The Experience: It Starts and Ends at the Control Desk

control desk

The campus recreation center has always been intended to be a welcoming place for all students. As schools strive to improve inclusiveness for an increasingly diverse population, it starts and ends at the control desk. It defines the first impression, the last impression, and serves as the informational hub of the entire recreation center. The desk staff touch every user every time they visit. A welcoming, friendly and efficient control desk engages users and feels like a customer service resource, not a security barrier.

1. Focus on people

It is very difficult for staff to truly welcome someone when they are multi-tasking on paperwork, checking people in and scheduling others. Alleviate this by programming the control desk area to focus tasks on customer service. While desk staff needs to do paperwork at some point, be sure they focus on people first – the design and layout can be optimized to facilitate better engagement of the users. Carefully script and program the activities that must occur at the desk only. Designate a nearby area where other related tasks can occur. Keep clutter to a minimum and design the desk to conceal and provide storage for only items needed at the desk – neatness counts.

2. A user-friendly desk

Accessibility standards require the desk to have a low counter service area. When extended beyond the minimum prescribed width, these low areas provide more room for engaging students and present a less imposing image that is not just reserved for those in a wheelchair. This said, lower counters are not as comfortable for everyone or every type of situation. By adding areas with higher writing counters, the desk can accommodate all users and make them feel more comfortable. As a bonus, the higher counters can also create a place to further conceal necessary equipment and papers.

3. Use technology to enhance image

We often think of technology as getting in the way of human interaction and making people feel less welcome; however, proximity card technology has transformed security turnstiles from the imposing barriers they used to be. If you have old physical turnstiles, consider upgrading to a sensor system that allows the initiated and those who do not need assistance at the control desk to enter without engaging desk staff. This allows the staff to spend more time greeting those who choose to stop and who need assistance. A number of solutions can provide various levels of security that are more welcoming and do not feel like an imposing barrier into your rec center.

There is no universal formula for a successful control desk. The needs of every facility vary depending on the resources, staffing and programs offered. The control desk area is critical for security, customer service and daily operation. Understand your needs, put careful thought into planning the details of function and appearance, and maximize its ability to make everyone feel comfortable and welcome. It’s the first impression and the last impression; make sure it reflects who you really are.


By Sal Canciello. He is a principal for S3 Design, an architecture firm dedicated to the design of facilities for recreation and athletics. He can be reached at, 781.848.8804 or by visiting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *