NeoCon 2014: Designers Offer Different Visions for Health at the Office

Today we continue the conversation we started last week with Chris Andrews, Formaspace VP of Sales and Marketing, and Greg Casey, VP of Engineering and Design, about their observations on important new office furnishing trends at Neocon 2014 in Chicago.


Designer Patricia Urquiola, who collaborated with Haworth over the last two years to bring the Openest Collection by Studio Urquiola to market.
Designer Patricia Urquiola, who collaborated with Haworth over the last two years to bring the Openest Collection by Studio Urquiola to market.


In last week’s article we highlighted the return of privacy in the office, which was exemplified by the collaboration between Susan Cain, best-selling author of Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and Steelcase. Their collaborative efforts, dubbed Susan Cain Quiet Spaces by Steelcase, won the Neocon Editor’s Choice Award for architectural products. Not to be outdone by its competitor, Steelcase’s rival Haworth also brought out the big guns for the Neocon show. Haworth’s new Suite office solution won a Gold award in the case line competition. Like Quiet Spaces, the Suite solution focuses on the importance of privacy in the office.


Haworth's new Suite office solution won a Gold award in the case line competition at Neocon 2014.
Haworth’s new Suite office solution won a Gold award in the case line competition at Neocon 2014.


Haworth pitched their Suite concept in a way that may be a little bit more world-wise (some might say world-weary) with respect to the day-to-day reality of office life — and office politics. Rather than creating special quiet rooms just for getting away from the din of the office bullpen, Haworth’s idea behind the Suite concept is to transform existing single-purpose executive offices into multifunction rooms when the primary occupant is away.

A little backstory: If you’ve been a welcomed guest at a corporate office or have invited guests to your own office facility, you’re sure to recognize how common it is for meetings to take place in executive offices where the executive is either out of town or away for a few hours. This is no doubt due to the fact these offices are usually the most private and most comfortably furnished.

Haworth’s designers recognized this behavior is a thing, and they used this insight to create a convertible concept that allows private work materials, such as confidential reports and computer systems to be locked away into cleverly designed case line wall units and desks. By moving a few panels around, Suite Offices can instantly become meeting rooms, temporary offices for VIPs or even quiet shared spaces for individuals or project teams to work in, all without increasing the office square footage footprint.


Openest Collection by Studio Urquiola

Haworth’s second entry was also a prize winner, bringing home both the coveted #1 prize — Best of Competition — as well as Gold in the Collaborative Collections category. This design concept really caught Chris and Greg’s eye at the show. In fact, it sounds like everyone was talking about the Openest Collection. Even the name, the Openest Collection by Studio Urquiola, is evocative of its Yin and Yang nature: it’s is a furniture concept that is at once both open — for impromptu collaboration — and yet protective, like a nest or cocoon. Its mix and match components: feather, chick, plume and sprig suggest themes you might more freely associate with a spa rather than a race to meet a frenzied 4 p.m. deadline at the office. But that’s the point: the Openest Collection targets the heart of the ‘health and wellness’ trend we observed at Neocon 2014.




Let’s hear from designer Patricia Urquiola, who collaborated with Haworth over the last two years to bring this collection to market. 

In an interview in DesignBoom, Patricia Urquiola observes that several factors are coming together to change the type of furniture we need in an office. She notes while information technology (think large bulky workstations) was once the centerpiece of the office desk, now we have small technology, like iPads, which don’t need much space. Now you can move to the sofa and take your technology in your hand. It’s a much more informal and flexible approach to working today.


Workplace Well-Being

The trend toward creating office spaces that promote well-being has actually been years in the making. A key player in this movement (pardon the pun) is The Center for Active Design —  a New York City-based nonprofit resource for design professionals, real estate developers, community advocates and government policymakers. This group created the highly influential Active Design Guidelines, which were first published by Mayor Bloomberg’s office in New York City.

These guidelines — along with new supplemental additions – provide useful strategies for architects and urban designers to create healthier buildings and urban landscapes that encourage physical activity and well-being, all based on urban planning best practices and current academic research. Download a copy for free (registration required).


Sitting is the New Smoking

A core group of supporters in this movement, including Susan Szenasy, Editor of Metropolis Magazine, and colleagues from Teknion (based in Washington, D.C.) has been promoting these Active Design Guidelines since they were first released in 2010. (Here’s a summary of one of their presentations from last year.) Szenasy and her panelists were out in force again at Neocon, with a seminar titled: “Working Well/Well Being.” The headline-grabbing question posed by the panel chaired by Szenasy: Is sitting the new smoking?

In short, the answer seems to be yes.

More and more, medical researchers are beginning to consider the act (or lack of act rather!) of sitting for long periods on a chair — without changing positions or getting up to move — to be as destructive to your health as smoking. Armed with the idea that sitting for long periods could be as bad for you as smoking, furniture vendors at Neocon were out in force with active furniture designs which promoted movement and activity in the office. Here is a promotional video from Steelcase on the topic:



The Era of Moveable Furniture is Upon Us

As Greg and Chris observed, Neocon 2014 was chockablock full of moveable, reconfigurable seating and work tables that move with you as you change position or even furniture that reconfigures itself throughout the day to encourage (some might say force!) you to change your seating position or even to stand during part of the day. We will take a look at three different vendors and their product lines to give you a broad flavor of what was on offer at Neocon.


Sit-to-Stand by BOLD Furniture

First up is a sit-to-stand table designed by Joey Ruiter for BOLD Furniture; it won a best of Neocon Gold Prize in the category for Tables: Training and Work.




We should take a moment and introduce Joey Ruiter and explain why he’s a natural fit for this new generation of active furniture. First of all Joey is an extremely productive designer — he had THREE designs on display at Neocon for THREE different manufacturers. In addition to his design for BOLD furniture, he also created two conference table designs (Kai and Tesano) for NuCraft and the indoor/outdoor chair ‘Sadie’ for the Grand Rapids Chair Company.

Second, Joey is really a ‘designers’ designer who takes a hand in everything. Case in point is his Growler Bike, which features “C-clamp” design motif for the bike frame, with — wait for it — a built-in holder for those hipster glass “Growler” beer jugs sold at craft breweries. And if a fixie bike that holds 64 ounces of beer doesn’t scream outdoor enthusiast loud enough, you’ll certainly be convinced by his more recent project, which is a high-speed motorized sand buggy designed for Michigan’s dunes. 


BioFit’s MVMT Tall Moveable Seating for Laboratory Settings

Our second movable furniture example comes to us from BioFit. Their new MVMT line of seating is designed for personnel in critical applications, such as clean rooms, static control/ESD environments and laboratory settings.



The ergonomic settings of these MVMT chairs are based on weight activated controls, which BioFit says is new for chairs outside the traditional office environment. The benefit is that the seating configures itself automatically to each individual based upon their weight, which reduces the need to perform adjustment settings during shift changes or in shared offices. As you can see in the video, MVMT seating is very flexible and offers a wide range of motion.


Kinetic Desk by Stir

We saved the most active furniture for last; it’s the Kinetic Desk by Stir. Ex-Apple engineer and CEO of Stir, JP Labrosse, wanted to create furniture that actually moves, engages people and encourages them to change positions throughout the day. In ‘Active Mode’ the desk will remind you to change positions throughout the day via a gentle up and down movement. Check out the video to get an idea of how this works in practice.



See More Neocon Award Winners

Want to see even more? Neocon partnered with Contract Magazine to create a searchable website with all the Neocon furniture entries and award-winners. Hopefully this will inspire you to come up with your own ideas. And as you are thinking about new designs, why don’t you give us a call?

We can manufacture custom desks, workstations, drafting tables and benches built to your exact specifications. It all starts with a call. Give us a ring at 800.251.1505 and we’ll be happy to exchange ideas and talk about how we can work together.


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