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Friday Focus - London Design Festival 2016

London Design Festival and 100% Design show how the office is transforming into something else entirely

If art holds a mirror up to nature, shouldn’t the design of the workplace hold a mirror up to the way we work? By definition, the things with which we surround ourselves should tell us something about the way we see ourselves and what we do. It should be possible to infer from the design of products what is changing in the workplace. The opportunity with shows like 100% Design, which took place at Earl’s Court this week as part of the London Design Festival, is for office specifiers, designers and buyers to come together not only to see the latest products from some of the world’s most progressive suppliers of office, domestic, retail and hospitality products but also get a sense of their customers’ concerns.

If you were to pick out a main theme at the event, it was that there is now increasingly little demarcation between the products you’ll see in an office and any other type of building. The surge in flexible working which allows people to work anywhere means that those old distinctions have washed away. One consequence is that when people can work from home, a café, a hotel or an airport lounge, the office begins to adopt many of the design idioms of those sorts of spaces. 

This manifests itself in a number of ways. At 100% Design it was evident in the products of Aircharge which provides device charging pads for offices as well food chains, hotels and public spaces such as McDonald’s, Costa, Virgin Lounges and Novotel. It was particularly evident in the Blob chairs from Sagal which were included in the Workplace section of the show but could have fitted comfortably anywhere at the show. 

Similarly, there is often an element of multi-functionality to some products that is in keeping with this new era. Swoosh by Silverline has been designed by Kalina Kalarus to combine acoustic, space division and storage functions into one.

Arper meanwhile had assumed the role of providing a solution to the modern conundrum of where bloggers and journalists can go to produce reports and copy in real time at an event. They had furnished the bloggers lounge at the show, including a new edition of the Catifa 46 chair designed by Lievore Altherr Molina.

Another way for people to find some privacy in a busy space was showcased by Framery. Perhaps the most common complaint people have about their office environment is that it is noisy and distracting. So the Q Booth is a private work pod that allows people to get some peace and quiet before returning to more collaborative spaces.
One of the reasons firms are now looking to adopt such designs is as a way of not only recruiting and retaining the best staff, but encouraging them to work together in the office rather than anywhere else they might prefer. This was the subject of one of the talks at 100% Design, chaired by Rory Olcatyo of Open City, which asked ‘in the increasingly digital present, when nearly every corner of the world can be accessed through a screen, what can designers do to make spaces that demand to be experienced in the flesh?’ The session answered the question generally, but also with specific regard to the public spaces at the new Design Museum site. The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, can be summarised with the idea that people are attracted to humane spaces and the traditional office is not always humane.
Elsewhere at the London Design Festival, Vitra made its usual splash with a pop up showroom and coworking space in Shoreditch which focussed on a design study called Stool-Tool developed with long-time collaborator Konstantin Grcic who was also the designer of the Hack table system designed for sitting, standing and relaxing. Meanwhile, at the firm’s main Clerkenwell showroom, the emphasis was on the modular Kado shelving system which Vitra is now presenting as an office solution for the first time. 

Another furniture giant pushing the envelope of design was KI which presented a collaborative project with the RCA and Imperial College to explore the ‘happy, healthy workplaces of the future’. One things for sure is that these do not appear to include traditional desks and chairs. But then that is now the way of these things. 
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