Good, Thoughtful Hosts #104: Vibe Mapping with Sandi Rudy and Jennifer Moore

Vibe mapping sounds like a new-age practice, but it’s actually a tool that designers are using to determine where the action happens in a space — and how to better facilitate the tasks at hand. In this episode of Good, Thoughtful Hosts, interior designers Sandi Rudy and Jennifer Moore describe how this human-centered design approach can create office spaces that transition in a way that’s most beneficial to its workers.

About Our Guests
Sandi Rudy is a native Kansan who moved to Austin after earning a degree in interior design from Kansas State University, with a focus on the behavioral impacts of the built environment. She specializes in designing for commercial and higher education settings, and is an expert in space planning. She joined Cushing Terrell in 2013, serves as the firm’s regional head of interior design, and holds LEED ID+C credentials.

Also from Austin, Jennifer Moore attended the Art Institute of Austin (interior design) and joined Cushing Terrell in 2014. Though she’s amassed broad experience, she has developed a specialty in commercial office interior design. Jennifer is inspired and driven by the opportunity to design space and shape experience.

Sandi Rudy
Jennifer Moore
Jennifer Moore

Episode #104 Transcript | Listen on SoundCloud

Sarah Steimer 00:04
You’re probably not alone if you’ve moved into a new home and have needed to totally rearrange everything after living there for a few months. It’s because we often just don’t know how we might use a space. Maybe you put the TV in a spot where there was too much sunshine, and your workspace was in a room where there was not enough. Or maybe you didn’t anticipate that side table interrupting your every attempt to get into the kitchen. I’m Sarah Steimer and on today’s episode of Good, Thoughtful Hosts, we’re talking about vibe mapping at the office. That’s vibe, like V-I-B-E, like good vibes. It sounds like something you’d go to a psychic for, like figuring out your aura or something. But it’s how some designers are figuring out how different spaces are used, and then letting that mood, task, or vibe influence how rooms, furniture, and other components should be located in that area. Vibe mapping is, at its core, a human-based design element, which is often missing in office design in particular. Rather than letting the space dictate the look and feel of the office, it makes the people and their work the central component of the design strategy.

Producer 01:16
Today’s special guests

Sandi Rudy 01:19
Hi, I’m Sandi Rudy. I am a senior interior designer in Austin, Texas, with Cushing Terrell, and I am the regional leader of our interior design group. I’ve been doing commercial interior design in the Austin area for the past 17 years for a variety of large and small clients.

Jennifer Moore 01:36
Hi there. I’m Jennifer Moore. I’m also in the Austin office, Cushing Terrell, and have been working for this company for maybe nine years, and have been working on commercial workspace for most of that time, and excited to be here.

Sarah Steimer 01:55
Well, thank you both for joining me today. I want to start by asking what vibe mapping is in the first place. This is something that I had never heard before. It sounds like something that a hippie would do to you at a music festival. But it is not. So I want you to give me an idea of what vibe mapping is and how you do this in a workplace. Sandi, I’ll toss it to you.

Sandi Rudy 02:17
Yeah, vibe mapping is really a process that we use to identify different work zones. And really in a workspace use that to really create spaces that are adjacent to spaces that both support each other. So within a workspace that, you know, that really goes back to the fundamentals of the building that somebody is looking at. Going into and doing some pretty in-depth site analysis, things like daylighting, or things that we consider in a vibe map. It’s human nature, that people are more active and busy when there’s sunlight. So we want to make sure that we’re putting spaces in those areas that are supported by the natural environment. Air circulation is a huge thing we look at between those spaces. What are the areas where we think people will want to focus? So the whole process of vibe mapping is really an in-depth study, kind of marrying both the building user needs and the building physical conditions, and coming up with this vibe map that we use to kind of guide the program that we’re putting into a space and where all of the elements that somebody might need within that workspace make the most sense on a physical layout, if that makes sense.

Sarah Steimer 03:30
Yeah, so I mean, maybe either of you could speak to this, the first thing that kind of comes to mind, to me, is a little bit of almost like a heat map. So where that action is, but also, like you mentioned, Sandi, it sounds like we’re also using some pre-existing information that we know, which is that daylight helps people work a little bit harder or collaborate a little bit more. So is it sort of taking that external information and combining it with that concept of a heat map in a way?

Sandi Rudy 03:57
Yeah, absolutely. A heat map is a great way to describe it, we do kind of look at it as a heat map or almost an activity level map, knowing that within any built space, whether it’s an office or a school or any other type of space, there are areas where people need to be active, and there are areas where people need to be able to focus. And it’s really about building that continuum of spaces between those so that all of those spaces are supported.

Sarah Steimer 04:23
So Jen, I want to toss it over to you: Tell me a little bit more about what we can kind of do with the information that is captured when we vibe map in an office. So, you know, you find out maybe that there is a lot of action over here. Or maybe we want a little bit less action over there. You know, how do you kind of build out an office design plan based on that vibe map?

Jennifer Moore 04:44
Yeah, so I think the way Sandi described it is almost like a context analysis to begin with. You start to see what parts of the building are more conducive to different types of behavior. So like those focus zones, we know that people really require daylight for sustained work to feel well and productive, but we also know that there can be too much daylight. So glare can be counterproductive, as an example, where the areas in a space are most conducive to daylight, but not such direct light, and then maybe think about those places that do have direct light as more activated social zones, as an example. So you start to kind of understand where the pockets of different spaces lend themselves to different behavior. And then I think we can kind of list out the different programs that a client might need and start to identify which ones are more social, versus which ones are more maybe focus-driven, and kind of the spectrum of spaces between those two, and how adjacencies might be planned. It’s just such a great planning tool to create kind of a gradual organic transition from a buzzy really activated zone to a more focused zone.

Sarah Steimer 06:02
Well, so I want to get a better idea too, because we’re talking a lot about, you know, some of these inputs. So the information that we have about maybe who’s working in the office, or perhaps where we want them to be working collaboratively, or maybe heads down. But what about as the office kind of progresses over time, you know, and in my head, the first thing I’m kind of like picturing is, let’s say there’s carpet and you kind of get a feel for where the carpet’s the most rundown? And then you kind of know where people are moving about. So is this sort of an evolving thing where over time you can kind of take a take a broad look at it, see where maybe you were right? And maybe you need to shift some things? Are you going back? Are you seeing clients wanting to go back and kind of reevaluate maybe where there are different vibes?

Jennifer Moore 06:49
Yeah, I absolutely think so. It’s, it’s a great tool, because it can be used up front for planning, but also analysis of how a space is being used, like you, you’re describing — and Sandi I’d be curious what you think — but I feel like a lot of the tool is deciding where we want to create a really kind of strong separation between spaces and making that a more kind of permanent separation that buffers the workspace from something that would be more distracting, for example. But it’s also about kind of leaving some of the spaces for the users to come in and make it their own. So not being overly prescriptive in every aspect of the whole design, leaving some of those spaces that can be used flexibly and being able to go back and kind of study the way the users uniquely use that space. And then as a result of that observation, we can bring in day two furniture solutions, soft architecture solutions to even further support the way they’re already using it.

Sandi Rudy 07:51
Yeah, and within our office, we do a lot of post-occupancy evaluations to kind of identify those exact things of, is the space being used in the way that we intended it to be used? And I think that, even if it’s not for the specific client that we’re working with, at that moment, we can learn those things from other designs, and employ them on future designs. And so I think there is absolutely the opportunity for spaces, for the users to be able to manipulate to a certain degree. So one of the things you know, when we are saying, you know, here’s this buzzy zone, and a focus zone, and allowing the freedom of the users to help identify exactly how those are used is a great, a great way that we can kind of future-proof the spaces that we’re designing. And there are some things where we know, you know, maybe we’ve identified a main circulation route. And so we do want to create a buffer there that is maybe more permanent. But the things that are on the other side of that buffer might be those spaces where the users over time can say, you know, for our group, we like to use this in this specific way. And so a lot of those times in those in-between spaces, we might see the solution as a furniture solution, because that is something that the users can manipulate and change if they need to work in a different way. And I think that this vibe map really just helps us create those spaces that the user can then be the ones to say, we want it to function in this way.

Sarah Steimer 09:14
So I’m a very visual person, which I don’t know if that makes me like a good or bad podcast host. I want to get an idea of what exactly a vibe map looks like, you know, what is that when you hand that to a client? How do you sort of map that all out for us?

Sandi Rudy 09:31
You mentioned at the beginning that a vibe map sounds like something that a hippie might hand you at a concert or something and sometimes they do end up looking a little bit like a tie-dyed shirt with colors that kind of bleed together and overlap. So on our side, we oftentimes do use colors that people might identify with a certain feeling. So for example, we might use red as the color to indicate the most active zone. Most people identify red as something as you know, flashy and loud. So we might put a red splotch over the area that we feel like is the most active. And then it might start to cool down in colors as you get to the focus areas. So that vibe map, that deliverable that we might give to the client might, it might be a very colorful plan that shows exactly like that heat map that you were talking about before. And then we might overlay that with indications of circulation and an annotation that might call out exactly like here’s an area where we have great views. So we want to put this type of activity within the workspace where there are those great views, this might be an area that’s a little bit shaded and darker in the plan. So maybe we put things like storage or things that don’t need that access to daylight and views in these locations. So it definitely is a beautiful and colorful plan that really creates a tool that we can go back and reference throughout the duration of the project as well.

Jennifer Moore 10:50
Yeah, and I think just to add on a little bit more, I think we hope that it allows our clients to not maybe be so bound by the black and white drawings that we often use and kind of think about this larger strategy of how we might organize a program. Because as we move further into the process, our square footages of different types of spaces will kind of ebb and flow. But it’s a really nice way to get everybody on the same page early on about kind of an overarching strategy for the kind of gradual building and dissipation of activity according to where you are in the building.

Sarah Steimer 11:30
I like that it sort of sounds like it’s a little bit of a more creative look at it, and you don’t feel quite so handcuffed to solutions. It’s, you know, kind of using this map almost as like the aura of the office in a way. And I think that sounds really cool that it allows that flexibility to solutions. So I want to get into now some examples. So Jen, starting with you, if you could give me an idea of a time when you used this. And maybe there are some surprising solutions in there. And you know, really how it worked for the client. And what you learned and how that has progressed moving forward, too.

Jennifer Moore 12:11
I think it’s it’s been such a helpful tool. And we, I think as each project that we deploy it on, we kind of get better at using it early on and using it really strategically. One project that comes to mind was a building that we were doing for a client, it was an eight-story building, and actually the sixth building and a campus all done by the same client, we got brought on just for this last building. And of course, you can imagine after eight buildings that there were some pretty kind of well-worn assumptions about what the design would look like. And over the course of that time, they had evolved their circulation from this kind of like highway loop in their early buildings to a central spine. Of course, that central spine was kind of an upgrade from this highway loop of circulation. It allowed them to kind of create some hierarchy in space. But then when we got to our building, one of the unique things that we did in ours was implement this interconnecting stair up all eight stories, and the placement of it, we knew we wanted to, according to kind of our vibe map, we knew we wanted this stair to be consolidated with a social lounge, a micro kitchen, a library, these things that we know are activated best when they’re kind of harnessed together. So you’re kind of getting that, that bugginess that overflows between each of these spaces. And the vibe map really informed that we couldn’t stick to the circulation they had done on the last building, even though the client was fairly set on that we needed a circulation that responded to where we were kind of creating that harnessed energy in the floor plate. So we did another circulation departure for this last building, but it’s been super successful. And the users are really enjoying the kind of evolution of this last building.

Sarah Steimer 14:11
That sounds great. Sandi, do you have any examples that you want to share? Projects that you used this vibe mapping for? And sort of what the results were?

Sandi Rudy 14:19
Yeah, I think that, honestly, for our own office in Austin, we did a series of shreds with our team to kind of look at the overall layout of the floor plan. And you know, on our team, we have architects, engineers, interior designers, and so everyone was involved in these sessions. And I think one of the most meaningful overlays of this type of vibe map was one of the engineers just kind of drew on the plan with a marker where they would go all throughout the day without, you know, everything that we had kind of identified on this mapping. And it was just simply where they felt like they would walk back and forth during that day which absolutely goes hand in hand with this vibe map: considering circulation, considering the pathways between active and focus spaces. And so what this engineer put together of their day, all the steps that they would take within a day actually made us go back and kind of rethink and say, you know what, we have this active space directly adjacent to a space where people are supposed to be more private and focused. And so, before we finished our plans, we went back and changed the overall orientation, just to make it more palatable to how people needed to interact in those kinds of in-between spaces. So we’ve absolutely had moments on projects where we’ve done this vibe map, and we’ve noticed when something is out of place, and not fitting into that vibe map, and have had to go back and say, Okay, well, why is this function not appropriate in this zone that we currently have it placed in. And I think that our overall office design is much more successful once we made those plan changes and kind of adhered to that vibe map that we had established from the beginning.

Sarah Steimer 16:00
I actually feel like I have a friend who does this with her apartment half the time. She’s rearranged furniture in her place more than anyone else I’ve ever met. But it kind of is always, I feel like she’s good at doing it with the seasons, which here in Chicago, you know, you kind of have to move around with the seasons a little bit. Well, those are most of my questions for you guys. But I wanted to know, is there anything else about vibe mapping that you guys wanted to share today?

Sandi Rudy 16:24
I think that one other kind of element of the vibe maps that we’ve found to be really successful is just the parallel with the idea of ecotones, which ecotones are those in-between spaces where in nature, they really allow for a diverse ecosystem to exist there that might not exist in either of the two adjacent systems. So a lot of times when we’re looking at these vibe maps, the next step is to then look at how it can translate to these ecotones, to create those spaces that are in between that are really successful. And they’re not just kind of an ancillary setting that maybe doesn’t get used. So I think that’s something that, you know, as we progress on developing those vibe maps, looking at it kind of in that ecological framework of how we’re designing spaces, we feel like really creates a successful end product that not only creates a space where the users can function, well, it creates a space where they can really thrive.

Jennifer Moore 17:20
Yeah, absolutely. I think that speaks to just the fact that this is yet another tool that we use to really support this, this larger philosophy of human-centered design, and wanting to create space that our users are as healthy and happy as they can be while they’re there. I think another reason to use this tool is I think you can use it to kind of parallel the level of sensory input you’re giving users along their journey in space. Like Sandi said, those bright red zones, those like heart of the active nucleus zones, it might make sense to provide more sensory input, and really kind of bring people up for those moments where they might have those casual collisions, they might see people they don’t see a lot, they might, you know, be more social than they typically are able to be. But then as they do move back through the office toward their desk, they are allowed to kind of pull back that like sensory input and condition the mind to focus. So our design should kind of also respond in terms of the complexity of finishes, of the kind of the volume of the lighting, of any kind of sensory input, we can also kind of pull that back as they move towards their desks. So you really are conditioning workers to work and feel good once they arrive there — feel ready.

Sarah Steimer 18:51
So really sort of some opportunities then to either maybe energize or downregulate, kind of depending on what the task at hand is. And I mean, that’s so cool. We think about stuff like that for things like you know, walking into a yoga studio, and you get that immediate sense of downregulating or the reverse being true, maybe walking into a really exciting restaurant, and there’s the music and everything. So it’s really kind of setting the tone for the task at hand. Thank you both so much for taking the time to chat with me today. And I’m really tempted to actually just map out my own apartment and try to do this or even anywhere else I can, I can try to make it a little bit more convenient to move about my day and maybe work to my own highest potential. So thank you both. I really appreciate the time.

Sandi Rudy 19:44
Thank you.

Jennifer Moore 19:45
Thank you so much.

Producer 19:54
Music for Good, Thoughtful Hosts was written, produced, and performed by Sam Clapp. Our moderator is Sarah Steimer. Editing by Travis Estvold. And a special thanks to our content development team, Amanda Herzberg and Marni Moore. For more information about the podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

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