Our latest Design Challenge focuses on creating task-related furniture for freelancers in an ever-evolving and highly amorphous work landscape, an issue that is becoming even more relevant as freelancers begin adding up to more than a third of the workforce in the United States today. Who better to ask about how office environments and the nature of work has changed than designers working for a company specializing in this area for over 30 years?
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Humanscale, a company specializing in office furniture since 1983, is well known for its ultra ergonomic and consumer-sensitive understanding of design. One of its most familiar pieces of furniture, the Freedom Chair by Niels Diffrient, was apparently a response to the iconic Aeron Chair. Diffrient realized that the Aeron Chair's levers and adjusters failed to recognize the average consumer's lack of knowledge surrounding ergonomics, so he strived to design a chair that automatically adjusted rather than requiring manual manipulation. The idea turned out to be a hit and his Freedom Chair continues to be one of Humanscale's top grossing products.
Niels Diffrient and his Freedom Chair
DESIGN IS IN THE DETAILS
This type of essential design thinking informs Humanscale Design Engineering Director (and 1-Hour Design Challenge judge) Brad Augustine's everyday work and decision making. Leading a team of over 30 design engineers, his studio works to make sure every Humanscale product is highly functional and reliable. The team also strives to pay attention to changing office environment behaviors, as he explains to Core77: "We've got a mantra: 'creating a more comfortable place to work.' And that really asks the question, how are people working and nowadays? It seems to become more and more the question of how people are interfacing with technology to work,"
So what is there to consider when designing an indispensable piece for the office? Augustine notes that a common misconception about prototyping is that once you've got a model, you're pretty much ready for manufacturing and bringing that product to market when really it's much more complicated than that: "We have to stress that the work we do for regulatory liability, for value—it's a very very iterative process and there's a lot of trade-offs." This means creating something that not only fits all the ergonomic requirements, but is also engineered to incorporate helpful new technologies while meeting business goals.
DESIGNING FOR A CHANGING CORPORATE WORLD
Technicalities aside, working in such a specific market means designers and engineers must pay attention to trends to stay competitive—in the office world, that means things like standing desks, mobility and flexible workspaces. "There are significant trends going on in office right now, enough where we're almost having to recreate our entire portfolio," says Augustine. "People are working differently than just coming in to a desktop computer that's on their desk and just working with that. We're having to create entirely new products that work with people who are bringing their laptop and want to be able to work very easily...So it's really kind of taking a look at how the user wants to work and how it's changing."
M/Connect, a docking station for connecting electronics on a desktop.
"People are working differently than just coming in to a desktop computer that's on their desk and just working with that. So we're having to create entirely new products"
New product categories include items like sit/stand desks and products like M/Connect, a docking station that provides a more seamless way of connecting electronics on a desktop. Augustine notes that products like M/Connect are a response to office worker's shifting demands for a work environment that conforms to consumer needs rather than the other way around:
"Before, you were able to just have your [desktop] computer, you install your monitor at your desk and everything is already set up so when a person comes in your station is ready to go...But now, people are bringing their laptop, [so] how do you create a different set of tools that relate to kind of a completely different user experience?"
These are the sorts of questions many companies are having to ask and respond to as professional and corporate workspaces take new shape. As offices steer away from the once ubiquitous cubicle culture of yesteryear, designers are not only considering how our work environments are shifting, but also anticipating evolving attitudes about how we work. How can a space adjust to accommodate an inspiration-fueled, impromptu brainstorm? How do you create a work station that integrates current and future tech products? These sort of questions are not just beneficial to ask—they are essential.
Brad Augustine of Humanscale is a judge for your 1-Hour Design Challenge: Furniture for Freelancers submission! You have until Thursday, June 23rd to submit your sketches and be in the running for some amazing Grovemade desk gear—so get to sketching!