Developing Design Principles, Bringing Inclusive Design to the Harkin Institute

Senator Tom Harkin served in the US (United States) Senate for 40 years, championing disability rights, wellness, and nutrition amongst many issues. Inspired by the challenges his deaf brother experienced, Senator Tom Harkin’s signature legislation was the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. 

Today, the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University now serves as a leading institution for advancing social justice and equity. When it came time to choose a design partner to collaborate alongside their architectural firm, the Harkin Institute chose design firm BNIM to design the new center. Herman Miller was then chosen as a furniture partner because of the organization’s commitment to creating more inclusive environments through their product offering. 

Herman Miller has done extensive research into the best practices around universal design, which emphasizes the need for deeper involvement of a broad and diverse group of stakeholders in the design process. By creating workplaces that reinforce belonging, they unlock the potential of an organization’s most important investment: its people.  

Led by BNIM, in collaboration with the Harkin Institute and Herman Miller, four guiding principles were developed to organize inclusive design strategies for the new Harkin Center’s building and site design.  Herman Miller then applied those tenets—generous space, equitable experiences, clear path, and individual empowerment—to its furniture strategy. The Harkin Center is now uniquely constructed to go beyond universal design to be truly inclusive. 

By applying the four principles, MillerKnoll, BNIM architects and leaders from The Harkin Institute were able to thoughtfully organize strategies for furniture product selections, as well as designs for the building itself. Products such as the NaughtOne Always Lounge chair with a high back allowing for privacy and bright colors chosen to provide high contrast with flooring were chosen to help those with limited visual acuity safely visualize the front edge of the chair when sitting. In addition, a variety of products were chosen, sized, and specified to accommodate different body types, a range of ages and varied abilities. 

Further Reading & Listening: 

  • To learn more about MillerKnoll’s work with The Harkin Institute, you can view our project profile here
  • Design considerations for The Harkin Institute have been published by the lead architectural firm, BNIM, and are available here
  • To read our peer-reviewed paper from the CRE Journal on practical considerations for creating inclusive and impactful places of work, please click here.
  • For a conversational introduction to inclusive design, check out MillerKnoll’s podcast, Looking Forward (Season 2, Ep. 7) with Joseph White, director of design strategy for MillerKnoll.