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Podcast July 6, 2018

LINcast: Trends in Office Furniture Design

LINcast host Gabe Duverge is joined by Nick Gillissie, Head of Nick Gillissie Industrial Design, and Jordan Scott, LINAK Canada Country Manager. The trio recorded live from NeoCon 2018, discussing the trends they've noticed office furniture industry so far this year.

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Gabe: Hello and welcome to LINcast with conversations exploring the latest in innovation behind actuation solutions. We're improving people’s quality of life and working environment, through smooth and reliable movement. As always, I'm your host Gabe Duverge and today we're actually recording live from NeoCon the 50th anniversary of the show in Chicago. Today I'm joined with Jordan Scott, who's the country manager for LINAK Canada. Thanks for joining us today Jordan.

Jordan: Thanks again for having me.

Gabe: And a special guest, Nick Gillissie. Nick is the head of Nick Gillissie design, and thanks for having us today.

Nick: A pleasure. Thank you Gabe.

Gabe: Absolutely. Today we just wanted to talk a bit about what we've been noticing at NeoCon. It's the 50th anniversary of the big show, here at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Nick, if you want to start us off. What are some of the things you noticed, some of the trends in NeoCon and industry trends in office furniture as a whole?

Nick: You guys are in a great spot. I think you already know that. What I see now, is when I'm looking at our fees, I'm looking at tender documents, today's products where the architect, interior designer, will do a drawing of something and say, "Match this on a fit and finished level. We'll see who wins and who wins the best price." Its height adjustable bench. It's always a height adjustable solution now. We've truly moved into the post cubical era now. With the idea of open plan and height adjustable benching, sometimes it's a fix height bench, but now almost all the time, I'm seeing it being height adjustable benching or some sort of mix of fix height and height adjustability. The other big thing that I'm seeing a lot lately, too, is when you get outside of the spec-based type of RFP, there is creative RFPs where the vendor is asked to answer with their own product lines. That it’s not matching a picture. The client will say, "Here are our people, here’s the amount of space you have to work with, and best product wins." In that there's always a mixture of the height adjustable aspect to it and it's been in everything I've dealt with over the last three years.

Gabe: That makes a lot of sense. You're definitely seeing a lot around the show. Height-adjustable everywhere. All the big names are definitely doing that. Jordan, is there anything you want to add? That was pretty comprehensive, but is there anything you want to say?

Jordan: No, I completely agree. We see the trend continuing to go that ... there's more and more height adjustability being specked, but also being incorporated in a different design. One of the questions I have for you Nick, being a designer and specifically an industrial designer, when you're creating a piece of furniture, is height adjustability the after thought of, "This is what we need to have,” or is it part of the forefront of being part of the initial vision of the design? Do you know what I'm saying about that?

Nick: Yeah. I know. It was the afterthought, but that time has passed as well. I've been working on a case goods in private office suite, a series of concepts and at the very core of the design is the height adjustable aspect. How to get that height adjustability into the private offices is something that still has not been fully tackled yet. It's no longer an afterthought. It's in the mix and it is so ubiquitous now. When you become this successful with a product that you're making, inevitably you're going to start garnering criticism. Once you become the biggest, then you're the one that people say, "Oh well ... are you doing anything like that?" One of the criticisms I've found that's been interesting on the height adjustable aspect, is, "My people just set their desk to one level and they don't move it up and down anymore." and I say, "Well you know what, if your desk is at any height other than 29 inches, you're using a height adjustable desk.”

Jordan: Yeah. 100%

Nick: So for example. I'm fine in a seated position, but my keyboarding height is around 24-25 inches. I'm a 50th percentile male. I'm 5'10", right? And if my ideal keyboarding height is at 24-25 inches, what standard product like has a 24-25 inch desk, right? That 29 wasn't about keyboarding. That 29 was before keyboards were invented. That 29 is about writing, right? It's not about keyboarding. The height adjustable aspect, even if you're not moving it up and down every day, getting it at the right height without the need for a keyboard try, is where you've got such a vast improvement in peoples work experience.

Nick: When I was young, I started my first design job, I got carpal tunnel almost right out of the gate. I was getting bad wrist pain. My father is an industrial hygienist and knows an ergonomist that he went and paid for me to go and actually visit an ergonomist and it was back then, in my early 20s that I learned about, what's the proper posture for sitting, how do I make sure I don't get this wrist strain and it's all about that 90 degree angle between your arm and not resting your wrist on your table. So that you're getting that flexion, where those cords are going over. Getting that table to the right height without the need for some sort of weird knob or lever on the underside, the fact that the full surface goes down, is such a superior answer to the needs of ergonomics as opposed to a keyboard tray. It's laughable. It's so much better.

Jordan: I want to go back to, you mention that when their doing these open RFP's and clients doing open RFP design for a vision for the space, the furniture manufactures are coming in and saying, "This is the best product we feel fits". Inherently you pay more for height adjustability. Why do you think it's more of a demand from the end user from maybe the office design...?

Nick: I think people finally appreciated what the full cost of bad health is, right? The cost of bad health, down time, people being sick and away from work. People with back pain, neck pain, is way more costly than a motor actuator. They are realizing that now too. The other thing that's happening now too, is that workstations continue to get smaller. They continue to get more compacted and what is happening many times is, workers are being given a choice of places to work, so its not just about a desk, it's about a desk and then moving over to a lounge piece, or you can move over to a standing height desk and what not. The workstation with the desk is always a part of the mix, but the idea of compressing that workstation and making it smaller, is a cost savings measure. Not only from the amount of wood and metal you have to throw at the solutions, but also the floor space that its takes up. So, when you do that, you want to give them something special that makes them feel like they're being appreciated. That they're being looked after. That they matter to their employer. A height adjustable aspect of the work station, helps convey that. "You matter to us. You're important to us and we want to make sure you're fit and healthy."

Jordan: Yeah, we've put more of you in this space, but we're going to make it a lot nicer.

Nick: Exactly. And that's what furniture vendors are trying to do as well, right? They're trying to ... more in smaller space is a catch line that's been used. It's the idea of when you compress that space or take them out of that big eight by eight foot, give them nice finishes in the right places. Real wood veneer in spots, but doing it in an economic way so that you're not just blanketing everything in wood veneer. Adding in ergonomic features such as, your products and other touches that make it feel special.

Jordan: Going back to the design trend of what we're seeing in the industry, I think it's pretty clear and evident here at NeoCon, it seems like there's a lot more placement of fabrics in design, specifically modesty panels or ... not just in the seating side of things. I see a lot more fabric. I see a lot more soft tones. Do you feel this follows more of the trend of trying to make the office space a little more comfortable, a little more residential like? What do you think is driving this trend?

Nick: I think there's a couple things. That catch phrase, "Resi-mercial" is being batted around quite a bit, making it feel like it's more welcoming and inviting. I don't want to get esoteric here, but its funny, because the fact that we have these very powerful pieces of computing technology, that we can cart around with us. My computer's in my pocket right now. It's a phone and laptops get smaller. Tablets become more functional and can be pulled around. The fact that you can move around so easily within the work space, really allows you to do different furniture expressions. Other than what was required before. A great big panel system, with a whole bunch of hardwired data. Remember? Now it's all wireless. The hardware data. That's basically, the different needs of a working environment back then, required a solution that looked very distinct from anything that you'd need in your home. Now, I don't stop using my computer, which is in my pocket, when I go home. I'm typing away on it when I'm on the couch in front of my television. I'm using it in the backyard. It's a part of my everyday life.

Nick: When you think about what's happening, that's blurring a line between what is a work need and what is a home need. Why not do it with the rest of it. Make people feel more comfortable. I think the fabric aspect of it is also helping with the sound dampening. Since everything’s gotten so open, we've moved away from those great big panels, which semi blocked the sounds, it didn’t do a really good job for privacy, but it did create buffers and barriers to sound traveling across a floor plate. Putting in a whole bunch of fabric elements, in different locations, even if it's not a high NRC rated fabric, it does still move the needle, in regard to bringing down the amount of noise in the floor plate. Putting those pieces in, it's a comforting feeling from a psychological perspective, but also lowering the den of the noise in the floor plate, has been important. Fabric plays a key role in that as well.

Gabe: It's been a fantastic conversation and I really appreciate having both of you here. Such experts in the field. Experts in the industry. Any final thoughts before we wrap this up?

Jordan: For me, I'd probably say, we see so much height adjustable and what we are trying to promote here is usage of the height adjustable. As Nick said, it's one thing to put it in and have it be at the height, and maybe that is the right height and maybe you are using height adjustable, but if we make a good system that has all these other benefits of promoting more movement, more work space, more flexibility in that environment, at LINAK we want you to move the product more. Some of our products have brought in the whole idea of reminding you to stand and try to encourage the user to change behaviors on a daily basis. We see it throughout the show and I guess at the end of the day, we just hope that people use it more. You know? To get that benefit.

Gabe: Absolutely. Absolutely. Nick, what about you, any final thoughts?

Nick: Keep doing what you're doing. You're killing it.

Gabe: We appreciate that. Nick, Jordan, thank you guys again for coming on the podcast. It's been another LINcast. If you'd like any more information about LINAK, you can find more articles and topics at Please be sure to take a look at Nick Gillissie designs and thank you again for listening. Have a good one.


About Nick Gillissie

Nick Gillissie

Nick’s start in design was typical. Interest and aptitude in the fine arts as well as math and science steered him in the direction of architecture until he discovered Industrial Design.
He graduated from the Carleton University BID program in 2000 and since then has worked in a wide variety of design disciplines, including: environmental graphics, IT, consumer products and housewares before eventually finding his way to his life’s passion, furniture design.
In 2006 he began his 7 year tenure at Teknion, moving into the senior systems designer role before leaving to start his own design consultancy in 2013.
Since then Nick Gillissie Industrial Design has maintained a client and market driven focus. Face to face dialogue with the people who: make, procure, install, maintain and live with furniture is the core of our research approach. It is through those interactions that we gain insight into the needs of our clients and the wider markets in which they operate.
Combined with our highly specialized manufacturing and systems design expertise, that market understanding results in the design of uniquely versatile and cost effective design solutions, which support and advance the changing workplace and residential furniture environments.

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