Part 2: What are the 2014 Visual Design Trends in Furniture & Interior Design?

We Continue this Week with Part 2 of Our Survey of 2014 Visual Design Trends in Office Furnishings and Interiors

Here’s a quick recap of Part OneInternational Design is back with a vengeance. It’s everywhere. Its spare design language is characterized by flat rectangular panels laid out in balanced, asymmetrical patterns. The panels themselves are typically finished in solid colors or with natural wood grain. The strong vertical and horizontal division lines are typically made with extruded aluminum trim, steel frames or natural wood with a contrasting finish.

We also looked at how designers, like Studio Jobs, winner of Best Wallcovering Award at ICFF 2014, are using graphically intensive wallpaper patterns to draw a strong contrast to the solid panels of the International Style. (Think classic Morris and Co. arts and crafts wallpaper on acid!) Another design house that we didn’t mention last week is Flavor Paper. Their new line of Andy Warhol screen print wallpaper is very pop; it uses bold colors with metallic papers to create large supergraphics in intense colors.

 

Graphical Wallpapers are Not the Only Game in Town. Tile is Also Making a Strong Comeback this Year, with a 3-D Twist.

Three vendors at this year’s international design shows had standout products which could change your mind about the importance of using tile.

 

Vancouver-based Keiou Design Lab exhibited unique room dividers and wall surface treatments made from organic shaped three-dimensional tile elements.
Vancouver-based Keiou Design Lab exhibited unique room dividers and wall surface treatments made from organic shaped three-dimensional tile elements.

 

First up is Vancouver-based Keiou Design Lab. At ICFF they introduced visually arresting wall panel and room divider systems. The designs are highly organic and sensual, yet they can coexist with other design elements in the International Style.

 

Oso Industries' new Aperiodix Wall Tile System is based on just six three-dimensional tiles, yet they let you create an infinite variety of compelling, non-repeating layouts.
Oso Industries’ new Aperiodix Wall Tile System is based on just six three-dimensional tiles, yet they let you create an infinite variety of compelling, non-repeating layouts.

 

The second vendor with a three-dimensional tile offering is Oso Industries, with their Aperiodix Wall Tile System. If you’re a mathematician, you probably already guessed that product name Aperiodix is a play on the term ‘aperiodic’, a term-of-art for non-repeating patterns. The overall effect reminds one of Islamic architecture, and in fact that was the intent of one of the designers, Eric Weil. Amazingly, there are only six different tile forms, but with just these six you can create an infinite variety of patterns. That’s the inherent beauty of this system. Made of cast concrete, it’s also an ideal choice for wet environments.

 

The new 'Mark' line of tile from Atlas Concorde creates a subtle three dimensional effect of light and shadow.
The new ‘Mark’ line of tile from Atlas Concorde creates a subtle three dimensional effect of light and shadow.

 

The third tile vendor which caught our attention this year is Atlas Concorde. Compared to Keiou Design Lab’s wildly organic three dimensional tiles, the new ‘Mark’ line from Atlas Concorde is rather subtle. Its slightly raised tile elements provide a nice highlight reveal and shadow effect. It’s a very fresh look that stands in contrast to the subway tile and small glass mosaic walls that now seem to be everywhere.

 

Lattice Design Motifs and Perforated Metal Makes a Comeback

A couple weeks ago, when we considered the top five design constraints that influence furniture and interior design, we talked about how furniture and interior furnishings manufacturers are under a lot of pressure to come up with designs that can disassemble into flat pack boxes for lower cost shipping and warehousing. We don’t know if it’s the chicken or the egg, but latticework has become a dominant design motif. Is this because many latticework designs can be broken down into small individual components, which can in turn ship in flat pack containers? Quite possibly.

 

We saw lots of lattice design motifs at this year's international design shows, especially in lighting fixtures. Shown are Global Lighting's Mesh Cubic GM pendant lamp (left) and the Titus Drum Light from Metropolis Factory.
We saw lots of lattice design motifs at this year’s international design shows, especially in lighting fixtures. Shown are Global Lighting’s Mesh Cubic GM pendant lamp (left) and the Titus Drum Light from Metropolis Factory.

 

A great deal of the lighting fixtures we’ve seen at this year’s series of international design shows fit with this new lattice design trend. On trend materials include bent metal wire and rod, elaborately perforated metal details, and even small wooden blocks tied together to create large sculptural forms. Above left is an example from Global Lighting, with their Mesh Cubic GM pendant lamp. On the right is the Titus Drum Light from Metropolis Factory; its dramatic shade is perforated metal.

 

Yes, Design Can be Exotic and Still Fit Into a Flat Pack!

While these two examples have a very symmetrical, machine-made look, there’s another 2014 Visual Design Trend: lattice design patterns taken from natural organic shapes. Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, the two famous design brothers based in Paris, have long been a proponent of this natural lattice trend, dating back to their Algue (algae in French) room divider designs (introduced in 2004).

The Bouroullec Brothers’ design collection was front and center at Vitra’s Neocon 2014 exhibit, including their ground-breaking Vegetal design for stackable plastic seating (introduced in 2008). If you enjoy animation, it’s worth your time to look at this beautiful video which, without speaking a word, tells the story of the design inspiration for the Vegetal chair.

 

 

Trends in Contemporary Chair Design: Curves, Curves, Curves

As we turn our attention toward the major trends in chair design for 2014, we have to congratulate North Carolina-based Bernhardt Design on their 125th anniversary.  As part of their celebration, the company commissioned several world-class designers to build their new chair collection. We’ll take a look at two of the designs here.

 

Formaspace-Noe-Duchaufour-Lawrance-Harper-Rocking-Chair

 

First up is Noé Duchaufour-Lawrance, with his breathtaking modern interpretation of the classic Windsor rocking chair. This design, called Harper, neatly incorporates the lattice design motifs we touched upon earlier as well as the dominant theme for high-end chair design in 2014: compound organic curves constructed from hardwoods.

 

Formaspace-Anne-by-Ross-Lovegrove-for-Bernhardt-Design-ICFF-2014

 

The second designer commissioned by Bernhardt Design is Ross Lovegrove, known to some as Captain Organic — for his steadfast minimalistic designs inspired by nature. (You might enjoy viewing a Ted Talk by Ross Lovegrove where he talks about organic design inspiration.) His newest chair design, Anne, is an instant classic and made quite a splash at ICFF. Crafting these organic shapes into well-made working furniture is not an easy task. Attendees at ICFF took note of the craftsmanship and design on exhibit by Studio Dunn.

We think you might enjoy this short video presentation from this Providence, Rhode Island-based company, which gives you an idea about the painstaking attention to detail that goes into creating these highly-prized pieces of heirloom furniture.

 

2014 Has Been a Breakout Year for Art Center Graduate Austin Yang

 

Formaspace-Austin-Yang-Grace-Chair-ICFF-2014

 

Austin Yang, a recent graduate of Art Center in Pasadena, won the ICFF 2014 Award for Seating for his Grace Chair. According to Yang, these strong yet sensual curves were inspired by fashion — both from men’s tuxedos and women’s backless dresses.

 

Reissue of Classic Mid-Century Modern Chair Designs

With all this attention focused on organic chair designs with a Mid-Century Modern vibe, it’s no wonder many major chair manufacturers, like Vitra, have opened up their back catalogs and reissued many classic chair designs. For example, Fritz Hanzen has re-issued The Drop chair, a classic 1958 design by Arne Jacobsen. Interestingly, when they decided to go back into production, neither the original tooling nor the original source engineering drawings were available — so the product team had to ‘reengineer’ the design using modern CAD tools. We think you’ll enjoy viewing a short film about how they re-made the design.

 

 

Are You Inspired Yet?

We hope so. In fact, we’re also hoping you’ll be inspired to call us at 800.251.1505 and tell us about your next interior design remodel, new facility construction or factory expansion. Formaspace has the manufacturing and design capability to build your next set of office computer workstations, desks, laboratory workbenches or custom conference tables — all built with top-notch quality materials in our American factory here in Austin. That’s why we can offer a 12 Year Guarantee on our products. Why not give us a call today?

 

2014 Visual Design Trends in Furniture & Interior Design

What are the 2014 Visual Design Trends in Furniture and Interior Design?

This week we’d like to build on our analysis of the top design constraints that influence furniture and interior design in 2014 by conducting a broad survey of the key design trends in office furniture and interiors that we’ve identified at this year’s international design shows, including the Milan Design Week, Dwell on Design in Los Angeles, Neocon in Chicago, and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) held earlier this year in New York.

 

Richard Meier: Back to the Beach After 50 Years

New York is a great place to start our discussion. It’s been over 50 years since modernist architect Richard Meier designed his first residential commission, the Lambert House situated on the fragile Atlantic Coast of Long Island. This archetypical, spare modernist beach house, like many other well-known modernist beach house designs built in that time period, such as those by Andrew Geller, strongly influenced the prefab modernist house movement that we’ve experienced over the last decade. And this design trend continues as part of the current ‘small house’ movement, whose scope has recently expanded to include building smaller outbuildings and offices behind residential structures. Heck you can even see these pioneering beach house designs replicated in urban chicken coops!

 

Richard Meier's iconic 1961 Lambert House on Fire Island New York contrasts with his 2014 commission for a new beach house design constructed in glass and steel in the International Style.
Richard Meier’s iconic 1961 Lambert House on Fire Island New York contrasts with his 2014 commission for a new beach house design constructed in glass and steel in the International Style.

 

So it was with great interest that we read a major New York Times article this week about Richard Meier returning to his roots and building a new beach house for a new century. Clearly the International Style dominates this new design; smooth planar surfaces and acres of glass framed in steel create a strong horizontal and vertical emphasis.

Despite it’s unlikely setting on a beach, this new Meier design also seems to capture the zeitgeist of what is happening in contemporary office interior design as well. Using the terminology of landscape designers, these planar surfaces of glass and solid materials, all framed in metal, form the underlying hardscape upon which interior designers can add furnishings and decorative elements to achieve a modernist International Style design. In sum, this is the core design trend for 2014.

As evidence of this trend, compare the Meier design with one of the award-winning office designs at Neocon in Chicago: Susan Cain Quiet Spaces by Steelcase. (You can read more about the philosophy behind Susan Cain’s work in our article Neocon 2014 Brings Back Privacy to the Office Environment.)

 

Susan Cain Quiet Spaces by Steelcase shown at Neocon 2014 in Chicago harken back to the days of private offices. The office concepts are clearly drawn from the International Style branch of Mid-Century Modern design.
Susan Cain Quiet Spaces by Steelcase shown at Neocon 2014 in Chicago harken back to the days of private offices. The office concepts are clearly drawn from the International Style branch of Mid-Century Modern design.

 

You won’t just see this trend in high office towers, you’ll see it in business class passenger jet accommodations– those flying offices in the sky. Air New Zealand, which has been re-branding itself with the nation’s soccer club ‘Black’ theme, has taken note of this ‘International Design’ panel and framing design motif, which you can see here in the cocktail bar design for their new, black-clad carbon-graphite Boeing 787-900s.

 

Many business travelers consider airplanes to be an extension of their office. A distinctive design element on Air New Zealand's new fleet of all-black Boeing 787-900s is the passenger cocktail bar. Its sleek black panels, separated by aluminum frames, are in keeping with the International Style.
Many business travelers consider airplanes to be an extension of their office. A distinctive design element on Air New Zealand’s new fleet of all-black Boeing 787-900s is the passenger cocktail bar. Its sleek black panels, separated by aluminum frames, are in keeping with the International Style.

 

Design Detail Efforts Go Into Fittings and Hardware

With its unwritten rules designed to achieve an airy balance of design purity, the International Style can strike some as the basis for some rather spare — some might even say ‘institutional’ — environments. So how are contemporary designers creating some relief from what some may view as a fairly rigid, Teutonic design formula? The answer: Design is in the details.

At all the major design shows this year, there was a very strong trend toward emphasizing detailed design elements in otherwise utilitarian parts, like handles, pulls, brackets, connectors and locks. The design emphasis comes in three categories: the first is using relatively precious materials such as brass or gold-plated metals for the hardware. (We note the term precious is a relative one, but here we can safely say brass is more precious than MDF…)

The second category is selecting unusual, non-traditional materials which you would never expect to see in furniture design. And the third category is exceptional craftsmanship or at least an honest attempt to make it look like it was hand-crafted. (Now is a good time to avoid thinking about ‘artisanal hand-crafted’ cappuccinos at your local Starbucks)

 

Formaspace-Apparatusstudio-Lariat-Horse-Hair-Sconce

 

Two wall sconces from Apparatus Studio making their debut at ICFF illustrate this design trend. On the left, their Horsehair Wall Sconce uses a very unexpected material (horsehair) as part of its handmade look-and-feel. On the right, Apparatus Studio’s teardrop Lariat design uses old-fashioned metal braided cabling to enclose the electrical wiring  —  and in case you didn’t notice it — it’s looped around the fitting one extra time just to add a little bit of look-at-me emphasis.

 

Patterns on Cloth or Wallpaper Only Please

Another strong trend in evidence at this year’s furniture and interior design shows was the segregation of graphic patterns from solid materials. The new unwritten rule is patterns can only appear in designated accent areas: on perforated metal, wire mesh, upholstery cloth or tiled surfaces for example. The exception to the rule is wall treatments; printed supergraphics are now all the rage on wallpaper and mirrored surfaces.

 

Studio Jobs once again struck gold in its collaboration with the Dutch brand NLXL by winning the Best Wallcovering Award at ICFF 2014. Graphically intense wall paper and Trompe-l’œil supergraphics are back; providing strong contrast to the International Style's traditional reliance on steel, glass, solid color panels and natural wood surface finishes.
Studio Jobs once again struck gold in its collaboration with the Dutch brand NLXL by winning the Best Wallcovering Award at ICFF 2014. Graphically intense wall paper and Trompe-l’œil supergraphics are back; providing strong contrast to the International Style’s traditional reliance on steel, glass, solid color panels and natural wood surface finishes.

 

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, here are two examples to illustrate the current trends:

  • Furniture legs on chairs are structural! They have to show what they are made of, so they can’t be covered in pattern! Natural legs only! (The exception to the rule is when chairs aren’t meant to look like chairs. We’ll discuss this next week in part two of this article.)
  • Mirrored surfaces (what we used to call ‘mirrors’) are now a prime candidate for patterns. Key design trend: build up multiple layers of glass printed with supergraphics and sandwich them on top of mirrored surfaces. (Tip: You may need to get a regular mirror to see yourself.)

Confused yet? When in doubt, just remember all planar furniture surfaces need to have their natural surfaces (like wood grain) either be exposed or painted with solid color treatments to achieve that sleek International Style look. Thinking back to last week’s article about the design constraints facing today’s designers, supergraphics on wallpaper make a lot of sense. It’s the ultimate flat-pack product.

Supergraphic wallpaper also adds lot of graphical interest to otherwise bare loft-style office spaces — without requiring a large investment in expensive architectural details or leasehold improvements. 2014 also saw a return of Trompe-l’œil wallpaper for whimsical effect. Check out these humorous collector wallpapers found inside the new Air New Zealand Boeing 787–900s we mentioned earlier. A collection of butterflies and of books (with slyly crafted fake names and titles) adds just the right note of humor to the tight confines of an on-board aircraft lavatory.

 

Supergraphics are back in vogue. Here humorous trompe-l'œil details printed on the wallboard panels aboard the Air New Zealand lavatory provide a welcome distraction from an otherwise uncomfortable claustrophobic environment.
Supergraphics are back in vogue. Here humorous trompe-l’œil details printed on the wallboard panels aboard the Air New Zealand lavatory provide a welcome distraction from an otherwise uncomfortable claustrophobic environment.

 

Formaspace Can Help You With Your Interior Spaces

height adjustable office furniture suite
Height Adjustable Office Furniture Suite

We will conclude our survey of 2014’s top design trends in office furnishings and interiors next week. We’ll be taking a look at some unique Islamic-inspired tile designs, the widespread reintroduction of classic 1950s chair furniture lines and how designers are using lattice design motifs to create interesting organic shapes and forms — but still can be shipped and stored in flat-pack boxes.

In the meantime, if these top design trends are giving you some inspiration, why not call us at  800.251.1505 or contact a dedicated Design Consultant and let us know what you are thinking. We’d love to hear what design projects you have in mind. We can build a bespoke conference table, workbench or executive desk that will be the signature showpiece in your office or residence.

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.

 

Haworth-Openest

 

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.

 

BOLD-furniture

 

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.

Neocon 2014 Brings Back Privacy to the Office Environment

Chris Andrews, Formaspace VP of Sales and Marketing, and Greg Casey, Formaspace VP of Engineering and Design, have just returned from the annual National Exposition of Contract Furnishing show — more commonly known as Neocon — which has been held each year since 1969 at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago.

 

With attendance north of 50,000 people and typically more than 1000 exhibitors participating, Neocon is by far the largest trade show for contract furniture and commercial furnishings held in the USA.
With attendance north of 50,000 people and typically more than 1000 exhibitors participating, Neocon is by far the largest trade show for contract furniture and commercial furnishings held in the USA.

 

We asked Chris and Greg to weigh in on the top two office furniture design trends on display at Neocon:

  • The first trend Chris and Greg observed is a more nuanced, refined approach to promoting collaboration between employees in the office.

What’s new about this? The key breakthrough is designers have rediscovered the need for something we thought was lost forever: privacy in the workplace.  We’ll take a deeper look how new designs on display at Neocon help bring back a bit of privacy in the work place in a moment.

  • The second trend Chris and Greg observed was broad promotion of health and well-being at the office, characterize by utilizing flexible, reconfigurable seating and moveable office furniture.

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. “Sitting still is the new smoking” is how Greg summed it up. We’ll take an in-depth look at this second trend  — health and well-being at the office — in a future article.

But now we’d like to dive in more detail to the topic of privacy making its way back into office design.

 

A Brief History of Furniture Designed to Encourage Collaboration

The concept known as an ‘open office’ environment has been in the making for very long time. We can probably all picture in our minds classic 1950s pale sea-foam green metal desks laid out in a open bullpen environment. In the late 1960s, designer Robert Probst at Hermann Miller created the famed Action Office II line, which replaced those old heavy metal desks and partitions into semi-private, fabric covered cubicles, laid out in what would become pejoratively known as ‘cube farms’.

 

Photograph of the Division of Classification and Cataloging, 1937
Photograph of the Division of Classification and Cataloging, 1937

 

Wired magazine recently published a short history of the Action Office as an excerpt from of the new book Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikal Saval. According to Saval, cubicles were seen as an improvement over the open bull-pen desk arrangements from previous years. Yet, as space planners started to look for ways to economize on real estate expenditures and began to shoehorn more and more cubicles into the same square footage, the appeal of ‘cubicle farms’ diminished. In some extreme cases, new employees needed to rely on fellow ‘Sherpas’ to walk them through these human rat mazes to find the restrooms!

 

The stereotypical office cube farm environment has been a fertile source of humor, inspiring the Dilbert comic strip, the movie Office Space and both the British and US versions of the television series The Office. But Hermann Miller's 1967 Action Office II by designer Robert Probst was well received as a positive step when it was new. In time however, space planners crammed more and more of the units into offices, as shown in this photo.
The stereotypical office cube farm environment has been a fertile source of humor, inspiring the Dilbert comic strip, the movie Office Space and both the British and US versions of the television series The Office. But Hermann Miller’s 1967 Action Office II by designer Robert Probst was well received as a positive step when it was new. In time however, space planners crammed more and more of the units into offices, as shown in this photo.

 

A Bold Pair of Binoculars Starts the Collaborative Office Trend

The birth of the collaborative office design and interior layouts really got going during the heady dot-com boom days of the 1990’s in San Francisco and Silicon Valley and Los Angeles’ Silicon Beach (in Santa Monica/Venice).

 

052607-006-Chiat-Day

 

The ground zero for collaboration in the office was the groundbreaking 1991 “Binoculars Building” designed by Frank Gehry for the famed advertising firm Chiat/Day. (The binoculars themselves were created by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, they house tiny conference rooms as shown in the video below.)

This was a period when postmodernist design was on everyone’s mind, and this landmark building symbolized everything that was cool: it combined a breezy Southern California beach location with the creative work atmosphere of a top-notch ad agency. And not just any advertising agency. Chiat/Day was the very agency that produced the Apple 1984 advertisement, where a lone independent voice calls for escaping the drudgery of conformist cube culture (and communism and Microsoft to boot!)

 

 

Postscript: You probably won’t be surprised by the ironic twist of fate that Google now occupies the landmark Chiat/Day Binocular building. In this handheld video you can see the ad hoc Google furnishings set about like a college dorm room: drum set, video arcade games, pool table and other casual ‘fun’ interior design elements haphazardly placed in the entry space.

 

Race to Create Creative, Collaborative Working Environments

Throughout the 1990’s dot-com boom, architectural design firms like Gensler Associates and HOK successfully sold the proposition that if creative advertising agencies like Chiat/Day had playful work-spaces with casual areas promoting spontaneous encounters and collaborative work sessions, then C-Level Executives at other types of businesses should follow suit and invest in this type of office environment to spark more creativity and collaboration in their own workers.

 

Collaboration circa 1996 at Autodesk/Kinetix building in San Francisco at the beginning of the dot-com boom. Note blue and green lockers built into far wall for teleworkers coming into the office, and the "rocker" bar stools which encourage impromptu meetings-- just don't linger too long. Architect HOK, interiors Millican/Jones.
Collaboration circa 1996 at Autodesk/Kinetix building in San Francisco at the beginning of the dot-com boom. Note blue and green lockers built into far wall for teleworkers coming into the office, and the “rocker” bar stools which encourage impromptu meetings– just don’t linger too long. Architect HOK, interiors Millican/Jones.

 

Collaborative Office Design Trend Takes on Laboratory Research Field

Over the last twenty years, this collaborative design trend has become a de facto standard in office layout and interior design for progressive companies, such as those in the media and communications, software and fashion industries. Chris recalls he first began to see this same collaborative design trend first making its way into the laboratory science and research markets about ten years ago.

At Neocon, Chris observed this developing trend in laboratory design has now fully taken root. Quite a few vendors exhibited laboratory office furniture designs and space layouts designed to encourage collaboration among researchers in different departments. The reasoning behind this may sound familiar — there’s a consensus around trying to reduce the ‘silo’ effect of isolated departmental functions which naturally occur in the laboratory research world and the desire to get researchers from different disciplines, such as chemistry and biology, to interact more with each other. We’ll be keeping an eye on this trend in a future update.

 

Complaints About Privacy in the Office: Building for a Long Time

Bubbling in the background have been some serious academic studies trying to quantify the effects a wholesale switch to an open office environment has on overall worker productivity. The University of Tennessee published a very influential study back in 1982, called Privacy Communication Open Plan Office, a Case Study.

Research study authors Sundstrom, Kring, Herbert and Brown investigated work environments where employees were transferred to new office environments: managers were moved from private walled offices to door-less enclosures, staff specialists gave up private double offices and moved into door-less enclosures, secretarial employees and supervisors vacated individual desks to work in ‘open office’ workspaces.

The conclusion?

Privacy was the main problem: No one felt secure in having a private conversation, as everything could be overheard by other employees. Researchers found this lack of privacy had a very negative impact on how workers were able to conduct their day-to-day job functions.

 

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Another highly-cited study was published in 2009 by Finnish researchers Kaarlela-Tuomaala, Helenius, Keskinen and Hongisto. This study compared the productivity of professional workers by measuring their performance: first when they were located in individual private offices, and then a second time when they were relocated to open plan offices.

Researchers found that employees experienced increased concentration problems due to distractions and exhibited use of coping mechanisms to overcome problems caused by reduced privacy and higher noise levels. The study’s authors found that many of the goals for moving toward an open office plan, such as increased cooperation and collaboration, were not realized; instead, the research subjects found cooperation to be unpleasant in open office environments due to privacy concerns.

 

The Pendulum Swings Back: The Quiet Revolution — Brought to You by NPR and TED

 

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Let’s fast forward back to the Neocon show held this past week in Chicago. In what may be one of the best marketing coups in the recent history office furniture design, Steelcase has rediscovered the concept of privacy and has introduced something that looks suspiciously like closed offices! What’s the backstory? It’s a quite serendipitous turn of events actually.

Back in 2012, Steelcase’s then president and COO Jim Keane was casually listening to an interview on NPR with author Susan Cain while he was out running some errands. Susan Cain, a former attorney, has captured the imagination of executives and human resource specialists with her 2012 book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Keane and his fellow Steelcase executive, then CEO Jim Hackett (who is now president) were attending the upcoming 2013 TED Conference, where Susan was speaking. Here’s her TED Talk about how at least one third of workers are introverts, and they need quiet solitude to be creative.

 

 

Keane and Cain hit it off and launched a collaboration which was the talk of the Neocon show:  Susan Cain Quiet Spaces by Steelcase. There are five designs in this series, all based on Steelcase’s well-received V.I.A. line introduced at the 2013 Necon show:

 

Be Me: A warm and receptive destination that offers introverts permission to be alone and be themselves
Be Me: A warm and receptive destination that offers introverts permission to be alone and be themselves

 

P.S. since we are being sensitive to different types of people, if you happen to be one who learns best by watching cartoons you’ll be happy to know Susan Cain’s book has been interpreted by cartoon notebook drawings by dwlFilms.

 

 

We’ll continue this series next week with more details about Susan Cain’s insight and what other contract office furniture manufacturers are doing to promote private areas in the modern office. Some of the designs are quite ingenious. In the meantime if you are contemplating a redesign of your office, Formaspace can be an invaluable resource. We can build unique custom furniture, such as large conference tables, computer workstations and workbenches that will give your office that ‘industrial design’ look that everyone wants. Give us a call at 800.251.1505 and we’ll be happy to exchange ideas and talk about how we can work together.