfecting the edge detail of the acrylic tactile letters during the prototyping stage was a discovery experience. Both the client and the designers physically traced their fingers along the letterform repeatedly to make sure the lettering was not too sharp. It took a number of rounds for us to get the details right.

Creating Brake-formed, Sculptural Level ID

The sculptural numerals were brake-formed, paint-finished aluminum letterforms, “folded” to complete the oversized numerals to identify the floors. The design concept was to “reveal Deloitte culture” through the laser-cut opening or negative space. The positive, sculptural letterform was paint-finished to match the colour of the specific level (each floor was assigned a different colour to help identify the floor) and the texture was painted in Deloitte’s corporate green, representing Deloitte’s unique culture. The original design was more colourful, but the accessibility review showed that multiple colours, when applied on the same letterform, would create difficulty for users in recognizing the letterform, despite the 70% contrast between the numeral and the background provided. The solution was to paint the entire letterform in white and apply a CNC text behind the sign face. As a result, the Deloitte culture is represented in physical texture instead of colour and the oversized sign is accessible to all.

Testing with the Model Office

Deloitte set up a model office environment in its Toronto office, using the new furniture specified for the Montreal office. The model office became our lab to test the models, mock-ups and prototypes before the Montreal office was ready.

Collaboration

The client team was involved throughout the design process. They provided input on what messages should be tactile and in Braille, how messages should be delivered, mounting height in relation to other elements in the built environments (i.e. the electronic booking system and iPad at the door for conference rooms), and coordination with Deloitte’s IT department to ensure consistencies between the technology and physical signs.

DesignABLE Environments developed the Deloitte Inclusive Design Strategy. The strategy was used as a guiding document throughout the project. Deloitte’s in-house design team also contributed to refine and improve the accessibility of the design.

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Accessibility

We believe features such as type size (corresponding to viewing distance), visual contrast, tactile elements and Braille are baseline requirements that must be utilized on every project. For Deloitte, some of the most important accessibility features go beyond the baseline requirements and are invisible:

  • Consistency helps to make navigation intuitive and understandable. All rooms and workstations were chronologically numbered clockwise on every floor, which allows users to easily learn the logic behind the wayfinding system, and to identify their destinations naturally. Zones (A, B, and C) which identify the location of the workstation clusters are applied consistently from floor to floor. Once the user has been on one floor, they can easily adapt to other floors. Sign placements and the location of tactile and Braille elements are also consistent throughout the site. This approach allows users to easily find information, regardless of the type sign and the destination they are looking for.
  • Simple, concise messaging, and the use of pictograms helps to break the barriers of language, age, and cognitive abilities. Both French and English are spoken in Montréal, and with the diversity in Canada, potential clients of Deloitte may speak any language. A full range of custom pictograms were developed to minimize the use of written messages.
  • Tactile lettering and Braille – not just all rooms, but all workstations and personal storage have tactile lettering and Braille. This approach, which goes beyond requirements, allows users to identify key destinations in this agile work environment, regardless of their visual abilities.

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Challenges

In an agile work environment, the key to a smooth workday is to be able to find the office, meeting room, or workstation one has booked and to put away personal belongings at the assigned personal storage units before starting the day. Simply following code requirements for accessibility does not ensure universal access in the innovative agile workplace. We recommended that Deloitte go beyond the code requirements and they supported the suggestion.

Developing an intuitive set of pictograms to minimize the use of written language can be more difficult than it first seems. The back and forth between design, review and redesigning generated some very interesting results. One of the favourites is the “Walking station” – communicating the idea that one is working on a laptop while using a treadmill was harder than expected. “The Quiet Zone” and “Fragrance Free” are other tricky messages to convey with iconography. The fact that where pictograms are used messages are entirely eliminated added to the challenge.

As previously mentioned, the accessibility review showed that multiple colours, when applied on the same letterform would add difficulties for users in recognizing the letterform, despite the fact that contrast between the numeral and the background was provided. Resulting colour and application changes now highlight Deloitte’s culture as physical texture on oversized signs, making them accessible to all.

We originally developed tactile and Braille level identifiers to be incorporated on the handrails along the featured stairwell at the atrium. The design was approved by Deloitte but was not implemented due to time. Although not a requirement, it would have been a great accessibility addition to the wayfinding program.

Deloitte reviewed and modified its accessibility guidelines during the design phase of our project as new information on the design, site conditions, and other elements within the built environment became available. The client will continue to update its accessibility strategy as the wayfinding system is deployed in future sites.

Result

The sophisticated, integrated, accessible and intuitive wayfinding system has been so well received by the client that the program has now become the standard for all Deloitte offices in Canada and will be rolled out to other facilities in the future, including the Canadian Headquarters in Toronto.

Deloitte’s Business Operations team will continue to monitor the accessible features and work with the fabricator on upkeep and maintenance to ensure these features will continue to function for those who need them.
“It is beautiful and the signage program continues to be a statement piece with compliments continuing well after launch.” Peter Stefanovski, Senior Manager, Brand, Marketing & Communications | Corporate Real Estate

Designer Takeaways

  • Form an intuitive wayfinding strategy before jumping to the specifics of design. With a clear and logical framework that everyone can follow, accessibility features can be incorporated easily and naturally, as the system is logical to begin with.
  • Speak to your client early to define the accessibility goals together. The best solution is to develop the most appropriate solutions that reflect the needs of the client. This can only be achieved with an open dialogue.
  • Appreciate the accessibility consultants’ perspective and comments. They help to improve the design and make it more users friendly to a wider range of users.

 

Client Takeaways

  • Initiating an inclusive design discussion and forming a corporate strategy before a major project takes place will help to bring a focus on accessibility to the larger project team. Consult a professional accessibility consultant if there isn’t an expert in-house.
  • Modify the details of the accessibility strategy as the design project evolves. New ideas and new challenges will help to refine the details of the strategy. Treat the guidelines as a living document and continue that dialogue with the staff, design consultants and the accessibility consultants.
  • Enhancement can be developed in the long term, if the current budget or project schedule will not allow for an immediate solution.