All Systems Go!

A colorful illustration of Lilliputian people moving about an abstract workplace.

Story by
Greg Parsons

Illustrations by
Josh Cochran

Purchasing the right work systems for an organization—or teams within an organization—isn’t exactly like picking up a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. But with our new structure for understanding their use and application, we’d like it to be.

For decades the tried-and-true methods of selecting a system and applying it across the office landscape proved to be efficient at an organizational level. But as the world changed, that efficiency became deficient at the individual level. When Herman Miller conducted the research that led to Living Office, we found that workstations were unoccupied for 60 percent of the day. So much for efficiency (to mention nothing of attraction and retention, engagement, and happiness!). As Dilbert and Office Space made all too clear, the workstation-at-its worst (the so-called “sea of cubicles”) had become an object of almost unanimous cultural contempt—a physical presentation of the pervasive negative sentiment most of us harbor toward “faceless” organizations.

As Herman Miller worked to help customers realize their own Living Offices, it became clear that a single standardized furniture system would no longer solve all of their problems. Rather, we saw that delivering a purposeful variety of settings required a purposeful variety of furnishings—and a process for their purposeful application. At the risk of being overly deliberate, we realized that purposefulness was the missing link. Even start-up-type offices—with their beanbag chairs and foosball conference tables—while perhaps offering a refreshing alternative to the status quo, presented their own set of design clichés and practical dilemmas. Our research found that these kinds of “highly collaborative” spaces weren’t optimized for the realities of work, couldn’t scale, and, at the end of the day, were no more heavily utilized than their generic counterparts.

Taking all this into account, we reevaluated our furniture offerings using two lenses: that of Living Office, with its settings based on the specific purpose, character, and activities of each organization, group, and individual; and that of our customers, who desire a practical means of understanding what to purchase, in which quantities, for which people, and why it matters. We soon recognized that our systems furnishings fell into two distinct categories: Landscape Systems and Focused Portfolios.

An illustration rendered in cool tones, showing people interacting and working alone in an open office.

Landscape Systems

Our work with clients showed us that even the most progressive office layouts still relied heavily on a single system to accommodate workers—albeit more sparingly, less universally, and with greater regard to what exactly the inhabitants would be doing in their spaces. Landscape Systems are our solutions that offer the adaptability, variation, and cohesion to meet a broad set of needs across the entire floorplate—in most cases between 50 and 75 percent of it. Recognizing that this is the most critical furniture investment a company will make and that companies vary wildly based on innumerable factors, Herman Miller offers a selection of Landscape Systems that are deliberately diverse in purpose and character.

An illustration rendered in warm tones, showing office workers keying on their computers while seated and standing.

Focused Portfolios

We at Herman Miller recognized that even the most adaptable system was failing certain individuals and groups of people doing specific work—more often than not, the highly creative and innovative work that helps create value for an organization. Our Focused Portfolios were designed to meet these unique and divergent needs. With Living Office, Herman Miller offers a more nuanced view of the activities that constitute collaboration, and the resulting systems have been specifically designed to support the needs of people engaged in those activities. Want to create the ideal working neighborhood for a project team? To support coders working in pairs? To give individuals ultimate control of their space? We have Focused Portfolios that express the unique purposes, characters, and activities of people doing specific tasks and can help them progress toward their goals.