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17 Sep 2008

Luke Pearson

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A: We are getting asked to do work by companies that see a huge gap opening up in terms of what is happening in the workforce, which is essentially a huge increase in the collaborative work environment. As designers, we like gaps. We like to work to a brief. Most people are waking up to the idea that collaboration increases productivity. On the whole, we haven’t worked for one company that we would rate very highly that isn’t noticing this, even if they can’t quite articulate it.

Q: Will the idea of “collaborative working” affect how office furniture is designed?
A: It is interesting for product design because, potentially, it is going to support a new approach. In a collaborative environment, furniture gets moved around quite rapidly and is repositioned. That means it has to be more mobile and lighter. If it is on a short-term basis, the concern is user mobility, and if it is on a long-term basis, it is facility management mobility.

Q: What do you think is driving the change?
A: I think it is consumers. There has been a huge conversation opened about what they actually want, and I think what it comes down to is flexibility. People don’t want to be prescribed something that they can’t alter or that doesn’t fit them. We are not all 95th-percentile males – some of us are 50th-percentile females. Those things make a difference.

Q: How does your Edge table fit into the changing workplace?
A: Edge does quite a lot of what a more conventional desking system, with a huge number of fixtures and fittings, used to do. The variable density issue now in offices and the fact that people are changing working patterns means that those very big, static systems are actually quite troublesome.
It came to us that we should develop something that had the capacity for sitting around in a conference setting or in more individual working cells. Nothing on the table is fixed. We decided to make every item that goes on to the table mobile. The screens can be positioned wherever you want, for a degree of privacy. If you want or need cable management, there is a groove underneath that you can clip a net on.
To me, that is how it should be in the workplace. You should just bring your accessories to where and when you want them, and adjust things as you need to.

Q: What ideas were behind your first task chair, the Cobi, which was launched at Neocon?
A: Designed in conjunction with Steelcase Design Studio, we specifically aimed to cater for the collaborative seating environment. What is challenging and interesting about that is that since it is a shared environment, what people are sitting in is not always their own chair. The problem with having task chairs in these environments is that you can promote damage if the chair isn’t properly adjusted for you. One of the things Steelcase was adamant about was that there wouldn’t be adjustment mechanisms in the usual sense.
We have tried to produce a chair that is very flexible in terms of the percentile groups it can deal with, without having to make adjustments. Each flexible finger on the back of the chair isn’t very strong on its own, but an elastomeric strip connects them all, so the whole thing can flex and move with a person. Really, what it is doing is acting like a second ribcage.

Q: So both Cobi and Edge can adjust to the user?
A: Yes, and that’s the idea behind this new dawn of intelligent product in the workplace. It is not the idea that it works one way and you fit into it. It is asking how you want it to work. On one level, you could say Cobi is a simple chair because it doesn’t appear to do anything. However, on a higher level, it does everything so seamlessly and intuitively – and the user doesn’t realise it. I think the workplace is beginning to become more reactively and proactively intelligent. These products are very much a proactive look at what is happening in the work environment – a need was identified and products were then developed to fill that need.

Q: Should we expect any new developments from PearsonLloyd over the next year in terms of the flexible workplace?
A: We are working on a very big system for what has traditionally been called the “break out” space. It will challenge the negative connotations of that phrase – “break out” suggests that you are taking a break. It’s guilt. They should really be called “guilty break out” spaces. It is not a break – it is just a different place for working when your desk doesn’t do it.

Q: What sort of issues will this new system address?
A: We are very tribal. Humans work best when we build little tribes. What we have to do is facilitate these environments to cater for tribal and cultural interaction that works on many different levels. The problem is that until now, break out areas have been a collection of soft seating dumped in the office – and soft seating doesn’t really facilitate collaborative shared working. So we will look at new ways of approaching this space, not limited to what is already on the market.

Q: Who is it for and what it is exactly?
A: I know that it will have seating, it will have screening and it will have technology. But I can’t say any more than that.
Q: PearsonLloyd seems particularly interested in creating furniture for the shared work environment. Why?

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