Randall Braaksma is proof you can go back again. After a writing start long ago at Herman Miller, and a patchwork of jobs since (ad agency copywriter, editor in China, freelancer), he is back. The common thread through it all: words. The constant goal: make them engaging to read.
You know the old saying that two heads are better than one.. But it may be that only two heads are better for collaborating. Recently, we conducted research at our Design Yard facility, which was recently equipped with our Canvas furniture. Fully 68 percent of collaborative events were between two people versus larger groups.
Findings like that raise another question: How are people really using places at the office? Getting a clear, accurate picture of usage is essential to intelligently remixing available square footage. A better mix of settings can include microenvironments that enable these ad hoc gatherings.
Places that promote a few people “swarming” around a problem-solving challenge can accelerate the creation of new knowledge. And this sort of knowledge remains a key concern for organizations. A recent survey of the London Business School’s Future of Work Consortium found that “deep collaborative working” was rated a top factor in ongoing effectiveness. In a word, let’s get together—but not too many of us—and work it out.
A “new” trend is emerging among workers in Silicon Valley: the standing desk. We know sitting all day is not ideal for the human body. The low physical workload and rearward rotated pelvis puts you at risk for back pain. Not to mention, excessive sitting slows your metabolism and can even negatively affect cholesterol levels.
But the truth is, standing all day isn’t any better. In fact, the high workload placed on the body while standing is equally as harmful as the inactivity in sitting.
What the body wants is movement. Alternating from sitting to standing several times throughout the day reduces the chance of back pain and improves circulation. Both are essential to productivity.
The standing desk is far from a new concept. In the 1960s, designer George Nelson developed the first stand-up, roll-top desk for the Action Office line. We continue to encourage movement in all our furniture. Everywhere and Envelop tables enable multiple height-adjustments. Paired with a work chair, you can sit, stand, and move, all of which will help you feel better and work better.
The work of Konstantin Grcic is known for its logical thought process, honesty of materials, and respect for production methods. His partnership with Magis led to one of the most interesting and inventive chairs ever created: Chair_One. “This was a wonderful project to work on,” says Grcic, admitting that his relative youth (and naïveté) led him down unexplored pathways with eyes wide open.
“This was possibly the first time ever that such a large die-cast was used for making a chair,” he explains. “It involved a lot of heavy tooling. I decided to break up surfaces into thin sections like branches and let the material flow through the mold to create the shape, which is kind of like a basket or a grid, and very three-dimensional.”
Chair_One now resides in the permanent collections of many prestigious museums including MoMA in New York and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. It joins other Grcic pieces in museum permanent collection, including his Mayday Lamp, produced for Flos in 1999.
Learning happens everywhere on campus. But what about the corporate campus? Can the design of learning spaces at the university teach the corporation something? Tracy Fouchea of Herman Miller thinks so. She makes the point in a recent article in Chief Learning Officer. One key, she says, is designing in the ability to change a space at will to meet all the different ways learning can happen.
“If you think about corporate learning spaces, some of them may be used only for formal learning or when they’re not being used for formal learning, it’s first come, first served or scheduled opportunities to use the space,” Fouchea said. “If you can make it so that it’s adaptable and multi-use, it can take on many other leads within an organization.”
More proof of the similarities between the design of learning spaces on corporate and educational campuses can be seen in places like the Innovation Park. It’s designed to jump-start early-stage companies. The facility itself is collaborative and flexible so it can respond to the diverse needs of short-term clients. Not unlike the situation for spaces on corporate campuses.
Jeff Weber, designer of the Herman Miller Embody chair, featured in “Design Is The Difference,” an ad campaign by REACH. Coincidentally, the toothbrush was designed by another Herman Miller design partner, Yves Behar of fuseproject.
It’s really quite gratifying to those of us who’ve been doing design for decades to see that, as the REACH folks say, design is the difference. You hear it all over, from those advocating design thinking to solve world problems to, in this case, a toothbrush. There’s a growing recognition that how something works, what it’s made of, how it’s made, and how it looks all matter. Perhaps more important, people are starting to see that these aspects are all wrapped up in the definition of good design. This wasn’t always the case. Charles Eames coined the phrase “good goods” after his wife Ray’s car was robbed in New York. The thieves took all sorts of things, mostly found items Ray had collected, but they left a valuable bolt of cloth. Eames said, “What robber could break into a car, feel this material, and not in his heart immediately say, ‘Somebody should have it’?” We should all have such a discerning eye for good goods.
The answer depends on your perspective. Certainly, the daily distractions and interruptions we experience in the office are annoying. They can be costly, too. According to one estimate, distractions cost American businesses $650 billion annually. And a recent poll of office workers found that 53 percent said distractions affect their productivity.
Distractions affect the one commonality we all share—our minds. And in a work world increasingly focused on ideas, we need uninterrupted time to think and concentrate. But, in many ways, distractions are not only unavoidable, they’re desirable. “Fortuitous encounters”—those hallway, coffee-station, and copy-room conversations—allow people to get work done.
Then, too, there is the fact that so many of us are working together more than ever. “The collaborative nature of knowledge work involves socializing, sharing, and connecting,” says Herman Miller’s Ginny Baxter, “and that in itself can be distracting. Even so, people in today’s collaborative work environments need to be involved and accessible.” So how do you balance concentration and being connected? Some think glass walls may do the trick. We’d love to hear your ideas.
Any designer will tell you, including Yves Béhar of fuseproject, that designing a chair is a formidable task, and an appealing one. As this clip from the Wall Street Journal notes, the appeal is particularly strong for architects. That’s because, according to Barry Bergdoll, curator at MoMA, a chair “makes space, it has support, so in the end the chair is architecture.” Like architecture, chairs are so visible, our relationship to them so intimate, that designing them can give pause.
Béhar, an industrial designer, sought inspiration for his design of the SAYL chair from a very architectural form: suspension bridges. For Béhar, the project had appeal and risk. He says, “I practiced for more than a decade and waited to tackle the work chair. And it is only after turning 40 that I feel ready for such an epic design challenge.” Part of the challenge, says Béhar, lies in the fact that “every part serves a structural or tactile purpose. Every part is about creating comfort while needing to be visually cohesive and beautiful.”
An element of risk, certainly, but ah the rewards. And it’s especially gratifying when others recognize the achievement, in SAYL’s case the latest coming from IDEA.
Ask any person in global real estate, and he or she can recite all the challenges of designing offices across cultures. But some places are more challenging than others. Take Dubai, for instance. Why Dubai? Politically stable, Dubai has developed a reputation for being a safe place for people of all nationalities to work and for companies from all over the world to do business. But, in Dubai, nationals make up only 10 percent of the workforce. So designers must not only create offices that take into account cultural norms rooted in Islamic law, they must also make sure offices appeal to the other 90 percent, who come from neighboring countries, with their own cultures, and from the headquarter countries of the multinational. Talk about challenging. Do you have any insights to add to ours?
First, I’m not disparaging Danish design; quite the contrary. The zero represents an audacious goal for us: Getting to a zero operational footprint by 2020. For the Danes, the goal is to be known as the world’s leading design society by 2020. By that they mean a society where design is integral to the way everyone—from government official to average citizen—uses design to make life better. A big, audacious goal. Will they achieve it? If we’re any indication, yes. People laughed at us when in 2004 we said we’d get to a zero by 2020: no VOC air emissions, no process water use, no hazardous waste, no solid waste to landfills. Today, just seven years into it, we’re nearly 91 percent of the way there. Let’s cheer for the Danes.
Design blogger Tina Roth Eisenberg inside her creative work club, Studiomates. Photo: thebrander.com
You may know her as an astute observer of design who shares her views on swissmiss. But Tina Roth Eisenberg is also what she calls the “queen of accidental businesses.” One of the recent ones is a work club. “I call it my happy place,” she says. “It’s where I get my energy. The people working there are amazing creatives. We have nerdy talks. My ideas for businesses come from those talks.” She’s not alone. In one survey, 87% of people using coworking spaces said they “generated at least one project started by coworkers who met in the coworking space.” It seems face time has its place. And so does a well-furnished space. As Tina says, “If the furniture isn’t visually interesting, it brings me down.”