Performance Architecture: Design for a Better World

From museum quality works of art to clothing, company logos, the layout and formatting of training materials, to how a business process is conceived and structured—all these forms of design are intriguing. So much so that Roger and Carol look for opportunities to investigate design in new venues and bring what we learn to share with our readers.

Our colleague Lynn Kearny, who accompanied us on our latest design adventure, joins us here to help relate what we learned. But first, some background…

Genesis of Performance Architecture

About 20 years ago Roger was introduced to a series of travel books developed by a communications and design company called TheUnderstandingBusiness (TUB). The design of these books was particularly traveler-friendly so Roger called TUB to learn more about their work. He discovered that Mark Johnson, the company's President and Creative Director, was an architect who applied design principles from his field to a variety of written materials for businesses.

Roger and Mark met to discuss analysis, design, implementation and feedback in their respective fields and found many commonalities. Among the collaborations that resulted was a model that represented the intersection of their two fields called Performance Architecture. Articles, presentations, our book Performance Architecture – The Art and Science of Improving Organizations, this Column, and other Performance Architecture work followed.

So, what is a Performance Architect? Someone who finds “…ways to improve work performance so targets are reached…using models and tools to develop and streamline best work practices for optimal results.” To this we can add: someone who imagines, designs, and creates a better world (Autodesk website).

What is Autodesk?

In this our fourth Column on design, we immerse ourselves in the latest technological explorations of an array of elegant and practical designs for a better world created by users of Autodesk software.

Fig. 1 Autodesk Book

Autodesk is headquartered in San Rafael, California, with other offices worldwide. They make software for 3D design, engineering, and entertainment. The software helps users imagine, design, and create products. The software is offered in suites for:

  • Architecture, Structural Engineering
  • Media and Entertainment
  • Product Design and Manufacturing

Forward thinking designers use Autodesk software to make lasting contributions to society. These include such diverse works as innovative bridge designs, prosthetic limbs, incubator solutions for newborns, and other examples of brilliant answers to challenges for our world.

We visited the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco to see firsthand the wide variety of designs and finished products that have been produced by visionary designers in many fields.

Autodesk Gallery Visit

Fig. 2 Organic Car and Virtual

Fig. 2 Organic Car and Virtual Authors

The Gallery is filled with examples of brilliant designs that became or soon will be: sustainable bridges and buildings, products to solve challenges in the developing world, shoes and clothing, films, sculpture, an organic car that grows from seed, and even a dinosaur made of Legos.

Many prototypes are on view for large construction projects, saving time, cutting costs, and enabling extensive testing before building begins.

To a Performance Architect, design means the solution's look-and-feel, accessibility, adaptability, ease-of-use, alignment with the Worker, Work, and Workplace, and cultural compatibility within the organization. Performance Architects know, from painful experience, that a well-designed solution can make the difference between desired results and dismal failure. Preparation on the front-end will pay off in success on the back-end.

As we toured the Gallery, we were struck by the strong connections between designing for sustainability and the betterment of the world and the Organizational Levels we introduced in our Walk on the Performance Side series of columns. While the Autodesk software suites encourage the design of products that improve lives around the world—a Level 4 World/Society application—the individual solutions we saw each speak directly to one or more of the four organizational levels:

  • Level 1 – Worker/Individual
  • Level 2 – Work/Process
  • Level 3 – Workplace/Organization
  • Level 4 – World/Society

Design is a process, after all, and the processes used to create the projects we saw captivated us.

Project Examples

We saw so many wonderful projects on our visit that it is difficult to choose only a few to share here. Some that you will learn about are more recent than those displayed on the current Gallery website.

Level 1 – Worker/Individual

There is an interesting range of items developed for individuals and teams using Product Design and Manufacturing software. We saw a handsome athletic shoe designed to optimize speed and spring for an athlete.

The Gallery shows how a shoe was engineered for the feet and running style of a specific athlete, allowing him to play longer with greater energy and less fatigue than mass-produced shoes. It also helped the player and his team by reducing the chance of injury. Coupling the software with 3-D

Fig. 3 Custom Athletic Shoe

Fig. 3 Custom Athletic Shoe

printing makes it possible to produce customized shoes for each athlete on a top team.

There were prosthetic legs for different purposes too, allowing an amputee to have different prostheses for walking, competitive sports; even an elegant silver filigree leg with a high heel for a woman's formal party wear.

Still in the world of sports, Autodesk software has been used to design surfboards and mountaineering equipment – surely two of the most individual sports. One of us has done mountaineering in the past and is intimately familiar with the ice ax. A new Black ergonomic ice ax designed by Black Diamond using Autodesk software is lighter, stronger, safer, and easier to use than any ax available when she was climbing.

Leaving sports, we turned to office furnishings for individuals. Herman Miller used Product Design software to develop the beautiful and ergonomic Mirra workstation chair. It is a sustainable product, using recycled material and is completely recyclable after its useful life.

Level 2 – Work/Process

As we like to emphasize, design is a process, and software acts to improve that process as well as the development and prototyping that follow. All Autodesk software suites are processes in themselves, improving the process of design and construction of entertainment, products, buildings, bridges, and traffic systems.

The Gallery displayed many examples including the modeling of large-scale processes as they were being designed. ADEPT Airmotive used the software to speed their aircraft engine design process, producing an innovative and sustainable engine design more quickly and with fewer prototypes.

Moving from the realm of preparation to application, a highly concrete process in the world of construction is demolition of existing structures: something that is often dangerous. The nuclear industry, for example, must rely on remote controlled robots to do much demolition work as old reactors are repaired, replaced or decommissioned.

Fig. 4 Brokk Mfg. Remote Demolition Machine

Fig. 4 Brokk Mfg. Remote Demolition Machine

Brokk Manufacturing used Autodesk software to design a small lightweight and highly maneuverable machine for work in tight spaces, for this industry and others with similar demands.

Level 3 – Workplace/Organization

The Product Design and Manufacturing and the Media and Entertainment Suites can improve the performance of an organization as a whole: designing innovative and profitable products from shoes to movies, thereby increasing the organization's competitiveness. The examples above, ADEPT and Brokk Manufacturing, were both able to produce highly competitive products more efficiently. You will find that a truly well-conceived project has payoffs at more than one level: in this case, both Levels 2 and 3 for one piece of software.

Fig. 5 Autodesk Elevator

Fig. 5 Autodesk Elevator

The Architecture, Engineering, Construction suites target the physical plant of an organization, with better layouts and greater efficiency, designing safe elevators to whisk people where they need to go, enabling greener buildings with lower costs.

One of the most impressive projects featured in the Gallery is the Shanghai Tower in China designed by Gensler Architects of San Francisco. The second highest building in the world as we go to press, it features an inner tower and an outer glass skin, with retail, office and residential spaces interspersed with nine indoor “public space” layers functioning as green parks with cafes, shops and views of the city.

The building's graceful twisting shape helps it cope with monsoon winds, and it incorporates many sustainable features. The tower is arguably a city within the city, providing as much as any city does for its residents. This is another example of a good design serving at least two levels: both Level 3 Workplace/Organization and Level 4 World/Society.

Fig. 6 Shanghai Tower

Fig. 6 Shanghai Tower

Level 4 – World/Society

Many of the projects displayed in the Gallery, as you've read, have a positive impact on the world and society, because they use sustainable materials and designs that reduce energy consumption and emissions and incorporate many other green elements.

Fig. 7 Bay Bridge

Fig. 7 Bay Bridge

On a more specific level, one project involved a seismically engineered and a beautiful new bridge to replace an 80-year-old earthquake damaged one crossing San Francisco Bay. The project was able to produce time and physical structure predictions that not only enabled construction companies to bid on building it, but once construction began, helped communicate status to the Bay Area community.

3-D visualizations were broadcast on TV, the Internet, and in local theaters showing the public road changes to expect as the building progressed. This was critical in gaining community acceptance and cooperation, since the Bay Bridge is the most heavily used commuter bottleneck in the Bay Area. As we three Bay Area residents can attest, it is a gorgeous bridge.

Fig. 8 Movie Wall

Fig. 8 Movie Wall

Art and culture is served by Autodesk software, too. We saw numerous examples of sculptures created using AutoCAD programs. Most familiar are animated and 3-D movie environments. We saw samples by Sony and other entertainment industry players.

Call to Action

Fig. 9 Maker Space

Fig. 9 Maker Space

The Autodesk Gallery contains a Makers' lab space where 3-D printers and laptops are available for makers to use for their projects.

So, are you inspired?

  • On what organizational levels does your employer produce its products and services?
  • How does your organization position itself for Level 4 contributions?
  • What processes do you use or develop in support of your organization's activities?
  • On which levels do you work?
  • If your work contributions and/or your organization's focus do not include Level 4 products, services, or goals, what can you do to broaden the thinking in your workplace?
  • Do you have a process in development that you'd like to test? What tools might help you?


With widespread conversation about climate change, sustainability, reuse of materials, buying local, and other consciousness raising topics, we joined the dialog with our own investigation into how to design for a better world.

Along the way we provided a brief history of the term Performance Architecture, and visited a place that celebrates the innovation of things that can make all our lives better: The Autodesk Gallery in downtown San Francisco.

As we once again explore the nature of design as process, we find numbers of exhibits—designs, prototypes, and fully realized products. All are carefully created to meet challenges, invite acceptance, and look attractive.


Addison, R. and Haig, C. (2010, April). The case for horizontal oversight. BPTrends. Retrieved from

Addison, R. and Haig, C. (2014, September). The well-designed process. BPTrends. Retrieved from

Addison, R., Haig, C., Kearny, L. (2009). Performance architecture: The art and science of improving organizations. San Francisco, CA. Pfeiffer.

Autodesk ginformation card (2013).

Ronsen, M. (2016, June). Interview: Pairing design education and architecture: Linda Keane. Autodesk Design Academy. Retrieved from

Roger Addison, Carol Haig, and Lynn Kearny

Roger Addison has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from Baylor and is Certified in Performance Improvement Technologies (CPT). He is the co-author of Performance Architecture and an internationally respected performance improvement consultant. He is the founder and Chief Performance Officer of Addison Consulting. Previously he was the Senior Director of Human Performance Improvement for the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) where he was responsible for educational programs and implementing performance improvement systems. Carol Haig is a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) and has more than 30 years of multi-industry experience partnering with organizations to improve their employees' performance. Carol is known for her superior skills in project management, analysis and problem/opportunity identification, and instructional design and facilitation. She has consulted with executives and line managers, established and managed training departments, trained trainers, written for professional publications and mentored performance consultants. She is co-author of Performance Architecture. Lynn Kearny is a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT) with wide experience assessing organizational needs, designing, and developing performance improvement solutions. Lynn has a broad and effective toolbox of facilitation techniques for training and organizational meetings. She is noted for strong skills in graphic recording, visual explanations and illustration. Her graphics communicate complex and abstract ideas in a clear, memorable way. She has published five books on performance and graphics, including co-authoring Performance Architecture - The Art and Science of Improving Organizations.

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