Originally published in the October 1998 issue of:

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Getting to Acceptance

by Barry McKinnon

of Mc2Systems Design Group

Unfortunately the laws of physics are much less flexible than rules of design and aesthetics...

The stages of technological acceptance refer to the people that are embracing the technology...

Anyone who has worked with the architectural profession over the years will already know the difficulty that can be found in integrating technical systems into a space. Very often the sound systems and video display systems end up becoming quite a prominent architectural statement since they must be located where they can effectively cover the people for intelligibility, or in the case of video displays, they have to be located so that the display can be seen by all the people present. These locations have often been at odds with the architectural vision of the designer. Unfortunately the laws of physics are much less flexible than rules of design and aesthetics (no matter what it is they seem to teach in architecture school), so it often comes down to a technological struggle. What used to be a battle of the Titans is becoming more of a minor skirmish as there is more technological awareness in the architectural community and more aesthetic awareness finding its way into the technological community. Awareness is a major step towards acceptance.

Most everyone is familiar with the 5 stages of getting to acceptance as it is applied to grief and loss. Those stages are: Denial and Isolation; Anger; Bargaining; Depression; and finally Acceptance. It doesn't take a vivid imagination to see that they are very similar to the process of getting sound and video systems properly located in a building.

Denial and Isolation: You tell the architect that in order to get minimally acceptable performance from the sound and video systems that the client has requested they must be this big and they must be located here and here. That isn't possible, those are areas reserved for key architectural elements and there is no possible way that these systems can be located in this fashion, some alternate approach must be pursued. They point to areas behind solid objects or behind the audience and indicate that they would like to see them located over there out of sight. You point out that it is hard to see video images if you can't see the screens. You also point out that sound doesn't travel around corners.

Anger: The more facts you bring to the discussion to indicate the physical impossibility of accommodating the designated locations, the shorter the architect's temper gets. They stop taking your calls.

Bargaining: A week later they have cooled down and they begin to negotiate on the location of the technical systems. Some ground is given or taken, and various options are explored, if the client is present they may side with either the architect or the consultant, and depending on who's driving the program, things may proceed smoothly or very badly. Negotiating aesthetic treatment of the systems or the finishes that hide the systems is often the best approach to a successful Bargaining stage.

Depression: Depending on how well the last stage went, this may either apply to the consultant or the architect. Either way memos usually indicate misgivings about the outcome of the Bargaining session. They are rarely cheerful memos.

Acceptance: Again depending how the Bargaining stage went, this may be Acceptance of the proper location of systems to achieve the performance requested by the client, or it may be the client accepting the fact that they won't get the performance that they originally asked for, and they are accepting that compromise. In the latter case the consultant then proceeds through the 5 stages of acceptance of grief and loss, and will already plan on not adding this project to their resume.

Ok, so the metaphor is just a slight stretch as indicated in that mostly humorous depiction (or is that just denial talking?). There are actually several stages of technological acceptance and those have had, and are having an impact on the interface between architects and systems consultants. The stages of technological acceptance refer to the people that are embracing the technology: the inventors; the early adopters; the pragmatists; the conservatives and the Luddites. The acceptance of technology takes longer as you go down the list, down to the very last one on the list who are still using their hammers to "hit any key to continue". Geoffrey Moore of the Regis McKenna ad agency in Silicon Valley wrote an article in Harvard Business in 1991 where he proposed that the distribution of people along that list fit the bell curve so that the largest group of people fit into the pragmatists category, and that seems to be borne out by empirical observation. That is one aspect of acceptance.

Over the past 8-10 years, both computer and audio/visual technology have been offering glimpses of the future that was more and more Jetsons like, and both the designers and the facility owners have had visions of how very cool things could be implemented. Ten years ago, these very cool ideas were pretty much limited to big budget operations like NASA, theme parks or museums with big technical budgets because of the scarcity and expense of the hardware to implement the ideas. Five years ago, the cost and availability of specialized hardware like high brightness video projectors and the like was improving, although there were still some significant performance limitations. Now both computer and display technology is rocketing along, to the point where a product cycle does not take a year to elapse now. This is a pretty close parallel to an observation by another guy named Moore (Gordon Moore from Intel) who stated that computer processor power doubled every 18 months. What this means is that we have reached a point in the evolution of audio and video technology that allows ready access to affordable devices of adequate performance to implement the ideas of dreamers, and that situation is improving steadily. This also means that hardware for more mundane applications is also becoming a commodity item and not something reserved for NASA. This is another aspect of acceptance.

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The next and largest group in the bell curve are the pragmatists...

...we're certainly seeing more interest being taken by the architects in tasteful integration of the audio and video systems...

If we go back to the stages of technological acceptance, we can see that the 'cool factor' of high tech audio and visual systems was first embraced by the inventors and early adopters as it hits the streets, so facilities developed by and for those groups will always be full of leading edge applications, and the design teams that are lucky enough to be working with those groups will always be exposed to the latest technology. That represents a fairly small percentage of the facilities being developed and constructed around the world. There are many architectural firms that do specialize in museums, theme parks or high profile retail (like Nike) and will be fully versed in the integration of sound and video systems with new buildings. They have realized the potential and the purpose behind these applications and expect to provide true architectural integration of the systems with the facility.

The next and largest group in the bell curve are the pragmatists. These are the "I'm from Missouri" group, the people that are saying "show me", they need to be shown the value of embracing technology. This would include educational institutions and governments that have to justify budget expenditures when budgets are getting tighter, as well as more main stream corporate organizations who are looking to reap some of the benefits of this advanced technology. This is a large market segment, and likely where the industry will see the biggest sales over the next few years.

Within this market segment will be the universities that have had a few early adopters that have implemented video projection for class support materials, and perhaps are even showing class notes that are on the faculty web site in class as a basis for the lesson structure. Now we'll begin to see a wider cross section of departments and faculty find benefits to using this type of technology, and more classrooms will be modified or renovated to include video and audio support. The same thing is happening in governments as well, as computer networks become ubiquitous, and applications distributed over intranets become truly useful, then large scale implementation of computer based display and presentation will replace more conventional technology in dedicated meeting and presentation rooms (my hunch is that there will always be overhead projectors in small meeting rooms). As more people are exposed to mass market technology such as the web and the internet, it becomes less exotic and more mainstream. As the pragmatists accept computer technology (the jury is still out on whether all the technology is actually useful or usable, but that's a different story), then more facilities will be built to accommodate it, and more architects will be incorporating it as part of the facility and not as an afterthought.

Only a few years ago, most architects still thought of audio/visual equipment as something that a vendor would bring in once the room was complete, so they'd design the room, build it, turn it over to the client and say 'so long'. The local A/V contractor would come in and then often have to struggle to achieve reasonable performance in the face of poor viewing and lighting conditions. As the clients got to the point where they were redoing rooms or doing a second room, they would tell the architect that some advance consideration would need to be given to the A/V system, so the architect would talk to a contractor and get some ideas for sizes and where things went, and semi-incorporate it into the space, but usually as a lower priority to finishes, room shape, and location of windows. Now we are finally seeing both the clients and architects looking for direction on the incorporation of audio and video systems from the outset, and designing the facilities to accommodate the systems.

With the advent of web browser based internet/intranet based presentations, the required screen size has grown significantly over the old requirement for standard video, so the designers are having to incorporate larger screens in the spaces. But they're rising to the challenge, and we're certainly seeing more interest being taken by the architects in tasteful integration of the audio and video systems, rather than just hiding them somewhere. There's also more demand for aesthetic choices of visible equipment, and reasonable justification for slightly more expensive systems if they will look better or be easier to incorporate into the room design.

While the inventors and early adopters are busy delivering new challenges to architects who regularly work on the leading edge of A/V integration, in the form of full 3D VRML display and simulation, holography, 3D sound fields and the like, more architects (by percentage) are going to be working with the converted pragmatists who will be incorporating commodity type A/V systems into their new and renovated facilities. And because the pragmatists want good value for their money, the design team will be working towards delivering good performance through good integration of the systems into the room design. As the clients, consultants and architects weather the Depression stage of this integration process, we'll see increasing acceptance of A/V systems as a normal part of the cycle of life of facilities.

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