This Cube is Mine – Social Design Advice from Herman Miller

Man those Herman Miller chairs are pricy; you can plunk down a grand, easy.  What’s this Herman guy doing with all that green?  Is he chillin’ in a suite at the Vegas Bellagio, stripped down to his undies, rolling around in a pile of cash like Demi Moore in “Indecent Proposal?”  Well it turns out, that money funds some interesting research.  Not just ergonomics, but social interactions among coworkers and how they’re affected by the spaces they work in – a potentially valuable resource for UXA’s seeking research on social media design.

The world asks UX designers to justify everything we believe with research, but lets face it; social media research is both scant and anecdotally fixated on the example of Facebook.  Offering limitless promise, social experience design (SxD) demands more than man machine user experience.  Consider the issue of user privacy in a social media context.  That seems to piss everyone off.  Realistically, where can we find research?  If one translates by analogy, Herman Miller’s workplace privacy research can help.

In a nutshell, what we loosely call privacy flows from our instinctual territoriality; our desire to win, own, and control personal territory.  In fact, we perceive owning territory as our ability to control the territory far more than the barriers that define its boarders.  If anyone can enter or do whatever they wish, how is it my territory?  Thus our SENSE of privacy is subtle and complex, influenced by many factors.

The right to personalize a cube with decorations or adjusting lighting levels for example, grants a greater feeling of privacy than an enclosed office.  Working within a large team confers privacy due to a feeling of personal anonymity.  Constant interruptions (in person or electronically) erode privacy as does unexpected eye contact.  It doesn’t matter so much if our fictional Herman Miller owns the suite at the Bellagio, but rather that the hotel is large, the lights have a dimmer switch, and the maid doesn’t barge in when Herman’s in the shower.

If your UX department is anything like Sears, at least once a month, designers and architects gather (in cafeterias, at coffee machines, and water coolers) to light-heartedly toss groin shots at Facebook’s UX.

Let’s shine these insights on Facebook’s long-suffering privacy strategies.  On the plus side, there’s Facebook’s new timeline approach to the wall.  My wall looks different than your wall, because it’s mine dammit.  I can decorate it as I wish.  Strangely, this confers a sense of privacy, as does my ability to ‘hide’ any Facebook friend suddenly suffering a radical spiritual realignment they feel compelled to discus for say, a year or so.

On the dark side, violating my desire for territorial control, Facebook insists on sharing everything I click with my friends.  The anonymity of crowds shields me from concern about what the world knows of me.  Whatever site I visit is just another outlier on the scatterplot.  But do I want friends and family to know that yesterday, in a moment of frailty and doubt, I clicked on an article titled, “Sharon Doherty’s struggles with Botox” (don’t look that up, I’m making a point) or for grandma to contemplate my weekly visit to

Simply defaulting information to share, rather than not share, combined with Facebook’s restricted group model, together trick my ape brain to believe that neighboring tribes have violated my territory.  It’s not what Facebook knows about me, but their determination to enter my domain – to participate, with clumsy determination, in my personal relationships, that violates my sense of privacy.  Maybe Facebook should’ve listened to Herman Miller.  Stay out of my cube and stay away from my tribe.  By the way, Herman Miller has a Facebook page.  Yesterday, it featured ads for the Gillette “Mach 3 Razor” and the Facebook game “Empires.”

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One Response to “This Cube is Mine – Social Design Advice from Herman Miller”

  1. bethany lankin →
    July 9, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    I loved reading this article. Well done. Your, “The Herman, The Maid, and The Shower” analogy was excellent.